Hello. My name is Laura and I have been friends with Bonnie since freshman year of high school. I am filling in today while she unpacks boxes in her lovely new house. I live in beautiful Oak Park, Illinois with my husband and our two boys, ages 11 and 8. I’ve been a stay at home mom for the past 11 years. That keeps me busy, of course, but I also spend a lot of time making things with my hands. Like, obsessively. I can't stop
Bonnie asked if I could share some of my experiences as a mom who is also a creator of things — quilts, embroideries, collages, all manner of various projects. Sometimes when I am feeling extra confident I even refer to myself as an artist.
(She also asked me to include lots of pictures, so please excuse me if they seem unrelated to what I'm writing about.)
To give you a sense of where I’m coming from, I’m going to include an excerpt of a post I recently wrote on my blog Tiny Scissor Times.
“As I kid I loved to make stuff. I remember clearly the collage kit my parents bought for me, and how I treasured every feather, every pouch of glitter, every piece of alphabet pasta within. I remember making crafts at every birthday party (thanks, Mom), and trying my hand at clay sculptures both at school and at home. In high school, I made zines. The writing was part of my creative outlet, but the collages that covered the pages were always my favorite bit, the part I felt proudest of. When I went to college, creativity took a backseat to school. My grandma taught me to knit, but it didn't stick. I soon forgot how to do it, and my life was full with class and friends. Then, suddenly, I was a young mother. My focus was completely on getting through each day with my baby alive and preferably happy.
It wasn't until Simon was maybe 3 years old that I started to make things again. I started making little collages and putting them on cards. I was doing a little painting and decoupaging of various wooden objects. When we moved to Bloomington in 2006, I had more space to store supplies and more room to work. An oversized desk in the corner became my creative space, and I spent many happy hours there while my little ones napped. I started repainting and decoupaging child-sized chairs, and making magnets and assemblage pieces to sell in an Etsy shop. I taught myself to embroider around the same time.
A couple of years later we moved again and had even more space. I had a whole room (!!!) that was designated as my creative space. Oh, how I loved that room. And I began spending more and more time there. As the boys were getting older and more independent, better at entertaining themselves, entering kindergarten and pre-school, I spent every moment I could steal in that room. Working on more chairs, freezer paper stenciled shirts for the boys, ever more ambitious embroidery projects, and finally, teaching myself to quilt.”
Now you know a little about me. I am going to share with you the 8 things I have learned as a highly creative mother, and that I think you should know if you are a parent who is similarly inclined to create:
This is a special thing. A gift.
You probably realize not everyone has a drive to create like you do. You might get comments like, “you’re so crafty!” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” While I believe that creativity can be cultivated in everyone, there is something different about people like us who seem to wake up itching to make something. For me, creating things has always been part of my life. I had to give it up for a few years during college and early motherhood, but it came back in a big way. Today it’s more important to me than ever before. Having the opportunity to stay home with the boys and let my creativity grow and bloom has made me feel confident that I have a gift. Actually, the internet is partially responsible for that as well, because posting pictures of my creations online has resulted in such positive feedback. Without that, I might have thought I was just playing around, just passing the time with silly crafts. But I received so many comments on things I posted — “Wow!” “That’s amazing!” “I could never do that!” — that I eventually started to believe what they were saying. Thanks to the kind words of friends and strangers online, I believe I have an eye for color and design. I believe I have the patience and dexterity to make things others cannot. I believe I have a gift, and I am grateful. Embrace the fact that this is a special thing about you. It will give you confidence to keep creating and trying new things.
There is a balance to be found.
Already in this post you have seen me use words like, “itching,” “obsessively,” and “drive.” It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m almost always thinking about something I want to make, or planning the next step in my current project. Hanging in my home is a poster of Jude Landry’s “Makers Gonna Make” print because it describes exactly how I feel about my creative pursuits. I am a maker; making is what I do. It just MUST BE. It’s all a little compulsive, and it requires some effort to keep it in check.
If you are like me, you probably always have 10 projects in mind that you’d like to tackle, and at least four of them currently in progress. You wake up wanting to walk straight over to your sewing machine or canvas or workbench or whatever. You sit for hours at a time working at your craft, until your back and shoulders are yelling at you, urging you to take a break. You love what you are doing, but you push yourself too, because you want to see the project finished, or you’ve promised it to someone by a certain date, or you can’t wait to start that next masterpiece.
Here’s the thing. You want to keep loving your craft. You want to keep that passion. Avoiding burnout is a good idea. Plus you also have a life outside of creating that must be attended to from time to time. You know, kids, housework, those little things. Develop some strategies for keeping your creative habit thriving but under control.
I have a few strategies that I use to this end. One thing I do is use a timer. If I work on cleaning the kitchen for 15 minutes, I will reward myself with 30 minutes of sewing. Or if I have been sitting and sewing for two hours, I will force myself to get up and fold laundry for a while. A timer is your friend. It reminds you that you do have some other things to attend to, and helps you not to push yourself to an unhealthy degree.
Another thing I do is pick and choose my areas of focus. For instance, holidays are opportunities for creative people to go bananas. You can make decorations, plan crafts to do with your kids, plan a party so all your friends can see your gorgeous decorations, try new recipes, etcetera. The problem is, there are too many holidays in the year to give equal attention to them all. For myself, I have decided that Halloween and Christmas are my favorites. I put most of my efforts into those two. And any other holiday that rolls around, I’m able to enjoy them and keep on keepin’ on, instead of breathing into a paper bag over how I don’t have time to make all the things. I’ve also decided that even though I like Halloween, I don’t make costumes. People might expect me to because I’m “so darn crafty.” But I don’t. And that’s okay. I have let myself off the hook with that one. Store bought costumes are okay. So are store bought Valentines. I guess what I’m trying to say is I can’t do it all and neither can you. Find a way to seek balance. Don’t lose your passion due to burn out, and don’t expect yourself to jump at every opportunity to be creative. Train yourself to take breaks and prioritize where you are going to focus your creative energies.
Housework really can wait. But your kids can’t.
There are many times when I am sewing even though the laundry hamper is overflowing. Or the kitchen is a mess. Or there are collections of cat hair rolling around my house like tumbleweeds. While I try to keep my urge to make in harmony with my responsibilities as a mother and wife, there are times when the balance skews toward MAKE. Make wins. But it’s okay. Because it’s only temporary. And I find that housework can be done in a surprisingly short amount of time. Things can get back under control quickly if they have to. Thankfully I have a husband who doesn’t mind the mess. He can come home to an apartment that looks like a tornado just swept through and find me hunched over my sewing machine, headphones in, and doesn’t bat an eye. I am lucky that way, perhaps. But I never regret time I spend creating over time I spend cleaning. The cleaning will get done when it has to, and it won’t take that long to get things back to normal.
I do, however, sometimes regret my behavior toward my kids while I am in the midst of a creative frenzy. My boys are growing up so fast. I seriously cannot believe that I’m going to have a middle schooler next year. Every year, every month, every day makes me realize how quickly this time is passing, and how soon they will be leaving home. And I don’t want to miss any time with them because I’m too obsessed with my own projects. I don’t have any tips for you in this regard. I’m working on it myself. The goal is to be mindful. To stop and talk if they want to talk. To not shoo anyone away because I’m working. To sit on the couch saying nothing, just being together in the quiet of the morning, resisting the urge to get up and use these 5 minutes to sew a seam. To realize this project CAN WAIT. But this conversation with my boy might not ever happen if I don’t put down the scissors and listen. If you can find a way to occasionally share your passion to create with your kids, all the better. In the photo above, my boys and I were learning how to dye eggs with silk ties.
It’s okay to say no. Actually, it’s essential.
You are going to get a reputation as a crafty or creative person. You are going to get requests. Some people will offer to pay you, others will expect you to work for free. People might assume you want to be on the PTO committee for the school carnival because you like to make decorations for your kids’ birthday parties, so you seem an obvious choice to help with that event. It’s not a bad thing that these people see your talent and appreciate it. It’s flattering, it’s wonderful. In my case, such people are why I feel so sure I have a gift now. They convinced me. I am grateful and humbled that people want to pick my brain for ideas or use my talents for their charitable projects. Sometimes I can help out and I do. Other times I have to say no. Many times, in fact. And I don’t feel guilty. Creative people make things. That’s what we do. And we need time to do it. We won’t have that time if we are always agreeing to design a logo for someone’s fledgling business or organize the class party. For a more eloquent explanation of why you must learn to say no, read this. Practice saying No. It gets easier, I promise.
Theme birthday parties will consume you.
Just over a week ago I threw a cat-themed party for my son. It was the most fun I’ve had in a while, and when it was over I needed a vacation. Or at least a long nap. Birthday parties are similar to holidays for creative parents, in that we can get carried away with all the possibilities. Especially if your kid is currently into something you really like. For me, a request for a Pokemon party wasn’t inspiring, and I managed to avoid that one. I think I convinced him laser tag would be better. The parties that made me lose my mind because of potential awesomeness: dinosaurs (pre-blog days), Harry Potter, Calvin and Hobbes, Dr Who, and cats. My advice on the party planning front: try to alternate years. One epic theme party, one easy store-bought or bowling alley party, repeat. If it is time for a theme party, be prepared to lose a week or two of your life to manic party prep. Also when you get up on the morning of the party and you still have 20 things on your to-do list and two hours before 12 children descend onto the premises, just smile, and know that your kid will have fun even if the streamers aren’t perfect or the cake is totally lopsided. Make sure you are having fun with it too.
Making the same thing over and over is not necessarily the best idea.
When you make beautiful or cute things, people will say, “You should sell that! You could have your own business!” This might sound like a great plan — a way to do what you love and make some money and maybe even a career. And don’t get me wrong — for some people it is. I always admire those makers who are able to forge a career out of their talent. Just be aware that much of your making time will morph into business, inventory, networking, and hustling time. For me this sacrifice was too dear. I opened an etsy shop to sell cute stenciled onesies (or, ahem, bodysuits, pardon me, Gerber corporation) a few years ago. It started off as something fun and mildly creative. I got a kick out of thinking of different funny slogans for babies, and as my products started to sell, it was definitely exciting. I ended up having a best selling item. People wanted that and nothing else. It seemed silly to keep thinking of new sayings that would then sit in my shop, not selling, so that portion of the fun was basically over. Then I had to deal with the heartbreaking phenomenon of copycats, which I think is probably inevitable for any popular product on the internet. The main issue was that the shop was keeping me too busy to work on any other creative endeavors. I was making the same product, by hand, over and over. It was no longer a creative project. It was a tedious task. I felt like I had become a one-woman factory, and the charm was wearing off fast. After trying a few different ways to make my process more efficient, less soul-sucking, I decided to sell off my remaining stock and close up shop. It’s not that I don’t think people should ever try for a handmade based business. However, I do think you should go into it with your eyes open. Be prepared to have less time to actually create, and less freedom to create exactly what you want to. For some, it might be totally worth the trade off. For me, giving it up feels amazing. Now please go buy the rest of my adorable onesies so I can be done for real.
People might love your work but not appreciate its value. That’s why you need to.
That being said, if you do decide to sell your unique, handmade items, don’t sell yourself short. Give yourself a fair hourly wage, and don’t forget your material costs.
People might love your work but balk at your prices. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. As a quilter, this post by Molli Sparkles resonated with me. Need more convincing? Here are a few more articles, about quilting and also other art forms. I really believe that people should not sell their handmade goods at basement bargain prices. It misrepresents the time and talent involved. If you can find the right audience, I believe they will pay you what your work is worth. If that is proving hard (and I think it is for most of us), don’t fret, and don’t compromise. Think instead about selling your ideas. You could draft patterns or tutorials and sell access to the pdf’s; you could work on a book. Neither path is easy. Find what works for you, whether you want to sell your physical work or your brilliant ideas. (Of course, you might be perfectly happy creating for yourself, with no hopes of making money. There is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist or a passionate artist who happens never to sell any of her work). This is a complicated issue, with too many tendrils of thought and argument to sum up here. Just remember not everyone can do what you do. Don’t undervalue your unique work. And remember that if you get money involved you’re going to have to be intentional and diligent to keep loving your craft. I like this song by Sam Smith. You might want to sing it while you make whatever you make.
I'm still trying to figure out what to do, in this regard. I'm thinking about getting a job now that my kids are getting older, but I don't have a career to return to. I might try to make a go of it in the world of creative entrepreneurialism. But it's scary because there is no set path. I'd be making it up as I went along. The only thing I know for sure is that I won't be selling my wares for less than they are actually worth. If that means I'm not selling my wares at all, so be it.
You might find yourself using the phrase, “never again.” After a while people will start to laugh at you when you say it.
I recently finished an embroidery, a birthday gift for my 8 year old
As I shared pictures on instagram, people would compliment me, and I would say, “Thanks, I’m happy with how it’s turning out but I’m NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN.” It was by far the most dense, most detailed embroidery piece I have ever done, and at the time it felt intense and crazy, especially since I was working under a deadline, trying to have it done in time for his birthday. When Bonnie emailed me and asked me to write this guest post, she reminded me that I said the same thing about this wedding gift I finished for her in 2007, my second ever embroidery. I didn’t recall saying that to her at all.
I know that my husband will insist that I say "Never again," after every big birthday party I throw, but I am skeptical. I guess it’s like childbirth. Give it enough time, and you’re rarin’ to go again.
Even though this is the Moby Dick of blog posts, I feel like I've just scratched the surface of what it means to be a creative woman and mother, finding her way in the world. There is a lot to consider, a lot to try, and a lot to enjoy. Thank you for coming with me as I share what I have learned so far.
If you want to check in on my adventures in motherhood and creativity, you can follow my blog. Or follow me on instagram, where I share lots of pictures of current projects, my kids, and my cats.