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…

Ann Shayne’s life-affirming, fully realized page-turner of a novel, Bowling Avenue, is available on Amazon and Ann and Kay have been blogging at Mason Dixon Knitting since 2003.

Yesterday, a friend showed up at my front door with a box of chocolates and a note attached to the advance proof of my novel I had given her a week ago: “You must have had such fun writing this. And I had such fun reading it.”

Chocolate and a smile: it doesn’t get any better than that. You make something—a sweater, a scarf, a story—and when somebody tells you she likes it, you feel great.

I’ve been thinking about the creative life, and how connecting is such a powerful urge. We all want to connect. Whether you are making jewelry, handknits, music, or pots, there is something intoxicating about the moment when you share something you have made, and somebody likes it.

Intoxicating. Addicting. The fact that words of compulsion come to mind should be a clue about the nature of connecting. That craving for approval, once you get a taste, can quickly become trouble. Excruciating is the next word that comes to mind.

There’s a scene in my upcoming novel, Bowling Avenue, where the main character, Delia, tries to persuade a handsome real estate agent that she does not want him to help her. “This is my house to sell, and I’m going to sell it,” she says stubbornly, quoting the book she has been reading like the Bible, Beverly d’Angeleno’s How to Sell Your House in Two Weeks. After finishing my novel a few months ago, I had a moment when I realized that I didn’t want to go down that long, dusty road of traditional publishing. I was in the kitchen staring at the coffeemaker when I heard Delia say to me: “This is your book to sell, and you’re going to sell it.”

Oh, man. So easy, and so not.

Easy: The mechanics of publishing a book myself. We live in a new, golden age of self-publishing. I could publish a book a day if only I could come up with the words. If you’re considering self-publishing, I say go for it. Trust me: unless you have a very particular sort of book, you will save yourself a lot of time and heartache by publishing it yourself. You may well make more money by publishing yourself. It’s hard to make less, in almost every case.

Hard: Everything but the mechanics of publishing a book myself. In my cooler moments, I tell myself that it’s all good, that it’s slow publishing, that the control I have over my book is worth it. Having not had control over previous books, I think this may be the single most important aspect of my decision. I do, however, miss the publisher’s mojo machine, the validation that comes when a publisher’s vast resources are activated. It’s wonderful to have people who are paid by somebody else to work on my book. The staff at my current publishing conglomerate is slack at best—trust me, I know them all too well. My marketing manager is notorious for spending too much time on Twitter. My publicist is damn lazy about going to the post office. And the webmaster is flat-out unqualified.

It is all quite different from the experience of Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitter’s Guide, a book I wrote with my co-bloggette, Kay Gardiner. That book had so much luck tied to it. It was the lead title on a new craft book imprint at the largest publisher in the country. It rode the wave of knitting insanity that was cresting in 2006. And a lot of people worked hard to make that book succeed.

I’m starting to see why writers drink. It’s all sort of unbearable, this connecting stuff. It becomes even trickier when the story I want to share is also the story that I am publishing myself. It would help to have that publicist rattling on about how compelling/engrossing/heart-wrenching/life-affirming my book is. How it’s “fully realized,” whatever that means. Instead, it’s just me, here in my lair, lobbing my book up into the ether and hoping somebody catches it.

Yesterday, after my friend left, I sat down in the kitchen with those chocolates. She said she was bringing back my proof so that someone else could have an early chance to read it. So kind. But as I bit into that truffle, I wondered, insecurity billowing: If she’d really liked it, wouldn’t she have kept it?

There’s a new website for the book, You can read the first chapter there and order your copy..

And a Note on the Cover

About 30 seconds after deciding to publish BOWLING AVENUE myself, I knew I wanted to see if I could talk Bryce McCloud into doing my cover art. His letterpress shop in Nashville, Isle of Printing, has been on my radar for a while. Bryce’s aesthetic of joy combined with peculiarity is exactly what I aim for in all things, so I was thrilled when he agreed to take on this small project amid his slate of cool, high-profile work.

I didn’t want to write a big block of drippy sell copy, and I didn’t want to give away the story. Because a lot of the sales would be online, it wasn’t necessary to have sell copy on the book anyway. We talked about the idea of a book as a small work of art, and the cover being an integral part of that. We quickly zeroed in on silhouettes, one of his favorite ideas, to introduce the characters on the back of the book. Bryce used a 21st-century laser cutter to create the wood blocks to run on his letterpress–a 15th-century technology. He also used a piece of fabric as a plate for the background. He then scanned all his handmade imagery into his computer and cooked up a cheerfully loony cover that makes me smile every time I see it.

The next three images are courtesy Bryce McCloud from the making of the cover.


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…

Becca is a music teacher who knits, spins, sews and tries to keep up with her three young sons in Minneapolis, MN. You can follow her creative pursuits as well the boys latest antics at Knittymama. She is also found at Flickr and Ravelry.

Thank you Kathreen for inviting me to be a guest blogger in your series on creativity! I’m so happy to be able to share a bit about my creative endeavors while raising my three boys.

I believe creativity is a word in every mother’s dictionary. A mother needs to be creative in order to deal with the dozens of curveballs that our children throw at us every day. But for some of us, creativity is not just figuring out how to deal with a screaming three year old hiding under the shopping cart. It’s what defines us as a person.

My husband and I were blessed with three sons in the past nine years, and they have completely redefined who I am. Before I had children music was my choice. I had dabbled all my life in little bits of crochet, beading, writing, drawing… but music was what grabbed me. And for many years all I needed in my life was a classroom of children to teach, my bassoon to play and people to play with.

But becoming a mother pushed my creative needs in a different direction. I no longer wanted to be tied to schedules. Long rehearsals were out; I wanted to be home with my family. Practicing at home by myself just wasn’t fun when there was no performance to prepare for, plus it was hard work; by 9pm I was exhausted. I needed something quiet, something calming to help me relax, create and recharge after a long day. And so I learned to knit, and then to spin and sew. I spent countless hours after my boys were asleep, letting my mind go and my body wind down after a long day.

As our family grew, I found our children inspired me more than anything had ever inspired me before. Sure, I would see a beautiful pattern I’d like to knit, or a quilt I wanted to make, but original ideas? The things that came out of nowhere? Those ideas came from my boys. A rainbow hat of odd colors that somehow looked great together. A giant reading pillow sewn together with my oldest son. The old t-shirt sleeves quickly cut and re-sewn into “motorcycle-guy” mitts.  My boys taught me that I don’t need a pattern, I can come up with an idea of my own and just go with it. This is the gift they give to me.

But I also miss those long hours of getting lost in the creative process. I miss getting so deep into something that I forget the time. And it’s frustrating when I think I’m going to get a few minutes to myself, and suddenly I hear, “Mama? Can we make our toy owls now? You’ve been promising for a YEAR!!“  (It’s really been just a week, but…)

Even harder is when my boys decide to make something on their own, except that it happens to be that they chose to cover three yards of a favorite new fabric with splotches of bright yellow paint. Or that they’ve tangled up my spinning wheel again. Used my fabric scissors to cut wire. Taken a favorite ball of expensive yarn and used it to make a room sized spider web. My boys are true masters of creative destruction, and many a time I have had to take a very deep breath and remind myself of the bigger picture.

And so we make things together. We find the opportunities to meet their needs and meet my own. We paint, we nail, we glue. We go through a lot of cardboard, yarn and tape. But we also weave and knit and sew. We design pillows and pants. We knit “rainbow” hats in color combinations I never would have thought of. I have learned to sew with one boy on my lap and another sitting behind me, hanging over my shoulders. I’ve learned to never leave knitting sitting out and always unplug my sewing machine. Somehow we make it all work.

While I watch them grow, I see myself grow too. As much as I love to follow a beautiful pattern, I also now can start from square one, and that’s an amazing feeling. I’m not sure if I ever would have taken that leap without my boys prodding me to make something that I didn’t have instructions for. Now that we are coming out of the baby years, I find myself drawn back to music too. I can head out for a few hours to go sub in a rehearsal or take the occasional third bassoon part in the community orchestra. I feel like my options are endless.

Lastly, I keep looking for inspiration of all types. I appreciate Shivaya Naturals for reminding me to look for the grace and beauty in everything that we make and do. I love Steady Mom for helping me keep things in enough balance so that we still all have time to do what we love. I love the Yarn Harlot because she keeps it real;  I don’t feel like I’m the only one with a messy house or kids that fight. And I love the mothers that relish goofy boyishness: All For The Boys for a never ending slew of ideas, as well as the Celebrate The Boy series over at Made by Rae.

What have your children taught you? Have you learned a new skill since you became a parent? Did your creative pursuits take a different direction after your children were born? Where do you find creative inspiration as a parent? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

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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…

Katie knits, sews, spins, cans, and gardens from a small Boston apartment. This year she published her first knitting pattern and her first sewing pattern. She blogs at foxflat.

1950’s style dress, pattern made from a deconstructed vintage garment.

My first big DIY project was a pair of sandals. I was probably seven or eight, sweating out the long days of summer in smalltown Ohio, when I was inexplicably possessed by the urge to make my own footwear. I remember tracing and cutting a sole out of cardboard, and with a hole punch and kitchen twine, devising an elaborate lacing system. In what I was certain was a stroke of pure genius, I harvested patches of moss from behind the garage and glued them onto the soles (beauty and comfort people, these were the whole package!). I laced on my new sandals, pressed my toes into that green moss, and prepared to show them off to everyone in a two-block radius.

I don’t think I walked five steps before they fell apart. Complete and total engineering disaster. As I held the busted pieces, I started planning Moss Sandal Prototype #2.

Why would I tell this story? Well…first of all, I really am kind of proud of that moss idea (I’ve never felt a softer insole). But more importantly, it’s illustrative of the fact that, for me, creating and making is the realm where I am the bravest, the most curious, and the least afraid of failing. It’s the place where I get to exercise my resilience to setbacks. Where I allow myself to experiment without any assurance that it will work out. Where I am reminded that before you can be good at something, you’ll almost certainly be bad to mediocre at it.

My very first attempt at spinning fiber. The woman who taught me said, “I know you think it’s ugly and bad, but hang onto it. Someday you’ll want to look back and see how far you’ve come.”

Shawl knit from handspun.

I am a knitter. When I have the needles out in public it’s not unusual for a stranger to strike up a conversation. One of the most common things I hear is, “Oh I tried knitting but I was just so bad at it.” Yeah but… it’s a complicated string of awkward fine motor movements with at least three moving parts and a million ways to screw it up. Of course you’ll be bad at it. Everyone is. Now if you tried knitting, were bad at it and had no interest in it, that’s another matter (that was my experience with any sport involving a ball, so I understand). But sometimes I think we just don’t have the patience for learning curves. We live in an on-demand world and want to excel at things immediately.

I witness this firsthand in my day job, where I advise and counsel college students. Like me, many of them got through high school without experiencing many setbacks – the good grades and the high praise came easy. Now they’re in my office in tears, holding an essay and the first “C” of their life. I try to help them separate their self-worth from the grade a little bit. A “C” means that there’s room for growth, that you haven’t mastered writing at the college level yet…and that’s okay…after all, you just started college.

Naturally, I am only so-so at taking my own advice. There are a host of things I avoid doing for fear of failure, from the trivial (karaoke), to the life-changing (starting my own business). There are also components of my job that I can’t afford to mess up, such as composing emails to upper administrators or counseling a student through a crisis. So creating is both my refuge from pressure and perfectionism, and my inspiration for boldly approaching the unknown in all areas of my life. It’s where I continue to cultivate an appreciation for slow mastery of a craft, and where I recharge my emotional batteries.

How does creating and making factor into your own self-care? How has it influenced your outlook on life?



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…

Blair Stocker is the author and maker behind wise craft. She lives with her husband, two kids, and one sweet cat in Seattle, Washington, USA. She works each day in her bright white basement studio, where she designs original quilt patterns, refurbishes secondhand treasures, looks for things to add crochets, listens to good music, and drinks good coffee. Her first book, is due out at the end of 2012. She is also runs a brand consultancy with her husband, Story Trading.

My creative process always begins in my sketchbook, whether I am doing a quilt, or redoing an item for our home or to sell in my shop. I use only one kind, a Moleskine squared soft notebook in the extra large size. They are easy to find locally, and I get the ones with fewer pages and try to look for the kraft brown covers, because I like personalize the outsides of them myself. The pages have grid-like squares on them, and because I’m usually drawing quilt patterns or flat designs, these give me a great starting grid (plus a blank page can often overwhelm me). I will staple fabric swatches on the pages, tape in bits of ribbon and trim, stick in a couple of strands of yarn, clip in a scanned image or one torn out form a magazine, or make a crafty to do list in these notebooks. This is a discipline I have carried with me since my days in the apparel industry. Even the small fibers of a single color can inspire, and I don’t want to lose them, so into the notebook I go. I keep all the old notebooks, and they are all neatly stored. I love going back through them.

I don’t use a computer program to do designing (there is some great quilt pattern designing software out there). To me its more fun to get out markers and colored pencils and just play a little, while I’m listening to the radio. I discipline myself to draw the design out completely, not stopping half way through, thinking “oh, I’ve got this!”. I find I like having a completed idea to go back to. I use craft store markers and pencils and go through them pretty fast, so I don’t buy expensive ones. Martha Stewart markers and pencils are my current favorites.
From there, it’s playing with colors, whether it be in the form of fabric, paint, yarn, or sometimes even glitter. I like to pull out combinations of colors, and leave them overnight, coming back to them the next day. This method really works for me, and I find things can look so different the next day, with fresh eyes. This is a fun part of the process for me, and I look forward to to getting to this stage (which is why I can be guilty of not always finishing that original sketch I was referring to above).
Part of the creative process for me always involves a studio clean up, at some point, and not always at the beginning. I think I do this partly as a procrastination tactic, partly to think over how I’ll execute the idea, and partly because I can really spread myself out all over this space and it gets messy! But I do not let myself get creatively stuck by a messy studio, if I did I’ve never make a thing.
I keep inspiration up on my studio walls, with plenty of white spaced up too, so I don’t get overwhelmed. I don’t necessarily like having my own work up, but I love having my friend’s work up. During the day I look at that and think “We’re all working today, we’re all finding our creativity.” And that’s very comforting to me, because so much of what I do is solitary work.

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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…

Delia blogs at delia creates. She is a mom to two boys and a brand new baby girl who believes that creating things with her hands is one of the keys to creating a beautiful, fulfilling life.

Hi WhipUp readers! I am so happy to be here with you and Kathreen today. When Kathreen asked me how parenting has changed how and why I create, the first answer that came to mind, was that they are the reason I create.

I think children bring out the best, truest parts of ourselves. They give us reason to celebrate holidays, and milestones to the fullest. They see us as we a really are… amazing individuals capable of amazing things.

I’ve always considered myself someone with creative tendencies, but creativity didn’t become a passion until after I had children. They provided me both with opportunity and inspiration to try, to learn, to create.

Creativity requires risk and vulnerability and who better to teach us about that, than children. They who try new things almost daily show us we can too.

One of my most favorite things is to create with my children. They remind me of how fun it is to just get my hands dirty and play. Our creations don’t have to be perfect, just fun. I also cherish the memories we make as we work side by side. It’s a special time when I can instill in them a love for working with their hands and teach them something new. In the process, I learn much more than I could ever teach them.

Creating for them is a joy as well. It makes me smile, when my oldest thinks I can “just make” anything for him. Of course my talent struggles to match his imagination sometimes, and sooner or later he’s going to figure out my limitations. For now though, I am enjoying being the sewing super hero he thinks I am.

Here are just a couple of my favorite projects that I’ve made with or for my kids.

Personalized Note Pads :: Kid Art Shirts :: If You Give A Mouse A Cookie inspired overalls :: Dry Erase Clock :: Lil’ Mister Bow Tie :: Frankenstein Hat

Of course, not everything I create is for or with them. Balancing time to create for myself and time with my kids can be tricky, especially now that I’ve turned my creative passions into a part-time job with my blog. I give my best effort to make sure my children’s needs and wants come first, but I also allow myself some time everyday to create around them. I do this in hopes that I’m planting the seeds of creative expression in them through my example. I want our house to be a home flowing with creativity as much as possible.

As the name of my blog implies. I create. It’s what makes me happy, it’s what I do, it’s who I am. And I have my children to thank for allowing creativity to blossom in my life.


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