Of process, progress and magic…

I admit to being fascinated by the creative process. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a writer, an artist, a cook or any other creative spirit, some people appear to begin their creative projects knowing what they’re aiming to achieve – having a good idea of where they’re going. While for others, there’s no clear end vision, instead they have an attachment to a process and embark on their projects letting an exploration of their process determine where it goes.

I suspect everyone crosses from one group to the other from time to time, it isn’t entirely black and white. Personally, I seem to spend most of my time in the process camp. I do occasionally have a clear picture in my mind of what I want to create, but much more often I simply have to start stitching without knowing much about where I’m going.


I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the summer while I’ve been playing with a different process from the needlepoint I’ve been using for years.

I can’t in all honestly explain where the urge to branch out came from. I could definitely point to various experiences, the visit to the Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A, reading Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith, visiting an exhibition of local textile artists’ work – but I don’t think any of these made me think, ‘oh this is what I’m going to do’, instead I think they helped me to feel that it was ok to respond to a compulsion I was already beginning to feel.

So what I’m actually doing is simply to experiment with adding fabrics into the stitched pieces I make. It’s not rocket science I know, but it’s quite a departure from what I’d been doing before. What I love is being able to incorporate fabrics which change their colours under different light – shot silks, organza and the like. You know I’m just a magpie at heart, always on the lookout for anything shiny

What I’m most enjoying at the moment, is seeing what happens as you combine layers of fabrics and create textures on the canvas – I’m finding this just as meditative a process as the repetitive stitch of needlepoint.

Whether or not any of the end results resonate with anyone else is of course another matter – but then I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that when you respond to a process compulsion, that’s not something you should worry about – if you did, you’d never progress, never take the risk.

I like the idea Elizabeth Gilbert suggests in her book Big Magic. She says that ideas don’t really come from inside us but are actually divinely generated and just looking for someone open and willing to bring them to life – not a million miles from awen, which is my favourite concept of inspiration. Either way, it’s a lot less stressful than thinking you’ve got to come up with something in some way significant yourself.

And as someone for whom the meditative process is fundamental, being receptive feels totally natural and peaceful. Ultimately if any of this is communicated through the finished work, then that’s what I’d call real magic.

Are you working on anything new to you? What made you decide to do it? Do tell…

15 thoughts on “Of process, progress and magic…

  1. So very interesting to read what you have to say here. I’m not familiar with the idea of Awen, nor have I read that particular Elizabeth Gilbert book. I guess I just think there’s a pool of ideas, patterns and colours and they sort of float to our consciousness when we make things – and I certainly think Play has a lot to do with effective creativity which is why I can identify with your idea of process making it’s own way. It’s so pleasurable, isn’t it? (actually I’m not sure that’s right – sometimes it can be real agony to make something, like a terrible birthing …)

    1. I completely agree with play as an important exercise – we don’t do enough once we get older and I think that’s a tremendous sadness. I think there’s also this trend to feeling we have to master things or follow rules and I think that hampers our enjoyment – I prefer the ‘just do it’ philosophy 🙂

  2. Lots of new things for me to google as I read your post. Recently, I was looking through my mother’s Golden Hands magazines from the 1970s and it amazed me how many things they were doing that I previously thought were new ideas from the last few years. Everything goes around in circles and it seems that once in a while everything syncs and sets us off on a creative path. Funnily, we could have seen the same exhibition or read the same book a year or two earlier and completely ignored it or even thought it had no value.

    1. Golden Hands! I’d forgotten that, I wonder whatever happened to our’s – yes I’m sure you’re right, things come round in their seasons. And I so totally agree about being in the ‘right place’ regarding books/exhibitions etc – this has happened to me many times now. I have a shelf of books that failed to ignite anything on the first reading that subsequently felt so full of wisdom.

  3. I’m definitely in the I know where I’m going camp, but it has its frustrations because I don’t always get to where I want, so it sort of depends upon how invested I was in the original vision

    1. I understand this completely – I think perhaps a reason I err towards process is because my attempts to create the visions I do get seem to end up so far from what I wanted, I rarely feel remotely satisfied, whereas when I let the process dictate, I feel much more settled with the results. This whole subject really fascinates me.

  4. Very thought provoking piece…I kid myself that I have an idea of my destination and of markers along the way, but in truth any plan soon becomes chaotic. If I touch on any of my pre-ordained spots it’s often a glancing blow before I bounce off into some other direction.
    The Elizabeth Gilbert idea is interesting. I remember thinking this about Mozart – I imagined that all of those notes were there somehow and he reached up and plucked the ones he wanted, that those glorious melodies already existed and just waited to be chosen. Not so Beethoven however, who was a meticulous craftsman; and as for Bach – he had a mathematical soul!

  5. I love Big Magic and thinking about the creative process too. I am definitely in the ‘lets see where this takes me’ camp for some types of creativity and in the other camp for others. Off to google Awen now. Very thought provoking post!

    1. You know I was fully prepared not to enjoy Big Magic, but I quickly fell in love with it, and I re-read sections quite frequently, which is a sure sign that something is speaking to me in it.

  6. Hi Anny, lovely to see your new direction – is that a scary word to use? I love the sparkle in the organza, you can get such delicious effects depending on what you layer and what direction the grain is can’t you? The comment on Golden Hands above – yes, I’d forgotten about it too, but it also reminded me of the TV Series Serendipity – another 70’s creative delight, that disappeared far too quickly. What wonderful things we all thought we were going to make, not realising that, along with inspiration comes – yes, process and experimenting and letting things flow. I’m only just discovering the importance of this, years and years later. Just sitting and stitching allows the brain to relax I think, and make connections. Talking of stitch – have you managed to get to Opus Anglicanum yet? Don’t miss it, it’s stunning. I went with an embroiderer’s guild friend last week – no pics I’m afraid, but oh it was wonderful – I was reminded of the quote about the Book of Kells – surely the work of angels …

    1. Oh Kathy you just reminded me, I must book tickets for the V&A, I do want to go very much, just have to get myself organised. I think I’ve spent most of the last few months coming to terms with the new direction, so hopefully the scary bit is done with – or maybe not – but it feels the right way to go, it feels that I’m being taken that way, so I’m excited about it. That whole experience of getting into the flow is what it’s all about for me, and I suspect a great many of us – and the way in probably changes as we do, but that’s ok. Best wishes Kathy x

      1. Hope you get to the V&A, I’m tempted to go for a second look – a friend is a member so has a 1+1 pass!! If you do get there, look out for the little Virgin Mary and her wooden baby walker – we had a bit of a discussion about it here on our Facebook page
        Also, get the catalogue first – well worth a read and full of wonderful details 🙂
        So glad you are enjoying this change in direction, it does look very exciting, and sounds as though it is right for you because the flow is there xx

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