Create What You See: Find Inspiration All Around You

13 April 2022

Sponsored in part by:

Ad featuring a mocked up cover of a book called Quilting, and the words "Essays and exercises for creative exploration. Back the book on Kickstarter from Nine Ten Publications."

Ad for the book Gathering Colour, featuring the book cover and the words, "Use natural pigments to make dyes, inks & paints from the world around you." A button at the bottom says, "Buy now."

Inspiration is everywhere. Your creativity materializes from how you see the world around you. No one sees the world quite like you do, and when you knit, crochet, weave, spin, or stitch a new piece that comes from your brain and your hands, you’re creating fibre art that is unique to your vision. If you don’t make it, it will never exist! Inspiration is as accessible to you as your everyday surroundings. Look around you right now. What do you see? Everything that captures your eye and your attention is material for making fibre art. If you’re in your home, the objects that surround you every day are very familiar, but how often do you really see what’s there? Everything, from a teacup to a window frame to the abstract woodgrain in a piece of furniture, or a shadow on the floor, is full of potential when you take what you see and build pattern, shape, and form out of it. Stop for a moment and look around you. Find three things that capture your attention and take a quick photo of them.

Where I’m sitting right now in my home studio, these are the three things that are capturing my attention right now:

  1. The view outside my window
image description: looking through a window, a large evergreen tree is visible, with snow all around the base
  1. A stack of books on this table
image description: a stack of books, close up - only the lower edges of the books are visible
  1. An old desk.
image description: an antique wooden desk

I often challenge myself to treat one object or image as the only source of inspiration available to me on that day. If I only had these three photos, what could I make that’s inspired by them?

Start by drawing. Scribble. Doodle. Make marks on paper. That’s all that “sketching” entails! The marks you make are unique to you. No one else can make them in quite the same way.

Many of my sketch book pages are covered in doodles that only make sense to me. All that’s important at this stage is that you have a visual record of what you see in your environment. I find it really helpful to give myself a time limit for capturing the details that interest me in my photos. Twenty seconds. One minute. Five minutes. Smaller amounts of time that don’t allow you time to think will bring out more instinctive lines and shapes. Longer amounts of time allow you to ponder, and let your mind wander alongside your eyes, to capture more detail, to explore the structure of what you’re looking at, and to start imagining what sort of stitch, shape, or colours you might use in a project based on this image.

This is a five-minute page of sketches of the view outside my window.

image description: a sketchbook page with a number of shapes and outlines in pen

Some of the lines are quick wisps. Others are more concrete and detailed shapes that show the structure of the branches against the trunk. I’ve even explored the shapes that the negative space between the branches make, to explore not only the shapes themselves, but what would happen if I put them together as colourwork or the structure of a garment.

These are 30 seconds’ worth of sketches based on the stack of books and the old desk.

image description: a page from a sketchbook, with many rectangular shapes, some stacked on top of each other

Often, when I sketch and when I make, I feel that my brain is wordlessly communicating with my hands, without conscious thought playing a part. The inner critic steps out for a lunch break, and magical things happen. This is exactly what’s happened here. My conscious mind was thinking about whether it’s lunch time, while my hands worked on the page. The result was unexpected.

I expected the pile of books to inspire stripes. Instead, when I look at these sketches, I see shapes. I see uneven strips of fabric stacked with raw edges. I see a knit or crocheted scarf with extra stitches cast on or bound off on each edge. I see stripes of texture in a sea of stockinette. I see the centre panel of a pullover or dress. In short, you can expand the range of an inspirational object or view by interpreting it through your hands!

With the sketches of my photo of the old desk, I found more interesting discoveries. The most prominent sketch is a giant shape, as I was clearly thinking of shawls. The shape of the very top of the desk gave me more shapes to play with, and as I sketched a variation on that shape and tried to perfect it my hands have shown me potential for pattern. Further observation showed me shadows in the woodgrain that could be a neckline or a hemline.

Sketch. Then look at your sketches and think about what they could become.

Do you see pattern? Pattern can reveal itself as one motif that you wish to explore. Pattern in your sketchbooks can be compared to patterns in stitch dictionaries or can be created by you in a colourwork or cross stitch chart, or by graphing your own stitch patterns. You can create pattern on fabric with block printing or screen printing. Try adapting a weaving pattern to mimic your sketches.

Do you see shape? Shape can be applied to a garment or accessory, like a shawl or a scarf. It can evoke a sculptural form for a vessel, bag, sculptural work, or wall piece. Shape can transform a neckline or hemline. It can influence the shape of a collar or sleeve.

Do you see texture? Texture can be conveyed through stitches: knit, crochet, sewn, or embroidered. Texture can be spun into yarn and then woven or knit to create a unique surface. Texture can be tactile, but it can also be visual. Dyeing, painting, and printing techniques can create visual texture on the surface of yarn or fabric, adding another layer of possibilities to be derived from your observations.

The trees outside my window have been a long-time source of inspiration. This sculptural wall piece is made of fallen branches that have been dyed, block printed, discharged—a process that removes dye in uneven ways—then embroidered with tree shapes and textures, and hand stitched together.

sensesourcestrength detail
This colourwork pattern (unpublished) is an example of a pattern created using the view outside my window as inspiration. The design started as a sketch and was quickly converted to a colourwork chart by graphing out my sketches onto knitter’s graph paper.
trees colourwork

My Twigonometry mitts use an original stitch pattern based on that view.

image description: a pair of arms encircle an old and mossy tree, the hands are wearing a pair of handknit mittens worked in a texture pattern stitch

There are many different reasons to build your creative muscles with exercises like these. Perhaps you’re a designer, looking for a new way to share your view of the world through your designs. You could be thinking about making a unique piece of clothing for yourself or someone you love. Or maybe you just feel the burning desire to create something that didn’t exist before you made it.

Now it’s your turn. Go forth and look around you. Be inspired to sketch and make based on your everyday surroundings. Then come and show us what you’ve done!

Send images to share to: or share on Instagram with the hashtag #createwhatyousee and tag us, @digitsandthreads.

All images by Kim McBrien Evans.

Digits & Threads Is a Member-Supported Independent Online Magazine

The articles, tutorials and patterns we publish about Canadian fibre and textile arts, crafts and industry are made possible by our members.

Copyright © Kim McBrien Evans except as indicated.
Photo of Kim McBrien Evans

About Kim McBrien Evans

Curiosity and exploration are the name of the game for Canadian knitwear designer and indie hand dyer, Kim McBrien Evans. A lifelong love of colour, texture, and pattern prompted Kim to transition from working artist to textile maven. Her knitwear designs are known for their ability to turn an abstract idea into a textile reality while simultaneously fitting and complimenting a wide range of bodies. This design work has lead her to explore how home sewers and knitters can create clothing that fits, while showing professional designers the beauty of inclusive design. Her yarn company, indigodragonfly, is renowned for its vibrant colours, offbeat names, and ever expanding plan for world domination. Her work has appeared in Vogue Knitting, Knitscene, Knit.Wear, Knitting Magazine (UK), A Stash of One’s Own (ed. Clara Parkes), The Sewcialists and Uppercase. She is co-author of Custom Shawls for the Curious and Creative Knitter.

Related Posts

Learning Through a Lifetime

Learning Through a Lifetime

Designer and instructor Kim McBrien Evans on how she challenges herself to keep learning and growing. Kim shares some of her most powerful and exciting learning experiences, as well as a few of her favourite creativity prompts!

Get 10% off!

Join our mailing list to get special Studio Membership pricing! PLUS hear about new Digits & Threads content and community news.

Subscription success! Well done, you.