A Work in Progress can be a Messy Thing

You know that saying about how you really don’t want to see how sausage is made? It may be true for some people, but I’ve made sausage (thank you, Girl Scouts). It isn’t all that bad. Sometimes.

A few nights ago I sat in bed next to my husband. He read a novel while I scratched away at a pad of graph paper, sashiko reference books by my side. An hour passed quietly while a flurry of paper accumulated on the duvet. Each time I tore off a sheet from the pad, my husband would look over to see what was being discarded. “I like that one, but I think you should turn the design 180 degrees,” he said, tracing a finger over the paper where a design was definitely not working the way I had drafted it. Having a second opinion is helpful, even if the person giving the opinions insists he knows nothing about textiles. Don’t believe him when he tells you he’s ignorant–he’s not. He pays attention and knows more than he lets on (thank you, Boy Scouts).

If you’ve been to our house/shop/studio/office then you know how visually overwhelming a place it is. It can be difficult for me to design when I’m surrounded by overwhelming inspiration. How do I filter it all out and come up with something coherent?

I’ve lived with my creative businesses since I was still in high school. Back then I wrote stories for friends, took art commissions, and read incessantly. My first apartment was a semi-basement studio in a sketchy part of Oakland where I painted murals on the walls, dug in the garden, made jewelry, toured up and down the West Coast selling at craft shows and weekend markets. Everywhere I’ve lived since then has been some version of the same dream. I tried the 9-to-5 life periodically but it didn’t stick. Either they’d fire me or I’d quit.

Leave me alone for five minutes with some random tools and materials and I will make things. Leave me with a pen and paper and I will write things. Leave me outside and I will make a garden. It doesn’t take much. I’ve done it in the high desert and I’ve done it in a house on wheels. These things come naturally to me.

What comes naturally to you? Do you flow with it, or do you block it out so you can do other things that you think you’re supposed to do? I’ve been blocking things for a while, but they’re starting to flow again. You know that first flow of water from a long-dry, rusty tap? That’s how I feel right now.

Some designs and stories fall into place easily. I don’t know how or why, but I’m grateful when they do. Others require something more, pulling me this way and that before I settle on something different than I had planned or hoped for. If I learn something new along the way, then the journey is worth it.


My desk has layers of paper, the detritus of a restless mind, disorganized and shifting: An envelope from a friend in Japan, made from wrapping paper and decorated with colorful postage stamps. A bag of hand dyed thread I used for a sashiko demonstration, packed away and forgotten for a while, then found again. Bookmarks, electrical cords, broken toys, old photos, notes and postcards and clipboards and fabric scraps… more graph paper.

In high school, back when I got my first typewriter and bought the best pencils I could afford for drawing, one corner of my bedroom was a vortex of creativity. An architect’s drafting table held my world on its surface, while my visions floated above it and graced the walls. Finely detailed sketches, scribbled notes, a small bird wing, hawk feathers, magazine clippings, and photos were taped or pinned where I could see them or ignore them, depending on my mood.

There are times when my husband sees fit to remind me that he doesn’t have a room of his own in this house. No office, workshop, or dedicated space to sit and think or create. Instead he designed one for me. When I’m moody and dejected, he nudges me outside to go pull weeds in the garden. When I go without eating for too long, he tells me he’s hungry so I’ll make something for both of us to eat. He knows I won’t feed myself if I’m in a mood. He pays attention.

My mother used to say, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Roll that one around in your brain a bit if you’re not already familiar with it. The further I study a subject, the more I become aware that I know absolutely nothing about it. And it drives me crazy. I walk around feeling brilliant one minute, and a total idiot the next. Then I give in and float in the awareness that it doesn’t really matter.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Helen Zung says:

    Life – creation – is a work in progress.

  2. cpkuykendall says:

    Thank you

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