Craft Table Chats – A Creative State of Mind

The inspiration for this series of Craft Table Chats was a lack of inspiration in my creative life. I felt adrift, floundering in a sea of uncertainty about sewing, blogging, and life balance. Then a conversation with a crafty friend reminded me that I was not alone in those feelings. Because this friend had herself been too busy to blog about projects or blog about her feelings of stress, I hadn’t realized we were dancing the same end-of-year craft exhaustion dance. I wished that we (members of the sewing and cosplay communities) had more time to gather and talk through the creative process.

Through the power of the internet I’ve invited women in my creative and geeky networks to participate in these Craft Table Chats and talk about what excites them creatively, the elusive “work-life-craft” balance, and their favorite skills. Thank you to everyone who responded. You are all busy adults with a robust creative list and real world obligations.

*Craft Table Chat responses are quoted and paraphrased from the participants’  longer interview responses. In cases where the responses to one question related to another question, I took liberties to combine those comments, speculating how our discussion might have flowed if we really were sitting around a table together.*

Meris – I am great at making lists or grand plans and less good at direct execution. Sometimes this is rooted in anxiety about irreversibility – I’ve been known to measure 12 times just to cut once. This isn’t just procrastination (though, that is also a bad habit of mine… and Sarah’s, and Tally’s, and Marian’s), this is creative inertia. 

What excites you most a project or drives you to push on?

Tally – The idea phase! Getting started can be hard, and powering through the dull parts can be hard, but the inspiration part is the most exciting.

Tara – That magical moment when a fun idea turns from “Wouldn’t it be cool…” to “I can totally do that!” The initial plotting and planning of how to do the creative work is so much fun.

Tyraenna – I LOVE the ideas / design stage of a project.  I know I’m ready to get started on projects when my brain has stockpiled a bunch of ideas and I start to want to draw out what is going on in my head or choosing fabric for it.

Tally – That and the completion of a project. Finishing something can be greatly exciting (“Wow, I just made that!”) and can really motivate me to start on the next thing.

Marian – Being able to wear [the costume].

Tasukigirl – It starts with passion for a franchise, character, time period (which is why I cosplay so much Assassin’s Creed) or all of the above and it’s that excitement that drives me.  Sure I may run out of steam halfway through the project, but I also try to finish what I start.

Sarah – greater creative control. When I can explore the story and characters with symbolism and artistic expression, I am most challenged and thus, most excited for the work. [Also] having new projects that are nothing like the previous ones helps keep it fresh for me.

Amy – Sometimes it’s what I’m learning, sometimes it’s the community, and sometimes it’s just the pure act of creating…

Marian – Living with another cosplayer (sic) helps generate an overall productive environment, gives you people to bounce ideas off of, and group shopping trips are super fun.

Brooke – To breathe is to create. I can’t not have a project in my life. I tend to start more than I finish of my own personal sewing projects. Many things die at the mockup stage. I usually do best with a need for something and a concrete deadline.

Meris – Deadlines. I do some of my best work at the last minute. I get into this laser-focused, nearly obsessive frame of mind when a convention deadline approaches. (I don’t really have deadlines for my personal, everyday sewing projects…which is probably why none are finished.)  

How do you deal with deadlines?

Sarah – I’m a procrastinator. I am most motivated by deadlines… I have found that it’s easier to get things done early for clients as opposed to in my theatrical work. Most of the professionals in theatre that I work with are similar to me and the way production schedules are set up, there is usually a very quick turn around time between due dates, so it perpetuates this habit.

Tasukigirl – Deadlines are perhaps the most frustrating aspect of cosplay. If I’m making something for myself and I don’t finish it, I’m okay with it. But if I’m making something for a group, or at the invitation of someone else, then I put more pressure on myself to finish something of quality and that’s usually what drives me to stay up to 2AM on work nights or to turn down a friend’s birthday dinner to work on stuff. When I worked on the puppeteer, I was so stressed to finish all of it in time that at once point I just sat on the floor, surrounded by fabric and cried. But after that, it was out of my system and I picked myself up and finished the project.

Marian – I procrastinate terribly, and sometimes I have a lot of trouble seeing the final project in the raw materials/half finished materials. So it helps to take a lot of progress photos and let myself compare as it goes along (mostly to assure myself that yes, it is, in fact, coming together).

Meris – My habit of last-minute cosplay work frustrates and concerns my husband who essentially works as a project manager. It isn’t just that I exhibit an apparent lack of time management skills, it is that my laser-focus on cosplay blinds me to everything else in my life. The dishes, friends, him…  

How do you manage time between creativity and other demands in your life?

Marian – Not well? Ha, well, that’s not entirely true. I do miss the days of working part-time and having far more time to spend constructing, but at the same time, I really enjoy having an actual disposable income. I will often take a lot of smaller projects, like hand stitching, to work with me to get in a little extra work on my breaks. It generates interesting workplace discussion, at least.

Sarah – Well, I’ve gotten better, but it’s still not great. My husband would appreciate if I was home more consistently so he can see me, but I’m fortunate now to work where I also create so going home is down time.

Tyraenna – My personality is a bit obsessive over things – almost to the exclusion of many other things. So when I have a project…I am enjoying, it often starts to consume other parts of my life a bit. I’m a pretty organized person, so I guess I kind of schedule myself time to my creative endeavors. Sometimes I combine creativity with social activities – do sewing nights with a group of like-minded creators.

Tasukigirl – Most of my family knows that I spend January to July working on projects and I use the other half of the year to catch up with people, play games, celebrate the nearly weekly birthdays from Sept-Dec and the holidays. I try to work on my projects for a few hours each day so I make slow, but steady progress. My friends are also used to me turning down random invites, () or they’re not surprised when I pull out a piece of sewing or crochet to work on at their house.

Tara – You must make creative time a priority. Create a schedule, put it on your calendar, and keep at it! The tougher part for me is making the time for the other parts of my life, specifically family and friends. I hope to focus on my relationships this year and make sure I spend more time with everyone!

Brooke – I’m fortunate that my work is a creative outlet. I do best when I’m on a job outside my house because it allows me to leave work at work and do my own thing at home.

Tally – Truthfully, I’ve never figured out how to do this really evenly and not stress out of about.

Amy – I think what happens is that I take care of my other demands and then sneak in time to sew whenever I can. I think that’s why this last year resulted in so little creative output. There was a never-ending list of other demands between the new baby and the new house and the old job. This year I’m trying to make creative pursuits a higher priority. In fact, I’m currently doing this interview instead of helping my husband rewire an electrical outlet in our house! (To Amy’s husband, we thank you for your sacrifice!)

Tyraenna – Someone needs to invent one of the following:
(a) a device that controls time or (b) a pill or supplement that substitutes for sleep.
I hate sleeping because there are always so many other things I’d rather be doing, but if I could somehow extend all the hours after work, that would be excellent. Maybe I need to play the lottery more often – then I could retire, which would be a good option C.

Meris – I will totally invest in that invention! When I applied to the University of Washington for undergrad, one of the essay questions was “What superpower would you want and why?” I wanted the ability to control time, in the same way Link could control it with the Ocarina of Time, and allow myself to accomplish all that I set out to do. Perhaps that should have been a warning sign about my study and procrastination habits in college…

Besides procrastination and bad time management habits, what would you describe as your worst creative habit?

Tyraenna – Buying things from Amazon. I took some steps recently to try to reign in my purchasing, but it gets hard when I start to see a deadline. Basically, I try to make a single monthly Amazon purchase. Put the things I want / need in my cart, and force myself to think about it for a while before pulling the trigger.

Amy – Does perfectionism count?!

Tara – I can sometimes be a bit too negative or “realistic” with my plans. I think too
small, when I’m capable of doing great things! I’m trying to remember that there’s
always a way to do what you want to do–you just have to open your mind and think
creatively.

Tasukigirl – I have an eye for detail and I’m also a perfectionist. Between the two of them, I can get incredibly indecisive about things or change my mind and try to redo things. This can sometimes waste a lot of my time and resources… That being said, I also don’t choose largely popular or even well known characters, so I’ve learned that even if details are missing, most people don’t even notice. Even now, all the detailing [on my James Kidd costume] isn’t finished, but I’m pretty happy with it for the most part.

Marian – I tend to get really excited toward the end, and I’m more prone to cutting corners, the closer I am to the finish line. But this year, I’m hoping to cut back a little on my number of produced costumes so I can give myself a little more time to finish the ones I’m working on (though being so eager to wear them, we’ll see if that’s successful or not).

Tally – Doing too many things at once, too many commitments…but you know the old saying about good intentions…

Brooke – Messiness. My messy sewing room probably kills my motivation for personal sewing most. Creativity is messy. I would love to be neater. Intentions are
always noble but ultimately fail. It’s a never-ending cycle I have yet to find a way to
break.

Meris – I feel reassured. “See honey? I am not the only one who crafts up til the last moment and leaves a trail of fabric across the house!” I also feel a little concerned for us all. Let me pour another round of wine. 🙂

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What do you do to relax?

Tally – Hmm. That’s a thing I should probably do now and then.

Marian – By procrastinating. 🙂

Amy – I’d love to say I do something creative to relax, but I think running is the best form of relaxation for me.

Tyraenna – Hanging out with my husband, watching tv, playing video games, reading books. Sometimes shopping (online at Amazon haha). Writing is actually fairly relaxing for me sometimes as well.

Brooke – I enjoy chatting on Twitter and the interaction on Instagram. I also like
watching movies and television – thank goodness for Netflix!

Tara – I honestly just need to veg sometimes. Sit in front of a fun tv show or movie, or surf the internet a bit. I can turn my brain off a bit, but also absorb other popular works and learn a bit more about the creative process.

Tasukigirl – I like to take short breaks where I terrorize my cat Elmira style and hug her, pet her, or chase her around the apartment and ask her why she won’t love me. I’m a jerk to my poor cat. But more seriously, I do sometimes take a night off and play video games, or watch movies and generally I try to have at least one date night a week so my boyfriend doesn’t think I’ve forgotten him.

Sarah – I’d like to say I do something fancy, but it’s usually lay on the couch and watch TV with my husband and dog.

Meris – I think one of the great illusions of the internet is that it is so easy to self-edit and only post updates of successes and a clean sewing room. There has been some interesting articles about the psychological impact of social media, and we all heard about Facebook’s sneaky study of our news feeds. I don’t begrudge the bloggers who are building a business around their tutorials (and who rarely show flubs). I have trained myself to avoid self-comparisons to “Pinterest Perfection” and my preference is to follow those of you who show the progress as well as sharing tips, tricks, and tutorials. The internet is a great place to document and show off your creations, but it is also a wonderful way to learn from others. 

What are your favorite skills?

Marian – I’m actually a really big fan of using found materials or repurposing materials within costumes. Finding creative uses for old things is one of my favorite creative tricks. The Star-Lord helmet made out of a $3 Iron Man mask, poptab chainmail, old and wornout leather jackets being repurposed into belts/pouches/etc., the possibilities are endless, and really helps especially if you’re working on a tight budget: it’s still totally possible to cosplay without spending a lot, you just have to be savvy about materials.

Tara – Organization! I use Google docs and To-Do lists often to keep track of all of my projects and items I need to accomplish. I’d recommend Wunderlist for anyone else looking for a great list app. I use it on my laptop and my iPhone and have different lists for each project I’m working on, as well as a grocery list, a recipe list, a “books/movies/tv shows to check out list,” and more.

Tasukigirl – I used to draw a lot as a kid and that has been the most helpful skill. I tend to draw a lot of my own patterns and I love to use stencils for repeating or elaborate patterns. It’s handy when I can just draw one up myself.

Sarah – I’ve been trained in both design and construction which certainly are
indispensable skills, but I have to say my skills in the area of presentation and political negotiation are far and away the most useful. I work so intimately with other creative professionals and we all have passionate ideas, so it’s critical to be able to present and communicate ideas in a way that conveys your idea without it feeling like you are stepping on anyone’s toes. I also spend time explaining to the actors why I’ve made the choices they see so they understand how much I’ve thought about their character and they have the chance to own those items are really make them their own.

Amy – My love of books has been very useful. I have found answers for so many
different kinds of sewing questions in various books, both from my own library and the public library.

Tyraenna – The tissue paper trick for preventing wavy seams on knit fabric has been invaluable to me in my time without a serger. I also find my pattern making skills to be super useful. I’ve never taken any formal training on that sort of stuff, but I seem to be doing okay since all the patterns I have made resulted in clothes that fit!

Tally – Storing self-made patterns in recycled greeting card envelopes (which then
go into those craft-store photo boxes – they’re like the same size as shoe
boxes). And making Christmas cards during the Christmas holidays… to put away and use the next Christmas, when suddenly you need to get them sent out and
you don’t have time to actually make them first.

Brooke – Here’s a good random sample of my tips & tricks. (Meris – Seriously you all need to look at this list!)

A Creative State of Mind

The creative community exhibits a mixture of attention to detail (sometimes perfectionism) and a willingness to take a risk on something new. For all of the formal sewing skills and best practices I’ve learned, there are an equal number of techniques I’ve learned through YouTube and random Pinterest tutorials. There is a risk of letting perfectionism halt progress. I know I’ve sat paralyzed surrounded by fabric I was too scared to cut for fear of making a mistake. At the same time, observing how many of us have that perfectionist trait, I think it can be a positive tool that drives us to “level-up” our skills and strive to improve over our previous work. Moderation is the key.

I am currently reading the Confidence Code. I know I have a history of wobbly self-confidence and I’m interested in improving my public presentation and interpersonal skills in social and professional settings. In the second chapter of this book the authors are working to define “confidence” because they had come to realize it was more than just “looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’ll do great.” One passage highlighted the idea of mastery of specific skills. It wasn’t just being good at something, it was knowing you are good at something BECAUSE you are willing to pursue the process, make mistakes, fail, succeed, and continue to learn. I immediately thought about my sewing and cosplay, and also what you have all shared about your creative processes.

Sarah – Your readers will know this, but I’m surprised by how many people are unaware of the raw work that’s required to create. It’s not a magical, fairy-dust and rainbows experience. It’s grueling work and a colleague of mine and I often remark that it’s similar to an addiction. We put ourselves through hell on almost every show and then when we are done, it’s so rewarding, we forget how excruciating the process it and do it all again.

Amy, Tally, and Marian spoke about the joy of the finished product. That euphoria inspires the next project, gives us motivation to go back through the “excruciating process” that Sarah refers to. I asked what inspired or excited you the most and after being able to read your responses to all the questions I can say that the community — the people I interact with on Twitter, Instagram, and my Facebook friends (old and new)— help drive me to complete projects. It is the collective enthusiasm from others, whether they understand the “work required to create” or they enjoy the idea behind the project, that fuels my own enthusiasm. We are social creatures and the internet has enabled us to find and support each other across great distances.

Thank you.

(The next post in the Craft Table Chats series will be about blogs & community.)


The Craft Table Chats include –

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2 thoughts on “Craft Table Chats – A Creative State of Mind

  1. Meris, this is so neat to see and read! Some similarities, some differences, all of us with different backgrounds and experiences. Wish I really had sat around a table with all of you, drinking wine, and chatting 🙂 Maybe someday!

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