the box method

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The part where you have to start…

If you’ve been visiting here for a while (thank you) you know I’m a big fan of Twyla Tharp’s book *The Creative Habit – particularly the box method. Here’s a little about what she has to say about boxes:

“The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet. It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on a box means that I’ve started work”

I’m overwhelmed with projects right now and that makes me a little frantic and anxious. Anxiety makes it hard to focus which produces more anxiety etc. etc.

“Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity” – T. S. Elliot

I’ve never been good at moving multiple things forward and the boxes help immensely with that – they contain the projects in more than a physical way. This past Saturday I devoted an hour to gathering and boxing.

edwardian fabric scraps

owl sewing pattern - wool scrap owl


I chose a collection of fabrics for toadstools, owls and hummingbirds and garment fragments in shades  of black for 2 dastardly owls.

The search focuses me and spending time ironing ( which I secretly love) starts to slow my brain down.

fabric mushrooms

little mushroom sewing pattern


As I make my little piles, put them in their boxes and write the project name on the tag I feel forward progress,  ideas that were vague start to solidify, panic recedes and I feel better and clearer about the coming too busy week – enthusiastic even.

Go put some stuff in a box!

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  1. As I read this I was nodding all through the post, from the love of ironing ( I have always said I do my best thinking when I’m ironing), to the lessening of the anxiety as projects are sorted and stored. I have never been able to work on only one thing at a time and that has been both a blessing and a curse…my only trouble with boxes is that if I don’t see things I have a tendency to forget about them…
    I love this post Ann.

  2. Such a GREAT idea. I have little stacks, but this is almost ceremonial and beautiful as they wait their turns. And OHHHH, that last image! Isnt it amazing how we can isolate out a little space in our worlds and see such beauty. You are all about beauty, today. Im inspired 🙂 Laura

  3. That hummingbird and photo – so very lovely!

    I have intense mixed feelings about that book. It actually made me angry, though I’ve gone back to it a number of times, partly because of my strong response. She is so disciplined that I have trouble learning from her – clearly *pushing* comes naturally to her, it does not to me and I sort of don’t want it to. I can’t pretend to be like that. But the boxes part is really what I took from the whole book that was immediately helpful to my studio work. It helps break the tension of holding ideas in our heads. I’m glad you’re doing it too.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I never heard of the box method and just now i desparedly need it.
    I cannot look over my stash of cloth and always loose lots of time searching for the right piece.
    I’m going to try this…………….thank you!

    • Hi Martine

      I do recommend you try …but it is addictive…haha , however does save time when everythin you need is right there in its box —patiently waitin for you to open —, good luck and HAPPY BOXIN,,,,

  5. It’s really fantastic that you’ll be producing patterns
    I’ve only recently considered making fabric ‘sculptures’ and love the idea of using my hand dyed scraps (from quilt making) to create some owl (or such) from them
    I’d also like to use, in due course, some hand spun / woven fabrics to make some ‘sculptures’
    Thanks so much for sharing with us all

  6. I’m so glad you guys are down with the box method. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this Helen – it is such an individual thing – finding what makes you most creative and productive and happy. A lot of what i take from the book is help moving forward- I am a world class procrastinator – too much freedom and I can’t move.

  7. I so look forward to this new area of your life. I, as a dollmaker, would find fabric and it would develop from there. It seems to be something similiar to what you do. The whimsy is what I so enjoy of your work. Jackie

  8. I’ve been thinking about getting The Creative Habit, and now I know I need to! I already do “boxing” which makes me hope her other suggestions will speak to me in a direct way. Thanks for mentioning it. 🙂

  9. susan vanrheen

    the pictures almost made me cry, they were so creative. I am not creative and I think that you must be happy to think up these beautiful things. Lucky you with the thinking and creating that you can do.

  10. Hi
    I too do the —box method– but my reason is, i at times get a little bored with doin one thing …so i jump to another !!, go back to previous at a later date, they all get finished but i may have 3/4 –boxed ups– goin at the same time
    Currently movin home so all my crafts are —proper boxed up –haha,ready ter go in the next couple of weeks ( we hope)..however i did visit my local Charity shop ( which i shall miss sooo much ) been usin this one fer 12 yrs…but hopefully i will find another source close by to the new house ,so ive been cuttin or ripping up a couple or 6 !! haha mens shirts, to do patchwork with , i have a 3 yr old Great Grandaughter who will love the little rag doll an the bed you did ,so this will be made ,,,,when i get chance after movin…ready an waitin her first visit to us……have a fab weekend all Susan

    • annwood

      I know – and just the littlest action can get you past paralysis.

  11. susan d. hendrick-wilson

    Love the box idea. Don’t love the plastic box recommendation. Too much plastic in this world. Let’s not contribute to it unwittingly, sort of. Can you recommend a source for biodegradable cardboard/paper boxes, please.
    Enjoy your posts so much!

    • annwood

      The cost of disposable – single use- plastics to the environment is clear. The question of cost and benefit is more complicated with non-disposable items compared to compostable items with less longevity. I’ve been using the same boxes for more than 15 years and will probably continue to for another 15 at least. If you would like to recommend a box I’d love to include it in the post. Thanks so much.

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