Monday, August 13, 2012

Interview with Marcy Tilton

Marcy Tilton, hanging out in Paris

I mentioned a few days ago that I asked Marcy Tilton and Diane Ericson if they would mind being interviewed on the subject of creativity. Both graciously agreed. I compiled a list of questions, and added questions that you submitted via comments on the blog post. I told both Marcy and Diane to answer whatever they felt like, how many they felt like. I didn't want this to feel onerous to either of them.

Marcy answered all of them!

I loved reading her answers and, in fact, have read through them several times. There are some real gems of information, experience, and living in her responses.

Thanks so much, Marcy!

Diane's interview is here.

For further info:

How do you define creativity?

  • Living life to the fullest, expressing my inner self in the outer world.
  • Having fun.
  • Experiencing the unknown.
  • Taking risks.
  • Immersion in the pure joy of the creative experience, forgetting myself, being in space rather than time.
  • Having fun while making something from nothing.

Describe an early experience, when you connected to your creative self or realized that you were creative? Do you have an early creative memory that is noteworthy?

  • Yes. Back when I lived in SF, I was in a life transition, took a road trip down the coast and visited Diane Ericson in Carmel. She put a little batch of drawing supplies in my hand and encouraged me to draw. ( my family, my sister Katherine was the designated artist, I did not think I had any talent at all, so I never tried). On the way home I stopped on the coast and started to draw. In that moment I ‘got’ the pleasure of using the materials and my own imagination, and that what I drew was not the main point. It opened me up to many other ways of using my own creativity. Kick started me to doing watercolor, then morphed into surface design. I don’t draw or paint much right now, but in my heart I know that if I want, I can go there, so that moment sitting in my car with a chunk of charcoal and scrap of cool paper was a seminal starting point that lead to much more.
  • I also owe a debt of gratitude and appreciation to Katie Hendricks whose workshops and mentoring cracked me open to my own creative powers as a teacher.

Creativity is fed by play. What is your favorite form of play these days (Or: "How do you play?")

  • I love to go into the studio and make something without any attachment to the outcome. I spend a lot of studio time on ‘work’ related projects....developing garment prototypes for Vogue, preparing for a Design Outside the Lines retreat, gearing up for the Puyallup sewing expo etc., so it is a treat to make something just for fun....and to give up any idea of how it will turn out (or even if I will actually wear it).
  • I am having a wonderful discovery experience with photography, taking photos of fabric for the website, and process shots, but also just for the sheer pleasure of seeing through the eye of the lens. When I am in Paris I adore having a free day all to myself and my camera to see what I discover and capture.

When the mojo is wilting, how do you jump start it?

  • I love to take naps. When I hit the wall, I lie down with a book (usually joined by Vasco, my Jack Russell), and fall asleep. I also like to sit in bed in the morning with a cup of tea and cruise the internet. My hobby is sitting in bed or on the couch or on the deck or by the woodstove with a cup of tea or wine and reading.
  • If I am REALLY in the ‘not-knowing’ place, I resort to cleaning and clearing...I clear out my studio at least 2x a year, touching everything in my stash and moving the fabric so what I have at hand reflects the season and what I am excited about working with, and not too much...I high grade each time this happens. I get crabby when I do this, hate the chaos, but love the result, and I am unconsciously designing as I sort and organize.
  • I also cook when I need a studio jump start, and I go through cooking phases where I do one thing again and again. One summer it was tarts. This summer I am playing with clafoutis....the recipe and photo are on my Bastille Day blog post. In the winter it is soup and beans. Cooking relaxes me, allows me to nourish myself and others and has a clear beginning and end.

What is a mojo killer for you? Is there anything you avoid because it negatively affects your creativity?

  • Taking on too many big projects, going into overwhelm.
  • Taking on more or less than 100% responsibility (see above). There is a direct connection between responsibility and creativity, something I love to explore in conversation as it is a multi layered and often misunderstood concept.

Do you ever have wadders? As in projects that are irredeemable? How do you handle this?

  • All the time, wouldn’t be working my edge if I did not! ....sometimes I just throw them away. If I finish something and don’t wear it, or rarely wear it, I give it away. My friend Amy got a new wardrobe last spring in my pre-Paris post weight loss purge. I have a couple of drawers labeled ‘UNFINISHED SYMPHONIES’ where I put things that I can’t bear to look at anymore. I don’t dig in these drawers very often, so when I do, either I am surprised in a good way, or I throw it away. I’ve tried giving these away, but people don’t seem to want them!

What is your current favorite thing in your studio?

  • An empty design table, ready to hold the next big thing!
  • In the equipment realm: my Bernina, my ancient Sussman iron, my rotary cutter.

If I were to walk into your clothing closet, what would I notice?

  • A lot of black, gray, beige/taupe, drab greens. Tons of T-shirts, tunics and cardis. A symphony of stripes and dots. Not many prints. More dresses than ever before. Many black cardigans, jackets, sweaters, vests and coats!
  • Roughly organized around articles and color. Roughly organized around the current season so those things are dead center. Roughly organized around things that work together.
  • I regularly have try-on sessions...especially before taking a trip. I pull things out and try them on, see how layers work, what shoes work etc.
  • My closet is a never ending source of organizing, paring down and re-organizing, am always going through the ritual of getting it the way I like it, then messing things up, then re-working it again.

I believe that personal growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone. Has this been relevant to you? If so, how?

  • Absolutely. I had a big growth spurt when I started going to the Hendricks trainings. My whole life I’d longed to learn what they taught, and at the first training I attended, I was terrified, but I knew that I wanted to learn from them. I kept going back for more because I knew I would be outside my comfort zone and I wanted to experience this in a fun, supportive and creative learning environment. I use what I learned from 5+ years of these trainings every single day and made some of my dearest truest friends in that community.
  • I love the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Reader Questions

Having just gone through my own little style shake up while snoop shopping I'm sort of wondering about the intersection of designing "outside the line" (which I have always seen as too avant garde and artsy for me) and designing "inside the lines" which can be so predictable and plain. So not really a specific question but how do they think each of us should reconcile the extremes? (Jane M of Lucky Sew and Sew)

  • This relates to the comfort zone. I’d ask you: How do you know when you are creating (and dressing) in the predictable/plain (complacent?) zone...a place that once may have worked, feels familiar and might be ready for a change? How do you know when you make a change and it works or doesn’t work? How do you know when you are working your edge? What is the feeling that is connected with each, and which do you want to nurture?

Do you think business is creative, i.e. can entrepreneurship in and of itself be a creative undertaking? (Robin D of a little sewing)

  • YES!!! Having/running my own business is the one of the most creative and fun things I do. I love love love the different aspects of it, it is operating out of that love that keeps me going. Love that it connects my passion for making things with connecting with others, love running the internet fabric store, love using the internet to connect, love working from home, love the women who work with me, love the challenges that always come up. I think creative entrepreneurship is at the heart of how our contemporary society is morphing to a more fully expressive way of life. Small business has always been at the heart of American commerce, I appreciate being a part of the way it is changing and evolving. I keep pushing my own edges here. Had a big growth spurt as the result of an intensive 6 month course called Conscious Entrepreneurship which Katherine and I took last year from Gay and Katie Hendricks. I was out of my comfort zone more than IN it. I’m still on a learning curve as a result of this experience. It was a big time commitment, expensive (worth every penny), put me in contact with amazing people, and I did things I would never have done on my own because I was telling myself I was too busy.

If not, how do you balance between the business efforts and non-business efforts? (Robin, again)

  • My life and my business are intertwined. One of my greatest personal challenges is to separate the two.
  • Right now, at home, Katherine and I are planning/designing a bathroom remodel, so that is taking me into a new design realm and away from business efforts. ....she knows a lot more about this than I do and we are having fun doing the research and planning.
  • I travel a lot for work, so am taking a day or two before or after the ‘work’ time, and am scheduling some business/pleasure trips that are more for pleasure with just a bit of business slipped in rather than the other way around. This week I am headed to San Francisco to do a bit of fabric buying and a lot of playing and visiting with friends.
  • I take days and shorter time periods to sew just for fun.

When do you need to take a break? (Robin, again)

  • I listen to my body, and pay attention to those around me, sometimes I don’t know when to stop if left to my own devices.
  • When I get cranky!
  • I want to tune into myself so I take breaks BEFORE I get stale/cranky.
  • Sometimes I just set the timer for an hour and then do something else.

Is it possible to push yourself so hard (in creative pursuits) that you burnout? [I guess everyone is different in this regard, eh?] (Robin, again)

  • Absolutely....and on one level, burnout is a learning experience, but one not to be repeated often, burnout is part of the design to move me toward something else. When things get ‘hard’, I pay attention.
  • I am lucky to have a small circle of friends who are willing to give me honest feedback.
  • If I notice I have the same complaints and negative experiences about something, it is time to make a shift.
  • Also important to be kind to myself when this happens. The creative flourishes in an atmosphere of kindness.

How you you manage when you have too many ideas? (Robin, again)

  • I do multi task! When I have a lot of things going on, I often do a bit of each, that helps focus on what is the best use of my own genius. Again, I listen to my body, if I get an icky feeling when I even THINK about something, I know it best to drop that project.
  • I’m craving the quality of spaciousness, so am learning about making more open space in my life (this feels really good to me). One concrete result/decision that evolved from this is, that other than the Design Outside the Lines retreats, I am not traveling to teach any more. I just decided not to teach at the Puyallup sewing expo next year, but Katherine and I hope to participate in a fashion show presentation. I noticed that I was coming up with lots of ideas for classes, but got a claustrophobic tight stomach feeling when I started to think about actually doing the class prep....realized that what really makes me feel good is using that time at home in the studio to explore the unknown.

Do you have a way of prioritizing? (Robin, again)

  • I try to do the thing that has the most creative juice first thing in the morning...even if it is just 10 minutes, it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Often this is doing some work on the website. Right now I really REALLY am feeling the urge to put out a newsletter, which is a big project, so I do a little bit of it each morning, sometimes a bit more after my nap when I am feeling refreshed and having a cup of tea. Again, I listen to my body and my intuition.

How has the internet affected your work? (Robin, again)

  • Oh, my, YES...and how! My internet fabric store,, has become my primary business and puts me in contact with people from all over the world. It supports my household and the households of the 3 fabulous women who work with me. All of us are on an internet learning curve all the time. When the website crashed in June, we all got a taste of how quiet things become when the internet is not available. ....but we carried on and did some sewing!

What do you think of the blogosphere? (Robin, again)

  • I love it, love the sense of community and how the personal, sometimes vulnerable aspect comes through. Fun going down the rabbit hole following links. I read sewing blogs, of course, but also Paris, personal growth, food, books, fashion, interior design, gardening, see across the board how good design and good writing are crucial to holding my interest.

Regarding questions for Marcy Tilton, mine is probably a little boring but I always want to know how someone can know what fabrics will work together without screaming with each other. (I imagine experience and colour wheel might help). (MareeAlison)

  • Experience helps, building on your own success and observing how good designers pair up fabrics and designs. Noticing what doesn’t work. So does developing a designer’s eye: REALLY working your own design sense and using your own unique perspective and personal design strengths in your own work. Willingness to learn and make mistakes. Playing without attachment to outcome. I don’t use a color wheel, but my friend and design guru, Diane Ericson swears by one. We have lively and opinionated discussions in the ArtBarn about what goes with what, what colors work/don’t work etc. I’ve watched Shelley and Beth become more and more skilled at this as we all play with the fabrics and collaborate. I can’t say enough about the value of collaboration. I rely on my sister Katherine’s good design sense when mine wavers. Katherine just combined a group of fabrics in a tunic that I would NEVER have chosen and I love the result. When I am stuck on a design issue, I ask Katherine.
  • For Maree....since you are asking this question, it seems to be an indication of interest and where your learning edge is and wants to go. If you were coming to a DOL retreat, I’d ask you to do some creative play, study and research around this question....and to live in the question for as long as possible, listen to your intuition, (as opposed to trying to find the ‘right’ answer).


  1. wow, I really appreciate the wonderful answers! Thank you shams and thank you Marcy for taking the time to share so much with us.

  2. What a fabulous idea come to fruition! Thank you,Shams, for coming up with the idea and making it happen...and for such quality questions. And thank you, Marcy, for your enthusiastic participation and thought-provoking answers. Can't wait to hear from Diane!

  3. Oh Marcy, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. The thoughts you express above are sure to help me as I navigate my own growth and expansion. DOL this summer in Sisters was such an affirming and challenging experience for me and I needed to "hear" your voice again. Thank you.

    and Shams, thank you for this organization.

  4. I love this: "The creative flourishes in an atmosphere of kindness." Very thoughtful and inspirational post. Thank you to both of you!

  5. Wow, Fabulous! Lots of information and little gems in there to think about. I agree that Marcy's responses are something to come back to more than once to review and think about. Certain phrases jumped out at me on the first read, but I know others will jump out at another time if I come back to it one a different day with a different perspective.

    Thank you Marcy (from another Marcy) for agreeing to participate in this and for taking the time to respond so fully and thoughtfully. And thank you Shams for coming up with such a brilliant idea.

    "Symphony." I noticed this word come up at least twice in Marcy's responses. Wonderful descriptor--a coming together of bits, pieces and individual instruments (each beautiful and complete on its own) with some direction and guidance (and even improvising along the way) to create something even more beautiful than the individual parts.

  6. First thanks Marcy for taking the time to answer all of the questions so thoroughly. It was very enlightening. And Shams thanks for asking Marcy to participate.

  7. Many thanks to you all for the idea, the questions and the answers. I very much enjoyed this process...Anna

  8. Wonderful questions and answers! A truly collaborative interview that has given me a lot to think about. Thanks Marcy and Shams, for this chat and so much more.

  9. Love this; thanks to you both!

  10. Oh, I so enjoyed this post and will come back a read it again. Thank you,Shams, for coming up with this idea and following it through, and a big thanks to Marcy for giving us so much insight and information. wonderful, WONDERFUL!

  11. Oh, I so enjoyed this post and will come back a read it again. Thank you,Shams, for coming up with this idea and following it through, and a big thanks to Marcy for giving us so much insight and information. wonderful, WONDERFUL!

  12. What a wonderful post. Thanks, Shams for doing this and to Marcy for taking the time to provide such wonderful responses.

  13. Shams (and others),
    You asked Marcy such great questions. I really enjoyed reading the answers and thinking about them too. Creativity can seem like such a drag if I think about it too much -- play is the key. You Shams, are a great player!
    If it wasn't clear -- Marcy and I will be doing a Fashion Show with Vogue & Butterick (with garments from Sandra we hope) at the Puyallup Sewing Expo. We will be in the booth more, talking & cutting fabric, just not teaching any classes.

    1. Thanks for that clarification, Katherine!! I hope, one day, to meet you. :)

  14. thank you both for this. I need to go away and think about this, and come back to read it again.

  15. Dear friend Wearingbeads forwarded this to me for which I am so grateful.

    This is so like Marcy to take the time to thoughtfully answer all the great questions. I number myself among her many fervent fans.

    I'm in a personal lost-mojo funk right now and this could not have come at a better time.

    Thank you so very much!


  16. I am printing this out! Thank you THIS much Marcy, for your thoughtful and inspirational answers, and thank you shams for making this happen :)

    There seemed to be a general theme of immersion and joy in the process in Marcy's take on creativity - no emphasis on the outcome, and this allows the space for the most amazing outcomes :)

    Fabulous post shams!

  17. Wow, what a great read! Thank you Marcy and Shams and Robin for the great questions and insights.

  18. Great interview! I just shared it on FB for all the great tips on spurring creativity.

    She really is blessed to have a circle of friends who are honest with her. In my next life! None of my friends are phonies, but we do all emphasize the good points in each other and have a hard time giving critiques. It is loving, but it is not a great spur to creativity.

  19. Shams - This is a fabulous post! Many thanks to you and Marcy for providing great insight and inspiration. :)

  20. Wonderful post! Thank you to both Marcy and Shams for this delightfully inspiring interview.

  21. This is such a fabulous definition of creativity, exactly how I feel but could not put into words! After a long break I am now sewing again, this time for fun: enjoying exploring my creativity, enjoying the wonderful sewing community, enjoying the freedom to play that I hadn't experienced before, enjoying learning, enjoying having clothes that are different and especially enjoying sewing on a whim. After reading this inspiring interview, more then ever I would love to attend one of Marcy's creativity retreats and hope one day I will. Many thanks Marcy & Shams :)

  22. What a delightful interview. I loved reading it and will return to this post again. So upbeat. So helpful. So encouraging. Thanks to you both!

  23. Thanks Shams and Marcy! I want to go home now and play :)

  24. Shams, thank you so much for following through on your idea of interviewing Marcy and Diane. This is priceless!
    Marcy, I appreciate your candid responses to these questions. Your openness and love of spreading the creative spirit have nurtured me in the growth of my creative life. I see the spark in you and my inner fire is brightened!

  25. Thank you both, Shams and Marcy, as well as the thoughtful question-writers. I can relate to the joy of a creativity-related web business, and can now face it with a new (soon, I hope) attitude of how it eats up my personal projects time. Thanks for spurring me into attitude and downtime adjustment, and joy. Time to re-read the interview.

  26. Marcy, it's a delight to read this interview, every time I hear (read) you, I always hear something new and you make me really think. Shams - I hope you are loving DOL so very much, it's an experience that just cannot be described and there's so much there that you're going to absorb and learn. It's changed my creative life totally. Welcome to the DOL tribe!
    And again thanks for this interview and the insightful questions and answers, it's a pleasure to read and enjoy.

  27. Shams, thank you once again for the extra effort you always seem to put in to every post. Very well done on the interview with Marcy - enlightening. and thanks to Marcy (I seem to be making more and more MT patterns recently)

  28. Wow! So much wisdom--and joy--to percolate and absorb. This is quite a gift. A big thank you to both of you, Marcy and Shams. Elle

  29. Thanks for this! Great food for creative thought....

  30. What a brilliant interview. Creativity is just oozing out of every line. I'm inspired!