how do I do it all?

A while back, I did a podcast interview with Sit & Sew Radio (listen here!), and Stephanie and I talked about this topic a bit after we were recording, which inspired the first draft of this post. And then, it sat in draft mode for a while because I’ve gone back and forth on finding the right words for the tone I want to convey. But just a few Instagram comments from (Dash Masland of @prowhousequilts and Shannon of @shannonfraserdesigns) sparked me to revisit this and get it out the door. So, here goes…


Besides “how do you sew such skinny strips with accuracy?!”, one of the biggest responses from my QuiltCon 2018 Best in Show award has been some variation of “how do you fit it all in?”. Things like:

  • I couldn’t possibly get *that* done, how do you do it?
  • Don’t tell me you work too?!
  • How are you doing it all as a working mom of three kids?
  • You are a machine!

I’m not usually sure how to respond here. I don’t know if this is being asked by someone interested in my parenting logistics, my quilting techniques, or coming from a place of productivity envy (Dash comments on this). The motivational, supportive parent in me says, “You can do it too!!!”, but the stress of self-imposed goals is not something I would wish upon other people if that is not an environment that they would thrive in.

Regardless, here’s an attempt to this feedback:

Part One: Non-Answers

  • I don’t do it all.

    Social media gives a curated glimpse of my life, and I don’t do it all. I take naps, and my husband calls it “pulling a Steph”. I dislike cleaning, so we hire a house cleaner every couple of weeks, and I feel guilty about it. I wish I cooked more, but my husband happily is the master of the kitchen at our house. I have mom guilt when my creative ambitions take away from time with my kids. The list of #momfail moments is not short, and I remind myself that I’m doing my best pretty regularly.

  • Does it Matter?

    I don’t think I have the right words to answer this, except no, it shouldn’t matter. One of sewing friends said something to me like, “I’m not like you. I just quilt for fun.” While I appreciate her bluntness, what stands out to me here is that our motivations are different. As long as I’m making small steps to accomplish my own motivations, I’m generally sustaining my creativity. I wish the same for other people: understand your motivations, and feel happy making progress, whether or they translate to finished projects.

Part Two: Support System

As I’ve been able to refine my creative motivations over time, I’ve become unapologetic (but appreciative!) in asking for the type of support for me to reach those goals. I’m lucky/privileged that my support system includes:

  • A co-parenting partner.

    My husband is very involved as a parent in addition to being professionally successful. As our kids needs change over time, we’re calibrating our schedule, figuring out how to best manage both of our professional and personal goals with a demanding parenting load.

  • Flexible employers.

    I have now had two employers that have supported my part-time status. When my oldest daughter was born, I shifted from full-time to half-time, and I was lucky to have a decent foundation to adapt to part-time work. While working half-time is not without professional challenges, for the most part, I’ve been successful.

  • Flexible childcare.

    Our daycare has been really flexible on our evolving schedule. We started at strictly half-time and gradually extended that to work with everyone’s schedules.

  • Open sew / selfish sewing support.

    If you’re already following me, you may have already read that I attend a monthly open sew group at my lovely modern local quilt shop. I show up, sew what I want, get support when I need it, and am generally happy working this way. Our little group has sewists with a wide range of aesthetic, and we accept that and are happy for each other when we reach our own waypoints.

Part Two: Engineering Discipline or Efficiency and Organization

Years of working as a professional software engineer remotely have allowed me to cultivate my skillset on the engineering side of quilting/making. For me, this translates to:

  • being organized
  • deliberately practicing to improve specific techniques
  • being goal driven
  • improving my sewing efficiency, even if it goes against standard practice in piecing and quilting.

This particular left-brained approach won’t apply to everyone, but there are plenty of people in the quilting space who have an engineering or technical background who successfully blend art/design and technique with skills from those disciplines. I think it’s important to find your preferred level of structure and discipline to continue to be motivated and happy when you are creating. You might have gathered that improv is not really my style 😉


In summary, I can only offer the advice to “be unapologetically comfortable in your own shoes, but have the grace to realize those shoes are uniquely your own”. Your personal experience and circumstances shape your own interests and motivations. Self-awareness in your motivations combined with your preferred level of structure and support is much more important than anything I can tell you about what is working or isn’t working for me at the moment. If you are looking for more reading on this topic, head on over to Shannon Fraser’s post on creative sustainability.

[Be] Happy Making!!

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Heather Kinion
    June 5, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Do not be guilty about hiring out the house cleaning!!!!! It is the greatest/best thing in our life. We love our housekeeper so much (she’s been with my husband 15 years and me at least 10)! I’ve gifted her a quilt and will most likely gift her another. She’s like a fifth grandparent to our daughter. Our house would not look as nice as it does without her and the stress in our marriage about chores would be so so so bad! And I’m a mom to one kid who just started working part time (not even half time) in March! I was stay at home mom’ing it and had a housekeeper. We also have a frozen meal subscription because I cannot cook regularly for three adults and a toddler while watching said toddler and not have a nervous breakdown. Meal planning and cooking stresses me out. It makes me a wreck and I could barely keep on top of it working half time with no children. Barely! It is a very very difficult chore for me and getting a frozen meal subscription from a local cafe changed our life! And contributed to so much more happiness and marital harmony. I feel very fortunate that my husband and I are able to buy our way out of the low grade marital tension meals and housekeeping would make in our family and I’m so not sorry about it. It’s the best money we spend. Now, I respect that other people may live cooking and be great at it, so I could see that money not being worth it for others with that skill set, but I think everyone could appreciate the magic of someone else deep cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms every two weeks! It’s not like I don’t still clean up and vacuum frequently. I just don’t worry about the toilet being gross or the stove being scrubbed and it is the best thing ever!!!

    • Reply
      stephskardal
      June 6, 2018 at 3:30 pm

      Meal planning is stressful for me too, but mostly because I don’t really enjoy cooking. So it’s good my husband does enjoy that! And yes, scrubbing toilets is a great thing to have someone else do 🙂 I hope your part-time work adjustment is going well!!

  • Reply
    Sarah
    June 6, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    I really enjoyed this post! Quilting is my primary creative outlet, and I also have a full-time job and a husband and 2 small kids and have regularly heard variations on the “how do you do it all?” question.

    My funny answer is that I don’t watch TV and don’t get enough sleep — both of which are not actually jokes, but 99% truth. But my serious answers are much like yours. I don’t do it all. I have house cleaners and childcare and high job security + good work schedule flexibility.

    Despite all this, I am often stressed out by trying to do too much, or live up to internal expectations that are certainly too high at times. I constantly battle FOMO, and have to remind myself that social media is (like you said) only a carefully chosen snapshot.

    Nobody can do it all! But we can do some things, and hopefully have the freedom to pick and choose what those are.

    • Reply
      stephskardal
      June 6, 2018 at 3:33 pm

      Sarah – Yes, I don’t watch much TV at all either. At most, I watch ~1 hour of TV, but often times I’m doing some sewing thing while TV is in the background. Hulu & Netflix make that great!

      I get stressed too, it sounds like we are similar in our self-imposed goals and stress from those goals. I have to constantly look at my “free time” and “parent duty” TODO lists and decide what are priorities, what have deadlines, and what might just need to be pushed back. We do our best!

  • Reply
    Amira Ameruddin
    June 7, 2018 at 1:16 am

    I love this post! Thanks for sharing it . I resonates with most of them. I am thinking of hiring a cleaner soon too. I am looking around me and like, I think I need help there. I just dislike doing things that needs to be done again and again with no finish line – laundry and dishes that is. Quilts and blogging to me are so much more satisfying!

  • Reply
    Caroline
    June 7, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Oh! This is all so spot-on. I admit to thinking all those things in regard to your (and others’) productivity. For some reason, I pretend to wonder why I’m not as productive, whereas I know deep down that I just lack the motivation, self-discipline and efficiency that others have carefully cultivated through hard work. Oh, and we have a cleaner who comes once a fortnight, and I would recommend that to anyone who can afford it. I’m not kidding when I say it’s an investment in our sanity and well-being!

  • Reply
    Lisa C in Dallas
    June 7, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    I don’t “know” you and in fact found your blog through a link on A Quilter’s Table page. I work full-time and get some of these comments about “doing it all” and “being a machine” and I very much want to look at them and say, “I have the same number of hours in a day that you do – I just spend them differently.” But…… Great post!

  • Reply
    Debbie
    June 8, 2018 at 3:14 am

    I really appreciated your post because I get asked the same. I happen to work outside the home (kids grown and gone), so folks assume I have little free time. Well, add in a retired husband who happens to be a proficient house husband, and we both are able to eek out time to also do things we’re passionate about. That said, I loved your ‘conclusion’: be you and let others be them. We owe that to ourselves and each other.

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