Saturday, July 15, 2006

Short assigments and first drafts....

Leigh asked me to expand on the concept of first drafts referred to in my previous post. That caused me to pull down Bird by Bird and read through a couple of Anne Lamott's chapters which relate to any creative pursuit. Let me correct myself as a result of this refresher:

Short Assignments comes first. This is the concept that the Bird by Bird title came from. She uses the example of her brother who, as an elementary school student, had a huge assignment on birds which should have been completed over preceding weeks. He was understandably panicked as he sat down to begin the project the night before it was due having no idea where to begin. Anne's father sat down beside him and encouraged him to begin with just one bird: the only way to attack the project was bird by bird.

So a short assignment is one small thing that can be managed in the time available. It can be one small part of a larger project. It's a way to keep from being overwhelmed. It's narrowing the focus. Anne describes using a 1" empty photo frame as a totem when feeling overwhelmed as she sits down to write. She just envisions only writing enough to fill that 1" square.

Short assignment is probably a better way to look at Jeanne Williamson's journal quilts than first drafts. Jeanne set some specific boundaries in terms of:
- the size
- the amount of time to complete
- the format (whole cloth quilting)
Her purpose was to play, experiment, and give herself the time to create at least one small piece per week.
So, those boundaries were the equivalent of Anne's 1" frame.

I'm thinking of doing something like this with weaving. Am still playing around with the parameters in my head. So far, the look something like this:
- the size would be 6"x8" or less.
- the project would be created on some small, portable weaving format. This would include the lap loom from the last post, tablet weaving, frame weaving, Weave-It looms, etc.
- the ground fabric must be some type of woven interlacement. NO knitting.
- completion of the project includes finishing and mounting for presentation (because I am really bad about this).
- because of the immediately preceding rule, each project is allowed two weeks.
- begin this week and continue through the end of the year, at which point the rules and parameters will be re-evaluated.

That means 12 small, experimental projects by the end of the year. (gasp!) Okay.. I need to sleep on this....and forget about the 12 projects statement, reverting back to "Bird by Bird" thinking!

Now, on to First Drafts: I latch onto this concept because I see it happen all the time in myself and others. Having reached adulthood, most of us have a set of skills in which we are fairly competent. We use those skills on a routine basis and have a pretty high set of expectations for the things that we produce.

We forget what it's like to be a child with no previous experience of the task at hand. As a child there is extreme joy to just create something, anything! The fact that the drawing, or pinchpot, or knitted headband exists is cause for great satisfaction. Kids are okay with the quality of those first attempts. And if they enjoy what they are doing, the go back and do it again and again, thereby gaining practice and experience which improves the quality of those things they create.

So when we learn to knit, weave, spin...or an adult, we don't give ourselves permission to create something less than perfect. It's okay to have uneven selvedges, a broken warp or two, or unfortunate color choices in a project as long as we learn from them. Too often, as adult crafters, we give up on something because we don't permit ourselves to have what Anne call's "sh*tty first drafts".

This is one of the reasons I hated seeing new knitters getting sucked into those crazy eyelash novelty yarns as their first projects. Yes, anyone can knit a scarf that looks pretty good with those yarns. But then, the new knitter never learns about maintaining an even gauge, or the importance of stitch count in a pattern, or how to deal with the selvege stitches. So they move onto more 'normal' yarns and when their projects reflect this lack of learning, they quit.

So, if I should decide to pursue the plan above, I hereby give myself permission to try some new things and accept the fact that some of them projects not demonstrate perfect execution....they can be "sh*tty first drafts". But I hope I learn something from them all.


  1. Nodding. And too many people won't venture off into the unknown and try designing their own items - fear - or not wanting to "waste" the yarn and time. I find that sad. Ties in with first drafts should be the doorway not the room.

  2. ... ah so this is the meaning of "bird by bird". Or in my case "sheep by sheep". I have a 10 sheep project for my Masterspinners class that I have been avoiding. I have 10 sample fleece from 10 sheep breeds that require researching the qualities of the fibre, then appropriate prep, spinning and sampling of each. Documentation required... I am dealing with this assignment (for which I currently have loads of time to do properly) by surfing around on the net - drinking coffee, and thinking about a new tea towel warp...

  3. Thanks for your excellent explanation. These are wonderful concepts! The kind of stuff that puts one on the edge of revelation and then gently nudges one toward new levels of creativity. Valerie, I encourage you to take a deep breath and then take the first step of your weaving plan.

  4. Bird by Bird. I like it. It is usually how I approach house work.

    As for sh*tty first drafts, I have to force myself sometimes. Others, it is very easy. It was such with my entrance to temari balls. I still have my first one, lumps and all. It is nice to compare it to my most recent one and see how far I've come.

    You can see what a temari ball is at


tie in the loose ends...