Welcome to Week 34 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 hope that they both learn the value of handmade items – both emotionally as well as financially."
Elizabeth Dackson of "Don't Call Me Betsy" is a creative mom who wears multiple hats. As the Events Manager for the Modern Quilt Guild, she oversees the international quilt conference QuiltCon, among other guild events. She also teaches classes on Craftsy, designs her own quilt patterns, and has authored two books. Her work has been featured in many magazines and on many websites, and in her free time (?!?!?) she's undertaken a project called "39 Blocks Before Baby," a quilt-in-progress for her second baby, due in January.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Elizabeth – can you please describe your family?
My family consists of my son, who is seven and a half, my college sweetheart husband, our two crazy dogs Maximus and Sam, and we have a daughter on the way, due in early January.
What is your business?
I am a pattern designer, and I write patterns for my pattern shop, for magazines, and for books as well. In fact, my second book will be coming out in the spring, and it will be called The Quilter’s Paper Piecing Workbook.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I loved building with Lego as a kid, and I loved playing with Barbies, and I played with them quite similarly. I liked to make up stories and act them out, whether it was with the Barbies or with the few Lego minifigures I had.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Not particularly, although I do have some crafting memories. I loved those little potholders you could make a loom with loops, much like the bracelets I see kids making these days, and I did a bit of cross-stitch as a kid, though I didn’t much patience for it. I think I only finished a few small projects. My mother knitted, and still does to this day, but she knits left-handed. As a right-hander, I could never understand how she made her hands move to manipulate the needles the way she did, so I never learned to knit.
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 and no. I had friends who swore they’d never have kids, either due to circumstances in their own childhood or evil siblings that they couldn’t stand, and I never could relate to that. I always wanted kids, and looked forward to that time in my life. At the same time, as a young adult with a career, it was hard to figure out how to make motherhood a part of my life. I’m a planner, always have been, and finding the “right” time to begin a family was a big struggle for me.
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 actually sought out a creative outlet in my early years of motherhood – just before my son’s second birthday. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for nearly two years, and though I loved it, I felt like I needed a hobby of some kind. Something that could give me a sense of accomplishment of some kind outside of my accomplishments as a mother.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
After – my son was almost three when I began my creative business.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
I definitely never saw myself having the life I have now, between working full-time from home for the Modern Quilt Guild, running my creative business, and so forth. I feel extremely lucky and thankful to be where I am today, but I definitely never foresaw it as a child or even as a young adult. I was very career-focused, both as a child and as a young adult. I spent eight years working in the hospital industry before my son was born, and imagined I’d go right back to it after he was born, but I’m thankful that’s not how things turned out because I wouldn’t have the creative outlets I have today if I’d done so. I started my creative business entirely on a whim.
I’d been blogging since my son was born, first about cooking and baking, and then when I started quilting, I started a blog about that, and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t until I designed my first quilt pattern that I saw the potential for having a creative business. My first pattern, Fabricland, is still one of my favorites, in part because it was the first, and also because it’s based on a doodle my dad used to do, a maze-like design that he would scribble out as he talked on the phone in his home office. I figured that with pattern writing, I could combine my love for writing, which I’ve had since I was a child, with my newfound love of quilting, and it’s been a great way to bring those two passions together.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
When my son was smaller, before I went back to work full-time, I did my creative work while he napped. Oh, naptime, how I miss you! When he gave up the napping, we instituted “quiet time”, which was about forty-five minutes where he would be in his room, with his books, spending some quiet time, some down time, and I used that time as well as some time after he’d go to bed at night. As he’s gotten older and has begun to have his own hobbies and plans and things, I do a lot of creative work when he’s otherwise occupied, although I do definitely do some of my creative work while he’s around. He likes to pitch in and help with fabric choices or come up with designs in ElectricQuilt, and I like involving him in my creativity. He’s made one quilt to date so far, and is considering making his second to enter in the QuiltCon Quilt Show this year or next.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
It definitely impacts my work time – there’s never a day that goes by where I’m working on a project and my son doesn’t come in to chat or ask a question or what-have-you, but for the most part, I enjoy those little breaks. He often asks questions about what I’m making and he really seems to enjoy the idea that his mommy makes things.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
I’m not sure that I would say that motherhood has affected what I create specifically – I don’t design just kids’ quilts, for example, in fact, I tend to steer clear of that kind of thing.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
I think that the biggest impact my son has had on me is more over-arching than just in business – he has made me a more patient person. I was, and can still be, notoriously impatient, but I feel like he has made me stop and slow down, in a good way.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
I used to worry that my son would think lesser of me, when I wasn’t working and was just staying at home with him. That somehow he would hold my husband in a higher regard for “supporting” the family, financially speaking. Being the former breadwinner of the family, I think that’s where that mindset came from, trying to come to terms with no longer playing that role. Over time, I think that in finding quilting as my preferred creative outlet, I think that I’ve been able to show my son how valuable it is to find something that you love to do. We talk about that kind of thing regularly, especially now that he’s so interested in thinking about what he wants to be when he grows up. As a family, we talk about the importance of loving what you do every day, and I think that’s the biggest impact my creative business has had on him, in showing him how rewarding that can be.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I hope that my son, and my daughter when she arrives, will learn that importance of working hard, setting goals, and having a creative outlet. I hope that they both learn that finding a career that you love to have may take time but that it’s worth the time and experimentation that it may take to find the right one. I also hope that they both learn the value of handmade items – both emotionally as well as financially.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Take advantage of whatever time you get to have some me time, whether it’s while your child is napping, before your child awakes for the day if you’re a morning person or after your child goes to sleep if you’re a night person. I know as mothers, there’s always something around the house that needs doing, but give yourself permission to let the dishes or the laundry or what-have-you wait for once. Fill your cup, creatively speaking, and you’ll be amazed at what that can do to both your own sanity and your mood.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Elizabeth in the following places: