I think we fabric artists each have our own favorite themes, colors and stitches, those old standbys that always produce good results, without a lot of thought. I know I have a few stitches that I enjoy working above all others, and they seem to appear in my work all the time. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I have found lately that I am using the same 6 or so stitches over and over, and my artwork is starting to look all the same. I call it being stuck in a velvet-lined rut; it looks pretty and it's comfortable, but I'm not growing as an artist and I really don't want my crazy quilting to look like it was made on an assembly line.
To break out of the rut, every so often I have to challenge myself. I make a piece with a color palette I don't normally use. Right now I am in a Round Robin with my crazy quilt group, and we are working on pink blocks. Working in a monochromatic color scheme makes you search for ways to add interest and contrast with texture and the use of positive/negative space, instead of contrasting color. Using new types of threads and fibers, trying new stitch combinations, working on a small scale (like "inchies"), or layering and encrusting more heavily than you ever have before - these are all good challenges. Another favorite challenge of mine is "buy nothing". You can only use what you already possess for that particular piece. Without the option of running to a store for the perfect finishing touch for a project, you are forced to think creatively about what you already have and how you could use it in a new way. Another challenge is to use only one stitch on a block; exploring its variations and using different thicknesses of thread or different sizing and spacing of the stitch.
Library books and websites can be helpful sources of inspiration if you need to venture outside of your current artistic comfort zone. I recommend any of the books written by Judith Baker Montano, and you can also buy an iPhone app - Judith Montano's Embroidery Stitch Tool. I sat in my local library yesterday and did some stitching (a change of scenery is a good way to breathe new life into my work). I needed instructions for a particular stitch, checked the Emb. Stitch Tool, and had diagrams and directions immediately. Other authors are Allison Aller, Barbara Randle and J. Marsha Michler. Some favorite websites are www.pintangle.com , by Australian artist and teacher Sharon Boggon. Sharon's other website, www.inaminuteago.com , has a stitch dictionary which is very helpful. Allison Aller's blog is www.alliesinstitches.blogspot.com . Another favorite is www.ivoryblushroses.blogspot.com For more great photos, go to Flickr.com and search crazy quilt. You can set it up as a slideshow (not on my iPad, alas, but it works on most other computers) and have a continuous parade of crazy quilts running while you are stitching, or doing boring paperwork.
Challenge yourself this week. Try something new, limit your options, force yourself to tackle a problem creatively. Get out of your velvet-lined rut and take your art to the next level!