Excavations, Realizations and Thoughts on Creativity

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember that every summer my children and I embark on The Big Cleanup project: a thorough cleanup and reorganization of every single room in the house. Well, we haven’t quite gotten to it this summer, yet (!!). I did, however, briefly step into my sewing room, which, once again, became overwhelmingly messy during those last few weeks of school. I started removing some of the layers, and, as part of my archaeological digs, unearthed a few items which led to a few realizations.

Under a mound of fabrics I found this half-sewn purse. I started making it at the very beginning of my sewing frenzy. It must have been my fifth or sixth handbag, and I abandoned it midway:

The reason I never finished it was that once it reached this stage I realized that I didn’t really like it at all. I couldn’t get myself to finish it, yet was unable to throw it away, either. By this stage, you see, I had already put quite a lot of work and time into it. Tossing it felt wrong.

Now, however, with hindsight brought about by additional months of sewing and many more bags, I could look at it more objectively. I could frankly admit that it is quite unattractive (hideous even!), a design mistake. These days, I probably wouldn’t have even purchased the fabrics of which this purse is made. I would never have started working on it, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have gotten that far along.

Additionally, I discovered a pile of cut-and-ready-to-sew bags. If I remember correctly, I cut them shortly before house guests arrived last year. Since my sewing room is also our guest room, I have to clear out of it whenever overnight visitors come. By the time our guests left, though, I had already moved on to other projects. Time went by, and I never returned to these unfinished purses.

Looking over them I realized that I still liked some (that summer travel bag I was about to sew for myself, for example!). Yet, I no longer liked others.

All of this was a mini revelation. I knew, of course, that creativity is a dynamic, evolving process, and that I, as an artist, constantly change. I just didn’t realize that things evolve that quickly. Yet, those unfinished bags in different stages of making proved that what appealed to me a mere year ago was no longer doing so now.

I often work on small batches of similar pieces. I dedicate three or four weeks to work on a series of six of seven handbags, for example. Or a week to sew several journal covers. Within each batch, every individual item is unique. I always believed that what dictated the one-of-a-kindness of my pieces was the physical limitation of my raw materials: for environmental reasons, I try to use mostly rescued, repurposed and upcycled fabrics. These often come in small pieces, and are not big enough for more than one, or–at most–two items. I actually like working on one-of-a-kind pieces, since their uniqueness requires constant designing and keeps me excited about creating. 

Now, however, I understand that what makes each piece unique is not only the physical limitations of my materials (i.e.–the size and nature of the fabrics I’m working with), but also the nature of passing time and evolving taste. A purse I make today, for example, will, by necessity, be different than a bag I will design a year from now. By next year I will have experienced new adventures and processed life (and art!) in new ways. I will not be the exact same person I am now, therefore the art I will make cannot but be different than the art I make at the moment. Each and every item I create, it seems, is a reflection of a fleeting, specific moment in time and in my life.


You might want to know what I did with the unfinished purses I found. Well, I didn’t want to complete the olive-colored monstrosity shown above. The distance of time meant I no longer felt attached to whatever efforts I invested in it long ago. So I calmly took it apart. I saved the parts I can still use (the button,  for example, is beautiful!). The rest I deposited in a fabric-recycling collection bin. As for the pre-cut bags, I only kept those that I still want to work on. I will finish my travel bag, sooner or later! The other pieces went back into my fabric piles, to be used for future projects.

I realize that although I never finished some of these bags, working on them wasn’t a complete waste of time. I like telling my kids that making mistakes is not only human and normal, but also necessary. We all learn from mistakes. Like all mistakes, these failed handbags probably taught me a few important lessons. For one, they made it more clear to me what I don’t like in addition to what I do. That, I think, is something worth knowing!

Why Cleaning Up is Good for Kids (And Why you Should Do It, Too!)

What We Did This Week

As I mentioned last week, the first big project my kids and I embarked on this summer was The Big Cleanup, by now an annual tradition. Over the last couple of weeks we all worked together. We went room to room, starting with the kids’ rooms, moving to the master bedroom, and ending with the common areas. Depending on the amount of work needed, we dedicated a day or two to each room. We took everything out of every closet, drawer, shelf or cubby. Every surface we cleaned with a soapy wet cloth, vacuumed every cranny, and sorted through every item.

We put together pieces of games that got scattered over the previous year. The kids sorted mixed-up crayons, markers or pencils and put them into separate boxes. We recycled lots of paper, and discarded expired food items and medicines. We put outgrown toys, books and clothes into separate piles, and gave them away. Some we passed on to friends with younger kids, others to beloved old preschools, yet others we donated to Goodwill. We tossed broken things. Overall, this year we gave away a car-load and a half of toys, games and books; two large trash bags and a huge card box full of clothes; and a large box with miscellaneous things. We cleared up a couple of cubbies, lots of closet space and some shelf space.

Here, for example, is what one of the drawers in the kids’ bathroom originally looked like:

Messy drawer

We took everything out:

poouring it all out

Then vacuumed the drawer and wiped it clean:


And then we put everything back in again, the way it’s supposed to be:

Summer cleaning

It will hopefully look like this for at least a couple of months or so…

Why I Think It’s Important

Now, no one really likes cleaning up, myself included. One could argue that making children organize their room over the summer vacation (instead of, say, sending them to camp or letting them play in the sand) is a malicious form of kid-torture. But I find this experience to be beneficial on many different levels. Here are some (but by no means all) of the benefits I see:

  1. Cleaning up teaches kids basic life skills that will be useful later on. Younger kids learn to sort, match (game parts, socks), vacuum, clean. Older kids learn to fix things, fold clothes properly, hang things in the closet, check food for expiration dates.

  2. Cleaning makes kids take responsibility for their own space, which in turn makes them more independent and proud of their achievements.

  3. It teaches kids that they are a part of the family, and therefore have a responsibility towards the family. My children use the entire house and therefore need to tidy common areas as well as their own room.

  4. Cleaning together encourages cooperation and teamwork. It also requires negotiation and conflict resolution, all important skills.

  5. Cleaning teaches compassion and social responsibility. We all had trouble parting with some things, be it a favorite stuffed animal or a beloved-yet-outgrown book. Saying goodbye to these items was hard. But we knew that by passing them on someone else would enjoy them, be it a person we care about or a stranger. Putting a toy in a pile directed to “kids who have no toys” made my kids feel good about parting with toys they no longer needed.

  6. Getting rid of things teaches kids that material items are not important, and that stuff is replaceable.

My children actually like the Big Cleanup. This year they wanted to start organizing the house even before the school year ended, and I had to convince them to take a couple of days off to relax first. When I asked what they like about it, my seven-year-old told me he always looks forward to finding lost toys or lost pieces of games. My twelve-year-old said that she likes the way a tidy room (and house) feels. My fourteen-year-old, it turns out, enjoys going over my clothes and seeing what she could pilfer.

It took a bit over two weeks, but our Big Cleanup of the year is finally over. To celebrate our accomplishment we went to the movies. “Finding Dory” was fun, as was eating a huge bucket of popcorn.

Cleanup reward

Material things are disposable. Shared experiences are forever!


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No Time to Sew: The Big Cleanup

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the end of the school year marks the end of my sewing season. It doesn’t mark the end of work, though. In fact, I find summer to be a great time to catch up on many otherwise-neglected projects.

My creative work process seems to require a mess. Despite my many efforts to rearrange and clean up my studio, I just can’t seem to keep my work space tidy. It takes hours (days!) to put everything away. However, when I start new projects, items just naturally find their way out all over again… Different-colored thread spools start accumulating near my machine. Fabrics in different stages of cutting and sewing sort themselves into different piles on the bed or carpet, each waiting for the next stage. Metal hardware boxes lie open, waiting to be incorporated into bags. And on it goes. Here, for example, is a recent photo of my sewing table:

The truth is, that in order to feel at peace, I actually need my surroundings to be reasonably tidy. By “my surroundings” I mean my house, an almost impossible goal with three kids as roommates.

Hence, a few years ago we started a new summer-vacation tradition: “The Big Cleanup.” The Big Cleanup is just what it sounds like. It’s a thorough cleaning/organizing/rearranging of every single room in the house.

This is how it works: after the last day of school the kids and I give ourselves a couple of days to unwind and relax. We make no plans and set no rules. Everyone has time to do whatever they want to do, be it stay in pajamas all day, read on the sofa uninterrupted, or disappear behind a screen.

Then we start working. We work every day for about two weeks. Every couple of hours we take breaks for snacks, meals and the occasional rest. We set reasonable daily goals, and bribe ourselves with fun things to do in the afternoons (if we finish everything on time). The actual work is long and tedious. We get cranky, we have difficulty parting with some things. We fight, we grumble. But when the day’s work is done everyone feels great (or at least I do). The room we just worked on looks nice. The drawers and cabinets are all clean and tidy. We feel like we really earned that relaxed stroll downtown, or that tasty ice cream, or the coffee-house visit with its drinks and cakes:

And when the Big Cleanup is all over we celebrate by doing something fun together. This makes us forget the ordeal we endured over the last couple of weeks.

(For more on kids and cleaning read this post).

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Finally organized! Installing and Stocking My Fabric Cabinets

It took a while, but I am happy to report that I finally finished my new fabric cabinets!

After building, staining, and letting them dry, we finally moved them into my sewing room. We set them up in the alcove, where the piano used to be, and they fit perfectly! Since I put them together stair-like, they don’t feel bulky, and don’t suffocate the narrow entrance. Their light color matches the other furniture in the room, and helps keep the space airy and bright-feeling.

I spent a couple of days loading them up with all my sewing materials. My different-sized pieces of fabric all fit in nicely, as if the cabinets were custom-made just for them:

I couldn’t be happier!! Thank you, IKEA! Finally, a well-organized studio 🙂

Now, Knowing myself, I’m sure the room won’t stay tidy for long–when I sew, I need too many things all at once. Furthermore, there is hardly any space in my sewing room to put partially-sewn projects. As a result, there is no better place than the carpet to lay out my work-in-progress. But at least now I will not have to move everything out of the room (which is also our guest room) once guests visit again. One hour of tidying up should do it.

Cabinet Building! Creating Fabric Storage

The mess in my sewing room got out of control. I realized I had no choice but to add adequate fabric storage. This was the only way to get rid of all the piles, and turn the room into a functional textile art studio. After some internet research (more like MANY hours of internet research, actually), I found OK-looking (and affordable) cabinets at IKEA. These were exactly the size I was looking for–wide and deep enough to hold all my different-sized fabrics, yet still small enough to fit into my sewing-room’s alcove. I raided the store this last weekend, and returned home with my loot: three large IVAR cabinets!

My kids and I spent the weekend getting them ready. As it turned out, all those lego sets I bought over the years proved to be a great investment. The children were well prepared for the real-life challenge of putting IKEA cabinets together! In addition, I’m quite sure that that carpentry camp a couple of summers ago didn’t hurt, either 🙂

It was heart-warming to see the children working together and cooperating instead of squabbling, for a change. A shame we don’t need to build furniture every week…

Rethinking Space: Rearranging My Textile Art Studio

As I mentioned before, our spare room, which is also where I sew, is lovely. It has many windows and lots of light, which I like. Sadly, this become a liability when I needed to turn the room into a textile art studio, and add storage space for my growing piles of materials. Windows occupy two of the wall. The bed blocks the third wall. This really left only one option for my grand reorganizing plans: The fourth wall.

This last wall has an alcove near the entrance, which for a long time housed my daughters’ piano. It was an ideal place for the piano, for not only was it the exact right size, but it also offered privacy during lessons. When my daughters wanted to practice, they simply closed the door, thus not disturbing anyone else.

Unfortunately, I had no other place to put my much-needed fabric storage cabinets. With a heavy heart I realized that the piano had to move.

This didn’t go so well with my family. So we spent the last few weeks negotiating. Eventually we found a new (albeit a lot more public) location for the piano, and with the help of our neighbor moved it to another room. All of a sudden that alcove looks so much bigger!