SPECIAL NOTE: Hi friends, it’s a weird time right now. We’re now without daycare, so the struggle to balance writing and a sudden new role as homeschool parent is upon us. I’m hoping to maintain the posting rate of once a week, but I suspect the artist moms I feature will be facing similar challenges. As we all weather this thing, you may see more of me, and some different kinds of posts. I hope you’ll be patient, I hope you’ll take good care, and I hope to see you well on the other side. In the meantime, if you are an artist mama and you’d like to spend some of your isolation time writing for the blog, please reach out, I’d love to have you. Lastly, I hope you’ll take some inspiration from this week’s artist, Kristen. Seems a fine time to take up knitting, don’t you think?
This week on the blog we have Kristen Ashbaugh, a knitwear designer living in Reno, NV. She has been working in the knitting industry for over 10 years with designs published in Interweave’s Knitscene magazine, and various books, including Knit Red, Stitch Mountain, and 50 Designs from America’s Yarn Shops. She is the owner of www.kristeninstitches.com where she sells her knitting patterns and the yarn to knit them. When she isn’t knitting, you can find her hiking or camping in the mountains with her family, or practicing yoga.
For people who don’t know your medium well, could you explain what your art/creative practice is like?
I design knitwear and write knitting patterns for hand knitters. Basically, I knit up a design, write the pattern and publish it. Most of my work is self-published with the occasional feature in a knitting publication. I sell my digital patterns online through a website called Ravelry (like Facebook for knitters) and through my website. I also sell yarn to knit my patterns. This is a new part of my business that I’ve just started in the last few months. I’m also in the process of starting a knitting podcast with a friend who is also a mom and knitwear designer. We are calling it A Beautifully Crafted Life. We are hoping to launch in April.
What are important motherhood contexts people should know about you?
My daughter who is five, has cerebral palsy. She has difficulty using her left hand and wears a leg brace for stability. Otherwise she does really well and is cognitively online with her peers. I also have a son who is almost a year old, so there is an almost five-year age gap between my two kids.
How has the practice of your creative life changed since motherhood?
It’s changed a ton! Before my daughter was born I was designing a lot, burning the candle at both ends. I also somehow found time to sew and do other types of crafting. Once she was born I was still trying to design at the same pace as before kids. Eventually I burned out. I ended up taking a three-year hiatus and picked it back up when I was pregnant with my son. Now, I’m working part time and designing part time which feels like a good balance. I’m even making time to sew again, which has been really good for me. It’s nice to have a creative outlet that is just for me and not for work.
What has been most challenging about sustaining a creative life in motherhood?
Mom guilt! When I’m in a creative space I feel like I should be spending more time with my kids and visa-versa. The down side to being self-employed and having an online presence is that you are somewhat always “on.” Or at least the pressure to be, that is. I haven’t yet found the perfect balance and that’s ok. I’m working on it. I know it will come.
What’s been the best surprise about having a creative life in motherhood?
For me, I felt like I had to keep them totally separate for the longest time. But I realized in the process that they go together so well. And it’s encouraging my kids to be creative, too. My daughter is already really into art—painting, drawing, etc. So, we are really encouraging her creative side and helping that blossom for her.
What are the particular issues that come up as an artist in your field with children?
Well, so far there aren’t too many issues, except when my son (the baby) decides to dive into my yarn stash and make massive tangles of it! But really, my kids are my muses. I’m working on a few kids and baby designs right now. It’s fun to knit for them and as a bonus they tend to be instant gratification projects—They knit up quickly.
What’s been the your most important source of inspiration for having a creative life as a mother?
Hmm, this is a good question. I guess for me it’s giving my kids a legacy of creativity. Throughout my life, my ability to throw myself into a creative outlet has been so important to me. I learned this from my mother who taught me to sew, knit, and crochet, among other things. I want my kids to have something like this. These activities are so calming for me. Even when knitting on a deadline, I find great solace in the rhythm of making stitches. If I’ve had a tough day, knitting brings me back to a place of peace at the end of my day. I want my kids to have some creative outlet that does the same for them.
Are there other artist mothers who inspire you?
Oh tons! The knitting and sewing space has no shortage of creative mamas. I would say in the knitting world I’ve always loved Romi Hill who designs amazing and gorgeous shawls among other things. Also, Gudrun Johnston who originally hails from Scotland and who has brought Scottish knitting traditions to the US. Both women are prolific in the knitwear designer community and happen to live in this area. I am lucky to call them friends. I also want to mention another awesome creative mama I have followed for many years and who constantly inspires me, Meg McElwee. She designs sewing patterns under her independent label Sew Liberated, but she also teaches women how to define their personal style and create a wardrobe they love through her Mindful Wardrobe Project e-Course. She’s a knitter as well. Knitting for her, is like what sewing is for me. A complement to our creative work-life. The hand knitting and sewing industries are predominantly made up of women, so there is absolutely no shortage of inspiring maker mamas.
You can follow Kristen and learn more about her designs here: