Do more of what makes you happy. Words I live by, a reminder that I try to give myself. Words that I've made my full time job. Words I think of every time I'm in a pivotal moment in my life. This is the deeply personal and open story of how I slowly asserted myself into the fiber + textile arts world to carve out my own business by doing MORE of what makes me HAPPY, and sharing that light and set of skills with the world. Like all origin stories, this one is a work in progress and my perception of my experiences is likely to change over time. Continue reading to learn how I made the leap into this industry, about my journey into motherhood, and my mission of bringing traditional "women's work" into the forefront of modern art in our society.
TL;DR: Motherhood made me into the person I am today, as a maker, as a brand, as a small business owner.
There are loads of hyperlinks in this post, so if you see an underlined piece of text, click it!
TW: miscarriage, depression, toxic academia. If these subjects are raw and sensitive for you, you don't have to read this post. If you'd like to talk about your experience or can relate to my story, please send me an email and we can talk. Women have got to stick together and lift each other up. I am here for you. And I promise not all of my posts will be so personal, this is just a story that I need to tell the world. Here are some resources if you are struggling.
In 2013 I picked up hand embroidery, a skill that I had learned from my grandmother as a child. One of the first things I embroidered was the phrase "Do more of what makes you happy" and honestly the embroidery was so terrible I'm not even going to show you the original... someone bought it at a craft fair in 2015, bless their heart.
Below is a later version of the "Do more of what makes you happy" hoop that I made in 2015, when my husband and I had just moved from Bellingham to Olympia.
In summer of 2015 I was working in a not-so-fabulous job for a textile and home goods resale company. I had high hopes for the job, that it was a company that I could work with to use my degree in environmental studies to move into the world of influencing smart consumer choices when it comes to textile products. Well, that didn't work out. Turns out the company I was working for is really just a shameful corporation whose idea of recycling is shipping unwanted items to the shores of third world countries... but that's a story for another time.
That summer, I also had a miscarriage. It took a long time for me to come to terms with it, and it changed the course of my life.
I know this sounds super personal, but miscarriage is something I want to be transparent about, because before it happened to me, I had no idea how common it is or how many women go through this ordeal completely alone, feeling like they had failed. Like they were the only woman this had ever happened to... because miscarriage isn't something that we, as a society, really discuss. Once I had started to open up about losing a child (it took me a long time), I was met with a flood of support from women I knew, in my every day life, who had suffered through the same thing. I think the tides are turning and we are collectively acknowledging women's experiences, so let my story be one small drop into that bucket.
That being said, I don't want to go into full detail for the whole internet, even though it's something I'm totally willing to talk about on an interpersonal basis. Here's the facts, long story short- I had a miscarriage, and I didn't even know I was pregnant until my body was telling me something was WRONG. So I went to Planned Parenthood and they helped me recover (#ISTANDWITHPLANNEDPARENTHOOD). I felt like my choice and personal agency over my body had been stolen from me. Before this happened, I didn't feel ready to have a child. After this happened, I felt like a childless mother. Something was missing from my life and because of that, I didn't recognize myself or my marriage or my path in life anymore.
Below: My two youngest sisters and I at the women's march 2017 in Olympia, WA. I was 39 weeks pregnant.
That being said, I resolved to be steel, not think about it, and start grad school that Fall. The whole steely thing didn't work... I crumbled into tiny pieces forever when I read Phoebe Wahl's Gray Area zine. It's not the last time motherhood would break me apart. I've felt shattered by the physical and mental strain of becoming a parent, but each time, creativity flowed out of the cracks. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I felt (feel) like a phoenix rising out of the ashes each time I recover from being worn to the bone from giving, and giving, and giving until I feel like the giving tree that has turned into a stump. I say this when my daughter is still so young, and I have so many more years of the joy and heartaches that come with mothering.
My husband and I decided to try to have a child, and she was born February 2017. She is the light of our lives, obviously.
Below: Photo by Shelby Payne of Shelby Payne Photography.
I continued grad school, for two years, even though I had my doubts about it. Have you ever heard of impostor syndrome? It's when you feel like a fraud in your industry even when you're really good at what you do. Yeah, I had some major achievements during my undergrad and even during grad school. I never felt like I belonged, though, and to combat that I held my nose so close to the grind stone that I'm surprised it didn't fall off.
FAST FORWARD to Spring/Summer 2017. I had my newborn daughter, was writing my master's thesis, and postpartum depression reared its ugly head in full force. I was living my life with perpetual thunder clouds overhead. It wasn't good. I reached out for help, thank god for the wonderful resources in Washington State. But, what really mattered, was that I didn't feel like myself anymore. I was applying for dozens and dozens (not even an exaggeration) of jobs in my field and not getting responses, and with so many of my peers in the same boat, I realized that the environmental field in the Pacific Northwest is over saturated with lovely qualified applicants. When graduation rolled around all of my sparkle and eagerness had worn away. I was a shell. I'm still looking for a part-time position as an environmental educator, but it's not my primary focus anymore.
Below: Here's me in my former position as Park Steward of Rock Hill Park in Bellingham, WA, another job I wouldn't mind doing again in addition to quilting + embroidery. Why?? Because I was HAPPY being the caretaker of a small patch of land. Teaching others in the community how to love the earth gave me true moments of joy.
With a new baby and an uncertain career future, my family pushed me to listen to my own advice: DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. So I picked up embroidery again, after a many months hiatus. Then, I picked up sewing again. Then quilting, and I couldn't stop. My heart soars when I'm working with fibers and textiles. I feel my best, and have the most to offer, when I am manipulating thread and fabric into art, either for the sake of it (such as a wall hanging) or for utilitarian purpose (my bed quilts or zipper pouches).
I love graphic design. I love designing quilts. I love writing quilt patterns-- yes, even the math part. I love going to industry events and trade shows. I love reading other maker's blogs. I love embroidery. I love quilting. I love pushing myself in the studio to create new products. I even love the marketing part.
This business started by doing more of what made me happy, little by little, and now I do this for a living. I started renting out a studio space in September 2017, and I have worked there 6 days a week since. I've had a solo artist showcase at a bar + restaurant in Seattle November + December 2017, I released my first quilt pattern in December 2017, launched this website in January 2018, I have a year long artist residency at a gallery in Olympia, my zipper pouch collection has an exclusive stockist in Centralia, my work will be featured in two different upcoming magazines (sorry, it's still a secret project!), and I have an upcoming two month solo show in late Summer 2018. I'm so excited to continue to put myself out there. This all started from that small push to invest time in myself, again, DOING MORE OF WHAT MADE ME HAPPY. I have no doubt that with hard work (and market research and dedication and all that other business stuff) you can make a change in your life so it feels more like YOUR life.
I am totally convinced this is the job for me, and I wouldn't have found my path if I didn't get lost first. I wanted to stay home with my daughter, who I had worked so hard to bring into the world. I wanted to cherish every second with her, and anyways, my plan to be a full-time ecologist wasn't working out. I take my daughter everywhere with me, and take her to work with me everyday because I would not have given myself this opportunity without her influence in my life, through the growing pains of being a new mother, and all the pure joy she has brought me. When I had to change directions, starting from what I knew I was good at (and enjoyed doing) was the perfect starting point. If you are in a similar situation, just try it.
Being a mother is so intertwined with my identity, now, that I look back and think NO WONDER I was lost without Sadie. I feel like I am just now becoming who I was supposed to be. And I know that not everyone feels that way about motherhood, that's chill. I'm not trying to assert any outdated gender roles or anything like that. It just works for me, and thanks to feminism, being a stay-at-home mom with a small business was a choice, 100%, and how cool is that?!
If you're a mother or a woman who is stuck in a rut, in a career that your heart isn't in, make the leap. Start as a side hustle, if that makes you more comfortable. Listen to the Creative Women's League, Goal Digger, and Being Boss podcasts for inspiration. Look on instagram for a wonderful community of women who are making a living from making. There are so many other stories of women whose path shifted after they became parents.
I'm not saying that pushing your hobby into a business will cure depression or give you an income. It didn't for me-- I still struggle. However, taking the time to develop your skills and making an investment in YOURSELF and what you can offer the world through your skills will help. And yes, it's hard. I'm still figuring out this whole business thing. There has been A LOT of rejections and missteps. I'm learning every day. It's not all peaches and roses. Nothing in life worth having is easy, right? And I'm sure five years from now, a year even, I will look back at this blog post with some serious eye rolls. Whatever, live and learn. Bear with me--subscribe to the email list at the bottom of the home page.
Does any of this resonate with you? I would love to hear your stories and chat about your journeys. Drop me a line in the comments below, on instagram @thewildsweetpea, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources for Miscarriage Support and Postpartum Depression help below. These issues are 100% not your fault and you can definitely reach out with no shame. There is a huge community of women that have been through it, just waiting to help.