Your Questions - Part I

My Studio

I recently ran a little giveaway on Instagram and one of the contest requirements was to either 1) suggest a tutorial or 2) ask me a question. Yes, I shamelessly pump my followers for blog content ideas! For tutorials, a beginner's guide to embroidery was the overwhelming ask and is currently in the works, but in the interim, I thought I'd answer the non-tutorial related questions. 

Here's a question for you:  how do you balance your work as a maker with your domestic and family life? You seem to have a great time doing both! - Carneykar

Balance.  That's the eternal question, isn't it? Ask any tightrope walker and they'd tell you that balance isn't a one-time trick and you've got it all figured out; instead it takes focus, constant adjusting and having a big stick to help even you out doesn't hurt. At least, that's what I'd guess they say, I don't know any tightrope walkers. 

In terms of mindset, making is a priority for me. You first make time in your life for what you need, (i.e. go to work to make money to feed your family and pay your mortgage, clean laundry, etc.) and then you prioritize (I hope) what you love, and I love both my family and making things.  

Making is as habitual for me as brushing my teeth, so I always have a variety of projects or ideas in the works and I give myself tools to work on them whenever an opportunity arises. Most of my sample knitting is done either on my carpool days or while I'm watching tv at the end of the day. I  always carry a knitting or embroidery project in my bag so I can stitch during lunch breaks or while waiting for appointments. I keep paper around to draw out new ideas and a notebook in my nightstand to jot down story ideas. I'm almost always doing something, but the majority of the time, making is how want to spend my "me time," even if it's for work purposes.

My daughter's playroom and my studio share a space - so we can "play" together. I've learned what I can and can't do with my daughter around: gardening or baking together - a hearty yes; tracing sewing patterns while she's coloring - yes;  cutting out fabric - no way. I've also learned to do everything in bits and pieces. When I really need to focus or do computer work, I work during naptime and I'm usually the last one in the house awake by a long shot. 

As much as I (mostly) enjoy all the aspects of my handmade business and want to grow it, I try to be forgiving of myself when I choose not to work.  I stayed up late last night weaving in ends and blocking a sample that is due shortly. I've got three more projects with deadlines in the queue, but if my daughter asks me to nap with her on the weekend, I probably will, because I know those chances to snuggle and plan her epic "Happy Heart Day" party before we fall asleep are short-lived.

I would also be remiss if I didn't give HUGE credit to Mr. Cleaver. He does 90% of the cooking and laundry in our household and the majority of things like grocery shopping as well. This means when I get home from work, I get to spend time with my daughter instead of rushing to make dinner and I can clean up the dishes in stages across the evening. I work from home one day a week now, which means I can help out more on the laundry/dinner/shopping front and try out fancy new recipes - which again I do in pieces. For example I made some spaetzle with pesto the other day - I made the pesto first thing in the morning before my workday started; mixed the dry ingredients and set out the pots I needed at my lunch break; and then dove into making it while Little Miss Cleaver watched My Little Pony after pickup from preschool. 

I'm certainly not prefect. Somedays I'm not as present with my family as I want to be. I'm terrible at actually taking a break. I wouldn't recommend eating off my floors.  It often feels like it takes me twice as long to get something done as I'd like it to. But I've also become more aware that life has a rhythm and an ebb and flow. So I keep my eyes on the wire, adjust as necessarily, and allow myself to be supported by those who help bring balance to my life. 

Beach Beauties in Progress

 I would like to know what is the inspiration for your designs? - cclynn14

A writer friend of mine introduced me to the phrase "plot bunnies" - the definition being that once you get one idea, it seems to multiply like rabbits until you have more ideas than time. I'd say the same is true for both my knitting and embroidery design.

Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to open and patient. I'm constantly seeing something that triggers an idea for a new design and that trigger can vary widely - I've designed four shawls based on bird-titled songs from my favorite bands, I've got a colorwork sweater in the works that came from a peeling wall paper image I saw in a friend's Instagram post about their home renovation.

Of course, if I didn't tell you that, you probably wouldn't see the connection, even if I placed them side by side. I find inspiration almost works like a dream - it takes familiar things, takes and element or two of familiarity - a mood or a color -  and shifts it into something different. With that wallpaper sweater, there's a muted color palate similar to the original and both have patterns with a circular quality, but that's about it. The songbird shawls set out to capture a mood (Leading Bird), a rather literal translation of the lyrics (Paper Bird and Tributary, aka "Cage the Songbird"), or the layout of the performers on stage (yet to be released Darlingside-inspired shawl).  

My embroidery designs are much more illustrative, and more literal in translation from concept to final design.  Often when I introduce someone to embroidery, I'll teach them by drawing a daisy on the fabric for them to trace- the Coneflower design took that idea and made it a bit more formal. (That pattern is also a secret sampler, which you'll see in the Embroidery 101 series coming up). With my embroidery designs, I'm often illustrating my dream life - something slightly agrarian and rooted in a sense of place, with a timeless quality. When I wanted to come up with a summer-themed hoop, I started thinking about all the things that would be a dream summer to me - inner tubing on a lazy river, rope swings, leaping off a dock into a lake, sun hats on the beach. Of all those ideas, the sun hats won out (see design in progress above), but it doesn't mean I won't revisit the other ones next year.  

One thing I've had to adjust to in designing is the forward-looking nature of it - as soon as I hit my current deadlines, I'm going to be working heavily on Christmas/Winter designs, in August.  Magazine work generally works on a 6-9 month lead time, so I'm designing summer sweaters in January and am knee deep in wool in July.  In those cases, mood boards from the call for submission are a great help, or I'll use Pinterest to make my own.  I'll often collect images for years before they coalesce into something - I'd been collecting images of strong rural women in early 20th paintings and photographs for sometime before it was translated into the Prairie Wife Cardigan and I'm far from done playing with that concept.  I still have a treasure trove of inspiration I've yet to translate yet - art from Andrew Wyeth and Barbara Cooney, Anne of Green Gables and my love of 1950s sci-fi - all hundreds of design bunnies, just waiting to be born. 

Something else you'd like to know? Ask in the comments below and I'll include it Part II.

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