How to Make the Jump from a Sewing person to Artist

Rocky the flying squirrel:  Holy Smokes Bullwinkle – we can’t make this jump!  I’m not an artist!
Bullwinkle the Moose:  That’s OK Rocky, its not as big as you think!

And you know it’s really not.  As a matter of fact, you’re probably already there and don’t even notice it.  But let’s take this apart to make this easier to understand, cause the word artist has been so bandied about, that it’s hard to figure out what it means.

An artist is defined as one who practices or produces art, so art is defined as:
There it is cut and dry – just as plain as day and easy to understand.


OK – well that’s today’s blog – thanks for tuning in!!!  No seriously, there’s a little more!

I know this is the definition and a lot of you sewing folks out there are probably in the yada, yada, yada mode right now thinking, “Words, words, words…gimmie something I can grab – something real!”

Unfortunately there’s nothing I can give you that’s something you can grab, but what I can do is run this down logically.

If art is the quality of expressing, producing something that is beautiful using principles (they don’t say this, but what they are talking here is the elements of art composition), then let’s look at how that applies to sewing.

You are definitely expressing yourself, and you are most definitely producing something – so we hit both of those marks easily.

As for the 3rd one – the one about doing this using  principles of the elements of design:  which are

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Direction
  • Size
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Value (light/dark of the colors)

Now these are the classic elements of art design/composition….but they can also translate into clothing and designers (who are artists) do this every day.

Let’s think about the process of using a pattern and fabric to work for an event or need you have and go through each of these elements.

Line – you’ll use this (whether you realize it or not) to select your pattern – going to a garden party?…pattern will most likely be full and flowing;  going to a wedding?…it will most likely be conservative and classic (unless it’s something really off the wall).  So these are the line decisions you will be making in the selection of the pattern – and you’ll be making the fabric decisions based on the line decisions of the pattern selection.

Shape – Although this refers to the types and sizes of shapes within the canvas work, this still works for sewing folks.  This most often refers to the shape of your body and the revisions in the design of the pattern and selection of fabric to make the most of your body shape.

This also refers to the shapes and designs within the pattern design and the shape designs within the fabric.  For the pattern that would be any darting, seam lines that would divide the garment in half or elongate the garment; and the fabric any large design that might or might not be good for the look of the pattern or shape.  For example you wouldn’t want to use a large floral design on a pattern that has a number of block pieces, but you might use that pattern for color blocking.

Direction – in the visual art world, this refers to how the eye moves.  In our world of sewing, this refers to how the eye moves across the body and the style of the garment and fabric.  This could be done with seams, darts and other fitting mechanisms, also with color, also with pattern of fabric.

Size – For the painter this is probably more about relational between different sizes of shapes within the piece and also the size of the piece itself.  This is the same for those of us sewing.  I do this constantly with my brides – if they are doing their wedding in a chapel then the design I like to keep small, if it’s in a major cathedral or large sanctuary, then I like to make the dress bigger – this is all about proportion.  You do the same thing here with your pattern and fabric selection.

Texture – This is a wonderful element to add to your garment and can be done by different fabrics as well as different treatment (gathering, ruching, pleating – that sort of thing) to the fabric.  This can take on a really fabulously creative bend if you go with it.

Color – most often these days you see color blocking which is a great use of color in your selection of pattern and fabric for your garment.  But for me this also includes selecting the right color for your individual skin/hair palette. It is no doubt that certain colors look good on certain folks, and not to use that can not only cause you problems, but can be the difference between something that has been executed perfectly, but misses the mark, and therefore becomes something that you will never wear.

Value – Value is the hue of color….color is like red, blue, green, etc., value is like red, pink, rose, wine – all in the same family of reds however just light or dark – the value of that specific color.  For us, this becomes more at light and dark which as everyone knows can go a long way toward making certain parts recede and certain parts project.


Ok – are you getting the idea here….let’s go just a little further.  Let’s look into the process of creating a work of art (which an artist would do).

By it’s very nature an artist envisions and idea and is not so much concerned about the how at this inception point as he/she is concerned with the what.  That very timetable means that the what is the first to occur – the how comes later.  That means that you envision and outfit, and as far as how to make it up comes later.  But it does come, and it is at this point that you are presented with puzzles to work out – what fabric, what pattern, what techniques, what will fit what won’t, all these are problems that must be worked out in the process of assembling the garment.

Gang, I’m here to tell you, for me this is the drop-dead definition of an artist….a person who envisions an idea and then works out how to put it together.

  1. What fabric to use with what pattern?
  2. What pattern to use to achieve the look I want?
  3. How is the best way to cut out the pattern – arrange the pieces?
  4. How is the best way to put the pieces together to achieve the look I want?
  5. How to add or subtract certain design elements to make the garment work for me?

….and on and on – you get the idea.  These are just some of the many problems and puzzles that you must answer and work through to create your garment.

But still folks think that the label of “artist” has certain connotations which vary from everyone from a vision of a Picasso to some esoteric and eclectic vision of an ethereal person who paints on a canvas and magically places oils in just the right sequence and position so as to cause a huge stir with critics and museums and fuss about raising money to buy the arrangement of oils on a canvas!!!

A Jackson Pollock abstract painting

Sometimes it looks like the artist is just slapping paint around in a willy-nilly manner that has no common thread or anything remotely close to order or purpose.  But believe me, even Pollock had order to his work….for one thing – look at the painting above and notice how evenly (but not symmetrically) the orange, yellow, gray/blue, black and white are spaced throughout the painting;  notice how some of the blobs are bigger than others, but none of them are too overwhelming;  notice how the paint dripping makes lines that cause our eye to move around the work;  notice how some colors and placement of them make certain areas heavy while certain other areas are light – some are background and some are foreground – this is all thought out very carefully and very methodically.

And sometimes this does look like a lot of falderol that is just silly!  So even the most abstract creation can be very well thought out and purposeful.

Here's an earlier Pollock painting showing experimentation with abstraction.

But here’s the truth about Pollock.  He had to go to art school to learn the basic components of art.  He then had to study what those components did or didn’t do in art composition and then he had to start experimenting on his own, and like the tastelessness discussed earlier, he had to make a brash statement about what his art was going to be and be about.  And only after that did he start experimenting with abstraction and develop his own style.

So too of sewing.

But in your mind how do you comfortably make that jump from a person who sews or a seamstress to an artist.

Actually it’s already there – it’s just the word and the connotation of artist that sometimes gets in the way.

* Maybe it’s cause the word is more elevated and/or ethereal.
* Maybe it’s because the work connotes a sense of knowing what you’re doing.
* Maybe it’s cause the word feels high brow.
* Maybe it’s cause you don’t have the experience or education in the arts to be an artist
* Maybe cause it feels like you’re trying to be something that you believe you aren’t
* Maybe because it gives you more credit than you think you deserve.
* Maybe you feel what you create isn’t art.

No matter what the reason – these aren’t valid reasons.

One of the world's most eccentric-looking artist, Dali

Although art and artists seem to bring to mind high-society, fund-raising formal galas and the like, that really has nothing to do with the acts or process of creating art.

And even though artists look like they know what they are doing (or even talk like they do), when they first started out, they didn’t (just watch the movie Pollock, if you don’t believe me).  All artist struggle at first and even later when they are creating – look at the many and varied phases of Picasso’s art work.

Knowing about art and art history, sounds like something a debutante would study in school, and certainly some know-it-all would spout off about, but that has nothing to do with art being high brow and more about that person (probably insecure) talking about something to make themselves look smarter.

Many artists come to the field of art, never having studied it in school, but this doesn’t make them less of an artist or validly called artist – the definition is someone who practices art not some who talks about it intellectually, ethereally or any other meaningless superficial way.

An artist is one who creates – it’s that simple and sewing and assembling a garment is creating.

The very struggle and process of attempting to and putting together of a garment is the same struggle that every artist makes….if the artist make this struggle, and you are making the same struggle toward solution and resolution of a puzzle, then why are they an artist, and you’re not?  It’s irrational.

There is not an artist alive who feels that his/her creation isn’t art, even though it is and they know it is.  It’s art, now whether you like the finished result (another attribute of being an artist), or not is another matter, but because you don’t like the creation or there’s a mistake, doesn’t make the work less of a work of art, or you less of an artist.

Finally, there’s most likely here a bridge that you finally have to give up and cross.  There’s an old saying:

Sometimes you just have to give up the notion that you aren’t an artist and just admit that you are.  There’s a leap here that you have to take, and once taken, and you become at least a little familiar and comfy with calling yourself artist, it will begin to make more sense and you will become more at ease with the concept and see how it really fits what you do and who you are.



  1. I love this!

  2. Very Well Said

  3. Loving your ideas and your Blog!
    thank you

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