Will you create a stir and make mums and the tasks they juggle visible to the wider world? I was delighted when artist Steph contacted me to tell me about her range of textiles. As regular readers know, I am keen to raise the visibility of mums and the work they do. Check out Steph’s interview and let’s resolve to always create a stir perhaps sporting this fun apron.
What is the striking story you have to share?
It started with a list. As a mother, there is always a list. Notes scribbled on bits of paper, whiteboards or chalkboards in the kitchen, activities listed on family calendars. It got me thinking about the connection between work, status and visibility. Those who are less visible tend to enjoy less status, don’t they? What would happen if I made my largely invisible list of daily family tasks more visible, public even, in simple black and white? I did an experiment. I compiled my list, which included things like ‘shave legs, make love, buy birthday presents’ and had the whole list printed on a range of textiles. I call them my ‘Create A Stir’ range because they often do. The response to these has been amazing– they seem to connect women’s experiences across the globe in a way that’s fun but, crucially perhaps, they also provide a relevant talking point.
What challenges did this situation bring your way?
My first challenge was fear! Talking about motherhood is emotive stuff and even as I write this, I am aware there will be a mixed responses. So the only way forward was to make my list grounded in factual autobiographical experience. This meant including a few of life’s less glamorous tasks such as ‘treat nits’ and ‘clean the bathroom’ as well as the all-important relationship stuff such as ‘listen to each other’ and ‘console and encourage’. I think this has made it honest, slightly daring, but witty at the same time. I began with 100 T-towels which were first exhibited in a gallery near Old Street, East London. It was quite nerve-wracking as I had no idea what the reaction would be, but they sold out almost straight away. My second challenge was practical. I trained as a fine artist making one-off pieces, not as a product designer, so I needed to learn about working with UK manufacturing partners to organise fabric printing, embroidered labels etc and intellectual property issues. However, it has been well worth the effort.
What were the joys that this experience brought your way?
I was overjoyed when people began to buy them! I love the fact that other women recognise their own lives in the list and laugh, somewhat wryly! The range has expanded into cotton aprons, oven gloves and a canvas bag. It’s satisfying to have produced a range of well-made UK products that women buy for themselves and their friends or families all over the world. I’m glad I listened to and acted on my inner impulse because the response shows that many women feel the same way.
Have you ever rediscovered or reinvented yourself? How?
Yes. At different life stages I have been a full-time student, secretary and stay-at-home mum volunteering in the community. Twenty years ago I decided to try a weekly art class while living as an expat wife with small children in Jakarta, Indonesia. I used to enjoy art as a child but never pursued it for school timetabling reasons and this opportunity to rediscover it began a key change in my life. I so enjoyed the classes that on our return to England, I enrolled to do Art A-Level and eventually took a Fine Art degree at Wimbledon School of Art – twelve years of part-time study which fitted very well around raising my family. Ten years further on, I am enjoying my career as an artist and I hope to continue into my old age!
How do you ensure you get time to yourself and what do you do with that time?
Now that my older two children are grown and the third is at secondary school, I have plenty of time to enjoy my art practice. I often work from home but also have a separate studio about a mile away where all the painting takes place. I love having my studio where I can work all day and leave things messy! I also appreciate having a private space to test new ideas before showing anyone else. For inspiration I visit London’s fantastic array of museums and galleries. If I visit with a friend, it’s fun to discuss the pieces and get different perspectives on what we’re looking at. If I go alone, I concentrate on the pieces that particularly interest me and always come away feeling refreshed and eager to get on with my own paintings and designs.
Describe at least one physical feature you have that you consider to be beautiful
That’s an awkward question! I think smiling makes everyone beautiful!
What makes you stand out?
People say my colour sense. I have my childhood in Brazil to thank for that, growing up with mangoes, sunshine and blue skies!
Is it important to you to support other mums?
Yes. Motherhood is a challenging so it’s great when mums help each other. I was very involved with other mums when my children were small, helping at playgroups, scouts and inviting mums over. I now have a wonderful toddler grandson and love to help out. Looking after little ones requires lots of energy, patience and ingenuity to get from one end of the day to the other and very hard to do alone. So getting out, sharing with others and having time off is really important.
Which mum inspires you?
Lots of different people do, but in particular those who will tell you every now and then that you’re doing a great job – that can keep you going for a few weeks or more! If you don’t always feel appreciated by others, remember to give yourself a pat on the back!
What would you like the next Government to do to improve the lives of mums?
Alarm bells start ringing when successive governments keep talking about getting women ‘back to work’. That’s fine if mothers want to return to a job outside the home, but it sends a clear message that this is society’s current norm and expectation. Sadly this must put many young mothers under undue pressure and signals a lack of government recognition for the essential mother role in the lives of small children. These are the mothers who often also invest time and energy volunteering in playgroups and schools and who help foster supportive and friendly communities. It’s very valuable work, just not so straightforward to put on your CV.
Huge thanks to Steph for sharing her striking story. Do check out her website.