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How One Quilter Proves Creativity Is Never-Ending

We’ve always been inspired quilter Nancy Smith — she’s taught a few of our classes and designed many of our quilt kits. Hers is a creative mind like no other. So when we heard about her new passion — drawing, not quilting — we were intrigued and had to learn more.

Nancy Smith in Craftsy's Dream Quilt Studio

Turns out, Nancy’s adventure into drawing proves that creativity really is a journey, not an end goal or a destination. And you never know where yours may take you.

Read on for Nancy’s story, in her own words.

As is the story with many artists, my passion for creating art began at a young age.

I grew up with an insatiable appetite for sewing, embroidery and knitting.

Both grandmothers, my mother and even my aunt made doll clothes that were the envy of girls in my neighborhood. My grandmothers made quilts, embroidered linens, tatted doilies and pillow cases. My mother made almost every article of clothing that I owned. She would see a dress in a store and then go home and make one exactly like it for me.

My very first entrepreneurial endeavor started when I was about 6 years old and made dozens of tissue flowers and sold them in the neighborhood.

Nancy Smith at Design Wall

This passion for creating remained a strong thread throughout my life.

When I was in college I couldn’t sing (really), but I could make the costumes for our events. As I got married, had children and wanted to do things at home while raising my children, I started sewing again.

Eventually I opened a retail store in 1980 and launched a pattern publishing division. Possibilities blossomed in 1987 to publish books and design lines of fabric. By the time we closed our retail establishment in 2011, we’d provided services to thousands of customers, published more than 75 books, and designed hundreds of fabric lines.

I knew how to design and make quilts. However, as early as third grade I knew I could never draw.

One day I saw an ad in a magazine talking about Zentangles. I didn’t know they were, but I had a gut feeling that I would like it.

Zentangles

Within 20 minutes of reading the article, I signed up for the workshop (which was hosted on the other side of the country), booked flights and made hotel reservations.

I had no idea what I was about to do, but somehow I just felt it was the next step for me.

I went to the workshop and became a Certified Zentangle Teacher. It changed my life. I found out I could do something that I knew I couldn’t do — I could draw! (Some day I may find out that I can sing too, but that hasn’t happened yet.)

This one decision has changed my life and started me on a whole new adventure.

I now teach Zentangles through many different venues, including Tangling in Tuscany. I’ve attended many seminars and now create jewelry, stationery, fabric items and even leather goods.

Nancy Smith's Zentangles

Probably one of my greatest joys is imparting the creativity, excitement and enthusiasm to others.

So many people think they can’t draw or make a quilt or do “whatever.” It’s that “ah ha!” moment that gives both the creator and the teacher the sense of excitement and fulfillment.

Breaking complex things into small, manageable pieces makes a lot possible. How do you make a quilt? Sew two little pieces together. Then add one more little piece. Add one more and before you know it, you too have done something that you thought you could never do.

It’s such a good analogy for life. Almost everything can be done or learned by doing just a little bit at a time.

Tell us: How do you keep your creative journey going? What’s your next step?

15 Comments

Berta Almeida

Hello, your story it’s very nice, and can give strong for we never give up from our dreams. Thanks very much for you tell us. ( I’m sorry my English because it’s not good enough).

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Joyce Spelt-Hauwert

Geweldig! Wat een inspiratie!

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Mark Babcock

Thinking back now, I suppose I have had a creative streak in me since I was a kid, thanks to my Mom. She crocheted afghans for us, crocheted hundreds of doilies (occasionally she would make two doilies as payment for a perm from the local hair dresser), knitted sweaters & blankets, made two quilts and even painted ceramics & plasters. Of course she taught me how to do all of it!

While I painted many figures over the years, crocheting & knitting was always hard for me. My tension was too tight or I would make a mistake and give up. I concluded that I just didn’t have the knack for it.

After my mother died two years ago, I picked up my crochet hook to try again. And, it was still hard and I still made lots of mistakes! Then I thought, “What would Mom do?” Of course, she would tear out any mistake she found (even 10″ back in the work), correct it and continue on.

Since then, I have crocheted two afghans (with two more in progress), knitted a prayer shawl and started my first quilt! I have even bought patterns for tatting bookmarks to use the dozens of skeins of crochet cotton I inherited. And, thanks to online classes, I have been learning quite a lot! Somehow…I found the knack.

I have had a few “aha” moments while yarn working and learning to quilt. I am learning patience; things that are worthwhile take time. I am learning that it is okay to make mistakes because I will definitely make them. Mistakes can add to the overall beauty of life. At the same time, sometimes I may have to undo a lot of my work because an error just needs to be corrected. Most importantly to me though is that crafting feels like spending time with my Mom. And, I get to share her with others now because she sparked this creative side I never knew I had.

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Kamalani Hurley

This is a lovely post, Mark

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Diane

How awesome! You are a great example of a son who loves his mother and wants to stay close through the things she did. I commend you. Keep on working through the crafts and you will be rewarded.

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gray la gran

oh. I love this. and I understand ……

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Ann Roggenkamp

I sew quilts that are donated to charities. Each time I design my next quilt I envision who the recipient may be. It keeps me motivated when I “see” their smile when their quilt is presented to them. I love what I do!😊

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Darlene

Ann, I do the same thing. I am currently making lap quilts for foster kids. And I also like to envision the recipient receiving it. I just finished a Seattle Seahaws one. I know there is a little fan who will love it. I start by choosing the colors from my stash, which includes fabric that a couple of people have given me. I chose foster kids as my charity because I know that often, foster kids don’t have a lot to call their own.

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Peggy Fatur

I found Zentangle a few years ago. It is so relaxing, I would love to take a CRAFTSY class in
Zentangle….please offer it!

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Kamalani Hurley

Nancy Smith, you are an inspiration. I love that you pursue your creativity wherever it takes you.

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Sharon MacEachern

Such a lovely reading…you are so talented and a true motivator..

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Dorothy Paulk

I used to do all the hemming when I was young, mother hated it. Later I graduated to stitchery for towels. My grandmother made clothes with homemade patterns, quilted into her 80s. I took all the Clothing classes in high school which continued with sewing for my children and husband. Then I became enthralled with Calligraphy, joined our local Society, taught and did many commissioned jobs. Also during this time I also enjoyed making handmade books of all kinds and designed custom wedding books. Lastly, a good friend took me to a Quilt Festival and thus began the next phase of creativity. Inbetween all this, I have always had a love of needlework, which is relaxing. I love lap work.

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Renae Butler

My house is a motorhome. We are starting our 10th year of this life style this month. I had whittled my hobbies down to only my knitting. My old standby. Traveling around the country I have met people with different hobbies. First I added mountain dulcimer playing, next where we stayed someone was giving watercolor painting lessons, then I met some quilters. What a journey! I am now exploring melding my painting with my quilting. There are so many great products and ideas out there. What will be next? Only time will tell!

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Kathy (never stop learning)

Nancy, have you thought of printing fabric from your zentangle designs? I’d like to incorporate some of it into a quilt.

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