Ticklin’ the Muse

Working creatively is not like working in any other profession. There are starts and stops to all forms of creative working.  It’s important to know that and it’s important to know some guidelines for those stops and starts.

For example, have you been sewing along fine, and then suddenly your are in the middle of a particular assembly task, and all you can do is mess it up over and over and over, and you’re ripping out that seam over and over and over.  And no matter what little tool or technique you’ve used, it’s not working?  Frustrating, isn’t it?

That’s not necessarily a sign that you’re doing something wrong.  What?!!!  And no I haven’t gone off the deep end.  What’s important to know when you hit a brick wall like this is several things.

First and foremost is to put the sewing down!  Take about 5 or 6 deep breaths and release all that bad karma.  OK I’m not going to ask you to channel your former lives here, I’m just asking you to relax for a minute, because you’re dealing with the creative muse (or spirit or soul or whatever you like to call that little entity that runs amok in your brain thinking of all sorts of wonderful things you can do!).  And because you’re dealing with something that’s VERY abstract and VERY nebulous, that means you have to take good care of her and the place she resides in your brain.  In ancient Greece the muse was always a female – there gotta be something there, but that’s a subject for another report!  For us, we need to know that the muse is delicate and frustration (along with anger, disappointment, exasperation, failure and all those other negative emotions that come with multiple rip outs), can run the muse off to her little cloud and cause her to not appear for a while.

So let’s take a breath and relax for a minute, and let’s look at what the pros do:


  1. They don’t get upset about multiple failures
  2. They have a cadre of tools, mental and concrete, that they use to chase away the blues
  3. They know when to stop and when not to stop
  4. They know when they are trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

This sounds really easy doesn’t it.  But here’s the big deep dark secret that is not told about these techniques:  practice.  Practice is what separates the novice from the pro.

I can not tell you how many times I’ve run into a task I’m doing, one I’ve done a thousand times before, and suddenly it’s like my mind and hands are in kindergarten, and I can’t do it.  I NEVER think, “Well, stupid, you just can’t do this,” or “I knew this was going to be hard, and now it’s hard and I just don’t have the skill or knowledge,” or “What was I thinking to think I could make this, see, all my fears have come true!”  NEVER.

So you say, fine Claire – how do you work through that?  The first thing is to relax, an yes, it really is that simple.  Of course when you’re in the immense throws of frustration, that’s not what you think will help, but taking a few deep breaths and slowly, will help you get to the relaxing part.

If you can, walk away and come back the next day.  If you can’t, walk away for an hour – go do something else; file your nails, clan out the bathtub, watch a TV show, ready a chapter in a book, go onto Pinterest and look at your favorite pictures – – do NOT go do something that’s going to be hard or elevate your frustration.  This is why the Greeks called the muses nebulous and hard to keep close.  They do tend to come and go – a lot!

For your mind, don’t let the failure(s) overcome you.  Realize that if you didn’t do anything you wouldn’t make mistakes.  Making mistakes is over the sign of progress and very often the first step toward a breakthrough.  Realize too that professionals make mistakes all the time.

For your concrete side, picking up another project (sewing or other task) and completing it can often call the muse right back.  I’ve been known to put down my complicated/frustrating project and pick up a simple little tee – something that’s easy and fast to do – and work on that.  Then come back to the frustrating project, and it’s like magic – you do it and poof, it works.


Walking away and leaving it over night, and picking up another simpler, quicker project and doing that are two of my most used tools in dealing with frustrating tasks  We women have a tendency to get overwhelmed, and that’s the last thing in the world we want to do.

The second step is never, never, never give up.  OK, Churchill was the source of that and of course he was talking about World War II, and this isn’t a war, sorta isn’t!  But the concept works here.

Let me be very honest and serious for a moment.  Giving up is the surest, fastest and best way to not only scare the muse away but it’s an open invitation to push her out the door in front of a car and forget about her completely.  It will get rid of her altogether.

Sewing on a project and reaching a frustrating point is inevitable.  Letting that get the better of you is not.  Know the difference!





  1. Wow! I’m going to print out a few copies and hang it at my desk at work and my sewing station at home. Thanks!

    • Thanks Barbara – and don’t forget that mistakes are just part of the learning process. As Churchill says “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm!” You don’ actually need enthusiasm, but plodding on is just fine.

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