Sewing productivity: five ways to build a creative habit

Cobalt blue cotton fabric with Guterman thread, Ernest and Wright Lime coloured scissors, a pack of Prym multicolour glass headed pins.
Sewing basics: thread, scissors, fabric and a creative habit

In my post on debunking the fancy sewing studio ‘Five mantras to save money on your sewing space’, I mentioned that, whatever your circumstances, the thing you really need to invest in – and invest as heavily as you can – is your sewing habit.

Investing in anything is, by its very nature, hard: however much we like something, however much we want it in our lives, having to sacrifice in the short term to bring it about will always feel troublesome.

In today’s world of instant gratification, waiting around for a return on an investment can seem like a horrible pain. Myopia is bred into us through the commercialised environment we live in. Delayed gratification has become an unusual event, and is usually instigated by a host of commitment devices designed to ensure we stay in the game and do not bow out before the results are in.

Investing in a habit is no different to investing in stocks and shares. When you absolutely love your hobby, putting aside time every week to partake in it does not seem like a hardship. It’s winning, surely? Yet there are always times when a habit, however much we usually enjoy it, will feel distinctly unappealing.

The habit itself is what will carry you through your life, not any amount of fancy equipment or studio space.

Five mantras to save money on your sewing space

Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting that if you really don’t feel like it, or there are events taking place in your life which make it impossible or plain undesirable to be squirrelled away creating, that you should push on through regardless. I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of taking breaks and allowing yourself the time to detach – whether that is in pursuit of the creative gestational phase or simply because you need to take time out.

I’m talking about maintaining regular contact with your creative outlet whenever it is within the realms of possibility to do so: investing in the habit. So, how is it done? Here are my top five tips for habit happiness:

1. Practice

Whether it’s a language, a musical instrument, landscape painting or sewing up a dress, practice is what makes a habit. The key is a combination of regularity and duration. Set yourself a regular time slot where the interruption of everyday life will be at a minimum and try your best to stick to it. The amazing thing about setting a regular slot – however slim that time frame may be – is that it often increases exponentially. Allow yourself ten minutes a day, or 30 minutes three times a week, and you will find this grows to 20 minutes, an hour or more. Maybe not every time, but when you add up the week’s devotion, you may surprise yourself.

2. Record

Which brings me onto the second point. This may appear off-putting, but when I’m struggling to commit I find keeping a record of how much time I am actually spending on a given activity incredibly helpful. In the best light, it can show me that, despite my disgruntlement, I am actually contributing a reasonable amount of time to my pursuits – even when it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day. When it turns out I’m not bothering at all, I can ask myself why. If I just need a break from it, then fine. But if it’s because that WIP pile has gotten out of hand, or the desk is a mess and I can’t face the hour of cleaning up, then there is usually something I can do to rectify the situation.

Writing down your goals and tracking your own activity can have incredibly positive affect on your productivity, forming a habit as you go. It helps visualise your future goals and leads you towards them.

3. Habeas corpus

Speaking of records, sometimes it’s time to bring out the bodies. By which I mean the products of your creative enterprise. During the UK’s first lockdown I got it into my head I hadn’t sewn anything to speak of. I’m not sure where this sense of inadequacy hailed from, but I was completely convinced that my productivity levels had hit an all time low. As it transpired, once I’d made an effort to gather together everything I had made during those first few months of radio silence (some items in the form of pictures as they had been given to others), I had made quite a pile. Not many garments for myself, to be sure, but a veritable heap of other useful items had materialised through quietly persistent endeavour.

4. Devise

Enforcing your own commitment to building a creative habit is no easy task. Many of us are, by nature, procrastinators. Even when we love doing something, actually getting down to doing it can be surprisingly challenging. Acting against our own best interests is nothing new. Akrasia is well documented amongst creative types; that difficult second novel you always hear about being a prime example.

Setting a commitment device is a way of holding yourself accountable and ensuring you do what you say you are going to do. It is completely voluntary; nobody – I hope! – is holding a gun to your head demanding you create. But the right device will ensure you comply. External devices – in the case of the novelist, the publisher, or the advance – are not applicable. It is your own call. So, when it comes to sewing, for example, you could set yourself a deal, be it daily, weekly, monthly, yearly; if you sew every day for the next six months you will allow yourself to upgrade to the new machine, or attend that sewing class, or buy that pattern you always wanted. It doesn’t really matter what the device is. Being a simple soul, I am usually compliant if I promise myself a brew after twenty minutes. Quite often I will find myself parched – and glued to the spot – two hours later.

The key here is doing it for yourself. You keep yourself committed, you answer to yourself, you do it for yourself.

5. Be imperfect

Forming a habit isn’t about reaching perfection. It’s not about boosting productivity to the point where all your goals are met. A habit is a journey, not an end point. There may not even be an endpoint, other than that you ensure your creative outlet accompanies you throughout your life, rather than ebbs and flows according to whim. Creativity is a muscle: it works through exercise not, as the romantic ideal would have us believe, bolts of inspiration.

Have a go, do it badly, don’t give too much of a damn. Let yourself relax, don’t let that button hole get the better of you. If it’s imperfect, all the better – you learned something and you will continue to learn. That’s what life is about.

And finally, if the habit eludes you, don’t beat yourself up. I once read a book that said if you want to be a writer, you must write every day without fail. If you can’t instil this simple habit, the author proclaimed, then you are not destined for the pen.

I took this to heart and, because I found it hard to commit to a regular writing slot every evening, I gave up on my dream. At the time I was doing my training to become a journalist. It never occurred to me at the time, or in the years that followed when I worked as a journalist across newspapers, magazines and broadcast, or even in the time I studied for a masters and then a doctorate in economic history, that I wrote literally all day, every day. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and by the evening I was all written out.

The habit had been there all along, I had always been a ‘writer’, just not the sort I thought, in my teenage years, I should be.

Sometimes, the habit is right under your nose. The trick is realising it’s there.

Happy creating!

So, do you have a regular habit or do you make when the spirit takes you? I’d love to hear about how you ensure you have opportunities to create. Please let me know in the comments below!

10 thoughts on “Sewing productivity: five ways to build a creative habit

  1. I enjoy so many creative pursuits that I have found it best to limit my projects. For example, I have chosen 5 Christmas projects, and no matter if I see the best thing ever, I am sticking to those 5. I am also currently redoing a dollhouse which will take a long time which is fine; I enjoy it. I enjoy sewing as well, but for now, I am not going to pursue any sewing projects. I enjoyed this post and will continue to read your blog as I do hope someday to return to sewing. Thanks for your post, and enjoy your day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Betty. I think five is definitely plenty to be getting on with for the moment! The ideas in this post would apply to any creative pursuit so I hope they resonate with your other activities. And that one day you will return to sewing! All the best, Ruth

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your post did resonate with me. I also really like the point that even though a person loves doing something, he or she still might put it off. Even hobbies take discipline! I look forward to your future posts. Enjoy your day!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been wondering where my creativity went recently too. But it came out in baking, playing The Sims (I like making houses which is creating albeit virtually) and making my hubby 2 pairs of pj’s over the last couple of months. I tend to go round in creative cycles. I know when I want something enough I’ll be picking up the sewing once more. I certainly think about sewing quite a bit. I’m also making plans and buying longed for patterns that I will try out when I get more time and inclination.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s nice to leave hobbies on the back burner for a bit. Nothing worse than it feeling like a joyless slog because you feel like you have to do it! It sounds like your mind is quietly prepping itself for something new soon – I’m looking forward to seeing what that might be! xx

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