On Breaking ‘Artificial Rules’

This simple sign outside an antique store made me do a double-take. The statement is kind, but pointed. The things that we often desire to do – such as inviting children and dogs indoors, to photograph freely, aka the joys of life – are often hampered. We’re so used to these common rules they’ve become unnoticeable.

I am at the beginning of starting a big project – a new book. It is my third one – though to me it feels like starting all over again. During the writing of my second book Hoopla, I looked back to the process of writing Yarn Bombing as a template – I tried to capture what had worked before and while I added to the process, the writing felt comfortable but safe. This time around, I feel completely different. I don’t want to work the same way as I did on my two previous projects. Perhaps this feeling is the result of some experience with taking on big writing projects, or maybe it is just the urge to try things in a new way for myself. I’m not quite sure yet. What I do know is that I’m excited to challenge myself and explore new methods of working and interacting with content.

A few days ago, my friend Kat and I had a conversation about what we deem ‘other people’s artificial rules’. Both of us have occasionally found ourselves in situations where we acted by unspoken guidelines that didn’t exist, but they were rules that we had divined from past thoughts or what we thought we sensed in others – such as the assumption that children should not be around china flatware, or that taking a photograph in a store will rob the goods for sale of some mystical value, or that we didn’t do something just because a loved one didn’t offer acceptance of our idea. We both agreed that it can be freeing to suddenly have the veil of ‘this is how it should be done’ lifted, and to try something new without expectation.

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Thinking further about this, I think that not only do we get these guidelines from family and friends, but we also place them on ourselves. I think crafters and would-be makers do this a lot.

I often meet people who have tried knitting or sewing once, and refuse to try it again because that they were told that there was one way that the craft could be done, and they didn’t think they could fulfill how it should be done. They don’t participate in handicrafts, yet they have a visible interest in making. And there are always so many internal questions:

Does an embroidery have to have a perfectly finished back? Do I have to follow that pattern exactly? If my stitches are too uneven because I’m sewing after a long day of work, will that be okay? If I don’t learn this skill the ‘proper’ way, is there another way to go about it? Can I try this new project even though I’m not ‘qualified’ or ‘educated’ or ‘skilled’?

This is such a loss – for the people who have refused a skill and for those who get stuck in the rigidity of teaching or learning one way.

I think we should start to question the artificial rules a bit. It makes us all better dog lovers, business owners, artists, crafters, and humans beings. Who knows what break-throughs might become apparent when we choose to cross these invisible borderlines.