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Breakfast with Nina

So glad that you stopped by for our latest Breakfast installment! And you’re going to be glad too: Meet Nina Johnson, clothing designer, blogger, and single mom of two. Nina’s commitment to her creative life — and her ability to make it happen — are a huge inspiration. So whip up a fruit smoothie and enjoy!

nj1CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
Let’s see…some know me by NeoSewMama. My given name is Sha’Nina — although most everyone calls me Nina. I’m a 29-year-old funky, vegan, urban hippie, rockin’ a nose ring and a curly red ‘fro, who designs clothing, sings way too much, and spends most of my time making the lives of those around me lovely. I’m currently living in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, which just so happens to be the metropolis of everything funky, vegan, indie, and Earth conscious…therefore I fit right in!

nj2I am a single SAHM to two beautiful and full-of-life little people — Jade, 6, and Myles, 3. I also have a special guy in my life who we call Buckets, that I spend as much time with as his busy college football coaching job allows (long-distance relationships aren’t for the faint of heart).

My journey as a SAHM began when we learned shortly after birth that Jade had a rare condition called VACTERL Association. She spent 3 1/2 months in the NICU, had countless surgeries (open-heart, diaphragmatic hernia repair, TEF repair…just to name a few) and once home, required my around the clock TLC. nj3Although she has long-lasting medical issues, Jade has made remarkable strides from where she once was.

A few years ago (after becoming a single mom and having Myles), I began providing in-home daycare so that I could bring in some extra income and remain at home with my children. About 10 months ago I realized that the long hours and stress was putting too much of a strain on our little family, so I quit and decided to pursue my clothing designing on a more full-time basis.

CC: Tell us about your creative work and what’s on the offing in your Etsy shop.
Although my true love creatively is clothing construction, baking and crafting with my children come in a close second and third.nj4 I can and will make just about anything. Lately I have been focusing a lot of time on learning (and mastering) dyeing, printmaking, crocheting, knitting, and weaving. I used to think it was bad that I was so all over the place with my creative interests. I now know that it’s great because it expands the possibilities of what I can create.

My goal is to incorporate all of these various mediums into my clothing creations as embellishments. My dream is to build a complete line of clothing and accessories and to successfully maintain a boutique of my own. Right now, my etsy shop consists of a few hand-dyed items and a handful of my favorite vintage finds. Over the next month or so I plan to introduce many new designs…mostly one-of-a-kind pieces for spring and summer.

nj5CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
I originally decided to start a blog as a project of sorts with my best friend and sister, Ki. We are inseparable (even though we live thousands of miles away and didn’t grow up with each other) and are ALWAYS finding things that we can do together. We thought blogging would be a good way to document all the things happening in our lives and provide a visual scrapbook not only for the two of us to share, but also something that we could show our children someday. Gradually it grew into much more than that as I found it becoming a part of me…my voice. As a single, stay-at-home mom with very little family and few friends, I spend all of my time with my children. There is only so much that I can share with them…meaning there is not a lot of deep, intellectual conversation being had here. So a lot of my thoughts and ideas where being stifled. I have found that blogging is just a new form of the journaling that I have used as an outlet throughout my life. I’ve also met so many wonderful people blogging. I feel blessed to have made many lifelong connections through the blogging community.

CC: Do you find that your blog keeps you “honest” creatively? Meaning that you have a place to state your intentions — and that you need to keep producing work in order to have something creative to blog about?
I do believe that it keeps me honest creatively…just not necessarily so that I have something to blog about. I mean I do believe that mentioning my works in progress helps keep me motivated somewhat. I’m a firm believer in the idea that we speak things into being. So once I state it there…and can visually see it, I am much more determined to see it completed. As much as I am blogging to share my creations with others, I am also doing it to encourage myself.

nj6CC: Where do you do your creative work?
I do most of my creating in our living room/dining room. I began working in a small space I set up so that I could work while watching the kids play. My work has now spilled over to the dining room table (it has a larger cutting surface area). I have also created a dye “studio” in my basement in which I spend quite a bit of time as well. I want to move my work elsewhere so I can feel better about leaving things messy, but that will have to wait…more than likely until we move into a bigger place.

nj7CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
I have a schedule. I even went as far as setting alarms into my BlackBerry to stay on track. It worked for a while but as of late we have had a lot of distractions and illnesses that have really curtailed things on the creative end. Since I’m at my best in the morning, I try and spend the first two hours back home after dropping Jade off at school blogging, e-mailing, picture taking, packaging, fabric cutting and/or sewing. From noon til 8:30 it’s pretty much mommy duty. After the kids are in bed I try to fit in as much sewing and dyeing as I can before I pass out (which lately has been well before 10 p.m.).

nj10CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
My journey through motherhood has pushed me to pursue my creative endeavors with much more passion. I was originally planning to go to college for fashion design right after high school. But for whatever reason I thought it was impractical, so I put my interest in clothing design aside and focused on becoming a teacher instead. I packed away my sewing machine and let it sit collecting dust. After many, many years of always putting everyone else’s needs first and going out of my way to make sure everyone else was happy, I made the choice that it was time to do something for me. I rediscovered my first love…sewing.

nj9CC: What do you struggle with most?
NJ: My biggest challenges are time management and staying productive. There is hardly enough time in the day to do all the things that I need to do, even less to do all that I should do and NEVER enough to do all that I want to do. I have tried many tactics — some that have worked better than others (lists and prioritizing), but it continues to be a struggle. I want so badly to be able to become more productive as far as my shop is concerned. I have very small blocks of time to work within, so a dress that I should be able to finish in day usually takes me days (sometime a week) to complete. I know there is a solution…I just haven’t discovered it yet.

nj11CC: Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere…literally. Playing outside with kids. The colors in ads or product packaging, old movies, African and Japanese culture, magazines, people on the street, blogs, the way my daughter puts her clothing together, vintage fabric, my imagination…the list goes on. I sketch out ideas as I get them…sometimes in my sketchbook other times on napkins, receipts, bills, or on whatever I have near me at the moment.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
Just five? Hmmmm…this is hard. I’ll have to do the first five that come to mind…

  1. Quejimenez — my sis
  2. Fly
  3. Heart Handmade
  4. Jubella
  5. Puhti

nj12CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
Indulgences…another hard question. It used to be fabric and magazines but I have cut both my fabric and magazine buying drastically in the last year or so. I’d have to say that drinking tea or coffee in the morning before the kids wake up…and again at night after “cuddle time” is over is something I like doing just for me. The occasional pint of Ciao Bella Blood Orange Sorbet or a movie via Netflix (when I can stay awake) is always a lovely treat. With all that said, my most favorite thing — hands down — is spending time being silly with my children. Our singing/dance parties are much more lively than any nightclub could ever be.

CC: What are you reading right now?
I’m always reading something. There are stacks of books all over my house to prove it. Never been much of a novel person. I was always that kid reading biographies and home improvement/how-to manuals…which is probably why I can figure out how to make just about anything. The books I’m currently dragging from room to room are: Donald Trump’s Think Big and Kick Buttocks (I don’t use the real word), The Unschooling Handbook, The God of Small Things, Ralph S. Mouse (with the kids), Fast Knits Fat Needles and a constant source of reference is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.

nj13CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
I know it sounds like the obvious, but be creative when and wherever you can be. As a single mama with very little help, I’m almost never alone. If I waited for free time to create it would never happen. I find things to do that are portable and take them with me to Jade’s doctor’s visits, to the park or anywhere else we go. It may take me a bit longer to finish things, but at least I’m continually creative.

Although creating for self is great, I believe making time to create on a daily basis with your children is just as important. Teaching kids to be creative at an early age helps open them up to self-discovery and gives them methods in which to express themselves. It puts the power to dream in their fingertips.

nj8It’s never too late to learn a new craft or skill. I’ve always wanted to learn to crochet or knit but could never quite get the hang of it. I had come to the conclusion that maybe it just wasn’t for me. But after Jade learned to knit from a kit she got last Christmas, I was determined to pick up a pair of needles myself. I’m happy to report that since then I have not only taught myself to knit, but I have also figured out crocheting and we have made a weaving loom as well. I guess I’m trying to master all the fiber arts.

Last but not least, NEVER let anything or anyone keep you from expressing yourself creatively. There have been many setbacks and detours in my life that at times had me questioning whether or not I should pursue my creative endeavors. But to suppress that desire would be to deny all that is within me. And what good are you to anyone — yourself, your family, or society — if you aren’t your authentic self? I have known from a very young age who I was meant to be and what I wanted to do with my life. I am not settling for anything less than living this dream. Don’t stop until you have become the you that you see in your dreams!

CC: Love, love your advice and perspective, Nina. Thank you so much!

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. cathy #

    even with the challenges of a special needs child, you rock! i have to remember to have more fun with my older kids. thanks for reminding me.

    February 27, 2009
  2. Nina,

    Your creativity seems limitless. Is there anything you don’t do? 🙂

    I really enjoyed this interview, as I can relate to many of your struggles and frustrations. It is inspiring to see another mother juggling her creative life as well as you seem to.

    February 27, 2009
  3. Liz #

    Welcome! I love your stuff! I love your attitude! Life isn’t going to be neat, cool, amazing or beautiful unless you make it that way. Looks like you’ve got that part down.

    February 27, 2009
  4. It sounds as if your creativity is a voice that needs to be heard. I love that you nurture it and explore it in a variety of ways with such confidence. I know what it’s like to juggle many priorities. It’s good to know that there are so many others out there (on this blog and elsewhere) who work hard to attack the same issues head-on.

    February 27, 2009
  5. Kristine #

    I also loved this interview, Nina. What you’ve accomplished is an inspiration. I love your outlook on life and creativity.

    And your kiddies are adorable!

    February 27, 2009
  6. Awesome lady!

    February 27, 2009
  7. Jen #

    Fantastic interview — such an inspiration! Thank you!

    March 1, 2009
  8. I have been a follower of Neo Sew Mama for about a year. It quickly became one of my most favorite blogs. I admire all that she manages to do. It is an inspiration to me.

    March 2, 2009
  9. Nina is such an amazing mom! She is quite AWESOME and admirable. Great interview and quite an inspiration!

    March 2, 2009
  10. Nina, you definitely rock. Reading this interview has inspired me that much more. I tell myself this: If she can find the time then so can you. Thank you Nina for sharing your truth. It’s most appreciated.

    March 10, 2009

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