Five more creativity tips to get that sewjo workin’

The blank page – frightening or inviting?
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If you read part one and part two of the ‘Sewjo in lockdown’ series, you will know that 1) you are not alone, 2) it’s not the end of the world and 3) you can get that sewjo working once more!

However elusive creativity might feel at times, it actually has a fairly predictable nature. If there was one take-home, it’s this: time out is part of the game.

Sometimes, we need time out not because an idea is simmering away under the surface, but rather because everything else in life is at a rolling boil; we just don’t have the headspace for our usual jam. In parts one and two I discussed the importance of rest, routine and distraction. In this, the final instalment, I discuss five more ways to get your sewjo working: how to return to a creative state of being, what to do while you’re waiting for inspiration and, perhaps most importantly, how to take a break from the whole thing without beating yourself up about it.

One: absorb

We’ve all heard the saying ‘creativity is 99 per cent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration’. While there is some truth in this, the fact is you can’t work away at something if you’re drained and disinterested. If you’re not feeling it, there’s no point beating yourself up. You still need the 1 per cent to feel able to commit the 99. Yes, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

My suggestion? Read. Flick through sewing magazines, look through your sewing books, surf the internet – whether its Instagram, Pinterest or the Sew Direct website, let yourself explore and absorb. Enjoy the process without thinking about where it will lead (why does everything on this topic end up sounding like a dating guide?). You may find inspiration, you may not. Either way all that eyeballing will, in the long run, ferment into your sewjo brain. Grisly but true.

Two: sort

If you wait around for inspiration it might never hit. Sometimes it helps to locate yourself in the right place in readiness for the right time. I share an office with my husband and the spare bed, and my desk doubles for work, so my sewing stuff is usually tidied (OK, shoved) away. When I have time to be in there alone, but I’m not in the mood to sew, a little rummage and tidy-up is just the tonic.

It sounds boring, but there’s something cathartic and ritualistic about this process and I’m sure it has a positive effect on sewjo. Recent sorting events include rifling through my button collection and dividing between a bunch of Kilner jars, untangling and classifying three drawers of mangled threads, categorising several boxes of vintage patterns, and neatly folding all my fabric (and having a good stroke while I was at it). Spot the original seeker of thrills!

I’m no Marie Kondo (I keep buttons I think are downright ugly on the off chance I might one day change my mind), but sorting and tidying keeps you connected to your hobby and confirms to the brain that you haven’t let go. If nothing else, it makes being in your sewing space an easier and more enjoyable experience when inspiration finally strikes.

Three: define

Time is a humdinger. When we have too much time, rather than too little, problems can surface. If we can do anything we want, and we have limitless time at our disposal, it can lead to a rabbit-in-the-headlights situation. Too much freedom can be dizzying; we could do it today, but there is always tomorrow…

There seems to be a perfect middle ground for people who have continued to work throughout lockdown, but have saved time on their commute – still yearning for sewing time during working hours, the extra time freed-up from commuting becomes a valuable – and, most importantly, finite – resource not to be squandered. When there is a small but specific window for creativity, we tend to squeeze our hobbies into what limited time we have.

The solution? Divide and annex your free time. If the days are sprawling ahead of you with no definition, impose a structure upon the mass. Decide that the hour after lunch, or the hour before dinner, or the hour after waking, or whichever hour works best for you, will be your time to create. If you’re not feeling it, go to points one and two and use this freshly allotted time to feather your creative nest.

The boon for those with a newfound glut of discretionary time is that if you do get in the mood for making, the flow state can roll on uninhibited.

For some of us, even if there is time to sew (my window is usually 9-10pm after I’ve finally settled my youngest to sleep), the quality of that time – or rather the quality of ourselves in that time – is limited. Working parents are currently experiencing a reduction in discretionary time due to additional childcare and home-ed responsibilities and a reduction in headspace due to the draining emotional toll of navigating this new world not only for ourselves, but also the small humans we care for. ‘Free’ time takes on a different meaning: it’s more a recovery state than anything else. No amount of annexing is going to improve the quality of time left over at the end of the day. My recommendation? Sleep. Sleep if and when you can. And then skip to point five.

Four: commit

Sometimes, you want to sew, but can’t think of what you should be sewing. That’s when having some external pressure can actually be quite helpful. This is a bit of a tightrope: if too restrictive, obligation can tip over into feeling bound, and very little drains the creative juices faster. But small commitment devices neutralise the array of possibilities that can kill decisiveness and therefore action.

A really good example, mentioned to me recently by Lisa @made_under_the_starry_sky, is pattern testing. When testing you’re not usually expecting to walk away with a perfect garment, it’s the process that matters. There is usually a deadline, and a few tasks to complete at the end, perhaps filling in a questionnaire or writing a review. It keeps you sewing, but the pressure of what to make, whether one is being creative, is held in check. If pattern testing sounds a bit much, make something for someone else. Or set yourself a little personal challenge, perhaps something for the home or a repair you’ve been putting off.

Five: breathe

Sometimes the best thing to do is take a deep breath and walk away. Yes, I’m serious. There’s nothing worse for sewjo, creativity, whatever you want to call it, than pushing yourself to do something when your heart is not in it. For most of us, this is a hobby. Hobbies do not thrive under duress. If you’ve tried taking sewing-related time out, but really you just want to forget about it for a bit, then don’t torture yourself. It’s fine to pack the machine away and tell yourself you will return to it only if and when you feel like it.

Feel good about your decision, because this does more for your creativity and affection for sewing than any amount of self-flagellation. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: creativity is a form of self-actualisation. You need to take care of yourself and those around you first. In these strange and difficult times it’s so important we are kind to one another and that includes being kind to ourselves. Sewing isn’t going anywhere, and when you’re ready you can return to it and enjoy the satisfaction and joy of creating your own clothes once again.

So, there you have it. Five tips to help you navigate sewjo scarcity. Do you have tips and tricks that help you through a sewing dry spell? Please share below in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Five more creativity tips to get that sewjo workin’

  1. When I worked in creative teams “the freedom of a tight brief” was the mantra and they were not talking about pants! It’s true that too much time/choice/resources can be as challenging as too little. For me, freedom with limits helps rubber meet road. Part Two suggestion about having a creative side gig to your main craft is a sanity-saver, I agree 100%. This is yet another excellent mind stirrer this morning, thank you!


    1. Ha ha! The freedom of a tight brief! Nothing truer. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that… Thank you for reading and commenting Rachel 🙂


  2. Brilliantly relevant series Ruth. I love a good mooch through my sewing supplies, accessories, buttons, threads, and patterns when inspiration is lacking. Sometimes it just puts me in the mood to play with my machine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Miranda! Ah, the blessed mooch – I’m with you! Sometimes I go in and tell myself I won’t be sewing, just a little peruse… and then somehow I will find myself rethreading the overlocker and then… whoopsie! … I appear to be sewing something or other together…


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