Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Courage to Feel Creative: Habits of Creativity

I've noticed a few comments lately about 'mojo' or to be more specific: the lack of. In the Urban Dictionary, the meaning of mojo is this: a magic charm, talisman or spell. I personally prefer thinking of it as my drive or want-to. Still... why do we want to rely on something as ephemeral as mojo to get us busy in the quilting room?
Instant access to sewing machine
I don't feel like a random, whenever the mood strikes, oh-no-it's-time-to-make-a-baby-quilt kind of quilter these days and I think this is probably why: I've developed some Habits of Creativity in the last several years. Yep. When that fickle mojo goes on vacation, I can always fall back on something far more dependable these days. Here's how it works:

1. First of all, you have to have a dedicated work space. It doesn't have to be fancy or isolated from the rest of the household but it does have to give you instant access to your sewing machine, rotary mat and iron. There is no compromise here. If you have to take your sewing machine out of the closet or move it out of the way for dinner, you're already sabotaging your 'get up and go'. Find a corner and make it work.

2.  You need a fabric stash available in your home. Have it immediately washed and ready to go. The stash doesn't have to be huge or especially diversified. You just need fabric that you're gonna want to play with and/or start a project with. You can take care of the details later. The important thing is having fabric available when you're ready to get going. And I don't mean when you get back from the store.

3.  Keep a notebook in your purse, by your bed, in your desk and in the quilt room. Use it. Write, draw and record impulsive thoughts and glimmers of inspiration.

4.  Collect quilt books, magazines and patterns that inform, inspire or instruct. Stalk quilt blogs on the Internet. Read about creative people, their habits and the quilting process. Be curious.

5. Set up a Pinterest and start hoarding inspiration. Get a bulletin board and pin real things. Be colorful, brave and whatever else you do, don't over-think things in this department. You have no idea the type of quilter you'll be this time next year.
 The Bulletin board
6. Write out a personal inspiration page. This is crazy important, because this is YOU, the quilter, distilled down into something very potent and strong if you pay attention to the details, which I know you want to do. Be detailed and specific. Focus in on things like patterns, colors, styles, fabrics, structure, applique, words, character, scrappiness, fabric prints and every other thing that makes you love a quilt. Use your descriptive words to further delve into the things that particular appeal to you in the realm of quilt-making--words such as 'quirky', 'traditional', 'sweet', 'fun', 'modern', 'graphic', 'formal', 'Amish' etc. Be thoughtful about this exercise and then pin it on your bulletin board. Update it every couple years. Think about it.
Multiple on-going projects
7. Be brave and work on several different projects at the same time. Work on each phase as it becomes convenient, appealing, or even tedious. Don't downplay the possible results from tedious work--mindless sewing can lead to incredible breakthroughs! Be open to sewing according to your moods. When it times to attack something and clear it out of the stack, be ready.

8. Make routines: Daily, weekly, set amounts of time or even parts of the day--just do it. Work, Do, Make, Create. It takes an effort and commitment which your habits will now make possible. Remember, even little chunks of time eventually produce an outcome. Work, work, work. It's not all gonna be lightning bolts of inspiration and goosebumps of anticipation.

9.  Always make time for prep work. It's fairly tedious, so get it out of the way! Over and over and over this will benefit your feelings of creativity as you are continually and immediately ready to move on into the next phase of a project. 

10. Have a portable project and have it ready to go on a moments notice. Get used to packing it with you even you're convinced it's unnecessary. Stolen moments working on a Forever type project are golden. Be prepared.

11.  Create shopping lists for fabric, threads, batting, template plastic etc. as needed and keep it in your wallet. Plan ahead for the essentials and don't be stuck having to wait for an order in the mail or a convenient time to shop.
Slow quilting
12.  Think about making room for a design wall. Use it! Or use the floor. It doesn't have to be expensive, complicated, glamorous or take over your quilt room to work properly.

13.  Leave time for projects or phases of projects to simmer and INCUBATE. Study what you've accomplished. Consider your options. Allow time to dream about solutions and let your subconscious work through the possibilities. Come back again and again to 'just check in'.

14. Then, when it's time (or you have no other choice): tackle your projects head on. Work to find solutions. Don't let fear rule your quilting world. Mistakes can sometimes lead to something incredibly brilliant. Besides, no matter what the designers want you to believe, there's always gonna be more fabric to love.
Prep work
15.  Consider working in a series. Narrow your options and then gradually open them back up again, thereby possibly kick-starting a whole new kind of brainstorming. You'll never know till you try.

16. Explore, try and LEARN. Be open to challenges, new methods, tools, classes, experiences and even ugly fabrics or colors. Do not limit your imagination or allow yourself to stagnate.

17.  Be willing to have interconnections with other quilters such as quilting groups, bees, QALS, BOMS, quilt-shares, linky parties etc. Push yourself a bit out of your comfort zone but at the same time, make sure you don't get overwhelmed. Figure out the proper balance because it's hard to flourish in a vacuum. Everyone needs feedback.

18.  Make time for play-time. Don't think, just DO. Use your scraps, be creative or work small. Try being frugal and/or upcycle. It all works.

19.  Improve your skill level. You can't break the rules properly until you know them for what they are. 

20.  Believe in yourself. Make an effort to find the foundation of who you are as a quilter and strive to perfect on that vision. Don't bother to make comparisons with quilters you admire because you'll either come up lacking every single time or lose sight of what's important. Consider starting a blog or keeping a diary. Be honest and be real.
Inspiration and information
21.  Start, Finish, Start, Finish. Rinse and repeat.

22.  BE in your quilting space. Be in your quilting space. Be in your quilting space. Get the idea? Absorb, clean, organize, play with fabric, make interesting stacks and combinations of fabric or hunt up a perfect fabric, look at every UFO--audition and consider, give yourself permission to jettison partially formulated ideas and projects, make lists for shopping, ideas and goals, re-do bulletin boards, pin Pinterest pics, and/or think. Forget about avoidance--it gets bitter and clingy. Dream about the next project. Be daring and START something new! You don't have to LIVE here, you just need to be comfortable in the space.

23. Take time to look at your beginning, middle and current progress. Pull out all of your quilts and/or quilt tops and reflect. Understand where you've been and where you might be heading.

24. Take advantage of times of Illumination. Get right to work. Shove everything else out of the way. Take advantage of free flowing ideas and inspiration. Capture the spark!

25.  Consider including Slow Quilting type projects in with your regular quilting projects: hand piecing, EPP, hand quilting. Make time for introspection and thoughtful quilting.

26. Listen. Trust your instincts. Key in to your intuition and gently cultivate the same. Don't push through a balky idea if something is hovering right there out of sight. Patience has its rewards you know.
Starting and finishing
27.  Be a time saving machine: iron properly, trim, chain piece, figure out the best methods for how your particular mind works with where your skill level currently resides. Efficiency can be gained by not making critical mistakes that make you best friends with the seam ripper or causing re-do's. As you gain experience, difference methods might become faster or make more sense.

28.  Occasionally be open to combining ideas, projects, stacks of fabrics and/or quilting pieces. Don't feel like you have to isolate anything. Let ideas meld and watch new sparks and layers occur.

29.  Fill up the well. Take walks, read books, spend time with family, take vacations. Refresh.

30. Give quilts away. Put your heart and soul into a quilt, give it some love and then freely give it away.

In closing: I admit to times when I'm less interested in quilting than others. There are weak areas in my 'Habits of Creativity' development and I get stuck in the ruts or cower in my safe little comfort zone just like everyone else. Ha! Do. I. ever. The important thing is: I don't stay in that place for very long these days. I may not be an artist or a professional, but I'm a great quilter and you know what? I'm kind of excited about that these days.


  1. Such a great post Audrey...you forgot to be open minded about what others may make for you :o)

  2. My goodness, what a great article!
    I don't have a separate creative space...sew in my dining room, but my machine is in a corner on a little bench and I simply have to lift it over to the table and plug it in and tada, ready to go.
    I like your advice to have several projects going..I think there is always something to get exited about that way. If I've been hand quilting for several days off and on, and my index finger is beyond callous and starting to hurt? Put it away and machine piece a few blocks and those were cut out on some other day ( your prep advice )
    And then when you lose your 'mojo'....the last quilt that I finished was a simple nine patch scrap quilt for my son but had some fairly intensive hand quilting and when I got bored with it for awhile there, I just told myself 'one length of thread per day' so at least I still made some progress that way !
    I think that you have touched on everything that anyone could ever think of in this post...it is great! :)

  3. I mentioned the return of my quilting mojo in a recent post on my blog. You are much more eloquent than I am--everything you said is the truth!

  4. You have written such a good article. So true everything you have said. Good not to lose sight of these points.

  5. Fabulous article! I do several of these things as well. I think for me the important thing is to keep working on something. Whenever I have had a break, it is hard to get back into things. Many of these suggestions do just that, keep the flow going.

  6. Audrey, I think we've been channeling each other recently! Excellent post!!

  7. Great post - wonderful and insightful. Thank you!

  8. I love your list! and I agree with so much of it - one thing I always add is "if you look at quilting as work it might not be the right creative outlet for you " sometimes people drag their feet when they think of something as work and not fun. You have to want to quilt

  9. I loved this post! Such great insight and ideas! I will reread this again.....

  10. For me 2, 7 and 18 are the most important - or work the best.

  11. I LOVE THIS! Thank you! You speak directly to the part of me that yearns to be in my sewing room. I need to re-prioritize!!!

  12. gracias por compartir este mensaje !!!

  13. Wow, what an excellent, insightful post! You make some great points. I do a lot of this and have developed some of these habits over the years, but I'd never thought about it as a whole. You express it perfectly!

  14. Another brilliant post, Audrey. This one bears printing out and posting on my own bulletin board!

    If I may, I'd like to add my own tip: Go to quilt retreats! which I've elaborated on here:
    (please forgive my plug, delete if you feel this is inappropriate)

    1. Great tip Sandy! There's so much more to this subject, no way I could remember to get everything in there.:)

  15. Absolutely on the money! This is so well written and will be helpful for all of us who need to be reminded now and then how we can find the joy in our quilting. I'll definitely re-read it whenever I'm feeling like the Q word has abandoned me.

  16. Wonderful thoughts so clearly stated. Thanks for taking the time to organize these creative habits.

  17. Read this the first thing this morning and have been thinking about it all day. I was feeling so indecisive about some projects and I stalled. I was not happy. Your post made me go back to my sewing machine tonight and three hours later I'm feeling much better. I think I'll print this out and hang it next to my design wall. Thanks for all of it! Take care, Byrd

  18. I'm also chiming in with fabulous/excellent etc.
    I have another tip which works for me sometimes. Have a simple piecing project on the go - one where you don't need to plan or prepare much, so that when the mood hits you to sew, you can just do it without having to prep or plan much. It is very therapeutic to just sit and sew, and quite often doing that lets my mind wander off to more creative things, and I leave off just sewing to go fiddle with a new idea.

  19. Wow, Audrey, that is a wonderful and inspiring list! As someone who lets my 'mojo', or lack thereof, often dictate my creative motivation, your list has made me feel so motivated in wanting to push on through. Thank you so much!

  20. Wonderful post! I think I'll save it to remind myself when I'm stuck!

  21. Great post! Clearly written and actionable. Thank you! I have a tip, too. When you have to quit for the day, leave a simple task for starting next time. For example, put out thread you want to use, knowing you'll have to thread up the machine to get started. Kinda like putting the key in the ignition!

  22. Fabulous post, Audrey - I feel like I've just enjoyed a lovely 'quilt massage'. Thank you!

  23. Great post. While I do follow lots of these tips there are many zi need to consider. I will need to read this over and over

  24. You do have a way with words. Absolutely correct on it all. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Some great advice Audrey...Im going through a period of creative drought and I just need to suck it up and set myself a goal of sewing a certain amount each week, or even starting with a day where I plan to sew for a set amount of time.

  26. Don't kid yourself. . . you ARE an artist. Sometimes we as fabric creators are hesitant about classifying ourselves with the "real" artists. But, we all are truly artists and our medium of choice is fabric; lovely, tactile, visually breathtaking, stimulating, comforting fabric. I agree with you on 19. You can't truly improve on something till you know how to make it in it's original form. I recently bought a little kit to make a rabbit out of felt. I would probably construct the rabbit differently but I want to sew it exactly like the designer did to find out why she did what she did. So far I've learned a new technique that I'm going to try again. Great and thought provoking post.

  27. what a great post on mojo. Your list of ideas are all great ideas and good advice and reminders!

  28. Such a powerful post! I can relate to your thoughts. You are so right about not knowing what kind of quilter we will become. It made me feel better knowing that others change their styles, too - I was afraid I might not be "normal" in that respect.

  29. Your blog post is such a good read. I do many of the same things you do. Dedicated work space, lots of fabric in stash, supplies available, iron right next to the sewing machine, a design wall, use Pinterest for inspiration, etc. One of your ideas that I don't do is keep a notebook available to write down inspiration. I should do that.

  30. What a great post!! All good ideas.....love your blog! Just started following you!

  31. Thank you! I'm in a monumental rut right now. Great post!!

  32. Great post Audrey, I already do a lot of these things but it is great seeing them written down. In one of my journal/sketch books I paraphrased some of the ideas to keep them handy.

    Thanks for sharing.

  33. This is SO great...I think I'm going to read it again, and again! You are such a source of thoughtful wisdom. Such good stuff to absorb. Thank you for sharing.

  34. Hi, your post is so spot on, I fully agree with every point and especially your last point, enjoy making your quilts and give to those you love.

  35. What a great post! I think I should re-read it about once a week. I added the notebook thing to my sewing room this year and find it very helpful in staying focused, as well as a place to jot down calculations, inspirations, shopping lists,etc.
    Judy in Mo


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