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. 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…

Nat, ByNight is a 36-years-old, graphic designer from Belgium, married to the most comprehensive man in the world. She started sewing and blogging 2.5 years ago, blessed therapy after unsuccessful nerve-breaking, exhausting infertility treatments, and turned her passion into a small-scale business with unique handmade accessories made by night with love, passion and color…

When Kathreen asked me to write a post about creativity and how it may have changed my outlook on life, I was a little confused at first. That’s something I really never thought about before. As far as I remember, creativity as always been part of me; it goes with being tall or my eyes being blue. I’ve always been drawing, creating, making stuff… I took drawing classes as a teen, studied graphic design at the art academy. Creativity is a compulsory occupation for my hands – and my mind. Working as a graphic designer, I quickly realized that – even though I loooove my job – expressing my creativity by clicking on a mouse wasn’t enough. When my friends started to have kids, I used to write them little illustrated stories and made them a personalized book.

About three years ago and after 6 years of failed attempts, my husband and I found out we’ll never have a baby. I was so depressed that I just wasn’t able to draw anymore, certainly not children books. I had put on so much weight and was feeling so ugly that I wanted to get rid of every single garment I owned. I decided I’d try to make my own. After all, I did own a sewing machine and I made a couple of basic things as a teen with my mum’s assistance. The first dress I made was this Burda design. What a revelation! I knew right away I had found a new way to express myself. Browsing the web, looking for new patterns and ideas, I discovered the ‘blog’ world. I actually think Kathreen’s whipup was one of the first blogs I discovered. All the tutorials she links to made me realize I could sew so many more things – anything.

I pretty much learned sewing by following others step-by-step instructions: I understood how to sew zippers thanks to Noodlehead’s gathered clutch or Jane’s boxy pouch. The first softies I made were Lia’s awesome seahorse and Wee wonderful’s cute rabbit. Based on that pattern, I made an entire bowling set for a friend’s son. I was enjoying it so much and as everything I was making was useful (birth presents, Christmas gifts, my own clothes), it was making me feel useful again too.

I decided to create my own blog. First, to show my friends and family what my new passion was about; but also to share what inspires me and to thank the people that wrote all these tutorials that helped me learn sewing. And the blog itself became a source of creativity. Some people I didn’t know actually seemed interested and inspired by what I was showing them. I felt like I had to surprise my readers every time I’d make something. I like the idea that I might make them want to do the same thing or own that unique garment, purse or decoration item. I even started writing my own tutorials, a bit as a way to pay back those who had helped me learn sewing.

Then, after a while, I began to receive orders for a bag, dress, birth present… This just seemed crazy! It meant that I too could share a part of what I am, but just not the way I always thought I would. Instead of raising a child (or 5), I share the items I’ve made with all my heart, proud that part of me can live a life of its own. I can guide people who have no idea where to start and – bonus – seize the opportunity to try out new ideas, different shapes or a new combination of fabrics.

Last year, I started a small-scale business: an online shop combined with craft fair sales. I love craft fairs! You get to meet so many amazing crafters, artists even. I love face-to-face contact with customers. I love to see kids eyes when they see my softies or pouches. I love to discuss with anyone willing to discuss. I love to tell the story behind the recycled fabrics I sometimes use. I love to explain how a softy is born. I love to give advice as I recently did to a very old lady that was having tension problems with her machine and couldn’t remember what was the right button to turn…

Sewing has helped me to re-discover my creative side and became part of my everyday life. It has changed the way I think about my future and it has given me more self-confidence. You can’t be shy when at a craft fair.

I know now that there is a part of me that needs to bring color to everyday objects, that needs to put a little ‘uniqueness’ to every thing I do or make, that I can do things that other people can’t. The best part is that my husband totally understands and supports me, by giving me his opinion or advice on every little thing I make, by figuring out how to help me write a tutorial, imagining new ways to expose my creations at craft fairs, by being  there with me at every craft fair. ByNight is a new chapter we are writing together in the book of our life as a couple. Not the chapter we hoped to write but nevertheless a funny and versatile one…


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…

Weeks Ringle {blog}, together with her husband Bill Kerr run the Modern Quilt Design Studio (previously FunQuilts), they have a new book Transparency Quilts just out, and they also publish a magazine Modern Quilts Illustrated.

Infinity © FunQuilts

We started our business in 1999 with virtually no planning. I had been making modern quilts since 1987 and Bill began making them with me when we met in 1995. We both had other careers but wanted to work together and wanted to integrate a business into our home lives. It was not ideal but sometimes you can’t wait for the right moment and you just have to go for it. And we did.

We began making high-end custom quilts for interior designers, architects, gallery owners and individuals. The design world embraced us and soon our quilts were in magazines and newspapers across the country. At the time there was no Modern Quilt movement and we were not optimistic that there ever would be. We were criticized for machine quilting our quilts and for doing minimal and improvisational quilt patterns. We had no desire to try to covert the quilting industry to our way of thinking because it was so futile at the time.

Outside the Box © FunQuilts

We were making and selling our quilts primarily in New York. On September 10, 2001 we received large orders from two museums that we thought would provide a good amount of income for us for the coming months. At that time, the waiting time for orders was about eight months. Then came September 11.

Bill and I first watched in horror at what we were seeing. Later we started to feel the effects on our business. Within days both museums cancelled all of their orders, worried about the future of tourism in New York. I remember sitting in our old offices and saying to Bill, “We need to totally redesign our business. Today. I’m wondering if we should think about trying to teach a class in our studio.” Years later former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and current mayor of Chicago would have a sign on his desk that reads, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” That was our mindset at the time. Bad news: We had the feeling that we were about to lose everything. Good news: We had nothing left to lose.

We had already booked a show at a local art gallery. I asked if we could put out a simple brochure for classes. Within a week, the class was filled with people who had seen our work in magazines and at the show. Orders from other parts of the country came in and we thought that we could balance things out even without New York.

Color Conspiracy © FunQuilts

Eventually both FreeSpirit and Rockport, our first publisher, called asking us to work with them. Bill and I went to Quilt Market and watched an unknown designer also with FreeSpirit, named Amy Butler, launch her first line. “Maybe there will be a place for Modern Quilting after all,” I remember saying. It was 2003. We proposed our second book Modern Quilt Workshop to Rockport soon after and it became the first book printed that we know of with “Modern Quilts” in the title.

“You were too early,” are words we hear a lot. Now the bookshelves are full of books on lots of different aspects of Modern Quilting and few can believe that we were given a hard time by a quilt magazine editor for making an orange quilt. It’s a different world now, which has both its pluses and minuses for us.

Jewel Box © FunQuilts

The crises are still there and even after 13 years in business, five books, over 100 fabrics, features in over 70 magazines and our own magazine, we still don’t feel as though we’re an established company. Everyday continues to have its own surprises and challenges. We continue to work 15-17 hr days six to seven days a week (because that’s what it takes to make a living in a rough economy when you own a business, not because we’re workaholics) with breaks for our daughter, soccer games, getting exercise, cooking dinner and such. But we’re never, ever bored.

Horizon 1999

[I was just reading an old post that Weeks reminded me of … She wrote this post for Whipup back in 2006 and back then was hopeful that one day there might be a modern quilt conference where all the modernists could hang out together … so exciting to see it all happening with Quilt Con coming up next year – and Weeks and Bill will be there teaching and talking. Ed.]



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…

Molly Balint and her husband live with their four girls in a fixer-upper farmhouse in rural Maryland where you can always count on three things: fresh eggs, a muddy kitchen floor and a kid who needs a bath. She chronicles life on their little farm on her personal blog, MommyCoddle. She is also the co-creator of the photography + words project, habit.

In my creaky old farmhouse in rural Maryland there are four kids to cook for, keep clean, clean up after, teach, nurse, and referee for. And then there are the 13 chickens, the 4 cats, the dog, the baby zebra finches and the pony. And when all that’s said and done there’s freelance writing deadlines to meet, emails to answer, and virtual inspiration boards to compile.

Just reading that list is exhausting.

Because having children changes everything.

Not only does it change things like the grocery bill, the laundry pile and the fact that there’s a pony in my backyard, it also completely changes a mother’s creative life.

I’m a firm believer that motherhood is in and of itself a creative endeavor. For lack of a less cheesy cliche–each day a blank canvas, each child a lump of clay. It’s whispered, far-flung stories in little ears, it’s hair braids and barrettes, it’s turning sofa cushions and quilts into clubhouses. It’s mouse-shaped pancakes and milk jug drums.

Moments of inspired and spontaneous creativity are the foundation of motherhood.

But still. Still I find that there is importance in finding moments of quiet for myself–whether it’s knitting needles in hand, sewing patches on torn jeans, or scribbling thoughts into a journal. And there is importance in setting aside intentional, deliberate creative time with my children.

Creativity changes the pace of our lives. It pulls us away from computer screens and television shows. It forces us to put down the laundry basket and pick up the pen or the paint or the scissors. It brings everyone around the table. It makes us available, accessible and present.

Creativity reconnects us with each other. While hands are busy, words become easy. Anger is tempered. Hurt feelings are eased. Everyone is included.

Creativity teaches how to make and make do. When toys are disposable and oversized stores carry everything from chewing gum to designer jeans, creative skills teach us to sew on a button, cover up a hole, or knit up our own dishcloths. Things are made, saved and preserved by the work of our hands.

Creativity leaves a handmade legacy. I often think about how I want to be remembered. Chained to my desk? Standing sour-faced over a sink of sudsy water? Or making and creating–rainbow crayons from broken ends and bright yellow sweaters with small wooden buttons?

Our creative life and the passion with which we pursue it will leave a long-lasting imprint on the lives of our children.

This past weekend, my children came up with a plan to begin selling our abundance of eggs at their own roadside stand. I watched as paints were dragged out, boards pulled from the box of scraps, hammers and nails pinched from their father’s toolbox. There was planning and painting (and repainting) and building. I saw my own words across the lips of the oldest as she reminded her sisters to put on a “junky shirt” so they could use the “staining paints”. I watched some of the same techniques we’d used the week before to make vegetable stakes for our garden go into the making of the egg signs. I watched hurt feelings dissolve between two sisters  shoulder to shoulder over a project–who just minutes before had been bickering over dolls.

Creativity is the soul of motherhood. And motherhood is the messiest, best, hardest, most-frustrating, rewarding, most heart-stopping creative project I have ever pursued.


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…

Alissa Haight Carlton lives in Los Angeles and is one of the founders and president of the Modern Quilt Guild.  She has written two books, Modern Minimal: 20 Bold and Graphic Quilts and Block Party: The Modern Quilting Bee. She blogs at handmade by alissa.

My creative process for designing and making a quilt is something that I’ve consciously worked at developing. I’ve come to realize that if you don’t have a process, how do you know where to start and where to go from there? I’ve also realized that my process changes, depending on the purpose of the quilt. If a pattern is going to be written up for the quilt, I always start by sitting down and designing the quilt. I use Illustrator for this. My abilities with the program are limited, but I love that I can design everything to scale, so I know my numbers will all add up. Once the quilt is designed, I get down to the leg work of following my own pattern and making the quilt. I often find this tedious as it feels purely like labor, but I’m driven by my desire to see my vision become reality.

If I’m not going to write a pattern for the quilt, I work in a completely different (and, for me, a much more fulfilling) way. I tend to keep my design process going throughout the making of the quilt, which makes the construction feel less like labor and more like part of the creative process. I thought that I’d show this process through the designing and making of a specific quilt (the one pictured above).

Let me begin by saying that the single most important tool for me with this process is a design wall. I simply tacked some cotton batting to my wall that fabric sticks to. This way, I can put things up, step away, hem and haw and just generally look at it a lot. Getting a design wall was transformative for my quilt design and I’d recommend it to any quilter out there. You can see it here on the left side of this photo of my (never this tidy) studio space. It takes up a whole wall and is 100% worth it.

The first thing that starts me thinking about a quilt is usually the colors and fabrics. For this quilt, which was a commission, I was given some guidelines in terms of the colors requested, so I pulled all of my fabrics that I thought could work.

From there, I didn’t know what direction I was headed, but I knew I wanted to do some improvisational piecing, so I cut a whole bunch of the fabrics up into strips and started piecing.

I love improv piecing. I never worry about where the quilt is headed – I just enjoy the process and working with the different colors and fabrics.  I also tend to focus on shape and color placement quite a bit since I usually work with solids. I  have turned to solids more and more as I’ve progressed in my quilting. I personally find a lot of patterned fabrics placed together to be busy and that takes away from the graphic feel that I to go for in my quilt designs.

Once I’d pieced a fair number of the improv blocks, it was time to start thinking about where I was going to go with them. Now try as you might to avoid it, at some point you have to decide where you’re going with a design… Unless the quilt is going to be improv from corner to corner and then squared up at the end, you eventually have to do some planning and dreaded math. When I reach this point, I turn to Illustrator. I’d been thinking that I wanted to create stripes with the improv piecing (I like the idea of improv within a structured context) so I took a photo of the blocks lined up and cropped it to be a strip. From there, I put the photo in Illustrator and messed around until I came up with a plan of this simple woven effect.

You can see that I just stretched and squeezed the one photo as needed to fill in the stripes. I wasn’t concerned with getting it to look just right since the only goal here was to sort out placement of the stripes within the negative space. Since I work to scale in Illustrator, I can also establish sizes of all of my piecing and negative space portions this way.

So from there, I kept on improv piecing until I had enough to fill in all of the strips, and I cut out all of the pieces of fabric to fill in the negative space – placing it all up on my design wall as I went along.

Here’s where I made a mistake – one that happens to me semi-regularly. I didn’t go with my gut. The pale yellow was the only fabric that was almost right that I had in my stash, so even though my instincts were telling me it wasn’t completely right, I kept on going because I was eager to make progress with the quilt. After walking away from my design wall and coming back to it a day later, I knew I had to make a change. A pale tan was in order, not a pale yellow.

A trip to the fabric store later, I had the right fabric and I got down to business finishing the quilt top.

Once I finish a top, I always make the back using up fabrics I have left from the front. To be honest, I pay very little attention to designing these backs and tend to just put them together as the fabric I have allows.

When it’s time to quilt, I think long and hard about how to best compliment the design of the quilt. I tend to not think about quilting before it’s time to do it. I’ll think it through while I’m basting, and I take my time making the decision. Here I quilted the negative space with very dense straight lines that echo the piecing design and then I filled in the improv stripes with less dense lines. I stopped and started so that the quilting followed the “weaving” effect of the piecing.

From there, all that’s left is the binding! Again, this is something that I don’t think about until it’s time to do it and my instincts usually point me in a direction. I like to use the binding as a frame of sorts, so I’m usually drawn to one of the darker colors in the quilt top. Here I went with one of the darker yellows.

And there you have it, how I design a quilt, from start to finish. As I mentioned earlier, I love to keep the design process going through as much of the construction as I can. I get very bored by the labor of making quilts (yup. I’ll admit it.) and I’m not the type who can sit down and make the same block 100 times. I almost never make the same quilt twice. I’m driven by the desire to see what will come next and sometimes my quilts turn out very differently from how I’d first imagined them. I am also not scared of making mistakes. I have started many projects and once I was half way through I realized I simply didn’t like where the quilt was going so I stopped. I put it aside and chalk it up to a learning experience that I can apply to future quilts. Or maybe it can be chopped up and used in a different way? You never know where your ideas, even the bad ones, might lead you!


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…

Anne Weil loves to make beautiful things and then show others how to make them, too. She designs projects that are simple, easy to make and pleasing to the eye. Beauty exists everywhere. You know you’ve found it when that happy place inside you starts to hum. A busy, working mother of three, Anne relishes finding creative moments in her studio to sew, knit, crochet, craft, and photograph handmade lovelies that really make her hum. Stop by and visit her at Flax and twine.

I’ve been thinking about different kinds of creating. Most of the creating I do develops from situations I run into with my family or my kids or, more recently, with a submission I’ve been asked to do or a submission I want to make. This kind of creating has a focus. I’m solving a specific problem, such as:

Very specific, these tasks insert themselves into my brain and branch into a multitude of possibilities. I typically work with tools and materials I have on hand or can get easily. The materials spur me further and it becomes a frenzy. If it’s for a craft: I sketch. I make thirteen things in one sitting. I mock up samples of what I want to do. I pull out piles of fabric and thread and cardboard and trim. I feel a bit like a mad scientist.

With knitting or crochet designs, I sketch different options, fits, trims, details. I swatch it with this yarn and that yarn. I try it on this needle or that one. And then, I make decisions. This kind of creating, narrow and defined, comes easily to me. The exploration that I do is also why you’ll often see many projects made with similar materials or along the same lines, like 5 Fabulous Finger Knitting Projects or 6 Easy Chunky Knits. Once I get going with something, I explore it until I’ve exhausted idea.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about a different kind of creating. The kind that starts with a blank slate. It’s the kind of creating that feels more like art. This is the kind of creating that makes me feel all panicky inside. Here is a blank page in a sketchbook, fill it. Here is an empty canvas, do your thing. I don’t know why, but this kind of creating feels super-challenging. The what-if-I-make-a-mistake feeling tends to overwhelm me. Or, maybe it’s more, what-if-I-do-something-that-makes-me-not-like-it-anymore feeling that is paralyzing. I’ve been driven, lately, to embrace that scary feeling and dive in to that undefined space.

I did just that at a recent creative retreat, where I took a class called Painting With Stitches with Marisa of Creative Thursday. I knew this would challenge me. Paint scares me–it’s so permanent. Marisa provided adorable templates, but I want to face the fear of the blank canvas head-on. So, I put a piece of embroidery thread on my needle and started stitching. I really just tried to let go and not judge myself. And, even harder, not worry! When it felt like I should stop, I stopped. When I wanted to go for another color, I used it. Then, the paint! I used it in the same way I did the embroidery thread, just letting the lines flow where they would. It felt freeing to just let it all go and be with the work in each instant. I had no preconceived notion of what it should look like or what it should be. Ahh, I kind of like that.

Yes, in a perfect world, there are things I would change, but I love it. I highly recommend this open-ended kind of creating, as I think it empowers you and opens up possibilities in all areas of creativity.

As a result of the embroidery experience, I decided to start a free sketchbook, not for projects, but for doodles and thoughts and color exploration. Dive in! Make it part of your regular creative practice, too.