Guest series 2012

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. These wonderful fellow creative folk guest posted here at during 2012.

I introduced the series here with a showcase of my creative space. {Browse the whole series here}. There were 57 participants in this series and it ran for 3 months – lots of fun – I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


Creativity and Health


Berber Vos blogs {blog} There is a spark of creativity in everyone

Maryanne {blog} Sewing with the flow

Nat {Blog} How craft gave me back my confidence

Lara Cameron {web} Step outside the rat race

Maize Hutton {blog} Healing through craft

Sayraphim Lothian {web} Crafting brings the joy {image above from this essay}

Heidi {blog} Crafting is my lifeboat

Colleen Babcock {blog} Four essential truths about my creative self

Leisl {blog} Stitch by stitch, I healed


Creativity and Business


Lisa Siebert {web} My business brings me fulfilment 

Weeks Ringle {blog} Never let a crisis go to waste

Laura Malek {web} Hobby turned business

Destri {blog} How my business became my hobby {image above from this essay}

Rachel Wolf {web} Manifesting your dreams

Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut {blog} Building a business, a book, and a life

Diane Gilleland {blog} Some straight talk on monetizing your craft blog


Creativity and Parenting


Abby Glassenberg {blog} The relationship between time and creativity 

Tania {blogNot a lot of serious

John Adams {blog} quilt + dad = a winning combination

Verity Heysen Kizek {blog} Time is precious

Molly Balint {blog} Creativity is the soul of motherhood

Becca {blog} Creativity is a word in every mothers dictionary

Delia {blog} Creativity requires risk and vulnerability

The family at {Se7en + 1} Memories made creating together

Joanie Gorman {blog} Creativity is naturally woven into our lives

Vanessa Lynch {blog} Creativity is contagious 

Maggie Brereton {blog} My children are my muses

Laura Bray {blog} Two pink lines

Ellen Luckett Baker {blog} Understand the value of creativity {image above from this essay}

Jo Ebisujima {blog} Creating for children

Lorraine {blog} The stream of inspiration runs both ways

Marcie {blog} Slowing down and connecting with each other

Abigail Doan {blog} Fiber art for families and the nomadic studio life

Amy Palanjian {blog} I did the best with what I had

Christine Chitnis {blog} Take your creativity where you can find it


Creativity and Process

Niamh O’Connor {blog} Finding time to fail

Lilly Blue and Jo Pollitt {web} Creativity and Coauthorship

Kay Gardiner {blog} Something from something

Jen {blog} Creating adds sparkle to my life

Erin Dollar {blog} Visual overload

Claire Dollan {blog} Snatching a little creativity here and there

Alissa Haight Carlton {blog} Creative process for designing a quilt

Anne Weil {blog} Dive in! Explore open ended creativity

Ann Shayne {blog} Self publishing, easy, hard and everything in between

Katie {blog} Cultivate an appreciation for the slow mastery of a craft

Blair Stocker {blog} My creative process always begins with my sketchbook

Chawne {blog} Mistakes become opportunities {image above from this essay}

Mollie Johanson {blog} It is as much about the process as it is about the product

Sophie {blog} The ultimate compliment

Devon Iott {blog} Connections to the past

Angel Funk and Jenny Bartoy {blog} Nature and the creative process

Khadija {blog} Doodling away the boredom

Kate Lilly {blog} A tiny (happy) corner of the web

Jodi Anderson {blog} Listen and watch

Tracey McNamee {blog} A failed attempt to control the chaos

Cam {blog} I am mostly a self taught creative type


{I really enjoyed this series and am planning on another one for 2013, if you would like to participate please shoot me an email kathreen[at]}


Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut are the authors of the new book Improv Sewing. They also blog together at Improv DiaryNicole is a freelance crafter and stylist, clothing designer, blogger and obsessed sewist. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she also works at her family’s hard cider business together with her husband and two children. Debra is a writer, magazine editor, and content packager who loves sewing and crafting, even when her creations turns out just a little bit awkwardly. She grew up in the Washington, DC, area and now lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and son. 

Creativity, improvisation, and why it is so darn good to let go and make some stuff

Once, many years ago, I was in the company of a bunch of farmers who were drawing angry vegetables for the side of their farm truck for fun (uh, why else?). They were young farmers from the UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden program, not your typical farmer, but still. Egging everyone on was our friend Harrell Fletcher, who has since become a sort of major person in the art world, and he is pretty much the embodiment of creativity (yes, look him up, his work is very worth looking at).

I was in my mid-20s, and I sat on the edge of the group and watched. I still can’t believe my shyness and how I simply missed out on ALL of the fun that day. I didn’t really think I had enough talent to draw an angry vegetable. I could throttle that young woman’s perfect neck for being so silly. I might be a bit of a late bloomer, but I have arrived and there is no stopping creativity once you let go of judgment, comparisons, and self-imposed limitations. I couldn’t be more serious.

First of all, I can draw just fine. So can you. Second, I am of the mind that I can learn to do most anything, if I want (maybe not brain surgery, but I conveniently don’t really want to anyway) and this mindset has been an amazing emancipator. I have gone from staring at a store bought tissue pattern with squinty eyes and a furrowed brow to designing my own clothes in a matter of very few years. I have tweaked mistakes and imperfections into design elements (they are easily persuaded) and then cultivated those ideas into intentionally laid down lines and squiggles, Xs and seed stitches. Layers and appliques have been my cover-ups and the basis for my decorative elements. It has been so satisfying to play around and figure things out, and, it is crazy fun.

Of course, I didn’t just go from timid non-drawing gal to sewing book author in a flash. I was a school teacher and then made the natural (and fortuitous) shift to working as a craft developer for a family and kid magazine for a bunch of years. I think that my commitment to instilling the love of art and creativity in my students and my own children has convinced me to express my ideas without all of the self-judgment. Everyone says that kids are the best teachers, and it really is true. I saw them creating with abandon and it moved me. I had to let go of a lot to be a good role model and that was important to all of us. And, it has served me in so many ways.

First, I get to earn my living making things, which couldn’t be more amazing. Also, I got to meet my co-author Debra who is an editor I have worked on many magazine projects with. She is an excellent writer (funny and thoughtful) and has a
fantastic ability to make directions clear and easy to understand. We were a great team and this book was really her idea.

I guess I am trying to tell you something here. Most likely you already are creative and make things if you look at this amazing WhipUp blog, but if you think that you can’t make your own clothes, or if you think that you can’t put your mark on something so that it is unique and a good expression of you, then I am here to ask you to rethink that. You can make whatever you want and I hope our book is a companion to you in the process of discovery. Improvise if you need to. Let go of your inhibition because it is way more fun that way. Way more fun.


Line Art Lunchbox Napkin (Excerpted from Improv Sewing (c) by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut,  Photo (c) by Alexandra Grablewski, used with permission from Storey Publishing.)

If you’re new to drawing with your sewing machine, hone your skills with this low-stakes, ultracheap project (you don’t even have to buy fabric if you have an old white bedsheet to cut up). This reusable napkin will make its owner proud in two ways: he or she gets to show off artwork and reduce lunchtime trash at the same time.

What you’ll need :: 10″ square of Birdseye cotton, glassware toweling, or other absorbent woven cotton fabric + 1 to 3 spools of contrasting thread

How to :: 

1. Create the drawing :: Tape the fabric taut to the table. With a vanishing ink pen or chalk, draw a simple design, either centered or in one corner, leaving at least a 3/4″ margin on all sides for the hem.

2. Draw with thread :: Before you start drawing, read the techniques intro, page 134, and practice on a scrap of the project fabric. Set your presser foot pressure to 2; this allows you to manipulate your fabric easily but still follow the drawn lines. Using a straight stitch with the stitch length set at 1, stitch along the drawn guidelines.

3. Hem the napkin :: Press the edges of the napkin 1/4″ to the wrong side, and then 1/4″ again to make a 1/2″ double-fold hem. Using contrasting thread and a narrow zigzag (our stitch width was 3 and stitch length 2.5), topstitch the hem in place, leaving the needle down and turning the fabric at the corners.

4. Stitching tip :: It will make it easier for the sewist if the drawing isn’t itty-bitty, so guide the artist accordingly. For a younger child, frame the target area with tape to help him or her understand where and how big to draw the artwork.


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For more kids craft, creative ideas and activities go to the Action Pack website

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Abby Glassenberg creates unique patterns for stuffed animals from her home studio, and since 2005 she has shared these creations and her ideas on design, technique and the online culture of craft through her blog. Abby has a master’s degree in education, she taught middle school before becoming a textile artist and the mother of three girls. Abby’s first book, The Artful Bird: Feathered Friends to Make and Sew, was an ALA Booklist top ten craft book of 2011. Her new book about soft toy design and will be published by Lark in May of 2013. You can find Abby’s stuffed animal patterns in her Craftsy pattern shop and her Etsy shop and keep up with her latest pattern releases on her Facebook page.

In 2003 I had a whole summer off. I was a sixth grade teacher, married, living in an apartment we owned in an interesting, upbeat area of Boston. In early June, just before school was out, I set some summer goals for myself: draw every day, dust off my old watercolors and paint, make a quilt with all that fabric I’d been hoarding.

The last day of school came and went, as did the first week of summer vacation, and I was just about ready to start in on those projects. Monday morning my husband left for work and I went to the bakery and then for a long walk and then I took a nap. And watched some TV. And talked on the phone with my sister. And suddenly the day was gone and I never did draw. In fact, week after long free week of that summer rolled on by and, yes, I did sew a few scraps together, but then laid them aside when I couldn’t figure out what to do next, and, yes, I painted a little still life of some lemons and gave it to my mother for her birthday, but then I put the paints back on the shelf. Even while I was living those weeks I could see that my lofty summer goals for productive creativity were not being realized.

But why? Why wasn’t I using all that free time as creative time? The desire was there, but something crucial was missing. Now I see that the missing element was a feeling of urgency. Urgency reframes time, places constraints on us, maybe forces us even, to use every single moment if we are to meet our goals.

By the end of that summer I was pregnant with our first child, a daughter born the next March. I left the classroom to be home with her and suddenly I was back in the apartment while my husband was at work, with long hours before me, a similar feeling to the one I’d had the previous summer. Visits to the bakery, long walks pushing the stroller, naps, some TV, talks with my sister – it was all the same. Except now it was completely different.

When the baby was up there was always something to do. Nursing and changing, comforting and cleaning, folding and cooking, and then cleaning and nursing again, and on and on. And when finally I could put her down for a nap and I could be me again. The old me. The me that wanted to draw and paint and sew. But now I only had an hour before the cycle of nursing and changing and comforting and cleaning started all over again. An hour and ten minutes if I was lucky. So out came the sketchbook and the pencil because if I was going to actually make anything I had to start right now!

And pretty soon I was making things, teaching myself to sew from old soft toy books I’d check out of the library after storytime on Tuesdays. And in May of 2005 I started a blog, to record all that naptime creative productivity. In the seven years that have passed we’ve had two more daughters (only girls so that “She” still rings true!) and I’m a stay-at-home mom with a creative business that I work on primarily while my kids are asleep or at school or camp.

When people peek into my studio, peruse my website, and see everything that I’m making, and then notice that I have three kids who are 8, 6, and 18 months, the first thing they ask me is, “How do you find the time?”

Having children has given me many gifts (and a fair number of headaches, too), but one of the greatest gifts of motherhood for me is the constraints it has placed on my time. Looking back at that summer of 2003 my first reaction is to feel jealous desire, dreaming of what I would do if only I had that time now. The reality of now, though, is that I never have time like that. And precisely because I don’t, I find the time to produce creative work every day.


Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Tania is a mother, wife, graphic designer, rocking-in-the-corner-(knitting) type. She blogs over at myrtle and eunice while doing her level best NOT to sweat the small stuff…

When I was pregnant with my first kid, I was living in London and the events of September 11, 2001, were new and raw and indigestible. Hysterical newspapers used exclamation marks and told us we were the next target(!) and sales of gas masks went through the roof. I decided to ride my bike to work, rather than risk the perils of underground Tube travel – perils that extended beyond sardine-packed trains and the breathy aftermath of someone’s evening-before-curry. Until a week before my due date, I cycled over the river and through Hyde Park and on the way home, I laboured, huffing and puffing up Battersea Hill. Over three months, I reckon I escaped Certain Death by London Bus, no less than eleventy million times.

Even though I’d felt vulnerable out in the big wide world before, this time was different. There was a baby. And there was all that new, hormonal, emotional, growing-a-baby business. I staked my claim on that small amount of control: I rode that bike and risked Certain Death by London Bus. And I learned to knit.

Nearly eleven years later, I am still wrapping my children in protective woolly warmth and crafted hugs and the soothing repetition of a knitted stitch remains a balm for this soul.

Yet as my kid’s grow and their individual personalities develop, there’s a whole other, concurrent side to the kid-inspired craft. I reckon I learn as much from them as they do me. Together we’ve discovered there is real virtue in ‘silly’. And that finding the ‘un’ in the ‘expected’ and the ‘extra’ in the ‘ordinary’, is inspiring stuff. It takes constant practise but I really do enjoy myself when the answer to the question WHY? is WHY THE HECK NOT?

Following is a good dollop of Why The Heck Not…

Religiously collected, bog-standard, toilet rolls become a mother/son project and an object of loo-beauty:

An entire living room floor is covered in photographic backdrop paper and a family spends Friday night as human spirographs. (Excellent for tummy toning).

A mother goes entirely overboard, crafting a school Crazy Hair Day get-up:

One pompom becomes a hundred. A tree is ‘pompombed’ and the Holy-Moly-What-The-Heck-Next? looks from the locals are enjoyed.

Kids and craft bring out this Mum’s fun. (They also bring out her ‘bossy’. Please leave the room):

Finally, there’s John McEnroe’s most infamous tantie. I am old enough to remember the 1981 Wimbledon tennis final. Around here, we decided he was on to a good wicket. McEnroe’s sage words, (without his tantrummed, entirely undignified and unsportsmanlike intent), are exhibited next to our front door.

Because where’s the fun in ‘serious’?



Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Niamh O’Connor is a Minneapolis based Illustrator and the founder of the embroidery website Urban Threads, dedicated to making machine embroidery awesome one edgy, elegant, innovative, and/or offbeat design at a time. 

Creativity is an often misunderstood thing, no matter which side of the fold you feel you stand on.

I have found sometimes to those who work in a self-described “non-creative field”, they equate the action of design and creation to a form of magic. I’ve been told that we “artsy folks” are just little magic balls of creativity, with beautiful things spouting out of our ears at any given moment, no effort required. They long to be a “creative” type, because in their mind it seems a state of being, not a form of discipline.

To folks who do creative work, we know this to be a painful fallacy. While many of us would love the world to perceive us as genius fountains of endless creation, we know that creativity, like any skill, is something that needs to be worked, nurtured, and practiced. This is made all the more difficult by the sometimes fickle nature of our muses. An accountant is very unlikely to wake up one morning and suddenly be unable to do math, yet I certainly have days where the flow of creativity is halted to a trickle, and my deadlines still loom with ominous certainty. You must learn to work through what is sometimes a wax and wane of inspiration.

The issue of creative flow is really a lead-in for what I think can be a bigger issue for me when I’m creating something new, and that is finding time to fail. What I mean by this is not necessarily allowing yourself enough time before a deadline to fix something if it goes catastrophically bad (though that’s important too). What you need to allow yourself is the time to try all the wrong ways in order to find the right ones.

When I started work on our new Misfits Nursery series, I felt nailing the style was extremely important. Children’s nursery characters have been done for hundreds of years, in hundreds of ways, so really, it’s not the content I needed to explore. It was the character. I had to give myself time to try dozens of different versions of Bo Peep to find the real version hiding somewhere in between. This can be a difficult step to explain to some people. From an outside point it might look extremely redundant, but if I don’t give myself the time to draw and fail at many versions, I’ll never find the one that I feel succeeds.

I knew when I looked at my work … it just didn’t look right. So I kept trying. For me it’s the difference between getting something done and getting something done well.

This time is so crucial to an artist, and yet is often the first to go when your schedule picks up, projects get rolling, and fantastic opportunities finally start arriving. You push yourself. You think it’s wonderful you finally have all these projects on your hands … and yet, you find yourself always looking at your feet. You stop thinking ahead, you just react. If a project needs to get done by tomorrow, well by golly, the first thing you create better be good enough.

Creativity becomes reactive instead of proactive, and the exploration used to find something truly creatively satisfying is lost.

Time management, then, is crucial to supporting the creative process by allowing yourself time to fail. To make plans, to think ahead. To find ways of saving time on small tasks to leave more breathing room for larger ones. I use a number of project management tools, from a Google Calendar, to task managers like Wunderlist and Evernote, to keep my life and work organized. Work out what steps are really important to your creative process. What are you doing on a daily basis that, if you really give it a hard look, isn’t doing you any favors?

All these things give me a chance to breathe and look three feet ahead of me so I can really sort out what it is I’m doing. Sure, I’m drawing nursery rhymes, but for whom? In what style? What will make these designs different from any of the thousands of others that have come before? What will people use these for? Design without purpose can sometimes be creatively rewarding, but rarely commercially so. A product without purpose will have a hard time finding an audience, even if it’s cute.

So I always try to design with purpose, and remember that this work is not meant for me, but for everyone else.

This can be a hard struggle for artists sometimes. You go through life hearing all the nasty terms about “selling out”, about not being true to your vision. That somehow making your art for commercial purposes means you are sacrificing your own artistic tastes. This is absolutely bunk. Creating art for a commercial audience is quite literally the definition of a commercial artist, and if your career goal is to make a living doing what you love in a creative field, you darn well better keep your audience in mind.

If you want to design for no one but yourself, that’s fantastic, and is a wonderful creative outlet. But I wouldn’t recommend becoming a commercial artist with that attitude. You won’t get far.

I think the biggest problem many artists face with this is more the limitations it sometimes puts on how they create. You think, if only I could do it in any way I wanted, it would come out so much better! But I have learned through my processes that these limitations can be a wonderful catalyst for creativity.

When I first started designing for machine embroidery, I was often fighting against its technical limitations. Heavy directional stitches mean tiny details didn’t work. Too many colors added too many trims, too many stitches make a design too heavy on fabric. You can’t design a really cool T-shirt front and make it 50,000 stitches. It simply isn’t something that will work on light fabric; no matter how cool the design looks, your beautiful creation is useless.

These are also very important “failures” to learn. To take the time to figure out all the ways you might make your own work obsolete by not accounting for its intended purpose. These stumbling blocks of stitch direction and form have taught me to take advantage of embroidery’s dimensional structure and create sculptural, ornate designs. Issues with detail and weight taught me to make running stitch designs with experimental, open fills. These challenges basically forced me to create something I now consider wonderful by keeping my design parameters in a little box.

When designing illustrative style designs such as this Misfits Nursery series, I needed something that was stitch friendly and still evoked the charm of hand-drawn illustrations. Looking at gorgeous drawings from vintage Alice in Wonderland books and old nursery rhyme books from my childhood made me realize that doing this series without some form of that hand-drawn charm would make it loose its roots. So to mimic this, we designed a series that had messy, hand-drawn style outlines.

This seems especially counterintuitive when designing for machine embroidery, which can achieve perfection of line with ease, but if you remove too much of the hand of the artist from the work, it sterilizes it. So we designed it with intended imperfection, with the hopes that it evokes some of that old-world charm we all loved in our storybooks as kids. Believe me, though, creating that style look a heck of a lot of getting it wrong and working things backwards before we got something that looked right.

In the end, we must all take the time to fail in that oft quoted but unverified tale of Thomas Edison and the creation of the lightbulb, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”

Whether the quote was ever uttered by him, the message still stands. If Edison had not given himself the time for those 1000 failures and just said after a couple times, “Good enough, I have a billion other things I need to get done before tomorrow…”

Where would we be?