Where to Find Inspiration

Being creative is often a matter of making connections or links between seemingly unconnected ideas or things. Where do you find inspiration for connective creativity?

For me, travel always primes the pump. We recently visited the Pacific Northwest. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a few of the photos I took while there. The mountains, the rose and dahlia gardens, the Columbia River gorge vistas, all inspire me. What took my fancy most, from a quilting perspective, were two figures I captured at the Portland Art Museum. They are shamans from ancient China. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the tag, so I don’t have more information than that.

It’s easy for me to imagine these beautiful cat-like faces portrayed in quilts. Even their robes are suggestive of patchwork.

Generally, though, I don’t need to travel as far to find interesting ideas. Recently Jim and I were in a hardware store. I wandered the aisles as he looked at eye-hooks and carabiner clips. In the ropes-and-lines aisle, I found something called “mason line.” Certainly I’m familiar with the Mason-Dixon line! But this was new to me. Mason line (or mason’s twine) is a nylon braided twine used in masonry, brick-work, and concrete applications. It comes in amazing colors, like fluorescent green, bright orange, and hot pink. They’re about the weight of a hefty perle cotton thread. I haven’t done any couching, but I could imagine using mason line as a couching or decorative thread on … something.

Nature is always high on the list for sources of inspiration. It has all the components artists love: color, value, shape, texture, line, as well as balance, proportion, movement… Besides nature, and of course current day artists and quilters, where do you find inspiration? What leads you to those creative leaps that feel completely new? Let’s make a list.

* current events
* hardware stores
* craft stores
* art museums
* gardens
* woven placemats from Target
* books about … what?
* gift shops
* patriotic themes
* faith or religion
* family members or events
* celebrations

What can you add to the list? What quilting or art have you done with unusual sources of inspiration? Tell us about it in comments.


20 thoughts on “Where to Find Inspiration

  1. Pingback: Travel Inspires | Zippy Quilts

  2. Elizabeth E.

    Recently I had to come up with inspiration for a class I took at QuiltCon, and I didn’t have time to run to the museum or head out to my typical places of inspiration. I went to a large museum website, navigated to their textiles collection, and looked through their digital collection of textiles. I was able to make many different scribbles in my little book, all gleaned from their collections. I figured, we have the internet, why not use it?

    Generally, though, I prefer travel to prime the creative pump, and will sometimes look at past photos of travel, if I’ve not gone somewhere recently. Thanks for this post!

  3. snarkyquilter

    Well, I have 52 weeks of around here photos, plus lots of other photos, plus a Pinterest board called Inspiration, plus…. And then I got an idea to make a quilt about shoes, based on a candid photo I took of a crowd. We’ll see what rises to the top first.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I love the idea of shoes as the subject of a quilt. One of the things I remember from the Little House in the Big Woods is descriptions written from the child’s viewpoint, literally low to the ground. I’ve written a thing or two that way, and really you see differently from there. Shoes fits right into that.

  4. KerryCan

    Since I started weaving, I’ve paid a different kind of attention to the fabrics all around us. If I’m in a hotel, I look at the upholstery and the rugs, to try and figure out weave structure, for instance. I look at my own clothing differently. And I’m always looking for color combinations that catch my eye. I’m not very brave with color and need to branch out more!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Have you ever taken a class or workshop on color? Do you think that would make a difference in how you see or use color? And yes, the decorating in hotels, for good and bad, is really interesting to me, too. Thanks, Kerry.

  5. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    Children’s books and old architecture for sure! I also love people watching…their movement, facial expressions, clothing…
    The libraries also are inspirational. Not only the building structure and design, but book covers.
    I enjoy looking at the design, color, pattern, and texture of the books.

  6. Tammy Hutchinson

    Children’s picture books inspire me. I’m also fascinated by the appearance of animal faces in various flora-flower faces, lichen, standing dead wood, to name a few. And paint chips at the hardware store are fun to pull color combinations quickly.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You sound like me. I love children’s book, especially all the fairy tales and folk stories. And yeah, lichen. 🙂 Not sure what that grabs me so much. I haven’t yet made a quilt to feature lichen, but I believe it will happen some day.

  7. Jim R

    Add ‘Other natural events’ to the Gardens entry. I’m thinking of astronomy and things like Mt. St. Helens which we enjoyed seeing.

  8. Kerry

    There are lots of old churches and cathedrals over here. That means medieval tiles – in Winchester (Church of St Cross) I spotted a tile that could be added to 4 more to make a very nice Dresden plate pattern! LOL! Then there were many more and some later editions but still very old. I’ve taken a fair few photos of the old tiles over the years. Some pretty tiles are in complete ruins of old abbeys – Rievaulx Abbey, and Fountains Abbey – both Yorkshire. Open to the elements but most are still perfect! Yet again plenty of inspiration but lack of sit down time to construct! But the ideas are still there.

      1. Kerry

        It’s all those battles for power for the kingdom! LOL! But the rest of the world has it’s own treasures too. 😀

  9. katechiconi

    I really love books about Roman archaeology. The mosaic pavements are an amazing source of potential quilt blocks. I get colour inspiration from display racks of embroidery flosses and wools. Other sources are Persian carpets, vintage wallpapers, Japanese textiles, especially those meant for men, Kantha textiles, Arts & Crafts movement carvings and fabrics, Rennie Mackintosh architecture and furniture, Impressionist paintings, especially Gauguin and Monet… Well, I could go on, but that’s probably quite enough of that!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I love the architecture of older buildings, too. Institutional ones seem to be great sources of beautiful design, whether they are old university buildings, or post offices, or libraries. When you shift to ancient architecture, you have another layer to include. All we have to do it look around us for beauty, and sometimes things that aren’t beautiful! to find new ideas. Thanks for commenting.


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