Saturday, July 23, 2022

Creativity and Clutter

My sewing space is a mess right now, as it often is when I'm working on several projects at once. The mess drives me nuts and puts me into a kind of  creative rut where nothing gets done. My excuse is that the space is too small, but I know that's really not an excuse. It used to be fine. 

Full disclosure:  the pictures you see here are NOT ones of all the clutter. That would be stupid. Here's one of my uncluttered sewing table from a year ago. Clean and organized. Haha, I can't even show you what it looks like today.

Clutter can be a huge visual distraction and makes it difficult for me to create. It becomes worse when I try to ignore it. Some of you who've been following me for years know that I always seem to struggle with this. Over and over. On the one hand, I would really like to be able to create in a messy space but it gets too overwhelming. I know that a clean desk or sewing area definitely helps me be more productive. I don't know why it's so hard to remember this, LOL. When I organize my fabrics and clean the surfaces before I begin a new project, everything always flows a little better. 

Clutter  =  non-productivity for me

I need to get back to where I can actually lay out some blocks on a table . . . .

I've been trying to finish up my Dear Jane corner blocks (one and 1/2 left to go) but the book, patterns, applique supplies and fabrics have been sitting out on my cutting table for a couple of weeks now, cluttering everything up.  I got stuck on one of those blocks and became really frustrated. The applique looked sloppy and I was afraid I might have to do it over. If I kept it as is I knew it would always bother me. The room was so messy I didn't even want to go in there and deal with that and then face the applique problem. I'm also working on two other quilts and there's fabric strewn over every surface (and maybe the floor too?? I'm not telling.)

One day last week, however, I bit the bullet and spent less than an hour doing a light cleanup and some organizing. I tackled the cutting table first. Boy, did that help clear my head! I immediately felt like a dark cloud had lifted. The rest of the room needs a lot more work but that hour actually helped a lot. Taking the next step will be a little easier now. Best of all, I was able to go back and finish the DJ block to my satisfaction. AND I found the scissors I'd been looking for for months. Being able to know where everything is makes it easier, that's for sure. 

Look -  I can actually see the table again!

So here's a question for you - How do you create? 

Does being creative = being messy? 

For some quilters, the mess is necessary for the creative flow. It's as if disturbing the flow stops the inspiration. I get that. For me, though, there has to be SOME kind of order or nothing gets done. There are many ways to organize and each one of us has to find a method that works I guess. If anyone asks, I'm going to say - experiment and see if cleaning up your space even a tiny bit (15 minutes?) pulls you out of a quilting rut if you're in one. I know it helped me. I've now decided that I will try to spend at least 15 minutes once a week to see if I can make more of a dent in that room. Breaking it down into smaller steps the way I make my quilts -  pick fabrics one day, cut pieces the next, make a few blocks the next, etc. until it falls together. It's much too overwhelming if I try to do everything at once. My cutting table is now clean and some of the assorted fabrics and supplies put away. The sewing table is next. Full of junk, patterns and projects started and half finished. Oh well, can't do everything . . . but at least I can try to make a bigger dent next week. 

I bought some pretty baskets at Target to store fabrics. Now that I got some of that folding and organizing out of the way, I can breathe a little easier and feel like I can be creative again. Best of all, I finished that pesky Dear Jane corner block that was giving me so much anguish . . . . One more to go. Oh my gosh, so many TINY pieces! But I'll bite the bullet again and get that one out of the way so I can start sewing them to the triangles and rest of the blocks.  

I really love the lighter pink block in the center. The applique on that one was easy and went very well. It was the applique on the block on the left that made me crazy with so many wonky star points. It finally occurred to me that I could paper piece the star on top and now I think it looks much better. Whew. I'll admit, I do get a little perfectionistic working on this quilt. Maybe why it's taken me so long . . . .

After my head cleared from getting that block out of the way and then organizing some fabrics, I found this older blue fabric and decided to use it to make a new little needle case since I keep misplacing my applique needles. This one will be just for my applique needles, if I can remember to put them away after I finish sewing. 

This is a smaller version (with one pocket) of my needle case or "huswife" from my older book Remembering Adelia. It sews up pretty quickly and I think the ribbon closure really gives it a sweet look.  If you don't have that book (out of print now) you can sometimes find it used on or purchase an e-book from my publisher, Martingale. Or, if anyone is just interested in a pattern for this specific one, send me an e-mail and let me know. Maybe I'll make up a new pattern. Have a good weekend!


Chris K. said...

What works for me: when I finish sewing for the day, I put away everything I'm not going to need the next day. If I can't do that for some reason, I do it before I start the next time. In general, my rule for horizontal surfaces is to decide what things are allowed to be on there all the time. If there's something that isn't allowed, it needs to be put away. (I'm not claiming to be perfect--you should see my desk. It seriously needs an intervention.)

Donna Murdock said...

I do feel much more creative in an organized space! Yet, I can ignore a mess for the longest time. It is a contradiction to be sure. It always reminds me that often less is more, meaning less stuff is more creation. I now have my sewing table far cleaner than it used to be. When I walk in my sewing room, I am ready to sew or cut right away because the space is clean. It is also easier to keep it clean since I have removed the clutter!

And, why am I so much more organized now? It is because of our nine months old dog! He can reach up to the sewing machine, many of my shelves, and my cutting table. He loves to grab things and run. The chase is so thrilling to him! He loves it as much as he loved to eat or cuddle. As he runs, his tail is wagging fast enough to create a breeze. Part of the problem from this, is remembering where I have put things. The dog is well worth the chases and looking for the new placements of supplies. So very cute. Plus, I do feel more creative.

Gretchen Weaver said...

I can't work in a messy room either. I try to only have the fabrics for the current project on the cutting table. After the quilt is in the flimsy stage, I always cut and sew the binding. Then I can put all those fabrics away. I also take the time to cut odd pieces into squares or strips and put them in their size box. Life is so much better when things aren't chaotic, happy stitching!

I've made a Dear Jane and I foundation paper piece all the blocks I could possible make that way. I can't even imagine trying to piece those tiny little pieces any other way.

Susie said...

I make a terrible mess when I am doing anything including quilting. I am the same when I am cooking!! I enjoy the clear up though and starting with a fresh clean work space, so when I have finished a quilting project I tidy it all up and then start again. I cannot live in a mess. I am the same with our home if it gets untidy I have to clear up, otherwise I cannot get anything else done. Happy Quilting in your tidy sewing space xx

Linda said...

What is it about horizontal surfaces? They just seem to fill up. I struggled with organization not just in the sewing room before I committed to having a cleaning crew come in every two weeks. It is so easy for me to just feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. Now, the pressure of having them arrive regularly at a certain time bypasses my ??? (Mental blocks?) And I am able to put everything away so they can clean. I have several projects waiting, but I keep them in cardboard box lids, stored on shelves and only have one project out at a time. For some reason, I find that with quilting, I feel compelled to finish a project once started, and do not usually switch to a different one until completed. Maybe because the projects usually are a bit bulky and I feel motivated to complete them and get them to the LQS for long arm quilting (or to move them upstairs if I am going to hand quilt them). We all sure love your creativity, Kathy, and enjoy participating in what you are sharing with us!! Happy quilting!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely need a degree of order - but not necessarily perfect order. My greatest failure is pulling out fabrics and then not putting them back. So when I’m really bummed and can’t accomplish anything, if I’ll just trim, press, fold and put away any pieces of fabric I’m not actually using. That helps me so much! It’s that way with so many chores - dreading it is FAR worse than the actual doing.

Anonymous said...

I prefer a tidy workspace & try to start sewing & put things away as I go. Of course sometimes scrap happens 🤷‍♀️

Anonymous said...

Kathy, when I relocated in 2020 to our extended family home I went from having my own very large sewing room to a tiny sun room with only enough space for a small desk and a couple of shelves. I became so completely overwhelmed with the piles of fabric and sewing supplies that I didn’t quilt for over a year. I couldn’t face the chaos. It was your tiny hexagon quilt that inspired me to start out small just sitting and hand sewing each block. This gave me time to think about how I could manage such a small space. I started to organize using baskets and boxes to keep everything in its place. I’ve just about finished my hexagons and am managing to keep my tiny space somewhat organized. It’s the only way I can create.

Anonymous said...

I have ADD so too much clutter makes me crazy. I tend to only work on one thing at a time, so that helps keep me focused. Every month or so after i have finished a project, I will topically clean. Deep clean every 6 months or so.

Elaine Nixon said...

I would love a pattern for the needle case. I have the book but can’t put my hands on it without a search. Totally agree with everything that you have said. Especially true when I am working on an over the top quilt with lots of pieces such as Dear Jane. Mine is William lll. Get to a point where I can not continue but can’t really put everything away because I need my palette. A conundrum.

Bulliegirl said...

Hi Kathleen!
I know how you feel! I have a small sewing room which I love cuz it's cozy, but I feel like I am constantly moving things from one place to another. The top of my cutting table is so covered with stuff right now, I can't even cut on it! So I drag all my stuff out to my center island in my kitchen and cut there. Plus the counter is higher so it's easier on my back! I love your Dear Jane blocks. What an accomplishment for you. Your work is beautiful. Just from the few pics you showed, I think your sewing room is darling!

Mary said...

It's been so hot and humid this summer. I do have an air conditioner in my sewing room, but I blame the weather on losing my mojo to sew. Consequently, the sewing room became a dumping ground for books, ironing, and all the yada yada. I finally took the plunge yesterday and cleared the ironing board putting away several things. In all the clutter, I found the directions to your latest mystery quilt. I ended up finishing two cross stitch projects and sewing a binding on a quilt. I feel like I've accomplished something, and I'll be working in there again today.

I so appreciate a post like this one. Helps me to feel better knowing that I'm not the only one!

Anonymous said...

A pattern for the needlework case would be great!


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