Welcome to Week 15 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.
"My husband and I want for our children to have a happy home life, and part of that is being respectful and giving part of you to the people you live with."
Vanessa Christenson is a busy mother of four, a fabric designer for Moda, a pattern designer, and author of Make It Sew Modern and the brilliant series of books called Simply Color. What's unique about the series is that she's designed corresponding fabric lines called Simply Colorful to go with the projects - how genius is that?!? She has a gift for instilling her readers with confidence and her energy and passion for fabric and design is infectious!
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Vanessa - can you please describe your family?
I have been married for 17 years and my husband and I have 3 sons ages 15, 13, and 11, and we have one daughter age 8.
What is your business?
Creating fabric designs for Moda Fabrics and creating quilt and bag patterns for my company V and Co.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I loved making pillows, duvet covers, and table cloths for my Barbie doll house, I spent more time decorating and rearranging the doll house than actually playing with the dolls themselves. I also used to rearrange my room, my mother thought I was odd.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Actually no, my mother didn’t sew, or craft really. But I will mention that I wanted to play soccer and ice hockey as a child and my mother put me in art classes instead. I fell in love with painting and drawing, but I still love sports.
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 am an only child, and I always wanted siblings, so I remember from early on in my childhood thinking “when I have kids I want a lot of them, at least 4 or 6 or something.”
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 used to do embroidery while my children napped, or we were at a play port or at the park, crafting and decorating have always been a part of the my for fun outlet especially when I started to have children. It’s my happy place!
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
I came upon my business by accident really. I would make things (like embroidery on pillows or decorate with something I had made) and would then have friends and people ask me to make a pattern or to make them one just like it. Before I became V and Co. quilt designer I was making embroidery patterns for local quilt stores. The quilt business and the fabric business came after I started the V and Co. blog so my husband could see what we were doing at home while he served a year deployment overseas. I would talk about what I was doing to fix up the house and about parenting as a single mother while he was gone, as the months passed by I was asked to help out in the Moda Bake Shop as a guest designer, that was how I was introduced to my working relationship with Moda Fabrics.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
While my husband was gone and the kids were really little, I used to sew whenever and mainly when the kids were playing or asleep at night. I mean I wasn’t sleeping anyways without my husband so might as well get something done. As the kids have grown up, and the husband is no longer going overseas for long periods of time, I have had to be more structured with my creative time as it went from a fun hobby to being a full blown business. I am a Mother first, and a business owner second. And I feel that now that my children are older, they need me more to be physically and emotionally there for them when they come home from school and need to unload their worries or accomplishments. I love having this relationship with them as they get older, they are slowly becoming adults and I feel like I need to be there at the cross roads of when they come home or leave to go to school, not always will they need me, but if they do I want to be there. Now that all my children are at school, I only work when they are gone, or at night (when I have to because I’m not getting any younger and I need more sleep these days!) when a deadline is looming. Of course I craft with my kids when we do it for fun but I keep my business at certain scheduled hours of operation ;)
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I think I may have answered this question in my last answer!
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
I want to create things that my children love and would want in their rooms, a lot of the times I think of my teenage boys, and what they would like in their room! There’s a ton of cute little girl things…but those poor teenage boys get overlooked a lot!
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
They make what I do and how I go about doing it important. I want them to see that I work hard at my business but never want them to feel like my business is more important than being their mom.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
They see me working hard but also see me having to make big decisions having to say no to a few things if I think its going to be too much for me. For both my husband and I in his job as well as in mine, that’s the biggest and most important commitment we have, we never want to make any decisions or put all our energy in advancement in our career especially if it means jeopardizing our relationship. We make time for each other, and our children. We make sure we have family dinners together, we make sure we have family council together, we make sure we have time together as a family to be fun together, and sometimes that means saying no to career opportunities.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
My husband and I want for our children to have a happy home life, and part of that is being respectful and giving part of you to the people you live with. When the kids are gone and out of the house and it’s just me and the husband we want to have had that good relationship already there and that means being there for each other in parenting, and as a couple. I also think my boys see how my husband and I council with each other on our business adventures and it’s giving them a good example on how to be supportive to their future spouses in their parenting and business adventures. My daughter also wants to follow in my footsteps and would love to be a fabric and pattern designer.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Oh wow…well, it doesn’t get easier, it’ll just be different demands that will drain you as they get older... that isn’t going to be very motivating but that’s how I feel! … I will say this: Find a good couple of friends who you can make something with every so often…but in the every day demands…Find gratitude in even the smallest of accomplishments, and know you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I think we as women see other women doing it all because of the pictures we see all around us in social media or when we go over to someone’s house after they spent all day cleaning, but in actuality we all have trials, we all suffer from anxiety of not being good enough (as a mother or in the creative realm!), we all have awesome, pat-ourselves- on-the-back-but-no-one-is-around-to-see-it moments, we all have the sense of I need to do more…but if we stop and appreciate the right now, and look and see at the things that we have done an okay job at, even the mundane things, we might not be as drained, and perhaps we can laugh more at the mistakes or the crazy we have going on around us we call motherhood. There’s a saying I love to say in my head often “no sense in crying over this, this is going to be funny someday, when I tell it to my grandkids.”
Thank you so much, Vanessa, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Vanessa in the following places: