Thoughts on the Balance Between Designing & Learning

Earlier this week, I put out an Instagram post about my personal struggle to balance my making time between working other peoples' patterns (which often teach me new things about garment construction and other knitting skills) and working on my own designs (which, in addition to being creatively fulfilling, help me pay my bills).

You guys may or may not know this, but this year I decided to take a step away from designing, for a few reasons. The obvious one was that I lacked any time or creative energy, because working on my thesis was taking up all my time and brainpower. But the other reason was that I was keenly aware of how limited my knitting skills were, and I decided that I wanted to take a time out to improve those skills before I dove into creating designs of my own. (There are few things more mortifying as a designer than not being sure how to answer a customer's question about your own pattern... That never actually happened to me, but it was something I feared a lot.)

So, I refocused my energy on creating little accessories, like pins and progress keepers, for makers. It just so happened that this coincided very well with the pin fad, and I hopped aboard that train with gusto! No shade there – creating pins and progress keepers has been a great little side gig, and I've enjoyed it a lot.

But, if I'm being honest, designing is more where my creative goals are. I feel that I am slowly developing an internal knitwear aesthetic, and I would love to create patterns that reflect that aesthetic and give others the chance to create classic pieces for themselves. Most importantly, though, I want to be confident in my knitwear designs when I do decide to create and share them, and I want to have the necessary skills in my arsenal to bring those ideas to life. So I am on a designing fast right now. I'm putting my energy into my 2018 Make Nine and spending quality time with other designers' patterns that both challenge and teach me.

On to the point. In my Instagram post, I opened up this question to you guys, because I am really curious, for those of you who are not taking the extreme step of halting all designing for a year – How do you balance your making time between creating new designs and working with other designers' patterns? Do you have a system? Do you struggle with the balance sometimes? What do you do when you are struggling?

As always, the Instagram community showed up with some really nice empathy and quality advice. I think my favorite (from the lovely Lindsey of @thechesapeakeneedle) was this: Make whatever the hell you want. That one made me laugh, because it's so simple, but she's definitely right. The big takeaway I got from the comments on that post is that it's important not to force it when it comes to designing. Let ~the muse~ guide you, design when inspiration strikes, and don't get too frustrated with yourself if the muse is silent for a little while. One comment described this process as seasonal, which I love. There will be ebbs and flows, and times where you are designing more, and times where you are spending most of your time learning from other peoples' work.

I think my biggest takeaway is that it's important to keep both going at all times. Don't give yourself over entirely to designing, because your skills will get stale and you won't learn as much as you could. But also follow inspiration when it strikes, and make room for your own creativity.

As always, I think, be gentle with yourself is an important message, and one that I have to remember too. It can be frustrating, especially in the social media world, to see other designers with seemingly endless time and inspiration who are putting out crazy amounts of new designs. It's tough not to play the comparison game, but I would encourage you (and me) to remember that forcing it won't yield the best results. Let the process be seasonal. I'll be learning right there with you.

(As always, if you have any thoughts on this, feel free to drop a comment either here or on my Instagram post, or send me a message! I'd love to hear what you guys think about how to strike a healthy balance.)