Creative Clutter in the Sewing Room…It’s a GOOD Thing!

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to catch up (via phone) with Georgia Bonesteel, a quilting friend from North Carolina. Among many other things, Georgia is a member of the PTA (Professional Textile Artists) whose Inspired By exhibit I wrote about in a previous post. In the course of our conversation, Georgia mentioned a book…and as soon as I heard the title, I knew I needed to investigate: A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter.

If the title doesn’t grab you, how’s this for a subtitle: How to Live Creatively with Collections, Clutter, Work, Kids, Pets, Art, etc…and Stop Worrying About Everything Being Perfectly in its Place

It didn’t take too much “investigation” to decide that this book was a must-have for me: a big (272 pages!), beautifully designed hardcover, packed with juicy photos and delightful, descriptive text. Yes, it was a wee bit pricy, but I saved my pennies and treated myself. Well worth it: I’ve already spent many enjoyable hours poring through its yummy pages.

Caution: If you’re a minimalist, some of the photos might cause you “palpitations,” but if you are a sucker for eye candy (as I am), this book is all that…and more.

Now, I pride myself on keeping a (reasonably) tidy house, and for many years, my sewing room was tidy, too. Too tidy. In fact, keeping that room neat and orderly became an end in itself…and a good reason for not starting anything new. Oh, I made stuff, but it was always safe, and planned, and able to be cleaned up at the end of the day, even though I was lucky enough to have a space that I could close the door and walk away from.

When I launched my “year of creativity” at the beginning of 2012, I was still fairly conscientious. It didn’t take long for me to discover, however, that unbridled creativity is MESSY and, in the sewing room, that’s not such a bad thing!

Nowadays, my worktable overflows with the “detritus” of various projects and experiments for days on end.

Having my materials, inspiration, and “experiments” in view spurs–rather than stifles–my creativity. I’ve always kept an “idea file” of clippings, postcards, and other images tucked away in a drawer…but I’ve discovered that they’re much more inspiring to me when I can actually see them.

My bulletin board is a constantly changing display. My goal is eventually to create an entire wall of inspiration as a partner to my design wall.

Sometimes an image (or series of images) will prompt an idea that is not quite ready for action, that needs some time to “percolate.” (BTW, I got that expression from Libby Lehman, one of the most creative–and organized–people I know!) When that happens, I find it immensely helpful–and stimulating–to collect related images, fabrics, embellishments, and threads in a little vignette that I can live with for a while, and that I can add to, shape or “edit” until the idea has had time to mature. Then, when I’m ready to begin, the nucleus of the project is already in place. My confidence is high and the fear factor is minimized.

One of my current inspirational “vignettes”…which I suspect will ultimately yield a birch tree piece for an ongoing series.

I can’t tell you how much my creativity has blossomed since I let go of my need to “control” my mess. In fact, in all my years of working with fabric, the past six months have probably been the most exciting and prolific of my entire life. Since January 1, I’ve kept a journal dedicated to chronicling my creative journey. I knew I had turned a corner when I wrote on February 10, “Another sign that I’m moving in the right direction: I’m starting to discover threads on my clothes and little snips of fabric on the floor in other parts of the house.” Now it’s an everyday occurrence!

An ongoing series: seeing this image makes me realize how the theme of “growth” has been very much on my mind.

I realize that not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated sewing space. (Mine is actually only “semi-dedicated.” I’m forced to clean up some when we have overflow houseguests.) I also know that we all have different levels of tolerance when it comes to–well, clutter. That’s OK. I just encourage you to ask yourself honestly if neatness in your creative space is truly your nature…or if it’s just a mask for procrastination and fear (as it was so long for me.)

Maybe you’d like to loosen up a bit, but aren’t quite ready to go off the deep end. Here are two books that deal with organization, but with the creative person (and all that entails) in mind. The first is an old favorite: The Creative Woman’s Getting-It-All-Together at Home Handbook by Jean Ray Laury.

This classic is long out of print, but you can find it used from a number of sources online. Jean was a pioneer of the quilt revival and a woman ahead of her time.

The second is Organizing for the Creative Person: Right-Brain Styles for Conquering Clutter, Mastering Time, and Reaching Your Goals by Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter Lamping, C.S.W.

This one has also been around for a while, but when I checked, I found it’s still in print. You may find it with a different cover, depending upon the edition.

I’d love to hear about your sewing space. Do leave a comment and let me know…and ’til next time, happy sewing!

14 thoughts on “Creative Clutter in the Sewing Room…It’s a GOOD Thing!

  1. Great post Darra. I’m lucky enough to have my own space, with a door! Since I like to work on more than one project at a time it can get a bit ‘cluttered’. Do try when one project is finished to put away all that had to do with that project. Then get fabrics out for next and let that project perk for a while. At times when I get too many hand projects in living room I am reminded that I am migrating again. Just returned from the Grand Slam Baseball tournament in Panama City, FL and cannot wait to make ‘creative clutter’ with the purchases from there. BTW I’m thinking of going back to FL. It is hotter here in SC than it was in FL. Judy


    1. I feel your pain, Judy! We’ve just returned from a family visit back East, where the temps and the humidity were unbelievable. What a pleasure to return to the cool, dry Bay Area!
      As for the new Florida-based “creative clutter:” can’t wait to hear what you make of it. Darra


  2. Just read about your blog in the new Quilt Life and found you on the first try! I am guilty of being “frozen” by the organized quilting room. Maybe my fear of being creative has something to do with that…….???


    1. Welcome Elizabeth! I’m glad you found us and hope you’ll be coming back. One of my earliest posts (April 22, 2011) was about the relationship between quilter’s block and fear. You might want to take a peek. If you click on my avatar (the D on the upper right side of the current post), all of my previous posts will be listed. If you back up to the last page, you’ll find it. I know fear–probably of failure; that is, my quilts not living up to my expectations–has been an issue for me in the past. I think I’m finally getting over it! Happy 4th! Darra


  3. I love reading your posts, Darra, and just passed this one on to two of my quilting friends as we are trying to push ourselves on the creative process. I know they will appreciate what you have to say. Miss seeing you and will be thinking of you, Joen and Alex on your retreat!!


    1. Thank you so much, Cathy! This has been a very interesting year for me creatively, and I look forward to what the next six months will bring. In the immediate future, I’m looking forward to my upcoming retreat with A and J. Packing my sewing stuff will be tough as I have all kinds of things I want to try. Miss you too! Love to Jim, Jennifer, and the family…Darra


  4. I think there is a great deal of difference between the creative clutter of a sewing or craft space and the clutter which consumes many homes—the kitchen counters covered with dirty dishes or last week’s newspapers and mail piled up in the living room or piles of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. I keep my house without this clutter, but the studio space (Jean Ray Laury thought all sewing spaces deserve to be called “studios.”) would be considered messy to a non-quilter’s eye! This is especially true when I’m auditioning fabrics for a new quilt.


    1. Ah, yes…the auditioning process. Don’t you love it, Sandy? That’s when it really gets knee-deep in here 😉


  5. the title of your blog sure got my attention. i refer to “organizing” my craft room as cleaning it up. once it’s cleaned up i feel so neat and tidy. but then…. i can’t find a thing i was just using or needed for a project. my space is small and is used for several addictions, so i have to have some organization and order. we have to find the right balance to our individual need for order. one of my favorite books for trying to be neat and tidy in the home is: Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE) written by the slob sisters. thanks for reminding us to be creative first.


  6. Great post, Darra. Have you noticed how many quilt books start with a section on setting up/organizing your sewing space? That info seems silly to me. A person who spends a lot of time on a perfect sewing room will never get to the actual work.


    1. Thank you, Martha! I just got back from a trip to visit family back East and did a “cosmetic” clean-up in my sewing space before I left. I hope I can find everything today 😉 Darra


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s