For this week’s Ask CRAFT, I’ll be the one asking the questions. I interviewed my mother, Bette Stern, to find out her thoughts on being a Crafty Mama. Since her kids are all grown up, I asked her to reflect on what it was like raising kids in a DIY home.
What are the crafts you enjoy doing the most?
I enjoy knitting, quilting, and counted cross stitch. I also enjoy refinishing furniture, stripping woodwork, home improvement, and building.
What activities did you do with my siblings and me when we were kids to promote creativity?
Dad and I have always enjoyed making things. I sewed clothes for all of you when you were young, I always had a knitting project on the needles. We built an addition to the house when you were all younger and you and your siblings took the scraps and built a fort in the yard. Dad used to draw pictures on your lunch bags that you took to school each day. There was always some sort of DIY going on in the house and you and your siblings were a part of it. I don’t recall setting aside time to do crafts with you specifically, but you had Legos, painting supplies, fabric, yarn, etc. available to create whatever you had a mind to create.
What’s it like raising children in a crafty family? What crafts did we do together that stick out most in your memory?
It is a real joy to see children growing up and learning to do things. I taught you to sew, but you were able to design and create like nothing I’ve ever been able to do. It’s amazing to see your children take a basic idea and expand it to be their own. Dad and I raised you and your siblings in a household were there was always something being made or created. Dad cooked and you and your siblings stood on chairs and watched and “helped” I sewed curtains for my first apartment and you took those old curtains and created pajama bottoms. We had a pretty active household and you and your siblings were always a part of the activity.
My sister has tried to lean to knit and crochet several times with little success; what do you do as a parent when something you love to do just doesn’t “stick” with your kids?
I’ve never expected my children to love to do what I love to do. In fact I never thought about this until you asked the question. When each of you asked to learn something that I felt I could teach you, I taught you. If you wanted to continue to do it, I encouraged you to. If you wanted to do something else, I encouraged that. In your sister’s case, she asked me to teach her (as you said several times). I taught her, but she never had a passion for it and didn’t ever continue beyond the lesson(s). You asked me to teach you to sew and to knit and crochet and you loved it. You couldn’t seem to get enough.
Now that your kids are out of the house, how has your crafting changed? Does it get lonely in your sewing room?
I’m still passionate (obsessed) with the same creative outlets as always. What’s changed is that I’m creating more for myself and Dad and the house and less for others. My sewing room has always been a place where I go to be alone and shut out the rest of the world. So, no, it’s not lonely there. I love it there.
What about the introduction of grandkids into the picture? What do you make for them?
I’ve made quilts for my grandchildren and I’ve made them each several sweaters. They have both asked me to teach them to knit. But, at 3 and 4, they are still a little young. In a few years I’ll have them knitting (but only if they still want to learn).
How does the internet engage with your craft hobbies?
I have found many patterns for knitted projects on the internet (more than I have time to make). It is also very easy to find the specific yarn or other materials I need for a project. I found fabric that I wanted to use as the backing on a quilt I was making but my local quilt store didn’t have enough. I had the name of the manufacturer of the fabric and the style number. I googled the fabric and found several online stores that carried exactly what I needed. Because I had already seen it in the store I knew the color was just what I wanted. Websites like Craftzine and Ravelry help me stay connected to what other people are creating and it inspires me.
Did your mom have much influence, craft wise, when you were growing up? What skills did you learn from her, and which did you teach yourself?
My grandmother (your great grandmother) had a greater influence on my crafting than my mother did. My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was about 6 years old. She gave me a lot of her leftover yarn and I crocheted a lot. I remember a couple of specific projects. When I was 9 years old I crocheted a bib for my baby sister and when I was about 12, I made my grandmother an afghan with squares of the leftover yarn and even crocheted the word “grandma” in the squares. I have that afghan now. My grandmother also taught me how to embroider. Counted cross stitch came much later, but my grandmother taught me how to do embroidery stitches on pillow cases. I taught myself to do crewel and needlepoint. My grandmother didn’t know how to knit. My aunt taught me to knit when I was very young, but I didn’t remember how for long. When I was in my teens, my mother re-taught me the basics of knitting, but she didn’t do it much as I was growing up. She started knitting more after she had grandchildren. I learned to sew from my mother and then in school. I sewed most of my clothes in high school and in college.
Grandma knits in the English style, and you and I knit continental. Why the switch, and how did it come about?
I started knitting English style. The secretary in the physical education office at my college saw me knitting one day and told me that she could show me a way to knit much faster. She taught me Continental style. And it is much faster. At the time, I didn’t know the different styles were called English and Continental. I only learned that recently. I taught you to knit the faster way. A couple of years ago my mother asked me to teach her to knit the way I do because it seems so much faster. I tried to teach her, but she just couldn’t get the hang of it. It wasn’t comfortable for her, so she still knits English style.
How important is it to you as a mom to pass along your craft knowledge?
I like that you and I can share our love for certain crafts, but more importantly, I want my children to do what they enjoy most. If anyone is interested in learning from me, I’m happy to teach them. I taught Dad now to knit and when I was pregnant with your brother, Dad actually started to make a quilt for him. I think it’s fun to create and I get excited when I’m with others who also like to create. I look forward to teaching my grandchildren as well.
You bought me my first sewing machine for my 13th birthday, and I still use the same machine today, many years later. What advice would you give to moms when buying tools and supplies for their kids?
When we bought you your first sewing machine, you had already shown that you were very interested in sewing. It didn’t make sense to buy you a machine that wouldn’t last very long. We wanted to get you something that you could use right away and that would still be useful over time, and that has proven to be true. We never bought “toy tools” for any of you. When you showed an interest in something: music, crafting, building, etc., we made sure you had access to the tools you needed. So, my advice would be to buy, borrow, or build the tools and/or supplies that kids need to do what they are passionate about. It’s never a bad idea to buy the right tool for the job.