Most of you have probably encountered Abby’s work; she has become a preeminent soft sculpture artist within just a few years of her daughters’ naps. Abby has a natural way of sharing her process and creations on her blog, While She Naps, taking readers from her sketches to breath-taking birds, book characters and animals. With her first big show completed last March, Abby is jumping into new challenges with her art.
All soft sculptures by Abby, While She Naps
A Family-Focused Life
Abby has two daughters, Roxanne (3) and Stella (1), and is home with her children full-time. Her day starts at 6:30 a.m. when her children wake, eager for play, library and playground visits, reading, and drawing that encompass their days together. Abby’s husband Charlie leaves at 8:00 in the morning and returns home around 6:00 most days, and Abby cooks a great dinner from scratch for the family to eat together each evening. After the children go to bed around 7:00, Abby enjoys time with her husband. Abby anticipates the inevitable question: “So when do I sew? I do sew every day. As soon as the kids are down for their naps at one I run down to the studio and get started and I sew until they wake up. And I sew in the evenings from 7:30 until about 9:00. The occasional time that I have a babysitter and I don’t have to be somewhere, I stay home and hang out in the studio.”
Abby reading with her daughter Roxanne
Abby taught sixth grade before her children were born and, along with the creativity inherent in good teaching, creativity through crafting and learning has always been important to Abby; she writes, “I learned to sew in 8th grade Home Economics class at Herbert Hoover Junior High in Potomac, Maryland. I bought my sewing machine when I was 13 with money I received as a Bat Mitzvah gift and I still use the same machine (it’s a Bernette 330).” Art supplies filled her creative home when Abby was growing up, and her mother and grandmother both enjoyed many artistic endeavors. Abby inherited her grandmother’s sewing supplies and scrap basket and has a “very groovy” soft toy monster her grandmother made!
Abby strives to fill her children’s life with a similar environment and writes, “I try to be a creative mom. We do a lot of creative play at our house. The toys we like best are the toys that can become anything and are something different every day – the omelet pan “boat” and the tinfoil “scarf for ducky,” that sort of thing. I also really like to cook and to be creative in the kitchen.” Roxanne looks forward to Stella’s morning naptime every day as a chance to create with Abby; “Roxanne asks me every morning, ‘When Stella is napping, can we go into your room and do a craft project?’ She is pretty in to glitter glue and sparkly pompoms right now. I’m not sure how much of her asking is about actually wanting to use the art supplies, though. I have a suspicion that some of it is really asking to bask in mommy’s undivided attention. But that’s okay, too,” writes Abby.
Sewing and Soft Sculptures
Abby has a master’s degree from Harvard and taught sixth grade Social Studies. She wanted to be home when her first daughter was born and when Roxanne was nine months old, “I started really sewing in earnest,” writes Abby, “And I think I’ve sewn nearly every day since then so it’s been a bit more than two years now and I’ve come a long way!”
Her work with soft sculptures really took off with A Month of Softies. Abby writes, “Claire, of Loobylu blog fame, had the idea to propose a theme each month and whoever wanted to could create a softie around that theme and then send her a photo of it to post on her site. The first month that I participated the theme was monsters. I created an original pattern for a monster and used some fabric scraps my mother-in-law had given me to sew it up. I still have him – he’s a riot.” This first monster led Abby to want to learn more about soft toys. She checked soft toy sewing books from the 1960’s out of the library and started, “Sewing, sewing, sewing.” Abby writes, “I remember making an elephant one day and leaving it on the bed for Charlie to see when he came home from work. The next day, there were two elephants. And then I really started making a toy every day or every few days after that. It’s a bit like a sickness I guess.”
Growth and Evolution as a Textile Sculptor
Abby worked hard to create an amazing collection of her work for a solo show at the Wellesley Free Library in her home town. The show was very well-received and Abby’s work was on the front page of the local paper and in two articles in the Boston Globe. Most of the sculptures were later sold on Abby’s Etsy shop. Abby writes, “It was totally exciting for me! I hope that the level of media attention is an indication that handmade things, specifically soft toys and soft sculptures, are gaining a wider audience.” While Abby continues to sell her work to various shops and museums, after the show she was searching for the next step in her art. “I was feeling at a loss for what to do next. I am a goal-oriented person and I felt like I needed a new goal. After a long conversation with my awesome sister, Rachel, I came to the realization that I could simply set my own goal to slow down even further and to create sculptures instead of toys.”
Abby writes that she has never “been a big fan of cute” and that she had “…never intended to make toys for babies or for children… I started to feel angry that people’s immediate impression when I would tell them I made soft toys was that I made things for children. So I have begun to call what I make something else and this has made me feel so free to explore and to try to be a textile sculptor.” As she slows down with each piece Abby’s blog reflects her growing satisfaction with the creative process. Her new series of birds is stunning and, as Abby writes, “Each one is totally unique and so interesting to design and sew. I am having so much fun.” It is freeing to making individual pieces and to take the time necessary for each bird to reach her vision, rather than worrying about making replicable patterns. “I am most interested in creating unique and sculptural pieces that are totally one-of-a-kind and less interested in making lots and lots of the same thing,” adds Abby. “I like complicated pieces that take many hours to complete. This kind of work makes me happiest during the process and makes me happiest with the final result.”
Nest of Thread, the first in a series
The Process, Sketchbook and Inspiration
As she’s grown as an artist Abby has learned to slow down and take time to enjoy her work. Abby writes, “I am a very efficient worker in all aspects of my life. I like to sit down and get the job done. In most ways this is a good trait, but at times it makes me in too much of a hurry to finish things. Now when I make a mistake or when I’m not totally happy with the shape of a piece or how a seam looks I will unpick and redraw, take things apart and re-stuff them. Creating things by hand has taught me to slow down and redo and I am very thankful for that.” Abby often shares her creative process on While She Naps, giving readers a view of her early sketches of a piece and writing about her thinking as she works toward the final artistic sculpture.
Abby’s sketchbook is a hardbound book from the art supply store; “It is nice and big and sits flat when you open it. I don’t carry it around with me because I really don’t have time to draw except when I am alone. It stays on my desk in the studio (which is really just a nook in our bedroom, by the way!). Once I’ve finished a project I sit down to start sketching for the next one. I like to draw more now than I used to because I know that many of the drawings will turn into sculptures. Like I said, I’m goal oriented!”
In addition to her sketchbook Abby also keeps a notebook full of magazine pages. “This is an inspiration notebook, but it also allows me to throw out the dozens of magazines I read. I tear out the pages I like best and throw away the rest. And I keep yet another notebook that has little pictures I cut from catalogues of soft toys and sculptures. I use these as inspiration, too.” Abby now has many of her own vintage soft toy making books from the 60’s and 70’s and she enjoys reading these. The instructional pages of these books taught her sewing and pattern construction basics, and she still goes back to revisit favorite pages. Abby writes, “I am also really inspired and motivated by the nearly 100 craft blogs I follow every day. Reading these blogs helps me to get back in the studio and get started on projects. And, of course, I’m a total Flickr addict. Recently I have also been looking at a lot of images of folk art and finding tremendous inspiration there.”
Crow, with a new approach to leg construction
Abby learned about blogs about two years ago, and found Craftgrrl on LiveJournal. She writes, “I started posting there and following links and through that discovered this wonderful world of crafty women, many of them mothers, who make beautiful handmade things and post them on their blogs. Slowly the list of craft blogs I was reading daily began to grow and I started to feel like I could handle having one of my own.” As her art has evolved her blog has changed too. “It has always been about what I did during nap time,” adds Abby, “But what I do during nap time has changed over the last two years. I used to do more baking, more gardening and more variable kinds of crafts (origami, making cards, sewing aprons and placemats, etc.). Now I would say that While She Naps is a soft toy/soft sculpture blog with a bit about mothering thrown in.”
Hen and Egg
Looking to the Future
“Sewing everyday keeps me thinking, it keeps my mind working late at night and while I’m driving around doing errands,” writes Abby. “It makes me feel like a grown-up and it keeps me going. In the past two years I have learned a tremendous amount about myself as an artist and about what I like to make.” Abby hopes to have a gallery show within a year or two, and writes that her future will most definitely include work as an artist. She also enjoyed teaching, was good at it and formally trained as a teacher. “…Now that I have had two children and have become an artist I’m not sure what will happen next. I know that I need and want to be here for my daughters as they grow up and I know that I need and want to continue to be an artist. I think teaching will find its way back in too.” Abby continues, thankfully, to share the growth of her art through her blog. Abby is driven, contemplative, artistic and inspiring; you can enjoy her bird series as it continues to grow and be a part of her inevitable gallery shows and future success via While She Naps.