A Room of My Own: Why Creative Space Matters

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Sometimes it feels like my kids simply cannot keep their hands to themselves. They can’t help it, I know this. Powerful curiosity paired with a lack of impulse control means small children touch EVERYTHING. They want to feel the surface of a book. Tap the hard glass on a picture frame. Stroke the glossy leaves of a houseplant. Tap tap tap on the keys of the laptop.  Sift through the detritus in my nightstand drawer. You get the picture.

Much of this exploring is delightful to watch, and mostly harmless. But some of it grates on me, makes me feel violated in a way. Like each poke of a little finger into my brand new blush compact is a poke in my eye.

As a parent I try not to take my kids’ behavior too personally. I know and respect that they are their own people trying to make sense of the world just like the rest of us. Our children are given room to roam within the boundaries of our family rules, and it mostly goes okay.

Where I’m still struggling to find flexibility and ease is in claiming some personal physical space.


When we first moved into our house, my vision of each living space was so clear. We have a two-story home, and and the first floor has our living and dining rooms, kitchen, and a half-bath.

We also have a lovely extra room at the front of the house with double doors, a transom window above, and tons of natural light thanks to a large east-facing window. My daughter was a toddler when we moved in, and making this space a playroom was ideal. She could have a space to play and create and be messy. It was close to the main living areas, and having this space meant no toys in those living areas. I took great pleasure in designing the room. We shopped at Ikea and put together a desk and cubbies and hung picture wires to display her creations. It was perfect.

We have spent countless hours together over the years in this sweet room working with play dough, painting at the easel, building train tracks, stacking blocks, reading books. It was exactly what we needed for that phase of life.

Somewhere along the way, she started spending less time in the playroom and more time in her bedroom. She was getting older and wanted her own space. Then along came baby brother, and soon this room with its paint and markers and tiny lego pieces wasn’t as appealing a place to hang out. We slowly started moving things in and out of the room to make it work.

Soon we were spending less and less time in the playroom.

Meanwhile, I had started a podcast. I had started offering coaching to other creatives and was working from home more.  Our desk was tucked into a living space, and would naturally invite lots of curious little hands to its surfaces. A computer screen was damaged. Papers were crumpled. Nerves (mine) started to get frayed.

And then one day it dawned on me: What if we turned the playroom into an office?

It felt daring and exciting; the perfect solution. It also felt SELFISH as hell.

Who was I to take this sweet kid space away from the family in order to have space for me and my brain to think and create?  

And yet I couldn’t shake the dream.

At the beginning of the year I had made a vision board. It wasn’t until the piece was complete that I noticed a pattern. Desks. Modern chairs. Lots of invitations to write. My heart knew what I desired before my mind knew.  And once I realized that, I had to get my brain – and family – on board.

It was tough. There was resistance to this new arrangement from every side. My daughter cried. My wife bemoaned the loss of the kids’ artwork display.  I still felt guilty.

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In the end we compromised, and the room is now a shared creative space.

The original creative workspace has moved to one corner and holds our household art supplies. A rotating display of original creations hangs above. The toys are (mostly) gone, replaced by an adult desk and computer. A bookshelf relocated from another area of the house holds books, family photo albums, and a shelf of puzzles and quiet work for the kids. I hung my vision board and slowly added my treasures.

Creating this space was important both for my actual creative process but also in owning the importance of my work.  Having a physical space brings my ambitions out of my head and into the real world. Ultimately, this area represents the creative potential in all of us, from little hands to big hands.

Some of my favorite moments are when the kids and I are all in here quietly working. My daughter will be drawing or writing a story at her desk. I will be editing a podcast, writing a blog post, or daydreaming. My son will most likely be driving a car back and forth on the windowsill. There’s often a cat or dog asleep somewhere.

It’s these moments that I could choose to be annoyed that they’ve invaded “my space” or I could choose to be content with the arrangement. Full disclosure: there are days where I have to kick them out and close the door!  It’s okay. 

These years are short, and soon enough I will miss these busy little hands. In the meantime, I am so glad I staked my claim in one corner of a room to help my creative spirit. And, even though I thought I needed the room all to myself, it’s been a delight to do this work alongside my kids.

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The playroom before.

The Book Nook

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been inspired to cut out some of the toy clutter in our home, fine tuning some play areas for Peaceful Baby (Toddler!).  There’s the kitchen play area, a box of musical instruments, baby care, and a small table for coloring and puzzles.  The most magical transformation, however, has to be the new Book Nook.

For a while now, I’ve had a few pillows on the floor, with a basket of books nearby.  This is where I would put our weekly booty of library books in an attempt to keep them from getting mixed in with our book collection.  Several times a day PB would sit there and flip through books on her own, or pull one of us over and pat the pillows, asking for a story.

One day, as I was rearranging things aiming for a more efficient and pleasant arrangement of toys and furniture in our living room, I gave an underutilized corner some attention.  There was already a light tube and a large eye hook above, and plenty of floor space below.  Not really room for furniture, but perfect for a cozy reading and resting spot. One store-bought canopy and a junk-drawer carabiner later, we had this:

This has turned out to be a very special, almost magical corner, where once there was nothing.  PB gravitates toward it not just for reading, but for playing with her babies and other toys.  And I find myself offering to read PB even more than before, because it’s just such a peaceful, happy spot!

Someone else likes it, too.

Oh, cats…

Happy July, friends!  I hope everyone has a restful and yarn-filled weekend.  And if you’re in the US, have a safe and happy Independence Day, too!

Spring Pillow Makeover

I’ve only followed one or two sewing patterns before, instead leaning toward the experimental approach I like to call intuitive sewing.  This has yielded mixed results, as you may have guessed.  One night, a few weeks back, I excitedly hauled out my sewing machine, set it up at the kitchen table, and tried to make sense of a pillow cover pattern from this book.  Something wasn’t quite right with the measurements suggested in this pattern, and maybe my pillow form was a slightly different shape anyway, because the result was a lovely looking cover that didn’t look as great stuffed.  So although I had the fabric to make many more pillow covers (I would redecorate the living room and guest room with new pillows in a single evening, I thought), I got discouraged and put it all away.

Except I left the fabrics for the living room pillows draped over the back of the sofa, thinking that if they stayed in plain sight I would likely sew them up faster.  Instead, the fabric soon began to resemble that pile of random mail and papers that litters the corner of your desk or kitchen counter: after a little while you just don’t see it anymore.  With the springlike weather happening with vigor outside, it was time to bring some of that color and energy inside.  This week while my mom was visiting, I finally got the courage to try again.

I found this wonderful tutorial and got cutting and sewing.  No problems with measurements, bobbins, or ironing.  Everything went smoothly with my sewing for once, and I followed a pattern.   This could turn into something of a gateway project, I suspect.

Before

After!

I still did a little improvisation, though.  I couldn’t help myself!  I just ran this ribbon through the machine, attaching it to the front piece of fabric before sewing the pillow together.  I’m tempted to add further embellishments to these pillows, but for now I’m mostly happy they’re finished, bringing a fresh and springlike vibe to my living room.

Home Sewn

One of my favorite pit stops on the journey to Home is decorating.  I love rearranging furniture, hanging artwork, creating soft goods, and moving accessories in and out of a room until everything feels right.  Finishing a room is an intangible moment, and only I know when it has arrived; and really, it’s never finished, just complete for now.  Part of the process inevitably involves me making, painting, or repurposing something for the room; each space needs that touch of handwork or whimsy, I believe.

Last week Sweetie had a bit of a backward work schedule, which meant she was home in the mornings and worked later into the evenings.  This meant that while she spent time with PB, I took some glorious uninterrupted time to catch up on a few projects I had been dreaming up.  The crafting wish list is long, so I prioritized and chose the most needed project: curtains for PB’s room.

 

{Fabric is Tweet Tweet by Keiki for moda}

I improvised these curtains, basing my “pattern” on a crude sketch and what I see on my store-bought living room curtains for finishing ideas.  Armed with the window measurements and the idea that I wanted two contrasting fabrics and a fun trim, I headed to the fabric store.  15 minutes later, I was on my way home with several yards of patterned fabric, muslin for a lining, and a whole lot of red rick-a-rack.  My cutting area was a little crude (the hallway), my sewing very slow, and I am thrilled with how they turned out.

These curtains are far from perfect, but that’s what makes them special.  Instead of perfectly straights seams and pointy corners, they contain my love, effort, and hand stitched rick-a-rack, details my daughter may not notice now, but which will serve her well for years to come.  They also came out a hair short, but that’s what the rings are for!  I think she likes them so far.  It’s hard to tell, because she also gets very excited about kitties.

My next home sewing project?  Pillow covers for the living room…

 

A Quick Project

Let’s face it, friends.  Knitting can be a slow process.  This is one of the things I find both satisfying and infuriating about it!  So when I get to do a different craft or project that is finished the same day I begin, it blows my mind.

Our new place has no overhead lighting in the living room, so we needed to come up with a relatively inexpensive lighting solution.  I had grand visions of something from Restoration Hardware or Crate & Barrel, but ended up grabbing two $20 lamp-in-a-box sets at Target instead.  The bones were good: chrome pedestal with a clean white drum shade and a cute pull chain.  I immediately planned on finding some great graphic fabric and recovering the shades.

The shade circumference is 36 inches, so I was able to get both shades out of one yard.  I used some recycled packing paper to trace a loose pattern and set about cutting.  There is a slight curve, which I didn’t think about when choosing fabric; the motif won’t line up!  No worries–there’s a back side to any hand-made project, right?

 

I applied some spray adhesive to the shade and smoothed on the fabric in small sections.  It was at this point that I realized I should have ironed the fabric, but it was too late.  After the glue was dry, I trimmed the fabric so there was about 1/4″ on each side of the shade.  I then sprayed the adhesive onto the back of a pre-measured length of bias tape and applied it to the front of the shade.  Then I folded it over and hot glued the rest to the inside of the shade.  Any excuse to get out my hot glue gun!

And voila!  Two snazzy, custom lamps for under $50.

Finished Object Report

Let me just tell you right off the bat that there will be little (if any) knitting content in this post.  Instead, I am taking some time today to write about a couple of other creative projects that have been works in progress around my house for months.  And they are finally finished!

When we bought our house back in March, there were 5 rooms covered in at least 2 layers of wallpaper.  Floral wallpaper from the 80s.  It was in good repair for the most part, but the patterns just weren’t our style.  So with determination and good dose of naivete, I started scraping.  And spraying, scoring, steaming, hacking, crying, and eventually abandoning.  The first rooms to be rid of wallpaper were the main bathroom and kitchen, followed by the dining room.  But my craft room and the guest bath languished in half finished states for months.

endless white wallpaper

Before: endless white wallpaper

With the impending arrival of house guests for Thanksgiving, I was suddenly motivated to get my craft room looking nice and actually being functional as a guest room and creative space.

Ta Da!

Ta Da!

Sweetie built me a Princess and the Pea day bed that I can store tons of supplies beneath and sit on top of and knit or write.  I finished up the wall recovery project and painted the room a fresh white.  This was a first for me; I usually go for more saturated colors, but I wanted this room to stay bright.  In a matter of hours, this long hibernating work in progress was transformed into one of my favorite rooms in the house.

It’s a pretty small room with lost of angles and little wall space.  Despite this, I was able to carve out both a desk area and a yarn winding station.

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This room was finished before our guests arrived for Thanksgiving and served as a lovely guest room.  I had to knock on the door a couple of times to access The Stash, but my mom was very understanding.

The final wallpaper removal project was our guest bathroom on the main level of the house.  It had two layers: the most recent layer was a marbleized beige with multi-color floral border near the ceiling.  beneath that lurked yellow flowers… We started scraping it off back in August, but quickly got distracted by more other projects.  This weekend Sweetie and I took care of all the details.

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Before: the scars of bad wallpaper

I scraped the rest of the wallpaper, sealed the drywall, applied texture paint, and finally painted the room a rich chocolate brown.  Sweetie is super handy and was therefore in charge of installing the bead board, a new faucet and mirror, and a new light fixture.  Which she picked out on her own, earning her major style points.

After
After

It feels just as good to have these rooms off the To Do list as it does finishing up a long term knitting project.  There is not a scrap of wallpaper left to peel in this entire house, and that is liberating and satisfying beyond explanation.  We have put so much work into this place that it feels like we can relax now, even for just a moment.

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Similarities and Differences

Part One: Similarities

How does this sound for a hot date: scraping wallpaper, installing new faucets, and eating pizza on the floor of an empty house.

Yes, ladies & gents, that is what is in store for me tonight. Of course, as a homeowner, all of this has a certain level of excitement to it, even if in anticipation of tonight’s activities all I feel is apathy.

Home improvement is a lot like knitting:

  • Inspiration abounds, and you have more projects in mind that you will probably ever be able to complete.
  • There is an abundance of beautiful materials to work with and be inspired by.
  • It’s easy to get lost in thinking about a project; looking at books, magazines, blogs, and tv shows all take time away from the actual projects you’d like to complete.
  • Certain aspects of projects are boring, but required in order to achieve the end result.

I have a new strategy when it comes to my knitting and my home renovation: I’ve decided not to limit my creativity, to not stress out about having too many wips, and celebrate the small accomplishments.

Part Two: Differences

Knitting your second Kittyville hat is not at all like knitting your first. This was the project where I learned several new skills at once, and did them all with mediocrity:

  • Knitting in the round on double-pointed needles.
  • Seed Stitch
  • Decreases, increases and shaping.
  • I-Cord

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1st Kittyville Hat (2nd knit project ever)

Kittyville the First was full of learning opportunities and irregularities. I worked through a lot of new techniques here that I use all the time now. And even though it’s not perfect, I love it for all it represents.

This was a defining project for me as a new knitter. In the beginning, I jumped right into projects with no fear about accomplishing a particular technique. If a project looked like something I might like to wear or give to someone, then I tried to knit it. This ended in a lot of frogging, but it was a great attitude to have, and I learned a lot of techniques rather quickly this way.

Now my strategy has changed somewhat, in that I seem to be stuck in a holding pattern of knitting things I already know how to do: socks, hats, scarves, etc. I often branch out into new stitch patterns, but when it comes to actually learning new techniques I’ve shied away lately. It may be time to channel my inner beginner and return to knitting without fear.

My second kitty hat is currently in progress:

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I whipped this out in a matter of hours. I still have all the tricky bits left to work out, but I’m confident this second attempt, two years and countless yard of yarn later, will be an entirely different story!