Welcome to Week 52 of Motherhood by Design – the series where mothers who also run creative businesses share their inspirations and experiences juggling the demands of raising children while growing a creative career.
If this is your first time reading the Motherhood by Design interview series, welcome - I’m so glad you stopped by! I’m sure you’ll enjoy this in-depth chat with Anna Maria Horner about how her career evolved along a path that wound around her children.
If you’re a regular reader of the series, you’ll see that this interview is a bit different from the past 51 interviews I’ve posted. All of the previous interviews were done via email, which made the replies fit neatly into a set format.
Anna Maria offered to chat with me by phone over the summer (which is why she makes reference to the hot weather) and was extremely generous with her time, so we really went into depth on some of the questions. For this reason, I’ve broken the interview into four separate, sequential posts to keep the length of each one more manageable.
I hope you enjoy the series!
When describing her career at the most basic level, Anna Maria Horner is a designer. She is largely known for her rich, colorful and playful fabric designs, but she also designs patterns for quilts, garments, and needlework and has done illustration and product surface pattern design. She is an author and runs an online shop under her own name, and now also runs Craft South in Nashville, Tennessee – a brick-and-mortar shop and gathering space. Oh, and she’s a mother of seven.
If forced to choose just ONE person to represent the concept of Motherhood by Design (which I would hate to have to choose, because each woman I interviewed brought their own beauty and wisdom to the series…but if I had to…) I would definitely choose Anna Maria Horner. I have always admired the way she has woven her career throughout her journey as a mother, and not always seamlessly and successfully, as you’ll discover.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Anna Maria, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Many of your fans probably already know that you have a large, creative family because you often feature them in your photos and writing, but tell us bit about them anyway.
My family consists of a large group of people. First and foremost is my husband Jeff. We just celebrated our 22-year wedding anniversary.
Preceded by our wedding anniversary was our first daughter Juliana, who’s 23.
My son Nicholas is 17 and my son Joseph is 15. My daughter Isabela is 13 and my daughter Eleni is 11. My youngest son Roman is 6 and my daughter Mary Anna is 2 and our dog Cash might be 3. But we rescued him, so we’re not sure.
So that is our family, almost all of whom reside in this house. Juliana has her own place, but lives nearby in Nashville.
Your business has grown and changed a great deal over the years. Can you tell us about what you do and how that has evolved?
I guess first I’m an artist - I create designs for fabric collections, which makes me a surface textile designer as well. I’m also an author, and I make sewing patterns and embroidery and needlework patterns.
I am newly the proprietor of a local crafts store in Nashville, Tennessee called Craft South. For about seven years, I also ran online shops for my brand at AnnaMariaHorner.com, and Craft South is seven months old.
So the specific job titles that talk to that are vast for me, so I will just say I’m the proprietor.
As with many small businesses, you probably do everything from top to bottom, is that the case with Craft South?
Yeah, a little bit. But I have the same staff that I’ve had for the past four or five years to help me run my online web shop under my personal brand. They have shifted into helping around Craft South as well. So I don’t have every responsibility of the business. We’ve all transitioned together and I have added a few employees.
Though now all of my employees have moved out of the house. Juliana, my daughter, is also working in Craft South part time, about half time I guess, in addition to working on some of her own design directions and so now my home studio is my home studio again. It’s a personal space, which is where I work out of most. I’m only at Craft South maybe ten hours a week at the most.
Wow, does that feel very luxurious now?
Immediately it felt luxurious. Actually it doesn’t feel quite luxurious right now because as soon as I moved everybody out, my air conditioning went out in attic studio, so I had to move back into the smaller downstairs studio. We’re still waiting on the quote to get that fixed and figured out, but it’s OK, I’m glad that I have those other spaces too.
And honestly, with all the kids home this summer, it was good to be downstairs and kind of near everyone else’s space because the kids march up and down the stairs to ask me 20 things all day. Being upstairs I would often lose my focus – I’d hear them coming upstairs, I’d stop what I was doing and I’d wait for them to get up to the top and ask their question and then - for some of them – I’d wait for them to not stumble their way down to the bottom.
It has been good for me to be a little bit closer to everybody’s space because then I’m free to work all day. There’s so much reorganization to do, which I’ve been mentioning on the blog, but I’m going to be taking my time to do it because I’m not just getting organized. I’m really reassessing how I spend my time in my studio now that I’m the only one there again. So I’m excited about that and I’m just taking my time to do it.
I bet it probably feels like you have a little bit of breathing room now, even though you still have many other commitments and obligations. But maybe now you’re in the right spot to take a breath.
All of the changes have made home feel like home again. I don’t feel like I live in a store anymore even though I run two stores now. I don’t feel like I live in either of them, so that is a huge change. It doesn’t make my schedule smaller or easier, it just makes my frame of mind with all of it so much healthier.
And the same applies for my whole family, which makes me happier. I feel like everybody else has a better place to live now.
That makes a lot of sense.
It was never bad. It was just always this thing that happened a lot in here.
It’s the way your kids grew up, it’s what they’ve always known.
Yes, that’s right. At the same time I felt very grateful that I was able to do that for so long because it saved me a lot of time – but it was time for change, especially because my family has gotten older. It was time for it to change. I think it also contributed to who all of us are, particularly my kids and their understanding my work.
But not everyone has the opportunity to see the ups and downs and failures and joys of their parents’ work. I think that that kind of does something for each of my kids mentally and emotionally, as they get older and process what they would like to do with their lives. I think it’s good for them to witness some of the struggles that I’ve had and definitely the benefits.
But as far as moving the shop out, I got to the point where it we were just overloaded with my business in this house. So while having my business at home was a benefit, it was also time for a change.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
Mostly drawing or doing something creative, or creative play. My parents didn’t really believe in toys so much. We had Lincoln Logs, we had blocks, we had crayons and I had a few Barbies and dolls and mostly books. But we just didn’t have gadgets and toys and of course there weren’t as many around when I was growing up, or they were more basic. But I was always jealous of all my friends’ Big Wheels and things like that.
We definitely had the basics though, and I think it was just our nature in that environment that kept me and my brother and sister doing more creative things. Plus my mom sewed and we watched her do that, and she was a lovely homemaker. And my dad, he’s an engineer and a creative individual as well. So I was drawing and coloring and painting and doing various crafts and sewing and lots of creative play, writing, making little homemade books and things like that, and a lot of pretend play. It definitely wasn’t forced upon us.
You’ve already touched on this, but in what way did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood?
A lot of things in my home were handmade by various family members - that just seemed like what people did. It probably wasn’t until later in life that I realized that everyone’s homes weren’t filled with things that were made by people that live there.
I was also attracted to some new crafts that I had never seen before, and I think that it gave me an interest in how things were made. I can remember at a pretty young age, even when I would get new clothes, I would pull them open on the inside and look at the seams and see how they were put together. I would study the construction of something and found that more interesting than the color or the fabric.
I guess I was pretty passionate at a young age, around fifth or sixth grade. I liked the way things were made and I picked out a pair of pants simply because the top edge of the pockets were gathered and shirred up and I thought that was very cool. I hadn’t seen pants like that before and I didn’t know if they were in style or cool. I just knew that I hadn’t seen pockets like that before, so I wanted them.
So the fact that I’d notice weird little details like that about things probably has as much to do with the way my mind works as it does my environment.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a mother? Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
I think that it shifted at different stages of my life. Actually, as a pretty young kid - I don’t know, around seventh and eighth grade - I envisioned it. It’s actually funny to look back and think about how prophetic it was that I identified with motherhood because I love my mother so much, and thought she did such a great job working and taking care of her kids.
I thought that was cool. She was a night nurse, so when I went to bed at night, she was going to work and when I was getting on the bus in the morning, she was coming home, and when I was at school during the day, she was sleeping. When I was coming home in the afternoon, she was getting up. So she had the whole evening and afternoon with us.
She arranged her schedule being a fulltime nurse around nurturing her kids and I think that – although I didn’t really know it at the time - was sinking into my mind. So when I thought of motherhood or work, I thought of them together and so at a very young age, I remember concocting a plan of how I could be a book illustrator and I could do that at home, and that was before people worked at home. Because 35 years ago, people didn’t work at home!
Then I had the idea that being an illustrator was something you can certainly do at home and I could remember drawing house plans. I would plan what my house is going to be like, the floor plans and at 10 or 11 years old, I had a floor plan of where my work room was going to be and what my kids were going to be and how the rest of the house was going to be. Which is really weird when I think about it, particularly because of the way I work and live now.
But as I got older and motherhood and work became more of an actual reality and not an imagined thing, I could say that my ideas about it shifted to something a little more selfish, and maybe more dramatic. When I felt more certain that I wanted to be an artist, I felt more certain that I wanted to be independent.
I never really identified with babysitting or little kids - that was my sister. She was very naturally maternal and I wasn’t necessarily so, which is funny too. I never babysat a day in my life as a teenager growing up - not one time did I ever babysit. I think that as a favor to a neighbor who was a grandma, we played with her little toddler and child sometimes, but my sister did all the work and I just played with her.
And so I think as I went through high school and college, I just envisioned myself becoming an artist, moving to New York, getting a studio apartment and I don’t know, possibly adopting a kid or having a child somewhere in my mid to late 30s someday. As I became a young woman, I didn’t envision myself as a mother with work. I just envisioned work and I just envisioned art and I guess I just envisioned the single selfish lifestyle. Not that when you’re single, that makes you selfish, but that means that my life planning was only about myself. I didn’t plan for other people. So I don’t mean selfish in terms of selfishness versus kindness, I mean it in terms of I could only think about myself.
When you talked about drawing your house, it reminded me of the only things I did when I was a kid - I did crafts and I played school and that’s about it. I never actually wanted to be a classroom teacher, but it was pretty prophetic that I ended up homeschooling my kids.
I think a lot of people pretend teacher because that’s a pivotal person in a kid’s life, right? And so a lot of kids pretend mommy and daddy and a lot of kids pretend teacher. My sister and I used to play phone company and electric company which cracks me up sometimes when I think about it now when I write out all my bills.
In your early years of motherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the latter, when did you pick it back up?
Juliana arrived when I was 19 and in art school. So I guess I always, either successfully or not, did those things alongside each other. I think that experience of being a very young mother and us being very young parents and trying to just earn a degree – not even a career – but just a degree as a student, contributed to understanding the balance between the two.
That duality contributed to my understanding of how life should or could be for me, and then what my life then became, so that I would always do one alongside the other. And the proportions still change every day.
There are larger periods of time where the proportions are significantly different whether a baby is new or not, whether a business is new or not, and just what I have going on. But as a young mother, I don’t think I anticipated the ramifications of focusing too much on my art or focusing too much on my motherhood.
What ramifications are you referring to?
I think we always have regrets. I have some of course - I wish I hadn’t worried so much about starting a business. I wish I had focused more on motherhood. But I also remind myself that Juliana came in the midst of what I call my selfish years, when all I could think about was myself and what I was going to do with my career or with my art and being a student and getting a degree.
She came right in the midst of it and swept me away from it and so there was a lot of push and pull, so of course you have regrets. I think that everybody does – I mean, you practice being a parent on your first kid. The poor thing! It’s how it is regardless of what else you were trying to do. We all are practicing.
And we - my husband and I – have had lots of chances to try and improve over the years. All the way down to my two-year-old, 21 years later.
Links to the complete series of interviews with Anna Maria are below:
You can find Anna Maria Horner in the following places: