Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Seamstress Writes: Starting a Project

Have pattern, will travel
You know I write.  My other odd obsession?  Sewing.  (There's a blog about that here.)  I'm starting a new sewing project, and I got to thinking about how the different types of inspiration for a new project can be pretty similar, whether written or stitched.

I get inspired by a lot of different "stages" of a project.  Sometimes what sets me off are the basics--the bones of the story or the garment.  For this gown it was all about the construction.  I knew exactly what I wanted the basic drape and shape of the gown to be.  This is kind of like when you get an idea that's all about storyline--you already know the plot before you sit down to write.  Honestly, this kind of project can be a lot easier to tackle, because the hard questions are answered--what do I do first?  What do I do after that?

Mostly this happened because I loved the fabric--
yummy deep blue silk
Other times, I'm inspired to start a story or a garment based on something a little more vague.  Maybe I just love a fabric and want to use it--somehow.  Maybe I have a single scene in mind--not even a scene that informs much of the plot--and want to build a world around it.  This can be harder, because you have to flesh out the idea, often by working with it for a while, before you can really take it anywhere.  This is when I drape my fabric over my dress form a million different ways and sketch and browse commercial patterns and steal ideas from designers.  It's also when I write scenes out of order that may or may not work and spend time talking to the characters in my head.
Favorite halter pattern
(1940s Butterick Retro)
And um, that same fabric.

Finally, there's the concept start--usually a start that begins with the answer to the question "What if?"  The only "big concept" writing project I've ever worked on started this way, and the gown I want to start did, too.  "What if" I turned my favorite backless halter dress pattern into a column dress with a back?  We'll see--I'm going to start playing with a muslin today.  And "what if" this were a writing project?  I'd start writing down ideas and getting a basic plot on paper.

You can't start truly constructing anything sewn until you have the basics--either a pattern or with the idea for your draping or drafting of your own pattern.  You can't start sewing by adding accessories.  Stories--well, stories can meander for a while without a set plan.  Eventually, however, they need to settle down and find a path to follow.

There's no right place, I think, to find inspiration for a project--no one reason to begin that makes sense or doesn't.  There are different challenges in each, of course, but isn't that half the fun?

What part of a new project do you usually springboard off of?


  1. Great post! I can't sew for the life of me. Anything involving my hands doing something intricate and my brain shuts down. I love how you relate sewing to writing! :) Can you knit too? Knitted tops are going for like £60 in some stores. You could make a fortune! :)

    1. I can knit...but I'm not very accomplished. I keep intending to learn more, but the siren call of sewing always wins over the yarn :)

  2. Loved this post. I've never thought about the similarities between sewing and writing before. Thanks!

  3. Love the color (it's appropriately called Peacock Blue in India) and style of that dress--it drapes gorgeously on you!

    It's so interesting that you get inspired by one art form for another. A wonderful way to fully utilize your creativity. For the ideas I'm working on right now (be it a finished ms or parts of notions that are floating around in my head), I found inspiration from snippets of history I read in different contexts of my life :).

    And, oh, congratulations for getting representation! Do let us know when we can see your book in print!! I've a weakness for historical fiction, so I'd be the right target audience for it, I'm assuming :).

    1. Hi Hema! I call that color Peacock Blue, too...but a lot of people in the States seem to use the term for a brighter, more turquoise blue. India wins on that one IMO!