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Prototyping

A few weeks ago I posted about breaking blocks in your crafting (or in your creative life in general), and I suggested a number of techniques I often find useful for solving problems that have me stumped.

There's one technique I left out, because I feel it's big enough to have a topic to itself, and that is prototyping. For me, it's one of the most powerful and useful approaches in my arsenal.

When we prototype, we create an approximation, a model or a segment of the planned project. This allows us to do three things:

1. To test the premise that the thing will work at all (or more often to test that a particular part of it will work), with the minimum wastage of time and materials.

There are few things more soul-destroying than spending hours and resources on a project, only to find out that the underlying ideas are flawed. Prototyping allows you to test all the aspects of the project, with the minimum expenditure of time and materials, before you actually put the whole thing together.

For example, the most costly material that goes into my leather pouches is the leather. It's relatively expensive to buy, but it's also difficult and fiddly to cut neatly. Before I actually make a pouch, I want to be as sure as possible that the design will work. So I prototype them in paper or (better still) in card to test how they wrap around, where the tabs go, where there may be gaps, to make sure they sit the right way and there's enough surface area for support and for attachment.

This was even more the case with my black leather santa jacket. It took a lot of time and a decent bit of money to find the jacket that would work, so before I did anything relatively irreversible to it I prototyped every aspect - I tested the stencilling, hand painting and gluing the fur on an old jacket first, before I worked on the final product.

2. To start something without knowing how to start it.

Lots of techniques can help you break through blocks in making a craft project. But prototyping can help you when you have no idea how to make it at all, or even what you want to make it out of. Cut up some cardboard boxes, grab some toys or decorations from the Pound Shop, rummage through your bits box and rough out an approximation of the thing that's in your head, and you'll quickly start to see the edges of the project - the physical properties it needs to have, the size, where it needs to be strong or flexible, where it needs to fit tightly or move around.

3. To explore something that doesn't exist yet.

Prototyping can even help when you don't know if you need a thing at all. When I moved into my current flat from a much smaller studio, I knew I'd need a bunch of furniture but I wasn't sure exactly what I'd want, and I had a limited budget and didn't want to clutter my place with furniture I'd regret. So I prototyped with the boxes I used to move in - I stacked fruit crates up to serve as a coffee table, corner table, a chest of drawers by the front door for weather gear. I stood my speakers up on printer paper boxes, and tried out a tarpaulin as a blackout curtain for my projector. Once I'd established the placement, size and properties I wanted, I went looking for furniture that fitted the same way.

Not everything needs a prototype; sometimes it's better just to build something in full and see how it turns out. Making models and testing premises may seem like extra time spent, but it frequently pays back in avoiding wasted time and resources, including the most important crafting resource you have: Your motivation. Having to throw out a hard-made or expensive project is a big blow, and for some people can put them off crafting entirely or at least deal a real hit to their self-esteem and confidence.

Prototyping allows you to control that waste and keep losses to a minimum, making you feel more capable and supporting your determination to keep going until you've completed your wonderful creations. And it doesn't have to be complicated - it can can be as simple as grabbing a few bits of paper and taping them together, or even holding bits of material wrapped into the rough shape you want to test how it fits (it won't always look this stylish however).

Taking the pressure of waste off you also frees you up from worry to be more creative, to try crazier things and let your imagination run a little, and make some happy accidents which might take the project in a whole new unexpected direction. It can allow you to play before you turn your ideas fully into reality.

See you soon!


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