Monday, April 11, 2016

7 Tips for Planning Your Next Project

7 Tips for Planning Your Next Project by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

Every project has to start somewhere. The time spent planning your next work of art is arguably the most important part of the creative process. This is where you’ll decide what you want to make, why you’re making it, and how you’ll do it. Here are seven ideas for getting the most out of your next sewing project design session...

1. Have a resource library.

Whether you design your own projects or enjoy working from ready made patterns, it helps to have a library full of ideas to get you started. This can include books, magazines, patterns, blogs, websites, online idea boards, or a set of bookmarks on your computer. Having these resources at hand helps me when…
  • I want a pattern that’s ready to go quickly.
  • I need help with a specific technique.
  • I’m stuck for ideas and need inspiration.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to sewing publications. I’m tremendously inspired by works about interior decorating, travel, architecture, fashion, general crafting, and vintage design. You are the curator of your library, so choose items that are important, useful, and meaningful to you.

7 Tips for Planning Your Next Project by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

2. Be a librarian.

Have a system for keeping your print items in order. Bookshelves are the most obvious solution for stashing your books and magazines, but wooden crates, heavy wire bins, and magazine files work too. I use all of the above options for different types of publications.

Patterns are also a part of your library, and there are plenty of ways to organize them. Keep each one in a separate file folder, school portfolio, manilla envelope, or clear plastic bag. Any of these options will fit neatly inside a wire basket or file box, where they’ll be ready when you need them.

3. Know what you like.

When you’re deciding what to sew next, be honest with yourself about what you like to make. We all have projects in our past that we started for some reason but abandoned because they just didn’t work for us. When this happens a lot, it can be frustrating to see that stack of unfinished projects.

The longer you sew, the more you’ll know what kind of projects you do best, and this will help you be both practical and thoughtful when choosing a project. Also remember that your tastes are going to change over time. The artist you are today is not the one you were even a year ago. You may find that projects, quilting styles, fabrics, or colors that once excited you, now seem to have lost their appeal. This is completely normal. Sometimes you’ll be surprised to find yourself falling in love with those items all over again later on, but if not, you can always pass them on to others who will be happy to give them a new home. Just remember that there’s no greater waste than investing time in projects you don’t love just because you think you’re supposed to.

4. Stretch yourself.

Don’t be afraid to try something new once in a while. This is how you grow. I’ve found that many things I was once afraid to try (zippers, bags, hexagons) became favorite projects, many of which opened up great opportunities for me. And even if you don’t end up loving that new technique, you’ve still gained valuable experience.

5. Stock an art station.

Keep a set of art supplies on hand so that you can capture ideas when you think of them. My workspace is always stocked with pencils, erasers, colored pencils, a ruler, graph paper, and unlined paper. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run to my desk so that I can sketch out a design before it disappears from my head. Having these materials nearby is so helpful when inspiration strikes.

7 Tips for Planning Your Next Project by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

6. Choose your fabrics thoughtfully.

Are you going for a wild and crazy mix of prints and colors? Is this project for a child or an adult? Should you stick to a color palette? Having all these questions settled in your mind before you start pulling the fabric out of your cabinet will keep you focused when you're making decisions later on.

Also remember that if you don’t love it now, you won’t love it later. This applies to pretty much everything in the sewing process, including the prints you choose. Don’t start sewing until you love the fabric stack in front of you. Too often I've ignored that little voice in my head that said, "I'm not sure I like this" and lived to regret it...every single time.

7. Practice.

Scientist Linus Pauling once said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas." It's so true. Designing projects, choosing winning fabric combinations -- these things take time and practice. The more you do it, the more you'll feel comfortable with what you like. Keep practicing every week and, if possible, keep a record of your work through a notebook, blog, or social media account. When you look back over that creative journey, you'll be surprised at how far you've come.

How do you choose your sewing projects? Do you prefer to work with ready made patterns, do you like designing your own, or a little of both? Any tips for the design table?


  1. So many great tips! I feel like I am still figuring out what I like and what works best for me so I'll take all the advice I can get!

  2. Wonderful Tips! You have given me many an idea. I prefer to work with ready-made patterns, but seem to always be down-sizing them. I need to find a better solution of storing my patterns. I have many binders of 'make soon' patterns - but only so much time :) - so those binders are overflowing.

  3. In the new part of a year I start out that way but end up with the same of mess by December. But it does seem to last a little longer each year. 8-) The colored pencils in the clear jar is one I will add to help my organization. Sometimes the flat box is hard to find.

  4. Great tips Heidi. Many thanks for this posting. I'm trying to be a little more organized in my planning and documentation.

  5. These are great tips! I'm still in the place where I want to make every idea happen, but the ideas flow so freely, there's never the time. I've been doing a lot more sketching and coloring, getting ideas down so that they free my mind for... more ideas! LOL I definitely need to work on clearing my workspace, though. Next on my list!

  6. Such good advice! I need to figure out a place to do an art station and how better to organize my patterns. Thanks for the ideas!


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