Thursday, August 7, 2014

Eight Things I Have Learned on my Journey as a Creative Mom

Hi, guys.  My friend Bonnie asked me to write a guest post for her blog and this is what I wrote.  I thought I would share it here too.  It's long but good, I think.  Enjoy. xoxo

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 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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Theo's Cat Party

My little guy turned 8 last week. We were kicking around ideas for a party theme. We were considering a cat theme along with a couple others. Then I was scrolling through Pinterest for cat party ideas. Theo got one look at this litter box cake and his mind was made up. Cat party it was.


 The invitations were a free download generously offered by Heidi of My Paper Crane. They were so impossibly cute. Thank you, Heidi!




Decorations were a combination of store-bought basics with added homemade touches, and a few etsy purchases.  The colorful kitty head garland was a pdf from GirliePains.  The black cat heads and triangle garland was from BluefinWorks.



I made headbands with cat ears, and cut up feather boas from the craft store for tails. Some guests chose to wear cat accessories and others declined. Okay by me.



The first game was Eat Like a Kitty. Pet food bowls filled with dry cereal were put out in a circle. Guests had to eat it like a cat, no hands!



After that we went outside to the park to have a mouse hunt. Nate had gone out a few minutes earlier to scatter the "mice." They were ping pong balls with mouse faces drawn on. Guys, did you know it's pretty difficult to draw on a small round surface? The mice faces were not great looking but they got the job done. The kids spent a few minutes running around the park looking for mice. Then they delivered them back to me, as a cat would deliver a prized catch to his owner. I didn't get many pictures of this game in progress. I was watching the kids, and visiting with a friend in the park.




Back inside for cake. We served litter box cake, which had brownie/cookie bars on the bottom, vanilla sandwich cookie crumbs, and tootsie rolls. A touch of food coloring makes it look pretty darn realistic. What can I say about this cake? It's such a disgusting idea. I'm glad I'm not the person who originally thought of it. But for an eight year old boy (mine, at least), the gross-out factor of this cake was absolutely the most important feature of the party. So I had to make it. I also served cupcakes for those who couldn't stomach the litter box cake. And there were a few kids who couldn't. Sorry, kiddos! We also had popcorn, pretzels, and M&M's.



Our cat Sirius can jump really high when he's trying to get his favorite feather toy. A few different times during the party we showed off his moves. Free entertainment at its finest.

After cake we played Pin the Whiskers on the Cat with an adorable, if I do say so myself, cat head I whipped up the night before the party. Black pipecleaners for the whiskers. That was our last game.



Afterwards we let Theo open gifts and watched a bunch of cat videos on YouTube until parents came.



Goody bags featured some internet cat faces, and had Trader Joes cat cookies, kit kats, two Japanese cat charms, and stickers.


This party felt like a lot of work because of all the homemade decorations and activities. But at its core it was a very simple, sweet party. I love how much Theo loves cats, and I'm happy he wanted to do a cat party.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Modern In the City Challenge Quilt

All during March I was frantically hand-quilting a twin size quilt that I can't show you yet, because it is associated with a book that is not yet published.  If you think frantically and hand-sewing are mutually exclusive, you are right.  Or at least they should be.  I forced them to go together and it was stressful.
Anyway, after I finished that beast of a project, I had about three days to meet a deadline for a challenge sponsored by my guild.  The theme was Modern in the City, which we were free to interpret any way we wanted.  The quilt had to be 36" on one side and 36" or less on the other.  Most excitingly, select quilts submitted for this challenge would be displayed at the International Quilt Festival in June!  All the quilts from our guild ended up being selected for the show.  So I'm going to have my first quilt hanging in a quilt show!  Very exciting.

I had a few ideas for this challenge, but went with the one that was simplest because I only had a couple of days to work on it.  I used this photo of my kids as inspiration.
Here is my artist's statement:
"One beautiful summer day in 2011, I was in Chicago with my family. We watched some friends play softball and then we walked to a restaurant for lunch. Somewhere in between, I don't know exactly where, we passed a colorful brick wall. I made my two boys pose for pictures in front of it. I loved the colors, individually and as a group, and I loved how randomly they seemed to be placed. I still have those pictures and I adore them. When I heard the theme, "Modern in the City," these colorful bricks immediately came to mind. They are emblematic of the fact that, for modern quilters, inspiration abounds in a city. There are patterns, shapes, and interesting lines at every turn. A day spent in the city with a keen eye and a camera could yield dozens of quilt ideas. I chose this brick wall as mine because the colors are bold and fun, and because it reminds me of such a happy day with my family.
For my quilting design, I chose a modern Chicago symbol, Cloud Gate sculpture, which is lovingly referred to as The Bean. I love the way the Bean draws people from all over the city and even the world. Its simple, smooth shape made for a pleasing concentric quilting design. I also like the way the curved lines contrast with the straight lines of the piecing."
Even though this little quilt was easy to whip up, I love how it turned out.  I think it's very striking.  I love the bean quilting!  Probably my favorite quilting I have done so far.  I hand-sewed a little skyline in the middle of the bean, too, which is a sweet little detail.  I can't wait to go to the International Quilt Festival with my guild friends and see our quilts displayed.

what a difference a year makes...

Last year on Mother's Day I did not want to be celebrated.  I was convinced I was the worst mother in the world. I probably would have been more comfortable wearing a sandwich board around town that stated as much, than I was receiving accolades and affection from my boys and husband.  It was a hard day for me and when Nate asked what I wanted to do, all I could think to ask was for him to take the boys out for a while so I could be alone.  Not that there's anything wrong with a mother wanting some alone time.  It was my motivation for this request that was so sad... I couldn't bear to be with them and accept their love.  All my energy was tied up in hating myself.
This year felt really different.  I felt much more at ease with the whole idea of the day.  After over a year of intense weekly therapy, I am finally breaking some of the bad mental habits and cycles that kept me feeling like such a failure for so long.  I credit my phenomenal therapist, who keeps me working hard, even on days when I come in and say, "I feel great!  Everything's fine!"  He makes me dig until we find something that still needs a little tweaking.  And I give myself a lot of credit too.  It is such. hard. work.  A lot of times I don't feel like going.  If not for their 24-hour cancellation policy, I would probably be skipping my Wednesday appointments frequently.  But I make myself go because I'll pay $100 for nothing if I don't, and then I'm always glad I did.  I'm learning exactly how to challenge the voice in my head that tells me I am a worthless piece of trash because I am not perfect.  I'm honing skills and identifying untruths in my thinking.  Usually by the end of the week I am sliding back into old habits, forgetting what I learned.  So we talk about it again, we review and make solid, we look at it over and over until I can see it clearly. 
On Sunday I was able to accept gifts and cards with joy.  Because, hey.  I'm here and I'm doing my best.  It took (and is taking) a lot of work, but I'm finally to a place where I can believe that that is enough.


 I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my Mother's Day this year.  You could say that I milked it.  First we went to church, then we went to two museum exhibitions I wanted to see (but I knew the boys didn't).  The boys liked the quilts more than the photographs.  I loved both shows.  We also spent plenty of time outside, and it was a gorgeous day.  We had lunch in Scoville Park before we headed into the city, and we walked around Grant Park after our museum rounds.  Throw in some Dairy Queen mid-day, and some Five Guys for dinner, and it was basically a perfect day.
There's that word again.  Perfect.  If there's one thing therapy has taught me, it's that perfect is a myth.  It's not some elusive goal that should be my life's mission.  It's a lie.  It simply doesn't exist.  When I say our day was perfect, was it actually?  The boys fought over a book.  Theo threw a fit about some video game issue I can't even remember now.  I felt self-conscious all day in a new sweater I was wearing that I felt was not flattering.  I probably snapped at someone at least once or twice.  All little moments that, in the past, would have pointed the finger at me and taunted, "SEE?  See how much you suck?" Now I'm working with a little more grace and grit, and I can (usually, sometimes) see these moments for what they are.  Just life.  Happening.  I was able to have a perfect day, in my mind, because mixed in with all these were also moments where we smiled, we laughed, we felt a breeze, we saw something new. 
Imperfect is the new perfect.  That's what I am learning.

I like this poem by Shawn Fink, of Abundant Mama blog.

Ordinary Gifts


This moment, right here
the one with a sink full of dishes,
and sticky jelly still smeared on knives,
I'll take it.

This moment, right here,
the one where the stuffed animals breed like bunnies,
and marker caps vanish into thin air,
I'll take it.

This moment, right here,
the one when he falls asleep,
too tired to listen to my long diatribe,
but still carries on the conversation,
I'll take it.

This moment, right here,
the one when the weeds are growing,
but the basil refuses,
and the bees threaten their sting,
I'll take it.

This moment, right here,
the one when she yells she hates me,
and storms away leaving me in her wake,
and then returns, hugging me tight with a sorry,
I'll take it.

This moment, right here,
the one when a Saturday night is spent tucking in,
and cleaning up,
rather than partying and socializing,
I'll take it.

I'll take it all.
I'll take it all.
I'll take it all.

Monday, May 12, 2014

spring is here!

Another season means another mini quilt for my hallway.

After the winter we had in the midwest, every one was more than ready to see spring arrive.  Honestly, this spring has been a little lackluster, with it's cool temperatures and cloudy days (not to mention a little snow). But, hey, we've had a couple days where I felt the sun warm on my face.  I'll take it.
This mini was another improv creation.  I used a method detailed in this craftsy class taught by Jacquie Gehring.  She calls it slice and insert piecing.  I pieced strips of color into these six panels, three grey and three green in graduating tones.  I increased the number of inserts as the panels moved up; I wanted it to look like spring exploding up from the dark grey and gloom of winter.
My boys keep pointing out to me that it doesn't make sense to have the green at the top.  They think I was trying to make flowers or grass, I think.  In fact I was going for something a little more symbolic of spring, not quite a literal spring scene.  :)

Once the six panels were pieced and sewn together, I decided I wanted to applique more pops of color over the top.  I did this for two reasons.  First, I wanted to place some colored strips over the seams where the grey and green panels met.  I thought it would make the image more cohesive to have color bursting all over, not just confined to the six strips.  I hope that makes sense.  It's hard to articulate that idea!  Second, I just wanted MORE.  More color, more craziness, more exuberance, especially at the top of the piece.  I had pieced just about as much as I could piece without disastrous wonkiness happening.  At a certain point it was easier to add on top than to piece within an already heavily pieced panel.

Once again, I'm happy with this mini!  I think it screams SPRING even though it's not actual flowers or grass.  It's just color and life and spring all over.  It's like a confetti popper of spring, and I love it. 


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Winter mini quilt

I'm working on a series of mini quilts, to hang in our entryway, that I will change with the seasons.  The first one I made was for Christmas.

In early January I made a mini quilt that represented Winter.

I was working, again, with Gwen Marston's Liberated Quiltmaking II.  I settled on what she calls "the exquisite block".  Basically a square or rectangle base, with triangles pieced onto the diagonal points.  When the blocks are joined together, you end up with a series of little bowties or butterflies, or however you want to see it.

My goal for this piece was to portray the starkness of winter by using lots of white and pale, cool blues and greys.  I also wanted to express the warmth that we cling to during these long months, the warmth we find within ourselves, in the company of family and friends, or quite literally the warmth of our physical homes.  I added the golden yellow blocks and some yellow triangles emanating out from it to represent the warmth and light that keeps us hanging on until spring.

I quilted it with a series of zigzag lines, emanating out from the bottom right corner, to emphasize the placement of the yellow blocks.

 I think it all works.  I'm happy with it!  My only complaint is that it doesn't quite lay flat against the wall, no doubt because of some technical error on my part.  Oh well.

A couple of weeks ago I got to present this during Show and Tell at my guild meeting, and Gwen Marston was in attendance, as she presented a lecture and trunk show for us that day.  It was really an honor to show her my work, and I was able to chat with her after the meeting.  The afternoon as a whole was probably the greatest highlight of my quilting life so far.

Friday, February 21, 2014

general grumbling and wringing of hands

I'm frustrated with my life right now. 

I'm basically doing the same thing I've been doing for the past (almost) 11 years, but something has shifted and I'm left feeling like I should be doing more.  All this thinking about starting to work has made me really uneasy.  I feel like I should be doing it, but I'm not, because every day passes quickly and there are all the same demands on my time and I just barely keep up with it all.  Mentally and emotionally, I feel like I'm in a transitional phase, but I'm not actually doing any transitioning.  Which makes me feel like I'm stuck.

I'm struggling with a mindset of "not enough."  Not enough time in the day. Not enough patience, empathy, calm, or kindness.  Not enough family connectedness.  Not enough balance.  Not enough gratitude. Not enough mindfulness.  Not enough grace and acceptance for myself.

There are areas of my life where I expect certain things from my self, and I'm failing on almost all fronts.  As a Mother: I'm frazzled and impatient and at a loss for how to deal with these boys most days.  As a Wife: I'm not feeling like a good partner because I feel I should be doing more to contribute financially. As a Homemaker: My cooking skills are actually getting worse, somehow, and the apartment is a mess more often than not.

There is one area of my life I feel confident about, and that is my creative side.  I'm making quilts that I love.  I have about a billion ideas for other things to make.  I don't have time to tackle them right not, but just that fact that I have an endless stream of ideas makes me feel good.  Somehow I don't let myself get frustrated about not having enough time to make everything I want to.  I tell myself I'll get to it all some day.

And yet...  there is a swirl of guilt mixed in with all my sewing time.  Because even though I feel like it's the one thing I'm good at right now, it's purely selfish, it doesn't serve anyone else in my family, and I spend a lot of time doing it. 

I could give myself more permission to enjoy quilting if I was on the path to making it a career, I think.  (And, how, exactly, do you do that, again?)  Or even if I were doing a better job in one of the areas above.  As things currently stand, I feel lousy about how I'm handling myself, who I am being, in all the important aspects of my life.  Because of that, I can't fully enjoy the one area where I feel strong and capable and passionate.  It's an unpleasant place to be. 

I do have one little idea for a way to turn my quilting into something more...  it's in the very beginning stages so I don't want to talk about it yet.  That is giving me a bit of hope, and letting me feel a bit less guilty as I work on quilting-related projects during my free time.

As for all that other business, I guess I will just keep slogging through and trying to be better.  I will try to be a little easier on myself and on my kiddos.  It's all the trying that gives me trouble, though.  I'm trying so hard all the time that I forget to look up and be happy and thankful.  I guess if I am going to be trying for something, it should be that.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

it all started with a tiny wall hanging...

I've been feeling like our apartment entrance is a little bare.  I hang a wreath on the door that I change for each season (all my super cute wreaths come from this etsy shop), but that's it.  A little boring, especially when our neighbor across the hall always has a festive seasonal display of wreath, flowers above the door, and flowers on a pedestal!  I decided to make a mini quilt to hang on the wall by the door, and I plan to make one for each season, so I can change them along with the wreaths.

First up, Christmas.  I had just received my copy of Liberated Quiltmaking II by Gwen Marston.  I love this book.  I love Gwen Marston and everything about her aesthetic and philosophy.  This book has been so inspiring.  I decided to try my hand at her method for making wonky stars.
My first star and the book that inspired me so much.

I made a lot of stars.  I didn't have a pattern or plan or a certain number in mind, so I just kept making stars.  They were a lot of fun.  Because I was making a Christmas wall hanging, I used a variety of greens and reds for my stars, with various grey fabrics as background.

Once I was done making stars, I started making log cabin blocks in low volume fabrics.  I put together a composition that I liked and pieced together my little wall hanging.  I quilted it in straight(ish) lines.  I was really happy with how it turned out.
Christmas wall hanging, before it was quilted.
here is the wall hanging that started it all, hanging in its place of honor in the hallway.

When it was done, I had a lot of stars left over.  Those stars turned into a small quilt for my mom, and a large quilt that our family is keeping.  I didn't have a particular size in mind for these.  I just kept adding until I felt the compositions were complete.  The quilt for my mom ended up at 84x66.  I would call it a nap size.  The quilt for us is 93x97.  It fits nicely on our queen size bed.

My design strategy for the bigger quilts was basically the same as for the mini quilt.  Festive red and green stars interspersed with low-volume log-cabin squares, plus a few big swatches of solids or prints.  I added random strips here and there to fill in spaces.  It was a very unplanned and organic process.  I hung a piece of batting as a temporary design wall so that I could step back and look at how things were coming together.
laying out the design for my mom's quilt, step one.

adding more stars and solids, step two of layout.
another progress shot... more spaces filled, more seams joined.



I sent the two larger pieces to my trusty long-arm quilter, Sarah Russett in New York state.  She did a fabulous job as usual.  I got them back from her just in time to bind them and wrap my mom's up for Christmas!
christmas stars quilt for my mom
back of mom's quilt

giant christmas stars quilt for us to keep!

back of our quilt.

These projects were my first attempts at improvisation.  For my first time not using a pattern, I was really pleased with and proud of how they turned out.  I think I could have done a better job of choosing fabric for some of the stars.  The values were too close on some, and the stars didn't pop out like they should have.  Aside from that, I really love all these quilts, from the mini to the queen size.  They are festive, funky, fun, and fabulous.  I really love improvising.  I may never use another pattern again. 

story quilts for Christmas

This year I gave story quilts to my nieces and nephews for Christmas.  I gifted one per family, not one for each individual child (I currently have 8 nieces and nephews, and one on the way!).  I love giving these story quilts as gifts for kids, because of the way they can engage a child's imagination.  But I have to say I have made so many of these in the past few years, that I don't want to make another for a very long time!  I saved enough of the fussy-cut novelty print squares that I can make a few more down the road, perhaps for grandchildren.

The pattern for this quilt is found in Modern Quilt Workshop by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr.  It's called Once Upon a Time. 

Nate helped me take these pictures in the park on a beautiful snowy day.  It was fun.  :)


I tried to think of each family's home and style when I was choosing background fabrics.  The solids I used on the front are all shot cottons which were gorgeous and soft to work with.

It was fun to watch them get unwrapped at Christmas.  I'm happy to have these done and to be moving on to other projects.

This gold and purple version was for my sister's family.
 And here is the back. 

Grey and lime green for my sister and brother in law.

Here is their back.

Blue and cream for my brother's family.

And the back.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Happy 2014! On making decisions and looking for jobs...

After my last post, you might have been left wondering what I decided to do.  The answer is, I decided to do one thing, then decided to postpone that thing, and do another thing for the time being..... I got a lot of kind and thoughtful feedback on that post, here and on Facebook, where I posted a link.  After reading the thoughts of many smart women, I decided I was ready, it was time to get some training and get a job.  I was all revved up to find a physical therapy assistant program and enroll that night.

But as Nate and I began researching programs in our area, we realized it wouldn't be as simple as we first thought.  There was nothing really close-by, and nothing with class hours that would have worked well for our schedules.  Even though the kids are both in school all day now, there is still a big childcare component to my life.... I need to be here for the kids before and after school.  In the evenings I could theoretically do school, but what if Nate was traveling for work, what if he couldn't get home with the car in time for me to take it?  When the kids are too young to be left home alone, a lot of possibilities are taken off the table.  Therefore, no school for me (right now), and no physical therapy assistant certification.  I will have to come back to this plan in a few years and re-assess whether I still want to do it.  In my experience, a couple of years is long enough for me to change my mind.  I could be on a totally different path by then.

So for now, instead, I'm going to look for part time work nearby.  Something I can walk to and hopefully work while the kids are in school.  My goal in January is to start applying to places around town.

I'm both excited and nervous about the prospect of working, even a small part time job.  It has been a long time.  What am I going to put on my work experience list? Does Cracker Barrel even still have me on record as an employee?  Ha!  It makes me laugh but it also makes me feel pretty self conscious.

When I had Simon I stopped going to school.  It really didn't cross my mind to try to keep going.  I wanted to stay home and take care of my baby and so I did.   In my 10 years of staying home with the boys, it didn't bother me that I didn't have my degree.   After all, nobody on the playground needs to know whether you graduated college or not.  Now that I would like to make some money and make things a bit easier for our little family, I find myself wondering if I made the best decision way back then.  Going back to school now seems impossible, and my earning potential without a degree is very limited, so I am in a frustrating position.  I don't feel very empowered to help my family.  I am going to do what I have to do, and maybe finishing my degree will come later.  That remains to be seen.  But I'm dealing with some feelings of regret and guilt and embarrassment that haven't surfaced for the past 10 years.... and I'm understanding the advantage of a college degree coming right after high school.  Get it taken care of when you're young and energetic and not mired down by all the responsibility and exhaustion of parenting.  It makes a lot of sense. 

I already feel like my days are full, and everyday I have leftover to-do's that I just couldn't get done.  I'm anxious about how working part-time outside of the house will affect my never-ending list of chores and ambitions.  I hope I can find time to keep up with stuff around the house and also to keep making things.  I have a friend who works part time at the Gap after having stayed home for several years.  She insists that the demand on my time will actually make me more efficient.  We shall see! Wish me luck as I put myself out there.  It feels pretty weird. 

Thanks for sticking with me as I figure this stuff out.  Next post will have pictures of pretty things I've made!  Promise.