Welcome to Part Three of this special four-part Motherhood by Design interview with Anna Maria Horner. You can find the previous posts here:
“…I think that if I’ve gotten good at anything, it’s not asking too much of myself or my children in given situations and attaching the right task to the right moment in our day.”
So you hadn’t thought to yourself, oh, I think I would like to do fabric at some point?
No, because actually, there was about a period of four to five years there where I stopped going into fabric stores because I stopped making garments and I was just doing giftware and stationary and paper product design work. So I stopped going into fabric stores and those were the exact years when fabrics were getting more modern! It was when Amy Butler started doing themes and things were changing over. So Donna Wilder started Free Spirit Fabric, and the whole thing was about to change. I don’t think she knew the whole thing was about to change, but she did start this company that really embraced it.
Donna Wilder was definitely a big part of the industry change.
She was a huge part of the change. She’s a pioneer in terms of how fabric companies thought of art and design on fabric. So I was just lucky that she came across me and then when she approached me at my booth in 2005 I was like, “Really? Donna Wilder?”
Because in my mind, quilt fabrics were dull before that. But then I went home and went to the website and I was like, “Oh, there’s some cute stuff. That’s interesting and I can see why she would actually like something colorful.” It made sense to me then.
So once I designed for the products that I cared about and felt great about, the ones that I didn’t feel great about kind of fell down on my totem pole as far as my priority. So I wasn’t out seeking any sort of freelance licensing job I could get, because I had this new filter on the work that I wanted to take.
I wanted it to be more meaningful and so I started dropping smaller contracts that I was less interested in. Now I only work with a fabric company, a ribbon company, and I have worked with the same publisher for three years for my patterns. We just sort of filtered it all down to just the crafting community because it’s such a wonderful one. I came through it by more of a general design freelance process, but it brought me back to where I had been.
So your fabric was taking off and you were honing in on what you liked and what you felt you excelled at. How did that designing process intersect with your motherhood? How did your motherhood affect your work processes by that point?
Well, I think that for the first time, I was creating a product really. That’s what I was doing. I was making fabric. So I was creating this raw material that other people would then go and do something with and very often, by and large, people are making things for their families. So I actually think that there is this beautiful situation. It’s such a family-focused industry that I think it contributed to my own focus as a mother and making for my own family. There was always the struggle when I got this new fabric and I wanted to make dresses for my girls so I can take photos.
And then sometimes I struggle because I just want to enjoy making a dress for my girls and I don’t want to take a photo of it for anybody. I’ve definitely experienced challenges with that balance between doing it for the love of doing it, because that’s how I had always been, and then I got to experience that extra layer of joy that I was also doing it for my work. But then sometimes it would just cross the line – I guess I would analyze my intention sometimes. I have to remember that when you start doing something for work, you also have to remember why you loved it ever to begin with.
When blogs were so widely read, there were some very interesting lines that got crossed here and there. I remember one circumstance where I had designed a dress together with Juliana when she was a teenager. It was after I started my sewing pattern line, and Juliana and I had designed a dress out of one of my new drawings and fabrics. I posted a picture of it on my blog and of course we enjoyed lots of nice comments and all that. Juliana enjoyed those comments and it was really fun to stop and make something with her and it was actually at this point where I thought oh, I’m so glad I took the time to do that for fun and it wasn’t because I was doing a pattern. I really enjoyed it!
Someone saw it and loved it and commented on how much they would love to have the pattern. I let her know that I wasn’t sure it would ever be a pattern, because it was something that I did with my daughter. I continued to get emails from this person, kind of relentlessly asking when I was going to publish the pattern.
So I said I don’t know when, but I at least told her the fabric I used because she wanted to have it set aside because she wanted to make it in that exact fabric and that exact pattern. I just tried to reply as graciously as I could for a while. This was just a personal project I did with my daughter, and so I kind of let it go.
She didn’t respond again and then when my first book came out, someone left a review on Amazon saying that these are just OK patterns, she saves her really good patterns for just her family and she won’t let anyone have them. So clearly I knew who this was.
I wasn’t going to take it. However weird it is or whatever the person’s motivations are, you never know what someone is going through and what they expect of you, but that’s the circumstance. So I really analyzed what kind of expectations I am creating of myself and other people.
It was so weird to me that it would actually be frowned upon to make something for my child, and it was such an isolated incident. But it did cause me to look at my more general process with my family, as a mother, and with my work, and how they separate and how they intersect.
That story wrapped itself up just fine - I wrote her a very direct email because I knew that it was her. She left it anonymously but I called her out on it because those expectations were inappropriate. It was a very pivotal point, realizing that I needed to kind of respect my work and do what I can for it, but also respect my motherhood. I realized that more separation there would encourage the right frame of mind for everybody either following my work or buying my patterns and fabrics.
I think that was a time that I just slowed down. I have expectations of myself and how much of my motherhood do I share and how frequently – maybe it would have been best if I had never posted it at all.
Maybe it would have been better, but I was proud of myself for taking the time to do something with my daughter because my schedule had gotten so busy. But maybe doing that only personally and never sharing a photograph of it or letting people know that I even did it in the first place would have been the better thing to do as a mother, and wouldn’t have invited that circumstance.
I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of people saw it and thought that was just a beautiful dress and a privilege to see that …that’s of course what I hoped for. That’s what I hoped for because I enjoyed the journaling for myself and my family as much as it becomes part of other people experience. I personally enjoyed the journal of doing it. I like looking back and remembering that we did that together.
And I’m not great at making photo album. I think you either started scrapbooking or you didn’t. When digital photography came out, scrapbooking changed because it’s all in our computers or on disks now. Or hopefully not lost on a hard drive like mine a couple of different times!
But I’m not saying that I did right or I did wrong or that I regret sharing a personal moment of making with my family. But it did cause some analysis. It was a very pivotal point. A weird one but a pivotal one in terms of looking at what I was doing and what is most important to me. I think that as far as my process and my work with motherhood, I think that if I’ve gotten good at anything, it’s not asking too much of myself or my children in given situations and attaching the right task to the right moment in our day.
I have experienced so much failure by thinking I could get certain tasks done and in certain environments. We all have, and it’s related to the kind of work that I do. There are so many different types of tasks. Some of them can be done with children underfoot. Others absolutely not. You’ve got to clear the house sometimes, right?
So I think if I’ve gotten good at anything, it’s assigning the right task to the right environment and being able to be nimble and switch to something else, and not feel like you’re never going to get back to it or not get angry that you stopped in the middle of something. You sort of have to have patience with yourself.
It’s not even anger that everyone around you is not letting you do what you need to do. There’s some of that, but you have to have patience with yourself and tell yourself it’s OK to stop this right now. Tell yourself I will get back to it. That will keep you from getting angry, because anger is what ends up happening when you’re not being patient with yourself or telling yourself it’s OK to stop.
At least with me it is - I could generate anger at kids who need some attention, but I also found that giving myself breaks and stopping to give them even 15 minutes of attention can give you a day’s worth of work afterwards. Each kid adds a little different dynamic to your work environment.
I think all my kids are so patient because they had a mom working in the house. They know that that’s part of how it happens here in our family. They know that I need that out of my day, as well as they need some things out of their day.
I often find that when I’m in the middle of working and somebody needs something or maybe comes home from doing something and if I can remind myself, OK, stop, connect, talk for five, ten minutes – if I take that break and then resume my work, I feel better about myself.
Yeah, because otherwise you can’t halfway do too many things at a time. Even though you’re in the middle of maybe writing a tedious email and someone comes in and you barely even make eye contact - even though you might feel like they’re OK with it and they leave the room and you can get back to your email, you still have this kind of nagging feeling that you failed them or that they’re still going to need something.
If you can slowly ascertain their needs through conversation, you’re both happier for it and then you have more focus to take back with you to whatever it was you were doing.
I know that your kids are your number one priority, as they are for nearly 100 percent of mothers. So to think OK, I’ve met these kids’ needs - it took me five minutes, or it took me 10 minutes, or maybe it took me an hour. But I can return to what I’m doing feeling that I’ve achieved my first priority. Now on to priority number two. But yes, it can be very frustrating at times.
It can be very frustrating at times. But I think sometimes too that I feel like they sense that frustration like they did something wrong and that – those are the times when I cringe, when they feel that they’ve done something wrong by just coming home.
I want to avoid a weird look on my face but I also know that I make some pretty angry-looking faces, but all I am is focused. I have to remind them with oh, I’m just working – sorry, I’m just in the middle of something. How was your day?
Links to the complete series of interviews with Anna Maria are below:
You can find Anna Maria Horner in the following places: