Steph Skardal QuiltsSteph Skardal Quilts

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!!