The Year of the Motif


An early tangle from 2012. (c) Andrea Mielke Schroer

For me, 2012 was The Year of the Motif.  It was a defining year.

The last five years of my life have been vastly different for me from what I had previously known.  I met my husband, got married, had a baby, then another baby; my sister – who is my business partner – met her husband, got married, had a baby; and we physically moved our business – no small feat.

So gradually did my creative pursuits change, I didn’t realize it was happening – I could only see it in hindsight.  I only did what I absolutely had to get done for the business and my teaching.  I felt like I was living deadline to deadline, and had no time to do it differently.

I think 2012 was the year when several things came to a head, resulting in a creative recharge for me.

  • first, because I think it is the most important factor, my children were finally old enough that they no longer required hands-on care 24/7
  • I was starving for ways to create (beyond cooking, which was not working for my hips), but continually depressed about it
  • the opportunity came to teach at a knitting retreat in the early part of the year
  • once again I was able to attend weaving guild meetings
  • and then I took an online class

As corny as this may seem (especially if you’ve never lived with children), I had finally arrived at a point in my daily life that I was actually showering, eating three full meals that I had made, and not running out of clean clothes each day.

It felt possible to do a little something “extra.”  But I was often scared to try (perfectionism), and when I did, I became extremely frustrated trying to get things to turn out the way I envisioned (again, perfectionism).  That feeling of “the spirit moved me” that I so enjoyed in the past was not happening.

There were days when it felt as though nothing in my life was working.  Bad hair days, hating the clothes in my closet, hating shopping for different clothes, feeling exhausted after any attempt at creativity.

The first ah-ha moment happened in February.  By divine providence (that appeared to me in the form of Betsy P.), I was teaching at the annual JAKG Knit In when Amy Herzog was the featured speaker.

Her talk on Knitting to Fit was eye-opening.  And life-changing.  It was so logical, and more of a “duh” than an “ah-ha” moment for me.   I should have known this.  But I needed to be told it, in just so many words.

Applying just one simple thing she said to the way I dressed had my family asking me if I had lost weight in the five days since they last saw me.

That was energizing.  I could control how I appeared to the world.  I could do it with clothes I already owned.  I could apply these principles to future clothes I made, so I would like them better.

It was nothing short of an epiphany.  Between that and finding I could still hold my own in conversations with adults, and hanging out with dozens of knitters and fiber artists for two days, I was energized.  I was ready to take on the world again.

I am a fiber artist, hear me roar.

And so I discovered that:

Creativity is ENERGIZED by community.

In March, I did an inkle weaving program for my local weaving guild.  I realized how much I missed the guild meetings, and resolved to attend as many as I could in the future.

Now enter Donna.  Donna Kallner runs online classes on looping techniques.  [SHAMELESS PLUG: We carry her book on our site]

Through a string of events that are now hazy from the passage of time, I had the opportunity to take one of her classes.  I had never tried an online class before.  I have to admit I felt a little bit of trepidation about online classes.  I was afraid there wouldn’t be enough accountability, and I would wimp out of completing the assignments.

But the more I thought about it, there really wasn’t any other way of taking the class from Donna that could be more flexible – I could do it in my own home, on my schedule, in almost any size chunk of time.  It included video, which was tempting.  And did I say that I really wanted to take a class from her?

So, I made myself step off the edge (for me – please don’t roll your eyes) and commit to something.

I am so glad I did.  I called her class “a kick in the pants” at the time, because it really got me focused on exercising my personal creativity again.

That was my second “ah-ha/duh” moment:

Committing to a creative schedule of sorts ensures OPPORTUNITIES for creativity.

It was around this time that I also read this quote by Sara Lamb:

“Creativity does not happen unless you are working.”

She goes on to say:

“Ideas are not created in a vacuum; they don’t float around in the air waiting for someone to capture them.  As you work, ideas flow.  Ideas build on each other like bricks: learning a technique, building on tradition, your hands and mind work together to make something new.  In the beginning, most works will not take your breath away, but they will be the stepping-stones to superlative work.” ~ from Woven Treasures, pg. 127

In mid-April, a fellow weaving guild member loaned me “I Don’t Do Guilt Anymore” by Anita Luvera Mayer.  Wow, ditching useless guilt frees up a lot of energy!

In May, I participated in a basketweaving class with the weaving guild.  I was sticking with my intention of attending more meetings.

In June, I participated in a twill class taught by Robin Spady.

I see a pattern now (hindsight is always 20/20, no?): I was doing something creative just for me each month.  It could be something big, such as taking a class, or something small such as reading a book.  But I was doing something to further my creative process on a regular basis.

This next part is fuzzy, but I believe it was at the weaving guild’s batik class in August that Sarajane brought this new thing she was doing – they were called tangles.  They captured my attention immediately.  I loved drawing, but had not done much for a long time, and these looked so easy…  and you were only supposed to spend 30 minutes on each tangle…  I could do 30 minutes.

Soon I was tangling away, limiting myself to 30 minutes here and 30 minutes there.  Those tangles started piling up.

So my third “ah-ha/duh” moment came when I realized:

Invest SMALL AMOUNTS OF TIME to create something big.

Much like crochet motifs.  I know crocheting well.  I’ve been crocheting since I was about 8.  Crocheting a two-inch square only takes a minute or two.  Surely anyone can fit that into their day.  Crochet 1000 and you have an afghan.  Now, I haven’t taken on any afghans lately, but I began applying what I now call my “motif principle” to my creative pursuits.

I picked small projects at first, and broke them down into smaller components.  They then became much more approachable.

I know the wise ones among you are saying right now, “She’s just playing head games with herself.  She hasn’t discovered anything new.”  Well, there are still those of us who forget to step back and look at the big picture occasionally.  We get overwhelmed in the daily here-and-now.

We need to learn (or re-learn) these mind games to stay sane.  Bear with us during our silly epiphanies.

And rejoice with us, because we have discovered how to be ourselves again, in little chunks of time.  Motifs.

Drawing little tangles on a regular basis soon reminded of something else I once knew.  It is stated best in the words of a little song from some children’s programming I heard about that time:

Practice makes PROGRESS.

Working on something consistently, even in little bits or motifs, showed me that I was making improvements.  I started to to feel that comfortable flow state again.  It was a lovely, lovely feeling.

And so that is why 2012 is my Year of the Motif.  A banner year for me.  A year that deserves its own blog post.


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  1. […] (Editor’s note: Along these lines, I also love this quote from one of Andrea’s early blog posts. “Invest small amounts of time to create something big.”) […]

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