Is it time to stop adding to your stash?


How improvising a little with your tools and materials can make you more inventive as a textile artist

How often have you been inspired to start a project but, as you rifle excitedly through your stash, you realise that you don’t have all the things you need?

You have the fabric, but not the right thread. Or you have every colour but the one you need. Or it’s the wrong time of year to gather leaves for an eco-dyeing project. Disappointed, you give up on the idea.

It can be tempting not to start anything until you have exactly what’s in the ‘recipe’. After all, if you don’t have the ingredients, what’s the point in trying?

Textile artist Jane Dunnewold used to feel the same way. She says:

“I used to spend ages shopping for supplies for my projects. There was always that one more elusive something I needed before I could begin. But that’s not a mindset that’s conducive to actually producing work.”

And she’s right.

So, what’s really going on here?

Maybe, just maybe, being too picky about tools and materials can become a mindset for procrastination. Maybe perfectionism – that enemy of creativity – is rearing its perfectly-coiffed head to stamp all over an opportunity to make something marvellous.

Isn’t done better than perfect?

Isn’t done better than not done?

Wouldn’t it be more fun to create something rather than nothing?

A lack of resources is a rich resource in itself. The fewer resources you have, the larger your opportunity to call upon and develop your ingenuity.

Your stash might be empty, but your brain isn’t. It’s packed full of creativity and innovation (whether you believe or not!).

Your brain craves problems to solve. Not having access to the prescribed tools and materials for a project can actually be the start of a fulfilling experiment in textile art, whether the outcome is ‘successful’ or not.

1. Limitations are your friend

If you’ve a resourceful mindset, you’re not fazed by limitations

You’ll know that too many choices can bring analysis paralysis. Too many choices can mean wasting energy on choosing, and being less satisfied with what you chose.

A limited choice of materials, tools or techniques at your disposal is your opportunity to strengthen your creativity.

You’ll start to look at the resources you have in a different way, and this will force you to improvise a little. You’ll increase the range of what’s possible with the materials you have. And, when you improvise, the results can end up being more personal and intriguing.

Cathey is a member of the Stitch Club. When she found she didn’t have the listed materials available, she cut up a calico bag to use for her first workshop and worked with paper, rather than fabric, for the next one.
Her limited resources meant she uncovered a unique and personal approach to the projects.

2. Resourcefulness for artistic freedom and independence

A resourceful mindset is a confident one. It has no time to waste. You’ll find that having a resourceful mindset directs your energy not to what you don’t have, but to what’s in front of you, ready and waiting for your creative magic.

When you’re resourceful, you’ll gain your independence. You’ll reduce your psychological reliance on needing that ‘perfect’ thing: the right weight of cotton, the exact shade of ochre, that “proper” embroidery needle.

Being resourceful, can lead to more artistic freedom.

3. Resourcefulness can’t fail you

But what if you practice resourcefulness to the full – you find alternatives, but it all goes horribly wrong? What if the project fails?

It’s not failure. It’s feedback. It’s information.

Weird, bonkers or just plain ugly results are the perfect opportunity for artistic inquiry (and who says art has to be beautiful, anyway?). It’s a chance to exercise more curiosity, bigger curiosity.

You’ve learned that “If I use this, then that happens.” And then you wonder “What if I use smaller/bigger/madder stitches? What if I did everything on a larger scale?”

By the way, we made a free PDF to go along with this article; in it you’ll discover three tips for developing a more resourceful mindset for the creation of textile art. Download the freebie by clicking on the big yellow banner below.


Nigel Cheney: Cinquecento (Detail)
Nigel Cheney: Cinquecento (Detail)
Nigel Cheney: Lethbridge (Detail)
Nigel Cheney: Lethbridge (Detail)
Nigel Cheney: From the journey (Detail)
Nigel Cheney: From the journey (Detail)

You may want to develop your resourceful mindset as a creative practice, or perhaps you already have a project in mind, but you’re lacking all the materials you need and you’re looking for answers.

Either way, being resourceful is often an exercise in being pragmatic and practical, and going over old ground with a new way of seeing.

Here’s where to start:

1. Reconnect with your stash

Often it’s difficult to see the potential of things that are familiar to you, so make time to revisit your stash (or stashes).

Get everything out. Touch everything. Sort it differently. See it anew. Reconnect with the reasons you’ve kept it. You love the colour, texture, memories it brings?

Ask yourself questions. What would happen if you used that slubby remnant instead of pristine linen for the project?

2. Go on a resource-hunt in your house

It’s time to turn out those cupboards and that drawer of shame (but let’s rename it the drawer of abundance). Go through your wardrobe and those mysterious bags of stuff in the attic.

But do it with your resourceful artist’s mindset. Is that a pile of old tea towels, or is it textured background for an awesome stitched portrait? Is that an ancient stamp album or is it a source of colourful digital prints for a collage?

3. Dig out your “disasters”

Explore your half-finished projects, and your endeavours that went “wrong”. They are a goldmine of artistic potential.

Textile artist Nigel Cheney, who held the position of Lecturer in Embroidered Textiles at National College of Art and Design for over twenty years, told us:

“Even the most disastrous sample has potential to be something wonderful. Scissors are our friend; chopping something up, re-assembling it, applying it onto a different ground or simply turning it over to appreciate the reverse can all be revelatory.”

4. Work with found materials

Textile artist Barbara Cotterell tries hard not to buy anything new and always prefers to work with found materials, mostly from around her home. “Even the wire I use I try to get from the scrapyard,” she says. 

Victoria Undondian creates room-sized collages of found fabric scraps, incorporating other found materials such as paper, burlap, plastic bags, and second-hand clothes.

When you take a walk with a resourceful mindset, everything you find can become a possibility. You’ve switched on your artist’s radar. 

Look in and around your home, on the beach, on the trail, in the pub, in the town. Check out the charity shops and dare to go skip-diving. Create yarn from string or wire or plastic bags. Melt the plastic bags leftover from yarn-making into an interesting ground fabric. 

Adopt what artist and creativity expert Jane Dunnewold advocates the “scavenger hunt” approach to finding and using your materials.

Just a reminder about the free gift that accompanies this article. You can download it by clicking on that big yellow button below.


Barbara Cotterel: Deeply Foiled (Detail)
Barbara Cotterel: Deeply Foiled (Detail)
Barbara Cotterell: Teapot
Barbara Cotterell: Teapot
Barbara Cotterel: Teacloth
Barbara Cotterel: Teacloth

Stephen King writes with a Blackwing 602 type 2 pencil. Will using that pencil empower an aspiring writer to recreate King’s iconic style? It’s doubtful.

And using the same needle and thread as your favourite textile artist won’t make you stitch like them. And why would you want to?

You are an individual with something unique to offer.

So rather than worrying that you don’t have or even know the exact type of wire or glue or paint that a workshop leader is using, why not get creative?

And if you’re not 100% sure if what you have to hand will work for a particular project – give it a go anyway. What have you got to lose?

After all, what can you learn about yourself and your creativity from guaranteed success? Wouldn’t it be more exciting to take a risk or two? To embrace your inner rebel? Developing a resourceful mindset gives you the chance to do just that.

Have you ever surprised yourself by getting inventive with tools and materials? Tell us your ‘improvisation’ success stories in the comments below!


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