My creative process - or make, test, abuse, make again.
I received a reader question through my newsletter recently (thanks @stephnappa!) how my creative process looks like and I thought I'd share that with you today as I've just released a new collection of knitting project bags (shameless plug - you can shop them here on Etsy!) and feel like I have a good grasp on how the process of coming up with that collection looked like.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE getting glimpses of other creatives' processes, so if you've written about it somewhere or you'd like to share your process, please do comment below!
So - how does the process behind coming up with a new bag collection look like?
First up: Inspiration.
I've written about how I stay inspired before here, and my inspiration process behind a new collection is very similar to that. I don't go out and consciously look for inspiration, but I absorb everything around me like a sponge - the colors, the light, texture, fabric, museums, a book I've read, a vacation I've taken, photos - and just wait until they come together in an idea.
Usually that happens when I start looking for fabric - fabrics are my main inspiration for the project bags. For this collection, I suddenly realized that I'm really drawn to blues. I looked through the fabrics I collected and put together a couple that just felt like the sea to me.
That's how the idea of a project bag collection inspired by the sea was born! As creatives, we sometimes tend to stick with what's familiar to us. Try to push your boundaries - do something, read something, watch something that's not related to your craft (I can only recommend watching the excellent cooking documentaries on Netflix, by the way) if you're stuck and don't feel inspired. And, most importantly, trust in yourself. It's entirely normal to not feel inspired ALL the time. Don't worry - it'll come back!
Technically, this is probably not even the second step, but sometimes comes even before the inspiration! I stumble across a problem that I want to solve. In the case of the bag collection, I'd been looking for a sweater-size project bag for ages and couldn't find anything the size that I wanted in a fabric that I liked.
Plus - I HATE it when my yarn jumps out of my project bag when I'm knitting on the go so I wanted to figure out how to make a design that would keep the yarn safe in its cozy bag (and me sane).
Take both things together - inspiration and problem - and you have half a collection already! Just - how to bring it to life?
Once I've stumbled across a problem that I'd like to solve, the wheels in my head start turning. "Could I add grommets to the bag so that I can thread the yarn through?" "But then you can never really close the bag - bad idea."
"Hmmm, what about adding more interior pockets? You always lose your measuring tape and stitch markers anyways - would be great to keep them somewhere in the bag..."
I take these random ideas and put them into rough sketches. Based on those, I sew up a prototype out of cheap IKEA fabric!
Fourth: Test, get feedback, rinse, repeat.
Once the first prototype is done I go out and USE IT. Abuse it. Throw my latest knitting project into it, and off we go - there's nothing quite like real-life testing to see if a design idea you had actually works out in practice.
I take notes what works well and what doesn't and when I have enough notes I make a new prototype. Again, test, test, test, make a new one.
For the sweater size project bag, for example, I realized while I was using it that the inner pockets were too small to hold a hand-wound ball of yarn. I also noticed that I would want the pockets to sit higher on the inside! Those were the first adjustments I made to the bag.
Fifth: Show you work. Ask for input.
One problem that I stumbled across that I couldn't really figure out on my own was that my genius idea of adding grommets to interior pockets so your yarn would not tangle was shit. Why? Because you couldn't try on your knitting project without breaking the yarn.
Interestingly enough, I didn't think that was such a big deal - until I started posting pictures of the bag prototype on Instagram. People LOVED it, but immediately asked how they could get the yarn out of the grommet.
It quickly became clear that I had to find a solution for that - but I had no idea how. So I asked. I LOVE the knitting community on Instagram so much because there's an invaluable wealth of knowledge, inspiration and creative ideas - and one of them brought me on the right track: carabiners. I searched a little bit and tried a version of the bag that had s-carabiners attached to the grommets. Threading your yarn through them was still possible, but you could also un-clip it so that you can try on your sweater without breaking the yarn. DONE!
I can only recommend to show your process, prototype and work as early as possible and ask for feedback! How else are you going to know if you're on the right path, if you're actually making something that people would be interested in?
Sixth: Fabric selection.
This has to be my favorite part of the entire creative process. I get SO inspired by all the different gorgeous fabrics out there! As I wrote in the beginning, the entire collection was inspired by the blues of the sea, so I set out to find fabrics that would work well with that theme.
This was actually the first bag collection where I used extensive notes during my making process. Before that, I had just done whatever felt right - and this time, I wanted to make sure that the bags were actually all the same size and of great quality.
I took all my notes and sketched out the two bag versions in a fresh notebook (YAY for fresh notebooks!). I noted down the sizes of the different bags, the interior pockets, the zippers - everything basically.
Then, I started sewing, assembly line style (my Logistics professor from uni would've been proud ;)), taking notes of the steps on the way so I knew I could replicate the process whenever I wanted to.
Cutting, pinning, pressing, sewing, turning, zipper, ironing, label, ... you name it. All the different steps. And honestly - the two days I spent making the new collection bags were the happiest days in August.
I can only recommend breaking down your making process into different steps and playing around with them - you're going to find a way that's your favorite, I guarantee it! Plus, it might make you even faster which is not a bad thing either :)
Eight: Release & promotion.
I'm going to do another blog post in a couple of weeks on what I did differently for this shop update vs. the first one, but let me tell you - the biggest difference was the promotion.
I started sharing my thoughts, work process and prototypes early on and then took everyone along on Instagram Stories when it was time to sew up the collection.
I didn't want the release to feel forced, and it's super important to me that people don't think I'm over-selling something, especially not on my Instagram feed! So I tried to be careful with how many direct call-to-actions with regards to the release I did.
Still - I sold out of half of the collection within two days of posting about it, which is a huge success to me! It doesn't seem like much, but it's a lot better than my first collection, and I was over-the-moon happy with every order I received.
Important to remember for all the makers out there who are like me in that you love the creation process, and not the promotion - you gotta show your work. Otherwise - how are people going to know about you, about what you make and where they can buy it? Stay true to yourself though - do it in a way that is genuinely YOU.