Find Your "Why" and the Rest Will Follow
Updated: Jul 22, 2019
last edit: 07/21/19
The most frequent question that people ask me about my work is some variation of "why". Why quilting? Why embroidery? Why do you do this full time? Why is this your medium?
As Kate Toney, the host of the Creative Women's League Podcast, said: once you find your why, the rest will fall into place. Or something like that. So, for all of you that have asked WHY I am a maker and why I've chosen to make this my career, here's a long answer for you. Or rather, a defense, maybe a partial answer. I will write more on this topic another time. I originally wrote this piece eight months ago as a contribution to a cool new zine that was going to be self-published by a super rad embroidery artist. It was supposed to be called Women's Work and be a tribute to all of us women that are busting our asses doing fiber + textile arts for a living and not being taken seriously. Anywho, the zine fizzled out, but I still want to share my story. So here you go.
Like all true whys, it's deeply personal and rooted in experience. Whatever, deal with it. Not every story is peachy.
During my first year of grad school, I started a side hustle. I was pursuing a master’s degree, and I needed an outlet, and a way to make ends meet. Since I grew up with fiber arts, I started embroidering more often, and sold pieces on Etsy and in local markets. I took it seriously, and I considered leaving grad school to pursue fiber and textile arts. My colleagues would exclaim how beautiful embroidery is, but how old-fashioned and anti-feminist and quaint the “hobby” was. No matter how many times I would try to justify my creative business, the rebuttal would be that I needed to take my studies more seriously, because pursuing a government job is inarguably more important than working as an artist. (Cue eyeroll) For awhile, I internalized that sentiment.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter, in the second year of grad school, that I realized how truly detrimental the philosophy that one career track is more worthwhile than another can be. I realized that while I had always been an honor student, on track to earn a PhD before 30, academia wasn’t for me. Or maybe just not right now. There was a transition. Once I had my daughter, I realized that academia, in my experience at least, is an unapologetically competitive culture where having a child cancelled out my intelligence and ability to contribute new knowledge… you know, publish or perish-- which is, of course, an idea that is entirely bullshit and devoid of community and empathy. I needed to be taken seriously in my new role as mother. I needed to feel as if my life choices were valid. I needed my colleagues to be kind, respectful, and not act like I was a total freak because I chose to have a child. Of course, there were exceptions, but this was the overall vibe. I was pressured to go further into debt and continue pursuing a trajectory I wasn’t interested in anymore, and for what? Why be unhappy? Many of my colleagues in the grad program are unemployed, in temp jobs or internships, or also working in a job that isn’t in their field of education.
So I became the cliche of a mother that quits her career to be a stay at home mom that quilts and embroiders and stuff like that. And… so what? Why is this a negative cliche? The way I look at it, I was unhappy with my career trajectory, I really needed a career that had a community vibe, and I found that in the fiber arts world. I started taking myself seriously, and the rest followed. Within a few months of deciding to commit myself full-time to being an artist (setting a production schedule and deadlines, rather than just evening sewing in front of the TV with a beer), I got a business license, started renting a studio space to stitch in, built up my online presence, and the rest is history. I'm still working my tail off trying to do quilting + embroidery for a living.
I found a way to thrive. And more importantly, I found a way to stop giving a fuck about whether people take fiber arts seriously. I still wonder if I made the right choice to stray from academia. I still get passive aggressive remarks about letting motherhood “diminish my potential” whenever I run into a former classmate. This makes me bitter, and defensive. Many people think that quilting and embroidery is for white, elderly, privileged women in retirement. Sure, that’s understandable. But fiber arts are for everyone and anyone.
Fiber arts are part of women’s cultural legacy, passed down from generation to generation, and is rapidly growing to be more inclusive. We create beautiful work, for the dual purpose of decoration and utilitarian needs. It can be more than a hobby. For me, and countless others, it’s a profession. It’s a way to take in all of the darkness in the world and show the light instead. It’s a way to provide cultural commentary. I believe that each stitch and each fabric choice tells a story, and we owe it to our society to keep doing what we’re doing. Slowly, the tide is turning. Slowly, fiber arts are recovering from the patriarchal, misogynistic idea that women’s work is a less valuable and valid use of time than other professions.
2018 (above) 2019 (below)
below: one of my first craft markets after having my baby (2017)
Stop buying your scarves, wall decor, quilts and other fiber goods from the mall or Target. Invest in handmade, because behind every small fiber arts business, there’s a hard-working human being that has to justify their choices every day and pay rent and support a family and all that.
check out quilt patterns and quilted goods at ponderosacreative.etsy.com and follow along on instagram.com/ponderosacreative