I had the opportunity to catch up with Cheryl Arkison this week for a quick Q + A.  We’re so thrilled to be hosting her as a guest instructor next week in the studio.

Cheryl is a writer, quilter, and mom. She writes and teaches on quilting, craft, creativity, food, and family. And it all comes from her dining room empire in her crowded, colourful house. From this space she wrote Sunday Morning Quilts (co-authored with Amanda Jean Nyberg), A Month of Sundays, and You Inspire Me to Quilt. She teaches quilting around the country and online via Craftsy and Creative Live. A proud first generation Ukrainian, she is committed to not letting the artistry of food and craft from her heritage pass by unnoticed in the modern age. Cheryl is the mother of three kidlets, and awesome wife to her entrepreneur husband.

Q - I’m always so enticed to make when I see quilts, firstly because I understand the effort it takes to get to the end of a big project and secondly because every one of them is so unique. How did you come to quilting and why? 


A - I’d always sewn - my mom taught me as a kid and I was lucky enough to take Home Ec in Junior High. Quilting came later though, while I was in grad school. I would walk by this quilt shop near my apartment and go in to pet the fabric. But I was only 23 and I thought, “Who the heck quilts at 23? That’s for old ladies.” Then my now sister-in-law announced she was expecting her first baby. I figured no one could fault me for learning the craft if it meant making a baby quilt. I took a weekend class, made the quilt, and became completely hooked! It was a compulsion right from the beginning. At first it was more about being an amazing stress relief. You have to pay attention to what you are doing or else you can hurt yourself. That means you tune out everything else. Totally in the present. As you get more comfortable with the skill then the desire to create more and more grows. And, for me, it hasn’t stopped.

Q - I need to make more time to explore quilting and can’t wait to take your class! As a mother of one busy three-year-old to another mother of three kids I feel incredibly inspired by your focus.  How do you design fabric collections, make quilts, write books, teach and manage a family life – what is your secret?

A - There is no secret, sorry. Just a lot of hard work. I’m also the kind of person who does better when I am busy. That being said, The things that keep me sane and productive are this: A) I wake up before the kids. On a good day I can get 2 hours in before they are out of bed. This includes taking time, first thing, for my Morning Make. That is 10-20 minutes of creating before I consume. Pure creative time just for me. Then I am focused and ready to get some work done. B) Playdate swaps save my life! I live in an amazing community where we all help each other out with childcare and friendships. When deadlines are looming I know I have friends to call on. Then they can call on me when they need it. C) I don’t watch that much TV. Don’t get me wrong, I love some trashy shows and late night, but I can go days without watching anything. Those are the days I get a lot done in the evening. D) Speaking of TV I’ve become very adept at working to the soundtrack of PBS Kids. E) I embraced meal planning and a visible family calendar.   Truth be told, I don’t always feel like I am managing it. Some days I am cranky that I can’t work more, other days I wish I could just play at the park or work out without thinking about how the schedule for after school looks. But I take it one day, one week at a time.

Q - While my family comes first and I know it’s so important to have balance in life, I sometimes forget that in my own artistic practise. I could easily get lost in printing yardage and developing my collection that I forget to make time for creative freedom. At the moment I’m really excited about natural dyes and although it’s not part of my day-to-day studio practise I’m making time to explore it purely for the joy of discovery.  Is there something outside of your practise that you’d love to explore further and why?

A - People used to ask me if I scrapbooked - back when it was really popular - and I had the same answer: I already have one expensive and time consuming hobby! Now that my hobby is my business, however, it is a different story. You’re right, it is absolutely important to make time for creative freedom. I do this two ways. One, my Morning Make is no obligation sewing/writing. I just do it for the sake of doing. In these daily snippets I can explore, play, and actually make some good progress on projects. Two, if there is something outside of sewing I want to try I bring my kids into it. We all experiment together! It means some quality time together and creative freedom for all of us.

Q - Do you have any tips for new mums on how to make time for the studio and how to stay true to your creative self?

A - Well, if you are a brand new mom, I say to embrace that for a little bit. At least until you are out of the sheer survival phase. After that, sleep training earlier rather than later so you can find a little bit of predictability in your routine. For me, I truly became my most creative self when I became a mother for the first time. It was about being honest with who I really was to model that for my girl (then the other two kids) and the fact that she slept a lot. I had mat leave and a good napper (thanks to our hard work), which meant I had time. That’s when I truly began exploring quilting and returned to writing. 

Q - Lastly what tool in your studio can you not do without - why?

A - The obvious answer is my sewing machine! After that, I would say my design wall. For a long time I sewed in the dining room. The same space where we ran a business, ate, and even all three of our kids slept at the beginning of their lives. So if I wanted to lay out a quilt I used the floor or our bed. But it meant there wasn’t a lot of exploration and play. Sewing, yes, but not experimentation. Everything had to be packed up when someone woke from a nap or I wanted to go to bed. Having a design wall now means I can play a lot more, ruminate on a design, and truly embrace improvised quilting. It’s a total game changer.

If you weren’t able to sign up for her improv quilting class – not to worry!  It was so popular that we decided to run it again and we have a couple spots available on the 4th of April!  Find out more here!

See you there!