Hi, welcome to String Revolution. I'm Léan, I live in Dublin with my husband and two little boys, and I am a dangerous stringy subversive.
My job is to radiate my creative truth, and to help you radiate yours. I create, without exception, every day. I write here when I have something to say.

(learn more about me).

9 Crafting Tips from my 9-Year-Old Self

Léan and Órla in the Alps, 1984

This past little while, I’ve been thinking a lot about myself as a child, doing my crafts (that’s me there on the left, in 1984). It all seemed so much simpler then, as I rummaged through my great-aunt’s bags of remnants or my grandmother’s yarn ends to find what I wanted. I didn’t always know where I was going, but I was having such a good time getting there that I didn’t care.

My nine-year-old self would have been very pleased, I think, if she’d known how passionate I’d still be about these crafts at thirty-four. But it feels as though my approach is quite different now. I’ve been wondering what advice she’d give me – what have I forgotten in the intervening quarter-century?

Here are, oh, let’s make it nine things she might say … or at least, she might if she spoke in the idiom of a thirty-four-year-old, twenty-first-century mother of two – I am not writing this post in a cutesy, faux-naive style; you can’t make me:

1. Experiment. Take an idea and run with it – try things out. Do a little sampler piece or dive straight into a full-scale project: it doesn’t matter. Don’t be afraid that it’ll all go wrong. If it does go wrong, you can probably fix it anyway, or turn it into something else.

2. Use what you have. You possess an almighty stash, after all, some of which has been around since before you and I were born. I don’t mean “don’t buy any more yarn or fabric or threads until you’ve used all this up” (my god – you actually have money for supplies!) but maybe just … think about it first. For any given project, you probably already have something that can be used.

3. The right tool may make things easier, but the wrong tool can often do the trick. This is related to “use what you have”, but it’s more about inhibitions. That mental tic that says, “But I don’t have any coilless safety pins – I can’t possibly think about making a quilt!”? That’s not helpful. Improvise. You’ll be fine.

4. Produce lots. Creative success implies creative failure. (See? My nine-year-old self definitely wouldn’t have put it that way.) I mean to say, don’t be afraid of having wasted time and resources if a project doesn’t work out how you’d planned. The experience is always valuable. And don’t worry about making too much. Make what you feel like making. That way, you’ll get better at what you love, and you’ll have more beautiful things to give people. Win.

5. No need to shake the universe with every project. Simple is good too. Traditional designs survive because they have some quality that endures. The well made objects that you use every day will bring you at least as much pleasure in the long term as the bedizened creations that see action only rarely.

6. Capture ideas. You seem to have got out of the habit of sketching designs, copying down patterns that strike you, tracing and doodling and planning. You even carry a camera these days – use it! You don’t need to do something with every one of these ideas, but catching them as they whoosh by you can only be a good thing, surely?

7. Go with what you find beautiful. Don’t worry about fashions and trends and what people will think. If you make things that cause your pulse to quicken and a wide grin to settle on your face whenever you catch sight of them, all kinds of good will ensue. Aim to have as much beauty in your life as will fit – I mean real beauty, the stuff that makes you feel alive and aligned.

8. There’s no moral obligation to finish a project. I think you still have one or two projects kicking around that I abandoned in the early 1980s. You know what? That’s fine. Keep them if you want, or get rid of them, or repurpose them, but whatever you do, don’t feel a shred of guilt. The obligation to finish what you’ve started is a real creativity-killer. Don’t yield to it.

9. This stuff is important. What handcrafting means for you – all that complex edifice of memories and skills and emotions – has genuine value in your life. Don’t downplay it. Give it the space it needs, and allow it to nourish and sustain you.

It’s about maximising joy. You know that’s your number 1 priority, right? Right.

14 comments to 9 Crafting Tips from my 9-Year-Old Self

  • What a gorgeous post! And not cutesy at all.

  • 5 and 7 need to be stitched on a sampler on my wall, I think.

    Except I don’t like samplers…

  • longtimenotknitsouthamerican

    I just l o v e d this post! And it’s relevant to any even vaguely creative endeavor too! And I’m amazed at all you accomplished in August, honestly. I think the only thing I could have managed is to run in circles tearing my hair out.

  • Chris Johns

    And number 9 needs to be numbered 9, not 8 😉

    All good advice though and applies as much to music as craft!

  • […] Léan at String Revolution reminds herself about what it means to create. […]

  • Emma

    This is all so true. I recently gave myself permission to take up knitting socks, despite the half finished quilts in my sewing room (Yes, I’m that lucky and still don’t finish things) partly as a result of seeing your knitting. And I am feeling so good about them! And have already promised a pair to my sister for her birthday. When my hands are working I feel better. Knitting has made me remember this, and that is good.
    Wonderful blog, by the way. Thanks Ailbhe for sending me here.

  • Your 9-year-old self (and mine, and everybody’s) is brilliant–in that “shining at full illuminating power” sort of way. Trust her! We grown-ups are way too fixated on doing it the right way, or producing a predetermined outcome. The best artwork I’ve done has evolved through a messy, unplanned, playing-with-materials process in which I was more focused on the Now of what was happening before me, and not terribly attached to the potential outcome.

  • leannich

    @Glitzfrau: Glad you liked it!

    @Ailbhe: I like samplers in theory, but I’ve never made one. It’d have to be super-self-aware and ironic if I did, I think…

    @Longtime: There was a certain amount of running in circles, yes!

    @Chris: Appreciate the edit, thanks 🙂

    @Emma: Oh, wow! It’s so exciting to think that my blog is prompting the creation of actual objects in the actual world! I wonder if I’ll ever get over that? Socks are great. Everyone should have permission to make them.

    @Riin: I’m glad!

    @Tracy: I know – children’s art is almost unbearably beautiful, isn’t it?

  • Kate

    Thank you for this–I needed it!

  • leannich

    @Kate: Thanks for letting me know it resonated with you!

  • hobbitbabe

    Visiting on a tip from Ailbhe:

    Three Rules for an Artist, as explained to me by a friend’s five-year-old daughter.

    1. An artist always has fun.
    2. An artist always likes her own work.
    3. An artist always puts her paints away.

  • leannich

    @hobbitbabe: Those Three Rules are GREAT! I particularly love number 2 – I remember feeling like that, before years of critical judgement clouded the child’s delight in creating. Though speaking as the mother of a prolific young artist (the five-year-old Oyster), number 3 is pretty good too 🙂

  • Ruth

    I don’t even do any sewing and I love reading this. Lean, you have to write a novel with that writing style. Seriously

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