Where does creativity come from?

The question came from a young man at the back of the hall. I am accustomed to answering questions after a lecture or workshop, although they aren’t usually asked by teenaged guys and they aren’t usually this difficult to answer! I think I bumbled something about creativity being like a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to grow and develop.

A similar question is asked a bit more frequently: where do you get your inspiration? This one is a little easier somehow, since inspiration can come from anywhere! A word, a phrase, a song, a technique, a photograph – anything can plant that seed of an idea. Inspiration is the stimulation to do something creative; creativity is the use of inspiration to produce an artistic work.

All of these thoughts have been swirling since a new quilt unexpectedly took shape on my design wall. Where did it come from? I took a step back and analyzed each of the steps that brought it to life. Here, then, are some of my thoughts about where creativity comes from.

Inspiration comes when your mind is elsewhere.

It rarely comes by sitting at your desk and thinking, I’m going to design a quilt today! This is why I love hand work and long walks – they are times when my mind can wander. In this case, my mind was focused on a different project altogether.

Creativity begets creativity.

I have been creating an online course based on my book Sewflakes: Papercut-Appliqué Quilts. During my in-person classes – and now in the online version – I teach a variety of ways to fold paper and the process of creating a paper snowflake design. Then it’s time for the students to try it and I often sense some hesitation as they try to think of something to draw. In the “Getting Started” lesson of the course, I offer some suggestions to get the ball rolling. How about a cookie cutter? I searched my kitchen to find one as an example.

When the cookie cutter is traced and cut out, the result is a paper snowflake of eight gingerbread people holding hands!

Creativity comes from problem solving.

The online course includes a Sewing Sewflakes chapter, with lessons about six appliqué methods. What snowflake design would I use for the illustrations? The cookie cutter snowflake has nice gentle curves that can easily be sewn with any appliqué technique, so problem solved. I would use it for the course videos and photography.

Creativity comes from asking, what if?

True confession: I don’t have a photographic memory of every piece of fabric in my collection. But I did have a recollection about one with gingerbread cookies on it! What if I dressed up the gingerbread sewflakes to match? What if I used beads for eyes and embroidery for smiles? What if I used decorative stitches on my sewing machine for icing?

Creativity comes from playing and having fun.

Sure, I could have stopped there. I could have dressed all the gingerbread people in the same outfits or made all six blocks the same. But I was having so much fun going through my scrap bins and coordinating different outfits!

So now I have a quilt on my design wall. The pattern for Gingerbread Friends will be available soon and will be included free with the online Sewflakes class.

Where does creativity come from? The ability to create is within us all. Exercise those muscles and see what happens!

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