6 simple tricks to spark your creativity

The back of the Luna Moth costume. My daughter is wearing realistic painted fabric wings and headband antennae.

This story ends with a life-sized cat dragon and an equally large luna moth, but it begins with near burnout.

This year has been anything but a walk in the park for me, work-wise. By the time September came around, I was creatively numb from an intense year of production, spurred on by the perils of running a creative micro-business in the pernicious waters of capitalism.

As an artist, there’s nothing that can suck your creativity dry like the shackles of business-minding.

When I’m down and out, it can seem like a Herculean task to simply want to make something.

Halloween costumes are great for sparking creativity.

How to spark your creativity

If you, like me, sometimes find yourself in a creative rut and are struggling to climb out, try one of the following:

Give your creative space a good clean

There’s nothing like a clean space to clear your mind for inspiration. I think of this as an invitation, like you are preparing the guest room for creativity to come and stay. With your action, you are saying to your brain, “I’m open to inspiration.”

What’s more, putting your hands on the materials you already own can jog your memory of ideas past and give you fresh ideas for future projects.

Change up your creative medium

Most folks don’t just have one creative outlet. For example, I often toggle between sewing and knitting, and each fulfills a specific need at different moments in my life. When I need something calming and meditative, I will often reach for a knitting project. (Unless it’s a hard knitting project. As a perpetual mediocre knitter, hard knitting projects cause me to throw balls of yarn at the wall.)

When I need something that gets me into a concentrated, excited, creative flow, I will conjure up a new pattern design or enjoy the problem-solving of hacking a pattern.

Think beyond just crafting pursuits, too. This could mean toggling between being inspired in the kitchen, figuring out a new phase in parenting, planning a garden, or journaling, for example. Putting aside one pursuit for a while and picking up another is completely normal, absolutely needed, and ripe with inspiration that you can fold back into your “official” creative pursuit.

Take a class

Learning a new skill is invigorating. While being a beginner comes with a twinge of frustration, it can also be freeing. Of course you won’t be perfect, and that’s ok! I felt this most keenly when I started taking pottery classes a few years back. I had to stop and haven’t picked it up since (thanks, pandemic!) but the experience itself emboldened my overall artistic practice.

Taking a class also comes with the benefits of getting to know other creative folks – a benefit that we should not take lightly, in a social media-driven world that is creating walls between us by monopolizing our attention so that we spend less time face-to-face.

If your circumstances make it challenging to attend an in-person class, try an online course that has a robust community platform that doesn’t require you to be on social media to participate, like Sew Liberated’s Learn to Sew courses and Mindful Wardrobe Project. It’s really heartwarming to make new friends who lift you up and encourage you on your creative journey, and work through the course content on your own timeframe.

Sometimes you just need to rest

By rest, I don’t mean scrolling on your phone. I mean engaging in true leisure activities, such as sipping your coffee while watching the leaves fall, reading a good book, catching a bite to eat with a friend, going to a museum, or heading out on a hike. Anything you do that expands, deepens, and enhances your lived experience. You can’t make art, after all, with no lived experiences.

Decide on your parameters

Infinite possibilities are overwhelming and will get you nowhere because it’s nearly impossible to choose a starting point.

Not to mention that, in order to hone your own artistic style, it’s necessary to define your parameters. Without parameters guiding your creativity, you float from one style to the next and can find it challenging to settle into a creative home.

Take Pablo Picasso, for example. He could have worked with intricate details as he was quite capable of making realistic images. Instead, he chose to work with simple shapes and a small range of colors to portray his subjects. Within those limits, he found profound creative expression.

Try limiting your color palette, your sources (using only secondhand materials, for example) or, my personal favorite, the mother of all tricks to get yourself out of a creative rut:

Work on a deadline

A time limit is an excellent creative parameter. This is how I went from zero to cat dragon in 60 days. Not by cleaning my studio. Not by resting. Simply by having a good, hard deadline.

But the kind of deadline is important for success, if we’re defining success as feeling energized and creatively fulfilled, and NOT just being productive and turning something in on time.

If the deadline is arbitrary and set by a boss or a client, or even a self-imposed deadline for profit, well … things can end up feeling like a slog, even if the task ultimately gets done. Such is the messy nature of fitting art into a profit- and productivity-driven society.

The kind of deadline I’m talking about is benign – it exists outside of the expectations of capitalism and is simply for leisure – for fun.

Enter Halloween.

A realistic cat with dragon wings poses for a Halloween photo. The cat is made with a paper mache mask.

Halloween is the ultimate kick in the pants for getting your creative mojo back.

It ticks all the boxes for the perfect creative deadline: Fun? Check. Exists outside of capitalist pressures? Check. Often done as an act of love, for those of us with kids? Check. Hard deadline that you can’t put off? Check.

Oh my goodness, Halloween saved me from burnout, even though my kids’ costumes were anything but simple.

Even though it wasn’t the staring-out-the window-with-hot-drink kind of rest that I also need, it certainly energized me and helped me look forward to making again. It took a ton of time, a bunch of experimentation, and a lot of problem-solving to get to that October 31 finish line. But it was so worth it.

The back of the Luna Moth costume. My daughter is wearing realistic painted fabric wings and headband antennae.

Halloween costume details

If you’re curious about how I made these two costumes, you can follow along at the highlighted Instagram Story. I’m also thinking about putting together a mask-making video tutorial to post right here on the blog. What do you think? Would that be of interest to you? I know it’s not sewing related, but I find this kind of paper mache work very fun!

Sophia, our Learn to Sew Your Clothes student, sewed her first practice seam ever!

Which Learn to Sew course is right for me?

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  1. The most stunning part of these costumes to me is the cat mask with such vibrant eyes! I’d be curious to learn about your process for this project.

  2. Meg,
    Just want you to know how much I enjoy your blog. After 40 stressful years as a Realtor, I was “forced to retire” due to cancer, and am now enjoying returning to my love of sewing, and working on some crocheting projects. Aah…slow sewing, and just generally taking time to breathe and enjoy hand made custom projects…and life. What a pleasure. What a blessing. I am happy to have discovered your writing and your patterns.

  3. Thanks so much for your inspiration, Meg! My messy studio is certainly a drain…do you have any suggestions for completing projects? I find that getting from inspiration, through planning, to beginning construction to finishing quite challenging!

    1. You’re welcome, Sharon! You are certainly not alone in finding it challenging to wrap up projects. Sometimes, I think it’s a good sign that what we, as creative people, enjoy the most about projects is the process, rather than the product. It can be an indication that the process of making is the stress-relieving, leisure time that we actually prioritize. Sometimes, it can be a feeling of overwhelm caused by having too many projects going on at once. In that case, I think a friendly, self-imposed deadline can be helpful. Some people work enjoy having a “Finish Line Friday,” committing to getting a certain project, or a certain step of a project, completed by the end of the work week. Have you tried that before?

  4. I would love to see a mask making tutorial! I followed the steps on Instagram and it was so fascinating. Thank you for this article. I definitely needed it!

  5. Hello. I feel the need to let you know that while I am not new to sewing I was never confident enough to sew clothing for myself until I discovered Sew Liberated. You and your crew are the reason I made all of my clothing this summer and discovered an amazing community not only in the Sew Liberated gang but in so many of your suggestions. I am a different sewist these days and I wanted to say thank you! …and yes, I would love to know how to build a mask like cat-dragon! 😊

  6. Oh my goodness! This was just what I needed! And YES, I so resonate with that EPIC creative deadline: HALLOWEEN. (I also do my best creative work getting ready for birthday parties). I consider myself a very beginner sewist, and yet I worked without a pattern for my nine year-old’s Addison (from Zombies 3) Alien costume AND patchworking bits from a box of Kansas City Royals fan stuff (flag, washcloth, T-shirt, blanket) to make a super sexy set of overalls and a cape for my husband’s costume for a “royals” themed party (yep, it was cheeky). I also zhuzhed up a Gunne Sax style dress with draping, giant satin bows, a very poofy underskirt fashioned from a thrifted wedding gown, and a befeathered hat to create a Marie Antoinette for the 12 year-old! For me, I finally settled on RBG for Halloween and spent one late night creating an EPIC dissent collar from felt, sequins, and some bling dug up from the bottom of the crafting box! So my creative mojo got a boost, but there IS a bit of a letdown! Enter Christmas???

    Yes to a mask tutorial!

  7. Thank you for all the inspiration you provide through this blog, Meg. I love reading all the other responses as well, and draw from their enthusiasm. Halloween has always been my happiest sewing times. It is just so liberating to free-think, re-purpose thrift items and/or fabric from my stash and create from the ground up with my own ideas. My kids are grown adults, and the Halloween parties have dwindled in my circles, causing this outlet to disappear. It’s taken a while, but I have slowly been harnessing the thrill again through repurposing thrift finds for my own closet. The ‘Mindful Wardrobe Project’ course is really helping me find a path to new outlets. My first grandchild is on the way this year so my mind is now exploding with ideas of cuddly bunnies and future Halloween costumes. I might hit you up for that cat costume down the road. Thanks to all of you!