Welcome to Week 19 of Motherhood by Design – the series where mothers who also run creative businesses share their inspirations and their experiences juggling the demands of raising children while growing a creative career.
"I used to ponder things a lot: fabric choices, block placement, whether a quilting design was working. That self-doubt slowed me down and eventually I decided to do without it. Now I just get on with it, and I love it."
Christina Cameli is one busy mama! In addition to teaching quilting through her blog and her classes on Craftsy, she's the author of two books on free motion quilting and she works part time as a midwife. Phew! I've taken one of her classes and her calm, encouraging manner is motivating and reassuring at the same time - she instills confidence in even new quilters. Today she shares how the various pieces of her life fit together to support her creative goals.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Christina - can you please describe your family?
My family consists of my husband and I, our 6-year old daughter and our 2-year old son.
What is your business?
My creative business is quilting: I teach quilting classes and write books, patterns and articles. That’s in addition to my part-time work as a certified nurse-midwife (CNM).
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I read all the time. I always had a book with me. I also spent a lot of time drawing and sewing little purses and pillows and looking through a telescope in the evenings.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Yes and no. Crafting and art were as important as academics and physical activity and family and community life, but they didn’t seem more or less important. I was raised by really well rounded people and they made space for everything.
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?
I did imagine being a mother when I was a child. I didn’t have any preconceptions about how many children or anything, just a feeling that I would be a mother. I always expected to parent.
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 latter, when did you pick it back up?
I was not able to quilt much after my daughter was born. I was working four days a week and time just slipped by so quickly! And when I did get the time or have the energy to quilt I sometimes just sat and rearranged my fabric and then felt frustrated with myself for wasting that time. It was stressful for me to become disconnected from that creative nourishment that I enjoyed so much. It got a little easier to find or make the time once she was about 2, and by then I was also getting better at doing more with the same amount of time.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
I was a mother first, and the creative business has grown with my little ones. The deadline for my first book was just a month before my son was due, sometimes I joke that I was growing two babies then.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
When I was a child I thought I would be an astronaut. I don’t remember ever envisioning an artist’s life when I was a child. Eventually my interests took me to the theater and then to healthcare. My creative business started when I had an idea for a book that I thought should exist, and so I wrote it.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
Like so much of motherhood I feel my way through. My family is important. My creative work is important. My career as a midwife is important. I nurture them all in different proportions as their needs fluctuate. Occasionally a big deadline means I am spending less time with the kids. But I know when enough is enough and I can set down the quilting. I don’t get worked up over quilting. My work in healthcare reminds me that there are true tragedies in the world and none of them are quilting tragedies. That gives me a great perspective on my quilting. With quilting I do my best, I do what I can, and that will just have to do. So when my family has a need and it’s going to mean something stops or changes with my project I feel secure about making that call. And I’d say I have that security in not letting my business take over our lives because it’s not my main source of income so I feel like I can work on it at the pace that suits us. I don’t know that I have the perspective on how that’s changed over time because I’ve only been doing this for a few years so far.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
Motherhood has turned me into an excellent planner. I think ahead more so I don’t get stuck when I’m doing my work. I also do as much as I can before my work time: planning, deciding on my fabrics, sometimes even ironing my fabrics or winding bobbins, so I can just attack it when it’s time to start. Having limited time used to feel discouraging but now it feels like a challenge. I can get a lot done in three hours if I’m ready for it. Also, I don’t fuss about little stuff. I used to ponder things a lot: fabric choices, block placement, whether a quilting design was working. That self-doubt slowed me down and eventually I decided to do without it. Now I just get on with it, and I love it. That’s a gift that my daughter really gave me by making creative time that much more precious.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
I think it nudges me toward planning-heavy projects like the books and the Craftsy classes because I can work on those quietly in the evening.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
My 2 year old needs near-constant attention of course, so anytime I’m working when he’s awake I’m paying for childcare. So I guess the biggest impact that has on my business is I’m limited in the hours I can work because I don’t work well at night and I can’t afford that much childcare, usually just about 6 hours a week. So I work slower than I might work in a few years when he is in school and time isn’t literally money anymore.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
The main effect on my children is from the way the quilting and my quilting business affect me. The quilting gives me the kinesthetic and visual pleasure of working with textures and colors. It also provides a forum for experimentation, curiosity and personal evolution that aren’t primary features of my work in healthcare. The quilting is an important part of why I feel satisfied with the life I’m living and that satisfaction makes for a grounded and energetic mama. I also think the quilting allows me to connect with my children as the individual artists that they are. When my daughter feels upset because something she is working on got ruined by a mistake, I can respond to her with deep sympathy, because of course I’ve felt the same thing. Likewise, feeling the thrill of having my own business makes me invested in making sure the kids have the opportunity to try things that they want to try.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I hope they learn that success comes from showing up and doing the work. I hope they learn that they can make their ideas become reality. I hope they learn that they can have a profession that is in line with their values. I also hope they learn they can build a life that suits them. I'm a quilter and a midwife.That is the perfect mix for me. Hopefully they will know they can create a lifestyle that feels right to them, even if their lives don't look like anyone else's.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Sister, I know how it feels. And it definitely will not always feel like this. The best thing I can tell you is to use your mom superpowers to make your creative time something you prepare for as much as you would for a family outing. You know how you wouldn’t take your family to the zoo all tired and hungry? And you’d make sure to put your water bottle and baby wipes or sunscreen or whatever in your bag before you went? Your creative time is just as important. If your life is like mine was a couple of years ago I know you don’t get as much time to work on your creative stuff as you want. So be ready when that precious time does come around. Try to get your time in the part of the day that you work best. Think ahead about what you’re going to work on, and make sure you have all the supplies you need. Can you get them as ready as possible beforehand? And just before your creative time can you eat something so you can work for a while in a good mood? Hang in there mama, you will find your way through and you will be spectacular.
Thank you so much, Christina, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Christina in the following places: