What I have been doing since it seems like forever

10425415_10153297601865774_8175496299219269779_n-1Last weekend, which was the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, things had got so bad in my sewing room that I couldn’t face going into it, and when I did I found it very hard to navigate across the floor.  It was like reverse stepping stones: I had to leap between the bags of who knows what all over the floor (see above photo).  So, I girded my loins and decided to have a tidy up and clear-out.  I knew that I had a good three days, which meant that I could do a bit at a time as I know from past experience that just clearing out is really boring and actually quite tiring.  So I spend three or four hours a day and finally finished with an hour yesterday.  I had five bin liners of assorted rubbish and one for the charity shop.

I went from this:


to this:

IMG_4406 IMG_4408 IMG_4407And these are the needles I found along the way:


A ‘kind friend’ sent me this to taunt me:


And it is, of course, the ideal, but it’s a scrapbooker’s stash.  Textiles, the way I do them, require a huge stash of bits which are unruly and will never stack away like these beautifully racked pens.  So, I was impressed with myself for getting the room to a stage where I can easily walk round it to find things and to put them away.

While I was doing it, though, I couldn’t help thinking about a publication called Where Women Create which has the most mind-boggling images of women’s studios and work spaces.  I bought the book when it came out with a missclick on Amazon, and my mother and I really enjoyed being cynical about it and its perfections:


It is now a magazine, and if you put ‘Where Women Create’ into Pinterest you get a whole wadge of images of exquisite workrooms:

images-9 images images-10 a3ca5b460980e3503e610b55454f164e 194736d0fd10977949da79032c3ced7a

I think this is a kind of pornography for women.  It presents us with an ideal of what is desirable that very few of us have the means to attain.  I don’t have the space for these remarkable rooms, even though I have the entire loft conversion to myself, and I don’t have the resources to kit it out in this beautiful way.  Fortunately, we can dismiss this as fantasy and just enjoy the absurdity of the pictures (unlike pornography itself), and the book really is a delight in its own way.

What did surprise me, though, about my own room, was just how deflated I felt after I had cleared it up, and how I haven’t really wanted to make anything since I did it.  It feels a bit like the muse was disturbed and has gone off to find a new home.   I was expecting to feel elated and proud of myself, but I just feel a bit empty.  Also, I had one of those terrible intimations of mortality: I knew that I would never have time to use all the stuff in that room.  It would outlive me, and that was quite depressing.

I would be really interested in hearing if anyone else has experienced this flat feeling after clearing up what was clearly a very creative mess – in my case.  I’m really not sure how to account for it.



13 thoughts on “What I have been doing since it seems like forever

  1. You’re not alone with this strange experience after clearing up. I felt the same a couple of months ago. I realised that all that stuff I have hoarded is of no value for everyone else but me. And I too have enough or even more material to keep me busy until the end. It’s a bit depressing to think that my folks will trash everything I have created after I’m gone. I’m already trying to find some solution for this.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment. Thanks also for being so honest. I really think the reality of death is part of this and who would think that such a gentle practice as needlework (although there is lots of stabbing involved!) would lead to such thoughts. I think it’s brilliant that you are already addressing this.

  2. My first ever bout of clinical depression occurred immediately after I ran out of things to tidy. At the point that EVERYTHING was in its place, and there was no displacement, nothing on the to do list, I had a panic attack. I could no longer hide from the nasties at the back of my mind. I now both fear yet crave ultimate order. There is still a part of me that strives towards this clinical idea of how we all “should” be. It puts the “should” into “shudder”. My studio is shared with the public for classes, and working with glass requires a lot more tidying than I am really cut out for, and if you visit it, you will find I always leave one bit untidy, and that is my “work in progress” bit, there is always something there that I haven’t quite decided what to do with or a disaster to fix. That is what is wrong with your workspace, no work in progress, find something, anything that needs a little something, unpicking, adding to, and leave it there, right in the middle in plain sight. The nasty scrapbookers shelves taunt us all, because they are un obtainable, and I am glad, because they are sterile, because there is nothing there to inspire, all the lovely colours are hidden away, the tools invisible, no knotty little problems to intrigue. Yours on the other hand, I have a terrible urge to empty out one of those bags of fabric!

    1. Thanks for this. I think you are right about perfection and sterility. I rather hope my depression is under control, and I hate the idea that depression and dependencies are muses for creativity. I think I might have to face the awful truth that I thrive in mess. The whole room is a bit too ‘quiet’ now. Thanks for such an honest and insightful comment.

  3. Two thoughts.

    1. My mom was a crafter (mostly knitting, crocheting, embroidery, sewing). When she died we did have to get rid of her stuff (or anyway, my dad needed not to have so much constant reminder of her presence around him). That was not a “bad” process for us — there were a few bad moments that were related to specific memories that I had around some of the stuff https://meandrichard.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/ot-fourth-advent-sorting/ — but by the end of the job I had made peace with a lot of stuff, it was a peacemaking process. I did leave the experience with a new resolve to be more aggressive in tossing things my heirs didn’t need to see, but I didn’t feel unduly burdened by the whole thing and I was happy to see people get the stuff who knew mom and would use it while thinking of her.

    2. “Creative mess” — yes, though I am not a crafter, I discovered when i was a junior in college that cleaning up my space before I started writing was a direct break on writing creativity. I don’t know how to put it exactly but it’s like I exert some control over the process by marking my space with clutter or even dirt. Maybe the clean crafting table is the crafter’s equivalent of the blank screen with the cursor blinking, or the totally blank notebook page, that scares so many of us?

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your really insightful words. I have been on the receiving end of people’s cleared out stashes and I think it’s great that their stuff lives on so you probably made exactly the right decision. I wonder if it is the terror of the white page as you suggest. It really is still and quiet in there now, not buzzy and abundant and joyful chaos like it used to be! Thanks so much for your comment.

  4. You’ll find your way back soon, but I understand this feeling. For me having such a clean studio is a bit like facing a fresh white canvas. I’m intimidated a bit until I force a few random marks to claim it as my own. Then I can relax back into it. Hope your muse returns quickly.

  5. You need a little bit of mess to feel at home, or maybe all you need is to bring something new home to inspire you? A single bead that perfectly sets off a pile of fabric? A tiny scrap of lace to finish that UFO?

    Oddly enough Gareth and I had a huge row about tidiness yesterday . He’s OCD and I’m a bit domestically challenged, so we’d been really passive aggressive with each other all week because he decided to spring clean and was all sarcastic with me instead of asking for help

    1. Thanks for this. I am convinced we have stayed married this long because we basically both have workspaces we can retreat to. I would go bonkers now if I had to put the sewing machine away every time I used it. Weirdly as I have been clearing up I have been internet shopping like there was no tomorrow. Somewhere I am trying to sabotage my own attempts to clear up.

      BTW I do hope Gareth realises what he’s got and appreciates it. You can always tidy up a bit and make sure all the spice jar labels are pointing outwards – but it is true – dull women have tidy houses.

  6. I am the opposite. I need a tidy space in order to be creative. I feel oppressed and disheartened in a messy environment. I cant concentrate on a new idea with the detritus of previous creations. In that respect I know how you feel about the environment not working for you.

    I have never been put off by a clean sheet of paper, however I know that many people feel panicky and can’t start.

    Re the feeling of deflation… Perhaps you used all your creative energy finding new and novel ways to store things or that you use your emotional energy revisiting and consolidating all the projects you have completed??? Or maybe, like me, the feeling of deflation comes through thinking and creating lots of ideas for projects, inspired by the things that are found whilst tidying. The feeling of deflation comes because like bubbles, the ideas soon pass and I know that they will never get to fruition before they are lost.

    1. Yes, weirdly I can’t do the serious academic work in a mess and have a bit of a space-clearing and coffee ritual before I start the day job. I do wonder if part of the deflation is around I really will never have time to do everything I want to do, and now I have to start something – there aren’t half-finished things lying about that I could work on.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment – really interesting contribution to the thread.

  7. Interesting thoughts. Whenever I look at those super-organised workspaces, it feels like the opposite of creative to me! Although it would be handy to be able to find things when I need them, I’m sure! I think a bit of mess allows serendipity to arise. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! I too have a husband who is *considerably* tidier than me – after 16 years of marriage, I am tidier than I ever was, and he is less so!

  8. Hallo Ann
    This is interesting (about clearing up). When I clear up my studio I expect to feel an excitement, but actually feel quite queazy about it. Why is that? I think it’s because there’s now no excuse, & so can you live up to some kind of expectation you have of yourself? And also, sometimes, what’s the point? When I’m in that mental state I find it’s a good idea to GET OUT!!! I went to the Sonia Delauney yesterday at Tate Modern & that helped to give more of an overview. All you can do is look at what you’re doing & re-establish in your heart & your mind what it was that led you there in the first place.
    I’m a part of the Stroud SIT Trail this w/e 11am to 4pm. Come & visit!
    Best wishes. Liz.

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