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When You Just Don't Know What to Make

Sometimes I have a "to make" list that seems impossibly long. The ideas keep pouring out and I have to keep myself in check to not buy all the fabric or cut all the fabric or promise all the projects.

Sometimes I can't think of a single thing I want to make. Anytime I come up with a general idea I think "well that's boring" or "I have a million of those" or "that would be a waste of time."

Sometimes I have a "to make" list that seems impossibly long and yet I no longer want to make a single thing on there.

It can be really frustrating. Especially when you've carved out some "me time" and you feel uninspired and then, if you're like me, slightly frantic that you're wasting that elusive time.

So here are my guidelines when I want to push pass that creative rut.

1. Don't do it.

This may not seem like the most helpful insight given that your goal is to be in the creative moment, not out of it. But it's a good reminder that we don't always need to be creating or accomplishing or even learning. Often when I get bogged down by ideas I pick up a book that I've been lazy about finishing, or head to a park I haven't visited in awhile, or lose myself in Pinterest (more to immerse myself in the creativity that's out there, not so much for specific inspiration). If you're a serial creator like I am it can be really difficult to remind yourself that you don't always have to be creating. Recharging is good too.

2. Finish It

Let's say that you do in fact want to be creating, it's just the lack of inspiration that's holding you back. That's when I find a project that I've abandoned that needs to be finished. Ideally this is one that doesn't require a lot of creative decision making but can be finished with a little elbow grease and focus. Clearing those projects off the "making" list can be an excellent way to unburden your creative spirit --- and clean out your studio. Even if it doesn't lead to a flurry of fresh inspiration and creating, it does at least feel like you've accomplished something.

Plastic sewing project box with Sandhill Sling bag materials in it surrounded by fabric.

3. Make a List

As you go about your day, make a list (like actually write it down, put it in your Notes app, take photos and store them in a folder-- wherever and however you want but tangible) of what you find inspiring. It's amazing how these little things can give you a kick start when you're flailing about. In my list from the past few months I have everything from vintage patio furniture to pond weed to miniature doll houses to carpet patterns. Sometimes I just enjoy looking at them and that's creatively fulfilling, other times they give me an idea for something new.

4. Make It Small

This is a new approach for me. When I plan projects they usually end up being detailed or large, mostly because I can't leave well enough alone. It's not enough to make a bag-- I need to add a million pockets or custom topstitching. I can't just make a quilt-- I end up dyeing fabric or making intricate blocks (that I know I'll never finish). So instead I keep it small--- a single quilt block for a pillow, a small project for my kids, a functional item like a zipper pouch that I've needed to replace. Projects where I know the end is in sight without a whole lot of investment.

A pillow with a paper pieced star in turquoise and orange on a white background with a newsprint fabric border.

5. Just Play

The other day I purchased a big box of frames so I could make a gallery wall for my kids' artwork in our bathroom. Of course as soon as the kids realized what I was doing they had paper and markers out to make more masterpieces. I started getting worried that they were going to want all of these hung up and how I would decide which ones and whose feelings would get hurt (8 frames is not divisible by 3 kids-- not sure what I was thinking). When the youngest one said "Mom, this isn't to frame-- I'm just drawing for fun".

It's easy to forget that, like any craft, many of us sew because it's fun. And while finishing a project and enjoying your accomplishment is fun--- the sewing part is supposed to be fun too! I keep a box of "just for fun" sewing supplies nearby whenever I need an infusion of play in my sewing practice. For me this includes scraps of fancy fabrics I wouldn't otherwise use, printed fabrics, dyed fabrics, Fabri-Solvy scraps, and trims. Sometimes it ends up being something but often it doesn't amount to much so it ends up back in the box and ready for another round.

A thread painted leaf in many shades of green being held over a box of tulle and trims.

It can be tough when you feel like you're slogging through some creative muck to get to the good stuff but the good stuff always shows up eventually. And if you're open to whatever path it takes to get there then you'll probably be an even better maker because of it!

A garland of lace stars on a wood table.

I'd love to know what tricks you use to work past a creative block! Drop a note below or share on your social and make sure to tag me @hartfordstitch!

Happy Stitching! (or happy taking a break if that's what you need to do right now!)


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Apr 01, 2023

I knit/crochet hats for the space-fillers, knowing they’ll find a home with charity orgs come wintertime. Good way to play with stitches and colors, without giving it too much thought - like you said. Otherwise, I’ll rummage through my stash and rediscover supplies that got me excited at some point in the past, as they usually will again. Trying something entirely new is fun too. Micro macrame and freeform portrait crochet are up next for me.

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