3 places to get design ideas

Sometimes I get asked where I get ideas from. I get great ideas from all sorts of places, but primarily these three…

Professional library

I’ve been slowly building an at-home professional library for some decades now, and I now that I work at home I find it extremely helpful. Some of the places I’ve worked at had their own libraries, with fashion books, magazines and text books.

The home library is supplemented by borrowing public library books. I do this LOTS – to the point where I occasionally have my own section on the Holds trolley.

I find the “source book” type books very useful for deciding on details. My favourite is Vintage Menswear.

Selection of fashion source books.

Here’s a sample of my shelves…

Collect ideas when you see them

When you see a great idea for something, capture it!

I’m a big fan of collecting ideas in a sketch book as either notes or sketches, and sometimes I paste in pictures.

The sketch book allows the ideas to be built on, and then becomes the ideas source itself. I keep the back issues in my library and look through them if I’m stuck for inspiration.

Here are some examples of sketchbook-to-finished product, where you can see the original idea and where it ended up…

Making origami ribbon
Making origami ribbon trim.
Sawyer hoodie top, from sketch to finished top
The zero waste Sawyer hoodie started life as this little sketch. I went on and documented the sketch-to-finished-top in a series of blog posts.
Zero waste waist bag, from sketch to finished bag
The zero waste waist bag began when Mr H said I bet you can’t make one of these zero waste. I replied I bet I can! It didn’t turn out quite like this sketch, but nearly.
The tie front top, with sketch and top
An early zero waste pattern: the tie front top from the Zero Waste Sewing book. I made it back in 2018. The sketch is very similar to the finished layout. The design process is described in this blog post.
Zero waste cloth doll, and the original sketch.
Most fun zero waste pattern ever: the cloth doll. In this case, the finished layout turned out nothing like the sketch! But the idea of nesting the doll pieces together with doll clothes remained.

I also cultivate Pinterest boards for anything I happen to see online.

The fabric itself

Doing creates ideas. Great ideas turn up while you’re working on something. Ideas for creative details and finishes present themselves as you work with the fabric, and of course part of this is the inevitable problem-solving that comes with making clothes. To quote myself: let the fabric inform the design direction.



  1. Terri Gardner on February 8, 2022 at 1:57 am

    I had a good time getting a small peek into your library and see that we both have “Pattern Magic”. Two new reference books were in the mail this past week because I do appreciate a good home library. Pinterest is someplace where I fall short. Once upon a time, I curated boards and checked Pinterest because it is a treasure trove of great ideas. However, now I never quite make it over there. I need to follow your boards.
    And I will have to add I noticed your Shetland lace book. But then I would notice anything with the word Shetland in it. I’m down to two old Shetland ewes now. At one time I had a flock of over 30. They are great little sheep with quite the personalities. Take care, Terri

    • lizhaywood on February 8, 2022 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks Terrie, I like looking at other people’s bookshelves too!
      Pinterest is something I like using, and yes, it’s a treasure trove, however I find it’s a terrible time sucker (like Ravelry!) so I don’t make a habit of visiting there often.
      Your sheep sound adorable 🙂

  2. Barbara Sherlick on February 8, 2022 at 8:24 am

    So pleased to see you had the Readers Digest guide to sewing on your bookshelf. I’ done a lot of sewing over the years but there is always a technique I don’t know or have forgotten some detail. This book is my go to reference. I quite often see it in op shops and at the couple of dollars usually charged, it’s worth getting for your library.

    • lizhaywood on February 8, 2022 at 12:09 pm

      The Reader’s Digest is a classic! The 1977 edition is still considered the best.
      I see them in op shops too, for only a few dollars. I like to buy them, and pass them onto friends starting on sewing.

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