Designers Block?

I’m certain it’s been apparent to folks who read my blog or twitter/facebook feeds with any regularity that I’ve been struggling through a dry patch in my design work.

The root of the problem, I think, is something yet undefined to do with the fibromyalgia.  I just don’t seem to be able to have the concentration OR the drive I used to have, so ideas aren’t as fluid as they used to be, and once I do snag one it’s harder to put it into practice.

Part of my also wonders if my odd confused and subdued state might be some hormonal thing.  I have no ovaries, and my hormone prescription (which worked well for so many years!) has been changed over and over in the past year for no reason other than the insurance decides from month to month that one medicine is “in” and another is “out”.


This morning I cleaned up my basement office, tossing out literally dozens of nascent swatches which came to nothing – this is not uncommon.  I think through ideas by swatching them, often I’ll rip out the swatch and reuse the yarn.

However, if I feel it would be useful to hang onto the swatch, I’ll do so and toss it into my “swatches in process” box to return to later.  Sometimes these returns glean a new understanding, sometimes they’re just a trip down memory lane.

Today I decided to toss out the swatches that are of no use to me or anyone, and it felt good. But each swatch that was tossed also felt like a little design that wasn’t being realized.  I have to trust myself, my notes, and my ability to revisit a good idea later when it really resonates with a current design problem.

I also packed up a good amount of yarn I can’t design with (either the yarn’s been discontinued, the company has closed or the colorway is no longer produced) for the charity knitting program at my local temple.  That, too, felt very good.

I’m hoping this cleaning will be a metaphorical as well as a physical boon, helping my mind to move toward new spaces (and allowing me to return to unfinished challenges with a clearer path!)

Of course, History on Two Needles is top on my priority list.  I only have one more sweater to knit up for that, and there are several sweaters I’d like to REKNIT to double check my pattern configurations (odd, period shaping can be a scary thing!)

I may have found someone to help me wade through my pattern worksheets and double check them for clarity, a job which has already proved daunting to some great knitting minds, and has reduced me to tears at times.

I ask myself, “Why are my patterns so odd?  Why so complex?” And this morning listening to On Being on MPR I think I had a bit of a revelation.  Krista Tippet’s guest, John Paul Lederach (who works in what he calls “conflict transformation”), was discussing what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “the simplicity on the other side of complexity”

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

In design and in pattern writing, my goal is simplicity.

Complex-ness, complexity, is a necessary phase I must pass through to achieve a universal simplicity.  In my better patterns (Twisted Float Shrug, Universal Mitered Bag) I’ve been able – through a GREAT DEAL of swatching and math – to create a rather simple pattern which can be easily altered to work well with a variety of yarn weights and for a variety of sizes.

But it’s a winding path from the well-groomed “front yard” of simple, rough pattern through the complex “wilderness” of  confusing, math-ridden pattern and out into a “natural meadow” of final, deceptively simple pattern.  It can be a long slog.

The reworking of a pattern, and then the reknitting of it several times, is necessary to get to that sunny, bright and peaceful meadow (this is why I like to first knit my own samples, the enlightenment that comes from the knitting is hard won and possible in no other way.)

I made a decision to not attend VK Live or TNNA this January.  I’m teaching in Orlando at the end of the month, and I’ve limited myself to 1 trip per month because I know what more travel takes out of me.  I know that my physical stamina wouldn’t allow me to do all that traveling.

But it’s hard to read the excited tweets & blog posts about how great VK is, the wonderful classes, the cameraderie, and not feel a bit left out.  It was my own choice, I think it was a good one, but it would be nice to connect with my knitting design friends.

Along the same lines, I’ve decided to only submit to a very few magazines until I get History on Two Needles, finished.  I can’t continue to allow myself to put other work in front of what is a strong passion simply because I’ve reached a rather rough part in the HoTN process.

So as deadlines zoom by this month for magazines that I admire, I find myself sitting on my hands instead of sending in sketches and swatches.  Once again, it’s my choice, but it makes me feel a bit superfluous.  Not a helpful feeling, and I’m the only one who can break through those feelings.

Into The Woods - by Bicycle!

So I supposed what I have isn’t Designer’s Block as much as it’s a realization that I need to stop walking, look up and see where the sun is, get out my compass and thoughtfully find a better path to that darned meadow.

To that end, today I’m spending the entire afternoon knitting things I love, with no thought to where it might end up (book, magazine) and only trying to find some of the joy I’ve been missing as I doggedly march through a dark wood.

I think I’ll knit a fine hat, my soul could use a little millinery.

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14 thoughts on “Designers Block?

  1. Robin F.

    I can commiserate with your conflict over going or not. I too have to limit my activities and sometimes miss ‘the fun’. It is difficult but then I can do something else that I like and really enjoy it. On my off days I reward myself with knitting, reading and PJ time.
    Good luck.

  2. The Sexy Knitter

    You are anything but superfluous, Annie! Sad you won’t be at TNNA next weekend as I would’ve loved to see you again, but very happy to hear that you are putting your health first! Good girl. 🙂

  3. MarieAnge

    Dearest Annie,

    As I read your post and realised you suffer from fibro, things finally clicked for me as well. I have fibro and there are days that I can’t make heads or tails out of my notes. Notes that were taken painstakingly while swatching/building a new pattern. I look at them, the swatch and have no clue what I was thinking when I made them.

    I also thought i was the only one that started off with complex patterns and reduced them down to their simplest form. It’s the only way to go for me. Glad I’m not alone!

    As for fibro, it doesn’t let me forget very long that I have it. It has a nasty habit of reminding me by giving me fibro fog or fuzz brain every so often, or it decides to toss the last 10 minutes of imagining how a pattern will look out the window and there’s no retrieving it. And same as you, it wears me down emotionally and physically. I have to make choices on a daily basis on what I will do that day. It’s frustrating and especially so when people look at you and comment that “you don’t look sick… ”

    Hang in there, you are not alone. I for one cheer you on as your designs are always beautiful and well thought out.

    MarieAnge B.

  4. Ruby

    I know that when there are health issues, it can be time consuming. It is learning to live with said health issues that helps us to realize our real inner potential. If we were going 90 miles an hour we could not appreciate the beauty that lies around us. Take your time and be blessed. Too many times life is about the reactions. Being pro-active is much better than reactive. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Pam

    Hoping there is much light and joy at the end of this design tunnel…a rut is never a fun place to be, and sometimes you just gotta get through it. I know that you will.

  6. CambriaW

    Thanks so much for this post. It’s been a difficult year for me design wise (I’m still working on “breaking in”, and all that rejection can be hard). Any time I read a post from a designer who I greatly admire, and that designer says that they too struggle with finding a design worth doing, or trying to make something without complicating it, or deciding if they should submit a design or not, it really makes me take another look at what I’m doing and realize that I’m no where near alone in this. I greatly appreciate it.

  7. Helen Maciejewski

    Everything I would like to say to you has been said very eloquently. I simply add my good wishes. FM is a hard, hard taskmaster. Hang in there, Annie!


  8. Pam R.

    Hang in there Annie. I, for one, am looking forward to History on Two Needles. I’m picturing it as a really cool coffee table book with patterns. It sounds so interesting.

  9. Cathy L from San Jose

    I don’t suffer from Fibro or any other auto-immune problems (thankfully) but I know that going gluten free can be a big help. I thought I would share about the ancestral health movement — or the Paleo approach to diet — essentially it cuts out ALL grains, (not just gluten type grains), and dairy and legumes.
    The reasoning is that mankind evolved for millions of years on a diet of meat, fish, vegetables, eggs, animal fat, fruits and nuts (paleolithic diet) and that farming was only introduced about 10,000 years ago (the neolithic age / diet) As a result many of us find that our health deteriorates over our lifetime but improves greatly if we revert back to our ancestral diet (Paleo diet)– the gut lining heals and many of our auto -immune / allergy issues resolve.
    I find it’s a very easy way of life to adhere to and there is an explosion of blogs, recipes and books to be found on the web — many of the resources are free.
    One of the best sites is Marks Daily Apple.
    Hope this helps some of you out there who suffer from diabetes, fibro, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Irritable bowel syndrome and a host of other problems. Look up Paleo or Ancestral Health Movement and go from there. Remember it can take at least a month to 6 months for your system to heal after you start eating clean. Depending on where you are in your illness you may experience alleviation of symptoms or near complete healing but you’ll never know without giving it a go.
    Best wishes to all in your journey and happy knitting and designing

  10. Pam Burg

    I’ve been having memory and fatigue problems lately, too. Sometimes I forget that the fibro can do that to me and just blame it on my age until it becomes quite apparent that it’s more than walking into a room and forgetting why. I’ve told you before that I admire your bicycling, but the weather has finally become winter around here. (I hear there’s a warm-water fibro program that I’m going to look into.) The spark necessary to carry on is just around the corner.

  11. Beth Freerksen

    I think what we perceive as blocks are the times we need to bring in, gather and sift ideas that will explode in a creativity frenzy at a later date. Enjoy the time to do other things that you love to do like making that hat and taking care of yourself. Odds are that in the creation of that hat you will see a curve of yarn or the color in sunlight that will be just what you may need to get your juices flowing. Wouldn’t the creative life be boring if it was on an even keel all the time? Or wouldn’t we go out in flames if the ideas overflowed constantly? Thus we all have that down time. Enjoy it for what it is knowing its another step in the process. You do such terrific work and your work ethic is great -its not going to go away. beth

  12. Lisa Soderman

    Hi Annie. We are “friends” on Facebook, and I love your posts, blog and your work. I know we don’t know each other personally, but please know that you are not alone in what you feel. I think there are times when we all lose our sense of concentration and creativity. For me, my depression will often times kick in and I’m down in a pooper. For you, possibly the fibro. And yes, changing your hormone prescriptions can have a drastic effect. Just a suggestion here but you may want to consult with your md and see if somehow, he/she can get you on the script that works for you and then clarify with your insurance co. that that is the only drug you can be on. Sometimes, the insurance co will abide by that. You may have a little higher copay but….if the pros outweigh the cons then it may be worth it. You need to focus on being healthy for yourself and your family. Your creative genius will always be lurking. I honestly don’t think you need to worry about submissions or lack thereof. Those in the business know your work and will always accept you when you are ready! You are a phenomenal woman. Take good care.

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