Does Creativity Need To Be Chaotic?

creative chaos

This is one corner of my sewing table right now. I daren’t show you the rest. I’m a firm believer that creativity doesn’t need to be chaotic, yet chaos has snuck up on me.

It’s an inevitable by-product of sewing, for sure. When you’re frantically ripping out a zip, you don’t care where the torn threads drift to land. If you’re head down on a toile there are shreds of fabric, broken off pieces of chalk, measuring tools … probably a discarded item of clothing on the floor that you’ve abandoned climbing back into. Why not just sew in your underwear? Heck, why not just sew in the nude? No one’s watching. We hope.

But I don’t think this chaos enables the process, and in an ideal world I keep it out of my creative space. I’m sure there are people who don’t agree with me, who will say that a happy state of chaos is part of the fun of creativity.

What say you? Is chaos a necessary part of creativity or is your sewing space a shrine to minimalism? And does a sewing machine bring out the naturist in you?

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67 Responses to Does Creativity Need To Be Chaotic?

  1. Hahaha sewing certainly brings out the naturist in me. In fact I need to make a suitable sign because unsuspecting family members keep walking in on me! It can be counted on that my room is a state of chaos 7 days a week. I usually keep things related to a particular project on the floor ready to pick up the next day when I get a minute or so! In fact there’s a silk culotte jumpsuit waiting for me right now… The trouble I have is when I jump straight into a new project without clearing up from the old. Then mess ensues.

  2. JanomeGnome says:

    By far the greatest and most personalized of bust dart pressing hams is your own t shirt bra stuffed with socks. While removing my socks for sewing will incur no familial ASBOs, I’ve started taking the uncharacteristically unchaotic move of planning ahead on the bra/ham front. Ps it’s so successful as a sewing tool, I’m considering making a personalized ham from an old bra. I wonder if they other side should be made with a shoulder pad for pressing sleeve seams…

  3. allaboutthesew says:

    Well I for one will also not be sharing a picture of my sewing room (I mean spare room that I have been caught out calling my sewing room!). What a mess. The only thing is that the chaos in my house isn’t just confined to my sewing room….it’s EVERYWHERE!! As a by product of being an avid sewer, there is washing up still tk be done, washing everywhere, unopened post….need I go on! Priorities is all I can say!!

  4. spikeabell says:

    I inwardly chortled when I saw the heading of your post. No, my creativity doesn’t have to be chaotic, it just usually ends up that way. Seriously you should see the mess from my latest sewing project. About 5 toiles (Elisalex), cutting velvet all for a self imposed deadline and I’m very bad at cleaning up afterwards. I agree with Lauren, I like to jump onto the next project, honestly being creative is more fun than clearing up. Though there does come a point where it does just HAVE to be done. I’m the same with my art work, though i’m much neater in a shared studio space (hangs head in shame).

  5. Katariina says:

    Chaos is my middlename πŸ˜€ My sewingroom (and entire house after me walking around…) is full on strings and little pieces of fabrics… Usually I clean my room after one big project or couple of little ones. And when I have to because I don’t have room to draw patterns or cut a fabric on table.

  6. Bekki Hill says:

    What enhances our creativity is a subject that fascinates me. There has been research that has shown people are more creative in an untidy environment, but I would question if this is only short term. Long term untidiness often causes frustration and wastes time with things being lost in the mess. So I’m with you, make a mess while you’re in the midst of a project, but don’t let it hang around.

    • Now, that’s interesting to hear! I would agree that it must be a short term effect, because being surrounded by chaos makes me feel overwhelmed and uneasy. In spite of that I tend to make a lot of mess when I’m sewing – I just don’t bother to tidy up while in the midst of the process πŸ™‚

    • Katie M says:

      Bekki, I’m on your page. I create an unholy mess when I’m in the middle of a sewing project, but I have to clean up at the end. I just finished sewing a silk brocade dress for a wedding, and my sewing space was covered in scraps of fabric, threads, bits of pattern drafts, drifts of threads that frayed off the fabric, spools of thread, etc. Once the dress was finished, I threw out scraps, tidied up the fabric worth keeping, dusted the bench, swept the floor and put all the haberdashery paraphernalia away. It feels wonderful seeing it clean after finishing my dress. Now I’m ready for the next project.

  7. lorna says:

    Well I for one will also withhold from sharing a picture of my sewing room (oops I mean spare room!) – a similar state of affairs I’m afraid although the chaos extends to the rest of my house as a result of my sewing hobby. Washing up, piles of washing, unopened post….need I go on?! Priorities is all I can say!!

  8. Debra says:

    I would love to be neat and tidy and have an uncluttered work space. I don’t, it’s a mess. I have lots of handy boxes around to put things away whilst working but it doesn’t happen; the stuff migrates out of the boxes but not back in again. Then I just have a lot of empty boxes adding to the chaos.

    I would love to be a naturist when sewing, especially when making muslins but I feel the cold too much for that sort of thing πŸ™‚

  9. knitlass says:

    yes and no! things definitely get messy when I sew. But, because I sew on the dining table I have to tidy up after *every* session so that people can sit down to eat their next meal. Of course, there is something especially galling about being told to tidy up by one of your children πŸ˜‰ so do try to avoid that wherever possible!

  10. Lizzy says:

    I totally agree that chaos is not a creativity enabler – I find it so distracting if my sewing space gets messy during a project! I try to take little breaks to clear up clipped threads, fabric scraps and fluff so that they don’t bother me. And once a project is finished I have a celebratory tidyfest. Oh dear, I think I might be a bit OCD…

    • Leigh Ann says:

      I’m exactly the same! For me, messiness is a huge distraction. I can’t see past it to what I’m supposed to be doing. So I also take breaks to tidy up. I seem to work best in an ordered environment. Which is not to say that my sewing room (which is small and is also our guest room) always looks as neat as something in a magazine! I do my best to contain the clutter. But sewing stuff does proliferate.

      • Lizzy says:

        Yes! Every now and again I need to come up with new storage solutions to keep the growing quantity of stuff tidy…

  11. Like with a work project I never clear up during a garment for fear of throwing away or misplacing something important. I do try to get everything out st the start of a project and clear it up before starting the next! So managed chaos maybe?

  12. Chaos and clutter messes with my ‘zen’ haha. Whilst I’m working there is often stray threads and tools not put back where they should be, but I always make sure I tidy up before I finish, that way my space is clean, fresh and organized for my next creative adventure! To each their own I say πŸ˜‰

  13. niekemieke says:

    I find that I don’t mind chaos while I’m working on a project, but I have to clear out the chaos of the past project before I can start a new one. Chaos clutters my mind and blocks my creative juices.
    I try to dispose of stray threads and snippets of fabric directly if I can, which helps a lot, but it’s not always so easy. I often throw my clothes (the one I take off for fitting) on my dress form as I don’t use my dress form for fitting since the size isn’t right. I don’t like sewing in my underwear, because I get cold easily, but I make sure to put on comfy sweatpants and a shirt that I can take of easily πŸ™‚

  14. kieravanella says:

    My sewing room always looks like a bomb went off after I finish a project. Then I do a big clean before starting the next one…

  15. Beth says:

    i hate my sewing area being messy, but sometimes it’s sort of inevitable. i try to keep it as tidy as i can though. i think you can be creative in a clean space, but like you say, the frantic tearing out of zips does lead to thread EVERYWHERE! πŸ˜€

  16. Kimmy Rocket says:

    I’m an advocate of organised chaos – I’m a firm believer that the best projects are borne out of much care and attention to detail, which is at odds with chaos. Untidiness (read: organised chaos) on the other hand…..guilty, as charged!

  17. Jacana says:

    I can’t possibly create without making a mess – I might start with an empty table but it does not stay that way and I agree with Sewlittletime there is a danger something essential will be discarded by mistake if any tidying up goes on.

  18. sewbusylizzy says:

    for me? Yes. It’s like chasing an elusive idea & you just can’t stop until you catch it.

  19. Sarah says:

    Chaotic – absolutely. Unclothed – very often. One needs to take care near the iron….

  20. Louise says:

    I m messy and I spread my sewing everywhere to involved in what I am doing. But, I don’t like it I feel more in control if its tidy and maybe more productive as I want to sit there. Its a l case of tidy desk tidy mind for me.

  21. Cinderellis says:

    I have to sew in my room or in the kitchen of my shared flat, so I really do have to do ‘chaos limitation’, otherwise things are a complete mess! During a project things may be a little untidy, but I try to make sure everything is properly tidied up after I’ve finished something. It also means tackling the next project is way easier! (And I find the seam ripper I’ve been looking for…)

  22. Tanya says:

    Out of Chaos, I bring forth creativity. Always.
    By the way, as my flat is too small, I don’t have a sewing room, therefore I sew anywhere I can lay my machine and overlocker and I’m a happy bunny. Be it the kitchen, bedroom, or even the passage. Heck, I’ve stopped short of doing it in the bathroom. However one of my seriously bad vices from my ‘whirlwind’ of creativity, is leaving pins on the floor everywhere – then others have stepped on them.

  23. Chloe says:

    I’m here to represent the compulsive tidiers, I guess! Clipped threads etc. go straight in the garbage, I have a specially designated bag for off cuts/scraps I may need for my current project, and almost everything is put back in it’s home if I’m not using it. My space is small, and mess while working on a project would drive me around the bend! But when it gets to the fitting/tweaking stage, the clothes do come off.

  24. piakdy says:

    When I’m in the process my sewing space also inevitably gets chaotic too. One’s just too absorbed to bother tidying up after every single step in case one loses one’s flow. But if the mess becomes too much & get in the way I would do a periodic tidy up. I also do it after a project to clear the space physically & mentally for the next project. I would find an anal approach & a minimalistic space too sterile for bubbly creativity. As for naturalist sewing, well, London is too cold for that unless one’s from further north! πŸ˜‰

  25. Talya says:

    Don’t craft (or cook) in the nude. You’d be surprised how many bad things can happen.

  26. raquel from JC says:

    My new sewing room is not as neat as my husband would like…But is ok with me! I try to clean in between projects (I hate pink thread on my black fabric for example). I try to throw away a bag full of clippings and scraps of fabric every time I begin a new project. My mom had two rooms for herself when we left home and she named them: the chaos and the disaster zone room, so I guess it runs in the family!!!

  27. Karen says:

    Don’t hate me but I sew with very little chaos limiting my sewing mess to my large sewing table. That space is big enough for me to ‘audition’ fabrics for whatever I’m creating and is easy to clean up when finished. I do, however, prefer to sew in my underwear for easy try ons. I don’t judge others with their sewing mess as everyone has their own system that works for them.

  28. I’ve run into the problem where my “sewing room” is also my bedroom, and between the clothes that I’ve worn that haven’t made it to the hamper, and my dress form and the fabric pieces strewn about post sewing project, that room always looks like a disaster. But I’m also a fan of the monthly cleaning ritual, so perhaps I’m inviting that chaos. Certainly doesn’t hurt the creativity!

  29. I always make a mess when I sew. Those little threads get stuck to everythinggggg. Every time I make a neat little pile of them I ram my project into it while sewing, they stick to the material and repopulate everywhere. But thankfully, I have a very clean, and very patient boyfriend who is constantly corralling my stuff around the apartment and sweeping up anything that makes it’s way onto the floor everyday.

  30. funny, just last night my snipped threads and trimmed seams were landing around my sewing machine instead of in the bin, and it really bothered me! things are a bit amiss as we are preparing to move-house, so most of my rituals have gone out the window. i could not, however, begin sewing in chaos. the table needs to be tidy, at least before and after. for me, it really adds to my enjoyment and lends some sense of relaxation to the whole experience. aaahhhhhhhh.

  31. Chris says:

    It’s a big mess while I’m working on something, but I do clean up and put everything away before the next one. I just can’t think straight if start working on something in the middle of clutter.

  32. DavyMade says:

    My sewing space is in my living room and dining area so I definitely don’t want chaos there. I strive to keep everything organized while I’m sewing. I tend to throw my fabric scraps and snipped threads in a specific pile so that when I’m done I only have one area to sweep. This doesn’t always happen though. I have found that when my sewing space is chaotic my mind feels the same way and I don’t work as well. I dream of the day I can sew in my own office or studio… one day… one day…

  33. I am just beginning to sew again (and just starting my blog) – my sewing machine currently lives on the dining room table. An extra bedroom will be turning into my sewing room, and I’m planning a lovely pristine space. However, if history repeats, chaos will quickly ensue. sigh.

  34. Stephani says:

    Creative chaos is the name of my game, but I do feel better–and better able to find that thing I JUST PUT DOWN!!! WHERE DID IT GO??!–if I straighten the sewing room a bit before I start on a new project. Trying to work on only one project at a time really helps too. But then the ‘gotta have this/look at that’ bug strikes mid-project and I end up pulling out other stuff and piling it around the room. Unfortunately, I’m of the “out of sight, out of mind” school. If I don’t see it, I’ll forget I have it or want to work on it next etc…. So I tend to have lots of fabric/pattern piles out in plain sight. And then I pile more things on top of them. This is how I was raised.
    And yes to sewing in the undies when making muslins.

  35. megan says:

    I like things to be orderly and when things get really messy I stop and clean up. Not sure it helps the creative process at all, but I can’t help myself. I find it much easier to think when everything is in it’s place.

  36. Hilary says:

    Spend time making, or spend time tidying? I’ll be “making” every time there’s a choice. I think that’s why creativity seems to spawn chaos – certainly in my house πŸ™‚ Hx

  37. Marie Forest says:

    Chaos is always around when I am sewing, but since my flat is small I always need to clean everything afterwards… I use to sew when my boyfriend went play hockey… leading him to always ask if I was naked when he came back home with a friend (knowing that I always end up undress when sewing)… which lead his friend to believe that we were nudist…

  38. Jen (NY) says:

    As a dissenting voice…I don’t think that the mess results from creativity, but is just a normal product of work. It’s a small distinction, maybe. I don’t like to use the phrase–but I am a visual artist–and so the mess of making something is just a normal part of any process for me. Any kind of work (execution) requires focus, and minding where the wood chips are flying would distract from that. Tools need to be at hand, and thinking about organization would also tend to break the focus. In that respect, sewing is similar. The mess is a result of the process (and hopefully it gets put away when everything’s done, but I’m not so good at that either). Again, for myself, I make a distinction between concept or “artistic creation” (don’t like that later phrase much but either) and craft, like sewing. I see sewing as pure execution (work or craft) towards a goal. I don’t think I would ever be able to maintain one of those pretty, manicured sewing rooms that one tends to see featured in magazines! Give me a basic, maybe messy, workshop any day.

  39. B-rouchka says:

    I can’t have chaos in my sewing room since I do not have a sewing room. So if I want to keep my living room in a usable state, I cannot let chaos happen. On the other hand, I am totally organised on keeping en eye on my fabric and notion stock; with a nice excel file to keep track. This helps me to think of my future plans while not being at home, and more importantly without having to unpack all my fabrics.

  40. I like it ordered but sometimes it climbs to a state of chaos and then I have a ‘John Cleese’ moment and say ‘right, that’s it, enough’ and use sewing time to tidy away. I resist it but I always feel better afterwards. I had one on Monday and the joy was an immense feeling. I am posting about it on Friday. Jo x

  41. Ha ha. If you saw my studio you wouldn’t need to ask that question. It can get a bit overwhelming sometimes though and then it gets blitzed. I like a bit of chaos. When fabric is all over be place you get some fab unexpected combinations. Xx

  42. Even though I hate mess and I can’t actually do my day job if I’m in a messy room, it seems impossible to stop the spread of mess when I’m sewing. I always assure myself that it’s all because I don’t have my own sewing room, but I’m not totally convinced…

  43. Emma Jayne says:

    Ahh the so called “craftermath”.
    I don’t mind a messy creative space mid-project but I have to tidy away to restore order between projects.

  44. Cheryl says:

    I have been sewing at the same sewing table for thirty-nine years. It’s set up so that I can reach my iron and an ironing pad on the right (back space), my scissors on the right in a drawer that stays open (and place them in the drawer every time I set them down). That drawer also has a niche for all my frequently used items. (Right handed.) On the left is my waste basket. (All threads just go in there without changing hands or giving it a thought.) I do all these motions without thinking about them now, so no, it doesnt stop my creative flow to be neat! πŸ™‚

  45. Ruth says:

    Like you, I find that chaos naturally develops in the middle of a sewing project and that’s fine, but sometimes it can get a bit too much. I find if the chaos gets out of control then it stops me being creative, so I made a rule for myself earlier this year that I have to clear up after every sewing project. I didn’t think it was a rule that I’d stick to, but it’s actually worked really well!

  46. I am Chaos, hear me ROAR!!! My office is also a mess. I don’t know how it happens even. It just does. But I do like to tidy it up regularly. I think a certain level of clutter is important for my creativity, I would never function in a white box and I have a busy, colourful aesthetic in general, but the kind of wall to wall mess that sometimes greets me in my sewing room just makes me turn around and leave again.

  47. Amy says:

    I wish my creative space wasn’t chaotic, but I tidy and then it just straight away ends up messy again. I do love a good tidy though when I’m between projects, it seems to set the tone to start something new. My husband was horrified when we moved into together “but everyone calls you clipboard lady? You are the most organised person I’ve ever come across? Your room was always tidy, I don’t understand!” as he stares at the sewing related piles of stuff covering every flat surface. Haha!

  48. smashandme says:

    My sewing space is generally tidy but sometimes its very messy and that is ok too as I can close IF I moved all the other flotsam that gets put in there because it also doubles at a dumping zone for things that seemingly don’t have a home. That vacuum cleaner has a perfectly good home in the hallway cupboard but never makes it there! I am a fan of small but frequent tidy and organising bites, 5 mins before work or 10 mins before I head to bed just to keep things under control.

  49. Lisa says:

    It’s a necessary part of MY creativity. I’d prefer it wasn’t, but it’s how I sew and resistance is futile. On the plus side, there’s always a time when order needs to be restored and I tidy and sort that space to within an inch of it’s life, then have the inevitable internal dialogue about not letting it revert to that state again, and then it does, aaaaand repeat……

  50. My spare/sewing room is lovely when tidy, and I find that motivates me to sew. Unfortunately tidy is not my natural state and I’m very messy in the middle of a project, which can lead to things not getting finished as I don’t want to be in the middle of a thread/scraps/tissue paper whirlwind!

  51. Katie M says:

    A few years back I started using masking tape to tape a small plastic bag to the edge of the table, under my right arm. Every time I snip threads, trim a seam allowance, or have a scrap of fabric or other mess I just sweep if off the table into that little bag. Once it gets full, I peel it off, throw it out and tape on a new bag. There’s far less of the bitty mess now – there’s still plenty of other mess though.

  52. Joen says:

    If chaos is necessary for creativity then based on my sewing room right now you would like I’m the most creative person alive! LOL I’d rather my sewing room be a bit more organized at least at the start of my project.

  53. My space is always a tip and I find that it helps me focus more because I know it’s a mess haha!

  54. Sarah says:

    I don’t sew in my birthday suit but more often than not I am in my Pj’s. I turn into a bit of a slob when I’m sewing and its not attractive. The sewing room does become a mess but I usually try to tidy up in between projects. So its tidy at least for a few days.

  55. My husband is forever finding errant pins and scowling at me in a silent “are you trying to impale the children” admonishment but as much as I tend to chaos I don’t have a dedicated sewing space so I have to tidy up after each session. It’s a good thing really otherwise who knows what almighty mess would unfurl as I think getting focused on the thing you’re doing often leads to a certain amount of randomly discarded apparatus … And clothing!

  56. Caroline says:

    My granny whacking toffee on the fireplace with a little metal hammer and telling me not to tell my mum as we gobbled down the pieces. I used to sit “in her house” which was cosied under her arm inside of her big granny cardi! I never eat a piece of toffee but I think of her.

  57. Twilight says:

    Messy, messy, messy… That’s what I am. I’m not naturally tidy, but in the bigger part of the house I’ve managed to keep it under control. In my sewing room, I only tidy when I cannot walk around anymore… Actually I think that I’d be more creative without the mess, to be honest.

  58. lindamartha says:

    I don’t thrive well in chaos close by but its inevitable that sewing gets messy in my house! I stop and clean up periodically though. I have a nice sized studio/sewing table, etc. that I use to do othe artwork as well so I try to keep things in enough of an order to be able to clear the table of one project and put on another.

  59. Sewniptuck says:

    Nothing gets done un till I clean up my mess. I just cannot function in mess and hate that “now where the heck is the…(insert sewing tool here)” The sewing dungeon is subterranean, but despite that I’m just not comfortable sewing au naturale!

  60. Liza Jane says:

    Ok, I was very interested in all the comments! I have my own theories on creativity. Something I think about a lot as I try to foster a creative environment for my kiddos at school. I think sewing treads a line of being a creative hobby, but also being kind of rigid and– dare I say it- not creative. Maybe ‘not creative’ is not the right descriptor, but you get my drift. I guess you could argue that you are always in fact making something– thus it is always a creative hobby. But I think there is a creativity spectrum that all sewists fall on somewhere, from being very global and right brained versus being a rule follower and super analytical. I would wager that those that sew in a chaotic environment are more global while those that need tidiness are more analytical.

  61. I so relate to this post πŸ™‚
    I hate mess but it is almost inevitable to create some mess while sewing, either because we have several pieces of fabric in need of our attention or because in the midst of sooo many tasks at hand, we create a bit of havoc… But surely, as soon as possible I have the urge to clean up and organise things….
    Sara @

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