Today marks the first post in a new series I’m really excited to bring you. It’s called “Motherhood by Design: 52 Creative Mothers Talk About the Intersection of Motherhood and Creativity” and each week over the next year I’ll be posting an interview with someone new. All of the women featured have found their own unique ways to combine their role as mother with running a creative business. They’ve got tons of information and inspiration for you! So without further ado…
"I appreciate time in an entirely different way and hardly ever waste it simply because time is my biggest luxury and is always in short supply."
I’m thrilled to kick off this series today with Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps. Abby’s talents lay wide and deep - she’s a textile artist, an author, a blogger and a podcaster. Not only does she design patterns and soft toys, she asks thought-provoking questions both on her blog and on her podcast that inform and educate her readers and listeners. She freely shares her wealth of knowledge and experience because, in her own words, “I believe it’s possible to build a creative business that sustains you.”
Welcome to Fuller by Design, Abby - can you please describe your family?
My family is me and my husband, Charlie, and our three daughters (Roxanne, age 10) (Stella, age 8) and (Josephine, age 4).
What is your business?
I'm a sewing pattern designer, craft book author, and blogger.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I loved to make things and to teach. I made a lot of origami models, did some polymer clay canework, created a zine with my friend, was a summer camp counselor for kids with special needs, and an avid reader of Sassy magazine.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Yes! My mom is very creative and always had lots of interesting art supplies around for us to experiment with. I tried all kinds of things and I also took art lessons after school twice a week throughout middle and high school. Making things has been a constant in my life from the very beginning for sure.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a mother? Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
Yes! I always wanted to be a mother. I always felt very lucky to have been born a girl so that I could have a baby. Being a mother and having several children was part of my plan for my life always.
In your early years of motherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the later, when did you pick it back up?
When I first became a mother I was working as a middle school social studies teacher. I went on maternity leave knowing that I wouldn't be coming back to work. I'd always really looked forward to being a stay-at-home mom, but when the time came it turned out that I loved my job and had really mixed feelings about trading it in for being home with a baby all day! After about 9 months I really was ready to add something else to my life and had a bit of an emotional crisis. I was nursing and really felt strongly that I couldn't go back to work in a traditional sense and leave this precious baby girl at home with someone else, but I also couldn't just stay home with her. That's when I read about blogs in the New York Times and wondered if there might be blogs for people who like to craft. Sure enough, there were, and soon after I started one of my own. That was May of 2005.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
My blog, While She Naps, was very much a hobby at first. I was making things and taking photos of them and posting them just for fun. It was fantastic to meet other women who were creative and also enjoyed sewing and crafting, many of whom were in the same position in life as I was (at home with a baby). Over many years my blog helped me to develop my skill and turn what I was making into a business. Throughout the years that I've had a creative business I've also always been balancing it with motherhood. For me, the two really came together at once.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
No, I didn’t see myself doing it! I was always taught that art wasn't a good career to pursue. Although it was a fun hobby, I needed a liberal arts education and to choose a career that was separate from making art or craft. I majored in history as an undergrad and taught middle school with Teach For America before getting my masters degree in education. Then I worked for an educational non-profit and finally returned to the classroom before becoming a mother and creative business person.
My business really grew organically. I started an Etsy shop in July of 2005 when Etsy was still in beta and began selling things there and at craft fairs and through galleries. All of those connections came through my blog. In 2009 I got a book deal and wrote my first book, The Artful Bird, and that was really the first inkling that what I was doing could really become a business at some point.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
I do creative things with my children, but not the creative things that I do for my work. Those are entirely separate. My blog is called While She Naps because I was working while my daughter was sleeping. Now she's 10 and I have two other daughters as well, but I still work while they are either asleep or at school.
Many people assume that because I design sewing patterns for dolls and toys I must make them with my children, or at the very least make them for my children, but that's not really true. I make them because I love making them and they are fascinating and satisfying work for me.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
Motherhood makes me hyper efficient. It's like having a deadline all the time! When I have 20 minutes free I can accomplish more than I used to accomplish in 3 hours before I had children! I appreciate time in an entirely different way and hardly ever waste it simply because time is my biggest luxury and is always in short supply. I'm so grateful for those constraints.
The summer before I became a mother I had the summer off and although I had grand plans to draw every day, I ended up just watching a lot of TV and doing very little. Now I look back at all that free time in awe!
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
I think I know better what kids really like in a toy, and how they actually play with stuffed animals and dolls. Although sometimes stuffed animals get a bad rap because kids end up with so many of them, I think kids really do play with them. A stuffed animal or doll is like a fill-in for a person. My kids feed their toy play food, have birthday parties for them, teach them things, and even have funerals for them! Watching how they play helps me to know how a new softie or doll pattern should be designed and what would be really fun to play with!
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
I guess I don't really think they've had an impact on my business. Right now, at least, I see my work as work, even though I don't commute to an office. I'm a mom and I'm a business owner and I'm not really sure the two intersect all that much in real time.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
My kids assume that we can make anything and fix anything. I truly have every craft supply imaginable so they know that we can come up with something clever and original for school projects or Halloween or just for fun on a weekend. I also know that they're proud of me and think it's really cool that I've written books. They think I have a neat job, and I do, too. I think it's nice for kids to see their parents go to work and get satisfaction from their jobs, and not just see it as drudgery. Both my husband and I feel that way about our work and that's truly wonderful.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I try very hard to stand up for what I believe to be true and to not be afraid to speak up. We talk about those instances around the dinner table. I also think it's really nice for my three daughters to see that a woman can start a business and grow it from the ground up, out of her living room, and be successful. I record a podcast, write a blog, author books, design patterns, license my work, and more right from home and that's pretty neat!
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
It's entirely okay to get help. For a long time I felt that I needed to do everything myself. It took years for me to learn that having other caring adults help me with my children is a great thing for me and for them. If you have a friend or neighbor who can take your kids out for an hour or two a week, or if you can enroll your child in some kind of nursery school or daycare, do it! Don't feel badly or guilty. You're a better mom when you've had a chance to go on a jog, get your hair cut, sew, or just talk on the phone with a friend uninterrupted.
Thank you so much, Abby, for sharing with us today! You can find Abby and her gorgeous work at the following places: