The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Making and Sewing vs. Creating

I had a really interesting question from one of my Making Art A Practice blogs last weekend.  So interesting I thought I would post it here – cause quiet honestly it’s good to define how I’m using this word…….create!

This sounds a bit silly but could you define “creative” or “creativity” to put your argument in context? Initially I wanted to disagree with you that sewing is *fundamentally* creative. Even looking at your photo it is borne of necessity, restriction and circumstance. Is being creative working freely with no limits? Or is it finding new solutions to a series of problems?

Or do art and creativity differ in meaning between “making” (sewing, inventing, building) and something else (acting, singing, dancing….even painting….)?

Hope you don’t mind these questions but would be interested to hear your thoughts!

This is an interesting question, because it’s really hard to pull out the creating part from the necessary or functional part.

Here’s the photo I used:

pioneer womenThese are settlers (women) who are using every resource, funds, strength, thinking and everything they own, including blood, sweat and tears, to make a home for themselves.  These were homesteaders.  To do this there was almost nothing wasted.  Energy spent doing chores, and keeping themselves alive was always functional.

That said, even in a world and environment where EVERYTHING was functional and they were scratching out an existence, creativity and imagination crept into their world.  Making the dinner meal, planting in the garden, making the bed, making chairs for their home, arranging the chairs and table in the home, building the home – out of sod which meant determining where one wall starts and another ends.

But for the picture the most dramatic example were the dresses.   They were all different.  I can picture them going to the store and purchasing the fabric (and if these ladies didn’t do this exactly, it’s more the prototype pioneer – the person who has only the time to spend on functional efforts – that I’m referring to here), and each lady picked out the fabric she wanted in her dress.  That required thought – more specifically creative thought.  Yes, the fabric had to be functional, it had to last, it had to wash well, it had to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter (wicking), the garments had to have ease for working, but they could also be pretty.  There wasn’t anything in the functioning of the dresses that precluded them from being pretty. They could choose any color they wanted, or combination of colors, design of fabric, print or stripe or plaid or solid.


In looking at each dress, starting on the left (I happen to know this was 4 sisters, two of which were old enough to file for homesteads and as the others came of age, they too filed for homesteads), the one on the furthest left looks to be about 3rd oldest; with the next right, 2nd oldest; next right probably oldest; and most right the youngest.  The 3rd oldest outfit looks a little more ingenue, while the 2nd oldest looks downright professional – she looks like she could go get a loan.  The oldest looks like she’s going to conquer the world, and the youngest looks like she’s just glad to be with her older sisters.

All of that is from the dresses they have chosen to wear – it’s from the creativity that displays each and ever wearer’s personality, likes and dislikes and style.   And these dresses are totally functional.

The pioneer dress at the time, had to have enough to move in, but at the same time (and this was particularly true in the Southern Plains) that dress had to protect them from the sun, so it was long sleeved, sometimes with a v coming down to attach to the third finger of the hand, it had a high collar and the dress was usually worn with a bonnet that had a long brim.  All of this was to protect against sunburning and harming the skin while out working.  The dress had to also work for Sunday best and other special occasions, as well as tilling, planting, hauling the water, hauling the kids and all manner of other chores a pioneer woman had to do.

Today, we are not so much required to have all our clothes be so overwhelmingly functional, but they still function for us – whether we’re in a professional environment, creative, educational, marketing, inspiring, speaking, learning, or any other environment out there.

It’s in the choosing of how to put this look together that becomes the creative part.

It’s been said that the artistic act is actually the one that occurs in the brain – it’s the imagination of putting paint onto canvas, dance onto a floor, music into the air/time and fabric onto a person. The painting, dance, song and garment are the manifestation of that art creation, and complete the art.  but the art and creative part itself is what happens inside the brain.

After all if costuming in movies can win an Oscar and be considered to be an art form, how is that differently than the play of life that we dress for every day.  In choosing the clothes we wear daily, in the fabric and patterns that we choose to fulfill the need for that garment (mother of the bride, presenting a case before a judge, conducting a seminar, having a teleconference from a home office, going to lunch with retired friends), we are participating in just as much of a creative process as the designer designing for a new collection or for a movie or for a stage play, opera or any other endeavor that is totally considered artistic.

For me the difference in function and creativity, is the vision that transcends thought and object.  By that I mean, in my mind I have a vision of a top that will work for going out to dinner with friends and teaching class and seeing clients, but will be comfy and easy to wear.  It has to be elegant but not affronting (or in my clients’/students’/friends’ faces).  It has to be a certain shape (my hips are up in weight right now).  It has to perform a function – professional, approachable, celebratory and classic.  So I have this vision….these thoughts – I then think about how I’m going to manifest this.

This gets really difficult because basically we’re describing something very abstract which can not be touched, seen, heard, tasted or smelled with a means (words) that is more concrete than abstract – it’s like trying to sew on a row boat sailing the Atlantic Ocean.  It can be done, but it’s cumbersome at best.


The doing of the vision is the manifestation of the artistic vision.  But here’s the fun part for artists, the doing is as much a part of the artistic process as the creating is;  how long do I make the stitch, do I do top stitching, do I sew the back to front first or sew the sides in first – – all that sort of stuff.  That’s part of the creative process, but it all starts in the mind, with an abstract thought or vision.

For me if I were to take the creativity out of it, then I think sewing would go something like this:

  1. Done exact inventory of closet, have no dress, need dress.
  2. Open up pattern drawer and pull out first pattern seen.
  3. Walk into fabric store, first fabric is purple, make dress in purple.
  4. First lining saw, yellow, buy lining
  5. First zipper saw, buy red zipper
  6. First thread saw orange, buy orange thread
  7. Have one afternoon to make dress before I need it
  8. Cut out, have 30 minutes to fit, do fitting in 30 mintues
  9. Cut out dress
  10. Sew up dress
  11. Finish dress

So then what I end up with is a purple dress, yellow lining, red zipper, made with orange thread and since I didn’t see any interfacing, I didn’t buy any.  For me, purple doesn’t look good on me, but because it was the first thing I saw without any thought toward the creative process, I bought purple, not considering the creative process.  The red zipper looks OK, but with orange thread it doesn’t match.

No artistic-ness was taken in the choice of fabric, pattern, zipper color, thread color and even interfacing.  And I have ended up with a mess – a color that I don’t wear well, a style of dress (well we haven’t even gotten into that – no telling what was the first pattern that was in the cabinet), and the notions that don’t match.

Conversely, I think a total creative process is as futile:

  1. Perusing through the whole store, one fabric in a while blue and turquoise is just strikingly beautiful, so that’s the fabric.
  2. After scouring through all the patterns, a tunic is something that I really like on the model.
  3. Across the store is a beautiful group of feathers that are so cool and creative.
  4. Then going to the thread display there are some colors that really look fun – pink, red and chartreuse.
  5. Since I’m just experimenting with this whole project, I’ve done some really artistic variations on the pattern that are very dramatic – I’ve added a train to the tunic and put feathers on the train and , because I like trains.
  6. I make up the tunic and it’s as much of a mess as the un-artistic version.

No thought about the usefulness, function or practicality of the garment, and it ends up just as much a mish-mash of a garment and totally function-less – fantastically beautiful, but not much use for teaching class, instilling confidence in my clients and a little wild for my city for dinner out with friends!!!!  Maybe fun to have on the hanger, but not much use on my body!


Another aspect of creativity is that it is problem-solving.  Think of the artist working out all the solutions to the problem of paint application onto a canvas.  The same is true of how we sewists work in picking out a pattern to go with a fabric to perform  a function for you, is all part of a problem-solving process.

Hopefully this answers your question about the process of creativity and how it differentiates from function and yet how they are two entwined .

Desribing the creative process is sooooooo hard and many many books have been written, poems penned, songs sung, dances danced and plays played to describe it.  And it’s still beyond our words.  But not our hearts and minds.  One sure way to know if you are creating or not is the immense satisfaction and joy you have upon the completion of the creation.

Now…..go out there and CREATE!!!

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1 Comment
  1. “One sure way to know if you are creating or not is the immense satisfaction and joy you have upon the completion of the creation.”

    That nearly final line says it all for me. Great post, Claire.

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