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Episode 104

How to Prioritize Your Sewing When You Have Too Many Ideas

Do you have too many ideas for sewing projects and not enough time to make them all? Here are 4 steps to help you bring an idea for a sewing project out of the idea stage and turn it into a finished garment.

If you’re stuck in the middle of a bunch of ideas, you might need to complete your creative cycle.

If you think about sewing as a creative cycle, you have the excitement and novelty of getting new ideas at the start of the cycle and a completed garment you love to wear at the end. Completing this cycle keeps you sewing, but it’s also easy to get stuck in all the ideas, which leads to analysis paralysis, which means you aren’t actually sewing anything.

Here are 4 steps to help you bring an idea for a sewing project out of the idea stage and turn it into a finished garment.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio, where we share practical ideas for building a creative process so you can sew with intention and joy.

Today we’re talking about what to do when you have tons of ideas and not enough time to make them all. I think that’s something that we all go through. We’re going to cover our own struggles with having an abundance of ideas, what we’ve found helpful in sorting through them, and why we think the number one criteria for what you sew should be genuine excitement.

All right, so let’s start with our icebreaker today, which comes from Regina, and Regina asks, “what does your experience with emotions reflect?” I think she means what’s your experience with your emotions being reflected in your sewing and is it possible to compensate for that? So this came from a longer comment, Haley, we were just talking about. So if you want to read Regina’s whole comment, you can do that on the community. But what she was talking about was really how emotions might be reflected in your sewing and if you can change that. So what do you think, Haley? Is this something that you have experience with?

Haley
Yeah, definitely. I think especially if I’m experiencing an emotional stress because I’m rushing through a project or I’m frustrated, I think those kinds of emotions can come across in the finished product because I tend to maybe make more mistakes, be a little bit sloppy, or if I’m frustrated, maybe I’ll have ripped something out five times and then I’m like, finally I’m like, well, that’s good enough. It’s going to stay the way it is.

So I think that the way, I wouldn’t so much say that I compensate for it, is that I try to not continue sewing when I’m in a state like that. I have kind of a loose rule of if I’ve seen ripped the same thing like three times, then it’s time to step away from it and take a break. Or maybe, you know, asking myself, what is it that I’m, like, seeking from my sewing today? If I’m in a stressed state, maybe I don’t want to. Maybe reaching for the more challenging project that I have is not something that’s going to give me what I’m seeking. And doing something just a little bit more low key will yield better results.

So I think it’s more about going inward and either removing yourself from the situation that’s causing you the stress or pivoting to something that is going to help you reduce your stress a little bit more. I guess the advice that I would give someone else because that is what I tend to do when my less good feeling emotions are reflecting on my work.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that resonates with me as well. I think the number one source of stress in my life is definitely a feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it in. And that can definitely be reflected in sewing because sewing is a productive activity or making something and you might have limited time to engage in that activity. So it’s really easy for that to translate into a hobby like sewing and probably into other I know it reflects in other hobbies I have as well, like gardening. I simply can’t enjoy it to the same extent if I’m rushing through it and trying to get all my tasks done and do this amount and this amount of time. So I think when Regina asks about compensating for it or maybe changing that dynamic, I think all your tips are really good, Haley.

I also think just like, forcing myself to slow down and just enjoy the process and enjoy maybe a smaller piece of the process rather than worrying about finishing the entire thing or finishing a certain amount in a certain amount of time can help me not only to not be stressed about my sewing but to also help to train me to do that in other parts of my life as well. To just like. Let’s slow it down. Let’s look at what we’re doing in this moment and enjoy what we’re doing in this moment and not focus all the time on the future and on the outcome and just enjoy the process. And I think that’s something that sewing can really help with and other creative hobbies can also really help with. So this is a great question, Regina. It really got our gears turning early on this one. Usually our icebreakers are a little bit like lighthearted, but this is a really good one to introduce this episode. So thank you so much, Regina.

Haley
Yeah.

Sarai
So if you have an icebreaker for us for a future episode, whether it’s a deeper question like Regina’s or a lighter one, we welcome them all. If you’re a member, you can go to seamwork.com/go/icebreakers. And that’s going to take you to a post on our community forums where you can share your ideas for ice breakers that we’ll use in a future episode. All right, Haiey, you want to introduce what we’re talking about today?

Haley
Yes. So today we’re talking about prioritizing your sewing when you just have way too many ideas. And just full disclosure, I think that this is something that Sarai and I both struggle with. We were laughing when we were outlining this episode because we’re like, oh, I guess it’s time to give ourselves a little bit of advice. I feel like not an expert in this in some ways because it’s something that I struggle with still, but also an expert in it because I struggle with it. So it’s something that I deal with very firsthand. So we’re going to do our best today to kind of take you through some of our strategies. The something that comes up for us is that we have just too many ideas and not enough time. And this can kind of lead to the cycle of analysis paralysis. And I think that people who so tend to have a lot of really fun ideas, we’re inherently creative people, and it can be overwhelming when you have to finally or you don’t have to, but when you’re finally getting out of that ideating phase and into the execution phase. And so we’re going to talk a little bit of how to transition from one to the other.

So Sarai, where do your ideas come from? Big question.

Sarai
I get this question a lot, and I think a lot of people who have creative careers or creative pursuits in their life get this question. And it’s a hard one to answer, but I think at least for sewing, my ideas come from a variety of places. But really I get inspired by the most by certain techniques. I really like details. I really enjoy discovering really cool details in clothing and seeing how I can translate them or make a garment based on those details or put them together into something really special. So I think that is the one place that my ideas come from. I have this whole Pinterest board that goes back years that’s just design details, and it’s just my favorite thing to look through when I’m trying to come up with ideas for projects. I think also just looking at ready to wear clothing, what’s out there right now, vintage clothing, historical garments, all kinds of stuff like that. Textiles, really interesting textiles all kind of bring me inspiration and ideas. But I would say I’m a very detailed person when it comes to sewing. What about you?

Haley
This is a hard question for me because I find it hard not to be in a constant state of inspiration. So I get my inspiration. I would say most of my ideas, inspiration for me strikes. I get kind of like the ghost of an idea. And that can be from, like you said, like a detail. It could be by the silhouette of someone’s outfit at the grocery store or crossing the street. It can be like the color palette of wallpaper. It can be kind of anywhere. And that’s kind of the moment that, like I said, the ghost of an idea comes about. And then where I get really inspired is when I start sketching and iterating with that kind of ghost in mind, I think that that’s when my ideas and my creativity really comes to life. So it’s kind of like a two step inspiration process.

Sarai
I’m imagining all these little ghosts floating around you. It’s very spooky.

Haley
I like it. I’m a spooky girl.

Sarai
That’s funny. We call our cats the Ghosties because our cats are both white. I called them the little Ghosties.

Haley
That’s funny. Whenever all of our cat starts freaking out, for some reason, eric will be like, what’s wrong? He’ll think like someone’s knocking at the door or something. I’m like, I don’t know. Ghosties, man.

Sarai
Ghosties’ ideas floating around her house.

Haley
All my wallpaper ideas, you know, they’re freaking all about.

Sarai
So what prevents you from acting on your ideas?

Haley
Usually it’s because I haven’t brought them from ghost idea to a more physical manifestation, like a sketch or something like that. So it’s usually when they’re just not fully developed. I would say that’s kind of my biggest roadblock. What about you?

Sarai
Yeah, I would say that, but kind of as an addendum to that. It’s more even before that stage, deciding and prioritizing which of the ideas I want to pursue because I might have a lot of ideas floating around my head. And just that act of making a decision about what I’m going to do and what I’m not going to do can be really challenging. I think that’s where I get stuck the most. I think other people might get stuck on other aspects, like maybe just even getting started on the projects, maybe have an idea in mind, but actually starting on it, that can be hard too. I can get stuck there as well.

Haley
Yeah, definitely. I’m coming from it in like from two perspectives as a designer, but then also in my personal sewing practice and my blocks for both of those things can be a little bit different, I guess.

Sarai
Yeah. Do you feel like you have more fun coming up with ideas or with actually making them happen?

Haley
I think that they fulfill different things for me, but I would say making them happen is the most fulfilling, while ideating is like, maybe a little bit more thrilling in a way. But I think that having the fulfillment of seeing something come to life, like really fuels my creativity and makes me want to keep making. So I guess I would say more fun in that way.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s interesting. I think that’s true. The idea part of it feels very creative and it’s really fun and exciting. The making part of it is fun in a different way, but it’s the outcome that kind of like completes the cycle and makes you feel like that original spark of creativity has now been fulfilled and that inspires you to keep going. So it’s kind of like this loop.

Haley
Exactly. And I have to kick myself into gear, into the actual creation part of the cycle now and again so I can kind of complete that loop and get back to that place of initial creativity.

Sarai
Yeah, I think with this question about is it more fun to come up with ideas or actually make them happen, it just makes me think about work because I just read this book. So we’re in the process of hiring an operations person right now. We just started this process and we use a system at work called EOS, which is just a method of running a business, basically, but one of the tenants of it is to separate out the kind of idea person, which is called the visionary, from the operations person, who’s the person who really executes and makes things happen. And they’re both so important, but it describes the characteristics of somebody who’s more of like the CEO visionary and somebody who’s more of the executor operations integrator person. It was so funny reading it because the list of characteristics of the CEO visionary role is just like so me to a T. Like everything about it was me. But one of the things that was on it was you have bite off more than you can chew, you have way more ideas than you can possibly execute and you basically just get overly excited about things and try to do too much.

And that is definitely me. So I am very, very much an idea person. I really like coming up with big ideas and figuring out what they would look like and how they would function in the end, like what the end product would look like. And then when it comes to the execution, like the detail part of the execution, at least as far as work is concerned, that’s where I tend to lose steam. And I think a lot of people are like, fall into one of those two things.

But when it comes to sewing, I really agree with you that it’s kind of like this. I think because sewing is more of a solitary activity where you are responsible for both the idea aspect and the execution aspect. So for that, I think it is important to really embrace both of those things so that you complete that loop that you were just talking about, so that you feel that energy from it. Whereas when you’re in more of a team situation, it’s okay to have a strength and rely on other people to complete that for you or to work with you on it. I thought that was really interesting because I definitely identify more with the idea side of things.

But it does apply differently in different parts of your life.

Haley
Totally.

Sarai
It’s kind of cool.

Haley
Yeah. In the workplace, you and I are definitely more, if you think of it like a relay race, we’re the first leg of the relay race. And it’s really nice and refreshing in my hobby in that space to run the whole race in inspiring in a totally different way.

Sarai
Yeah. And it’s interesting because all my hobbies are not all of them, but most of them are like, that where I’m not just coming up with the idea, but I’m also building the thing, I’m making the thing.

Haley
Yeah.

Sarai
And so to me, maybe it’s a nice break from being kind of head in the clouds, like big picture decision maker kind of person at work and focusing on maybe just different aspects of the creation process can be a little fulfilling. So what have you found helpful? Knowing that we both have this issue. What have you found helpful in bringing ideas to life?

Haley
I think that spending adequate time with each idea before I bring it into the creation phase is what makes my project more successful and makes me more likely to actually finish it. And so what I mean by spending time with an idea, I mean sketching it, creating a bunch of really iterating and thinking about all of the different possibilities, spending time sourcing my material, making sure that I have all of the right notions and fabric, thinking through the construction details. I think that by spending that time in the planning phase, I’m much more likely to actually make the project, like make the project because I’m invested in it and there’s not really any surprises. I’m not going to get halfway through it and not know what to do or run out of something that I need a notion or something and have to put it down. It removes those kind of like, future roadblocks for me.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s really helpful. What other tips do you have? What else has worked for you?

Haley
Well, that kind of brings us into the tips portion of today’s episode. So I would say that it’s more four steps from bringing an idea from the idea stage into a physical product. And some of this is stuff that I’ve learned as a designer because I have to sort through a lot of different ideas every season to settle on the things that I think are going to really work best for the brand and for our customers. And some of this is just from my own personal experience as a sewer. So it’s kind of informed by both. So my first tip is to create a system for cataloging ideas. I think that a lot of times a really big pitfall can be is that you have a million ideas, but you have no consistent way of saving them and cataloging them and starting to make sense of them. So I really like to use Pinterest for this. I like Pinterest because it’s really easy. I can use it on my desktop, I can use it from my phone, I can take a picture of something I see and upload it to a board. I just find it really simple and streamlined for me.

But if you’re a more analog person, you can definitely print images out and do it this way. I like to have the system for cataloging because then I can start to sort through all of my ideas and this is where I really start to see patterns in those ideas. So maybe a pattern that I see is all a certain type of cardigan. I can sort all of those ideas together and start to think about it in a little bit more concrete way instead of just having a million ideas and never really settling on one. After I’ve cataloged and I’ve kind of sorted through all of those ideas, I like to prioritize them. And with sewing, the prioritizing is kind of easy because we have these constraints we’re working with. Right. The first one I always think of is, what seasonal am I going to be able to wear it soon? I never feel super inspired to make a coat when it’s August. I don’t want to, like, sit with five yards of wool coating on my lap in the middle of the summer.

I think another really important thing to think about is what are you really excited to make?

Because if you’re not excited by it, you’re not going to pick the project up again. So really making sure that you’re not just making something because it’s seasonally appropriate, you’re also making something because the idea of making it and wearing it is actually thrilling to you. Another constraint you can kind of think of to help you prioritize is what do you have the materials for, what will you easily be able to source the materials for? I think that materials is a big roadblock for a lot of people. And if you find that to be really true in your own sewing, thinking about material when you’re prioritizing and deciding on a project can be really helpful to get that idea into a reality. Another thing to think about, especially if you’re in the earlier stages of your sewing journey, is thinking about what is going to teach you a skill or a technique that you need to learn. If you’re a little bit more advanced, you might think about what you’re really excited to try or learn. Sometimes projects, especially when you’re in this phase, I think if something is too easy, it’s not very exciting anymore.

So really thinking about the things that are going to challenge you a little bit in this stage can really, really help you. Another practical constraint to think about is what do you have time for? If your time for sewing is really limited, then maybe picking up something that’s really involved is not going to be as exciting because it will drag out for a lot longer and you might lose steam for it. So I think that’s really important to think about. And another thing to think about is to think about the criteria you have for yourself and sewing. This is something we talked a little bit about in our last episode about curbing your shopping. We talked about what criteria you have for buying or selling something new. Some common criterias include cost per wear ideas around your lifestyle. If it fits your lifestyle, maybe your criteria is something in regards to physical comfort. So thinking about your criteria and whether the project that you’re kind of percolating on fits that criteria, I think when you’re in this ideating phase, it’s really easy to get caught up in the fantasy. And when you stop and take time to actually prioritize, you can see what actually makes sense for your time the constraints you have with sourcing materials, what actually works in your life, kind of like bringing the idea back down to earth in a way.

Once you kind of prioritize your projects, you figured out what is actually going to work for you, your life and your time. I recommend having some kind of space for actually planning out your next few projects. And what I mean by that is really sitting with these ideas and taking time to kind of work through all of the details. Now that you have kind of settled on those next few ideas that you really want to work with. Sherry, you’ve been talking about a new tool lately that you’ve been using.

Sarai
Yeah, I’ve been using an app called Mila note. It’s Mila M-I-L-A note for this, and it’s really cool. It allows you to create mood boards and project boards on it. So I used it for I mentioned a while back that I took a garden design class, and this app was part of that. We use the free version of this app to create a board for planning out a garden design, and I liked it so much that I signed up for a paid account, and I’ve been using it for my sewing. And the way I use it is, like I mentioned in the last episode, I use Pinterest to sort of create a wish list of things that I want to make. And then after I prioritize, which was the step Haley just went through and decide what my next few projects are going to be, I’ve been using Mila note to then create a little mood board for my next few projects. So I have one board that has sort of like a mini queue of my next three projects on it, and that allows me to put the inspiration on there, put little, like a digital swatch of the fabric or the color that I want to use even allows you it’s not just images. You can also put like, text lists in there, a to do list. You can add all kinds of stuff to your project right there on the mood board.

So it’s really, really handy, and it just gives me a chance to play around with those design details and make those decisions about color and maybe gather a few different ideas for fabric before making a decision on what fabric I want to use for it, make little notes on it. You don’t need to use an app for this. You could also do this analog. You could use a notebook for this, or you could even use our free planner for this, which you can download. There are a lot of ways that you could do this, but I’m really enjoying having this space. Pinterest is, I find, great for cataloging and for bringing together ideas and for capturing them over time, but I haven’t found it that useful for actually creating something from all that inspiration so this is sort of an intermediary step that I’ve started using that I’m really enjoying. So check it out. They have a free version of it, too. This is totally not sponsored, obviously, but we’ll put a link in the show notes to it. But there’s a free version. I think you can have three boards for free. You might even be able to make do with that.

Haley
Yeah, that’s maybe another constraint that you’ll find helpful in whittling down your ideas a little bit. I feel like this is definitely the phase where I tend to bring take my ideas from something like Pinterest and get have a more physical, analog solution for it. So this is the place where I tend to start making physical drawings of, you know, any kind of design changes I want to make to a pattern. If I’m using a commercial pattern, pulling fabric out of my stash and kind of pairing things. And then also, it’s kind of nice because I’ll make kind of little bundles for myself in this stage with the pattern in my sketches and my fabric, and I’ll start collecting all of the notions, and I feel like that can really help me. It helps me get through kind of a practical roadblock that I have, which is getting my act together and getting all of my materials in one place. And it also in the process of that I’m kind of solidifying all of my ideas. So that’s another thing that kind of works for me. And then the fourth tip that we have is allow space for wild cards.

This is something that we talk about a lot in Design Your Wardrobe. Sometimes a new pattern comes out or inspiration strikes, and you just have to make something. And I think that it’s really important to kind of capitalize on those moments of real excitement, because, like I said earlier, I think being excited about a project, truly excited, is probably one of the most important criteria to choose your projects around. That being, it’s really great to have these strategies for planning your projects and your sewing, but leaving room for wild cards, I think, allows a little extra joy to seep in through the cracks, because it is, after all, a creative process. And I think you would be robbing yourself of some major joy if you had to go by a very rigid set of steps every single time you set out to sell. That wouldn’t be super fun.

Sarai
Yeah, I think it’s helpful to have that mindset of having to process, but being flexible about it.

Haley
Yeah. Keeps it spicy. Keep your sewing spicy.

Sarai
Yeah, it’s got to be spicy. Nobody wants bland sewing. Yuck. No.

All right, so I will recap the four tips that Haley shared. The four steps. There are more steps than tips. First of all, create a system for cataloging ideas so it could be a place like Pinterest, a place where you can sort things and just get your inspiration catalog. The second step is to prioritize it so there are various questions you can ask yourself to help you prioritize and it can be helpful just to write those down. But some of the questions we went through today are whether it’s seasonal, what you’re most excited about, what you have materials for, or your source materials for, what’s going to teach you a skill or a technique that you’re excited to learn what you have time for right now. Or maybe it’s whatever criteria you came up with that we talked about in the last episode for your clothing generally that you need. So whatever is most important for you, use that to evaluate and to prioritize your next few projects and that’s going to differ by person.

The third step is to create a planning space for your next few projects so you can sort of take your next few projects that you want to make and really think through them.

I mentioned a tool called Mila Note that I’ve been using, but you can also do this in a variety of ways. You could use our free planner, you could use a physical notebook. There’s lots and lots of ways you can do this, but the idea is really to take the time and allow yourself the creative space to sort through the details and really figure out what you want to make before you dive in. And then step four is just to allow yourself some space for wildcards and for sowing what you’re actually excited about in the moment. So we mentioned being excited as one of the important criteria when you’re prioritizing. But sometimes things come up and maybe you didn’t have them in your queue. You didn’t really plan this out. But you’re really excited to make it and you should feel comfortable taking advantage of that and not feeling like you have to adhere to some kind of a rigid system when you’re sewing. Because it’s about having fun and it’s about expressing yourself and whatever is going to allow you to do that and feel good about it is what’s going to be best for you.

So just allow yourself to have those wild cards once in a while.

So my biggest takeaway from this episode, I think, is that it’s very helpful to have a system that you can turn to to help you sort through and prioritize your ideas. If you’re a person that has a ton of ideas but you shouldn’t feel so married to it that you’d can’t deviate from that system. So I think the secret is having a process that works generally and that you can trust to help you, but at the same time that you can deviate from when you need to. What about you? What was your big takeaway?

Haley
Yeah, I mean, I think that was a really good one. I think another, one part of this discussion that really resonated with me is the idea that completing the cycle of creativity is what helps create momentum in my sewing practice. And that it makes me think that sometimes, makes me wonder if sometimes, if I’m feeling kind of creatively stagnant, if it’s merely a symptom that I need to create or complete that creative cycle. So maybe just something a takeaway that I am going to ponder a bit.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s a good one, too. That also made me really think, as somebody who is more on the idea side than the execution side, I think the importance of balancing the two was a really big takeaway.

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