A friend of mine and I were discussing the topic of choices, while we were out walking. For once the sun was out, and it was a perfect time to get some fresh air and meet some good friends.
Needless to say, in most places of the world, freedom is viewed upon as a great thing. In fact, one of the most highly valued documents in the world is the UN´s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where the issue of freedom has a most important place.Tthe first article of this declaration is:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Freedom in this context is a necessity for peace and prosperity in the world. But I feel that, in many Western countries, freedom is often exploited and misused as a synonym of “having many choices”, and that having the freedom to choose is the same as freedom per se. I don´t agree with that. The reason for why I don´t agree with that is that, although I can have lots of choices, I often feel trapped and, ironically, unfree, because there are too many choices.
For instance, in Sweden we have the “freedom” of choosing which health center or doctor we would like to see (we have a state governed health care system). Now, it´s great that, if you aren´t pleased with the doctor you go to, you can change that, but if you (like I) really don´t care much about who is your doctor, this “freedom” is one I really don´t need. I would much rather that the county gave me a “default” doctor, and then I could change if I wanted to. I know that, for many, this is a political issue, but for me this is a way of viewing life, and it affects my sewing as well. There are so many patterns to choose from! And there are so much beautiful fabric, buttons, trims etc. etc. But how does it help me, if I can´t deside, because there are too many choices? And more importantly, if I don´t know how to make the best choices?
Three different buttons to chose from, not a million…
For the untrained ear, jazz improvisation can sound like the musicians just picks notes on random, and that it in that way is completely “free”. But for the musician, jazz improvisation is to interpret a song in a certain way, using certain chords or scales as the frame. As a musician you are always a part of a tradition, either you like it or not. You can always try to come up with new things, and push the boarders a bit, but it is always, in one way or another, reacting to what have come before, and what is happening around you. I know this, because jazz music is in one way the back bone of my musical training, my native language of music, if you will.
And I am starting to realize that in sewing, I still have so much to learn, and so much to experience. I don´t speak “sewing” fluently yet, if I may continue with the language metaphor. And that is why I have a hard time choosing at times, I think. In musical improvisation I “just know” what´s right and what sounds good, and what I find exciting and interesting. In sewing, though, many a time I need to learn things the hard way. For instance about what fabric choices are good for what type of patterns and what pattern styles are most flattering on my body.
My original idea for this one was to have three oversized black buttons, but I didn´t have that in my stash. Instead I used six thrifted white buttons from my stash that worked equally well .
Last year, I learned a lot about sewing, and I really feel that I am on my way! For this years challenge, I have as my second goal to use as much as possible from my stash before buying new. And this makes the boarders I work within more visible. I don´t have all the choices in the world, I only have what I have. And by forcing myself to try to combine fabric, lining and buttons with each other, new and unexpected things can turn up! I am much more creative when I have some guidelines to work from.
The Colette Spring Palette Challenge 2011 and the Sewing Through the Decades challenge also helps me stay in focus, and helps me to be creative within borders. Just the way I like it.
Freedom within boarders.
So, how about you? Boarders or not? Or do you have other ways of deciding what to make and what to not make?
When I was creating textile art, limiting myself only to what I had in the studio pushed my creative boundaries. It forced me to think in new ways. For example, what if I painted this fabric because it was not quite the right color? I’ve transferred some of that way of being to fashion sewing especially with refashioning. You’ll find it helps you grow tremendously. My only caution is to be careful to listen to that voice within. If you truly do not have the correct choice in your studio and your intuition is telling you so, then finding it elsewhere may be your best option. If most everything else has come from the studio, then – in my opinion – you are still within the spirit of your goal while still learning and especially learning to trust your intuition.
I agree with you about too many choices. Boundaries are not the prisons they are often made out to be. They can actually be quite stabilizing and freeing and I have found in terms of creativity that they can provide tremendous push. Best of luck.
Wow, what a topic. You make some really interesting points. I agree, I get overwhelmed with too many choices and am quite happy to make do with what is immediately available. Sometimes the challenge of working within strict parameters results in something even more creative and unique than without.
There is an interesting radiolab podcast on choice too:
I agree complete re: having too much choice. I saw this very interesting ted talk a while ago, that discusses exactly this topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html
As Kristen said, I often find that restricting my choices explicitly, will foster more creativity, because you have to find a solution within the parameters you are given. When doing brainstorming sessions for instance, it is often easier to come up with more ideas if there are limits or restrictions on what kind of ideas are relevant.
In addition; using what you have instead of always buying new stuff is good for our keeping stashes small and saving the environment from our consumption. 🙂
Hah, and now I see that my link to ted talk is by the same Barry Schwartz who’s interviewed in the radiolab podcast. Interesting, non the less.
@Myrna: That is a good point you make about listening to your intuition, and I love your formulation about “boundaries are not the prisons they are often made out to be”. I might quote you on that one some time!
@Kristen: Good to hear that it isn´t just me who get overwhelmed. Thanks for the link – I´ll definitely listen to that one!
@Kjersti: Thanks for the link- Ted talks are the best.:-) And I completely agree with you on the point about keeping stashes small and saving the environment! 🙂
Great post, Solvi. I’m with you on too many choices. I’m constantly seeking structure, constantly trying to deliberately limit my options so I don’t constantly feel dissatisfied with the choices I’ve made (in comparison with the endless possibilities out there). And I believe, in the end, it’s strangely liberating. I’m going to largely sew from my stash this year as well and when I made a list of everything I could possibly make (to prove to myself that I didn’t “need” more to put away for “someday”) I was surprised how long this list actually was.
Right now we subscribe to a farm, which delivers fresh, local, organic produce to our door every few weeks. Most folks I know would prefer the farmer’s market, all the choice. Always veering toward what they like and away from what they know they don’t like. But I love the challenge of my produce box, knowing that the harvest will choose for me. And now I’m charged with making something delicious out of it. Our palate has expanded, not contracted. Perhaps that was too tangential, but it seems to me the folks that work within a framework spend much less time wringing their hands about what’s “out there.” I like to think of this way: I’m putting myself in a place to be creative and industrious. 🙂
My favorite post of yours (and probably my first comment on your blog!), so far. My year begun with the will to sew and learn more about sewing, and I realized a few days later that this implied a certain rigour, or borders, as you call them. This is why I enoy spring palette challenge so much : it makes it very easy to see these borders (not to mention the fun and the community behind it).
I love your jazz metaphor : I just began to learn how to play an instrument, and this certainly makes one listen to music differently…
PS: Ali’s comment reminds me of this : there’s a french poetic group (mostly composed of scientists) who took, in a word, the decision to write only with restraint, which is actually the trigger of their creastive process. They’re called the Oulipo and they’re pretty inspirational, too!
What a great post – I agree with you about finding too much choice overwhelming and I think it can sometimes lead to stagnation. I like to set myself constraints and boundaries in my sewing as I find I can work better this way and it often leads to more creativity in the long run! I also used to set boundaries when I was a fineart student too. Interesting about choosing your doctor, here in the Uk youchoose your doctor but then changing can be tricky and also, how do you choose? I chose mine based on geography and the fact they were my boyfriend’s family doctors but in the past I had just stuck a pin in alist!
Thank you for the comment you left on my post, I also agree that if the charity benefits from increased prices this can only be a good thing but I do know people who are being priced out of the more expensive chairty shops. Ilike your blog
@Ali: Thanks! What a coincidence that you mention it, but we are also subscribing to a box of fresh produce once a week. Sometimes we fail in making something of everything that is in it, but most of the time we can plan our meals according to what´s in there. I love the challenge of it!
@Carlotta Stermaria: Thanks for the recommendation on Oulipo, I´ll certainly look in to that, and thank you for the kind words, it´s such a great feeling to work with some limitations.
@Debbie: Thank you! About the doctors; that is exactly what I mean – how can we make choices if we don´t know what to base them on? Great point. And I see your point about the expensiveness of charity shops. It´s a tricky issue, for certain.
I agree with you that too many choices can make life more difficult, and that being limited in your choice can make you be more creative. (As a doctor-to-be, I don’t think that applies to health care, though. You might not especially care who you go to, because you’re not frequently sick or don’t suffer from a severe illness, but I do think that it’s important to be able to trust your doctor, be able to talk to them even about feelings or embarrassing problems, and that this isn’t possible with everybody…)
That’s a very interesting and thought provoking post… with a lot of topics brought up, but sticking with just one (sewing) I will say that I am going with the same challenge as you, of working through my stash before allowing myself to buy any more fabric, too!
[…] New sewing plans and an award or two. April 11th, 2011 My blue fabric is still uncut, and I am being very indecisive about it all. The thing is, it has such a wonderful sheen, and a plain pencil skirt wouldn´t do that much justice. I´m thinking that some pleats or tucks would help to enhance that quality. Ahhh! The choices! […]