Thursday, 10 March 2011

Creativity - Is It In The Genes?

I have often wondered where my creativity comes from. I cannot draw or paint and I am tone deaf and no amount of art or music lessons could ever teach me those skills. Yet I have always had the ability to make things. Was I born with this talent? I began to think about my childhood and my family...

Both my Grandmothers were creative, a relic of the "make do & mend" era after the war. They taught me to cook, to sew, darn, embroider, tapestry, knit and a host of other things. They made all my clothes as a child, they knitted all my dolls clothes. My paternal Grandma taught me to make pom poms and paper flowers. She sold her knitting to friends and colleagues and if it required a pom pom she let me make it. My maternal Grandma used to make tapestry kneelers for the local church, she let me help, doing sections of hers, until I eventually made a full one by myself. My maternal Grandfather, who died before I was born used to write poetry (I have had several of my own poems published).

One of my earliest memories is my 2nd Birthday. I wanted a Dolls House. They were expensive, my Dad was a Bricklayer and my Mum had just given birth to my Brother and money was tight. My Dad made me one from wood, the outer walls were covered with wallpaper with a brick pattern, the roof was wallpaper with a slate pattern. The front door opened, the roof lifted up so I could get inside, someone bought me a tiny wooden chair and table to put in it. That's the only furniture I remember, as I grew older, I made all my own furniture from junk!

As a child we used to attend all the Brisca Formula 1 stock car meetings. My Dad made scale models of the cars from Balsa wood and painted them in the drivers liveries. He taught me how to do it and by the age of 9 or so I was selling my models to his workmates!
In the 1970s pin and thread art was huge. My Mum used to make them. She taught me and again by age 10 I was making my own and selling them to her workmates. I still remember my favourite was a gold and silver lurex thread owl on a midnight blue velvet background!
Every Christmas/Birthday would bring me some sort of craft kit. I made candles, painted glass, too many things to list. I made cards and gifts for all my family's occasions as pocket money never went far in those days. I made all my own dolls clothes and furniture and houses for them.

In my last year of Junior school, aged 10, the whole class knitted a teddy. In spite of both my Grandmas best efforts, I had never really mastered the art back then. It took the rest of the class 4 weeks to complete. I drove the teacher to distraction, as every row I knitted had more or less stitches than it should have. At dropping stitches I was a master! They lent me the pattern book when I left school and 4 whole years later, they wrote to me asking for it back. I kid you not folks, it really did take me 4 years to finish the teddy that everyone else managed in 4 weeks! It was full of holes, but I could darn, so I sewed them up and embroidered his name "Fred" over the top to hide it. He was an epic failure but I kept him as a homage to the powers of perseverence! A year later, my baby sister was born and I gave her "Fred the Ted". Amazingly, he became her favourite toy, they were inseparable, she refused to sleep without him. He went astray once on a shopping trip, she was inconsolable! We had to run a mercy mission, by bus, back to the supermarket, where thankfully somebody had handed him in and they were happily reunited! She still has him to this day, I think.

At senior school I learnt Macrame. Soon every single member of my family had at least half a dozen plant holders hanging from their ceilings!

My Mums eldest sister was a freelance artist drawing fashion for magazines, her other sister made glass terrariums, leather belts and is now a watercolour artist. They are all accomplished knitters, my Mum used to knit the display models for a wool shop. Although my eldest Aunt knitted beautiful jumpers, my Brother and myself used to dread each Christmas, as the necks were always so tight they used to rip our ears off each time they were forced over our heads!

As we got older, my Brother dabbled with leather tooling, carving his favourite Kiss album cover, bas relief, onto a piece of leather and painting it before affixing it to his denim jacket. I took the typical Heavy Metal option of embroidering the names of my favourite bands on mine! I also did his and most of our friends. I added fancy indian braid to the bottoms of my jeans and frayed the hems. My Saturday job didn't pay much, so I was constantly remodelling my clothes. I did attempt to make clothes from scratch, but although I could sew, I wasn't much good at fathoming patterns, so most tended to be "freeform". I knitted an 8 foot long "Dr Who" scarf, partly because it was fashionable, but mainly because I hadn't mastered the art of casting off! It probably would've reached 20 foot, but my Grandma took pity on me and showed me for the 100th time how to do it!

When I was pregnant with Daughter #1, I decided it really was time to get my head round the knitting thing. Armed with some simple patterns and a telephone (every row, every dropped stitch, every "what do I do now?", I rang my mum!). Eventually, painstakingly, some tiny baby clothes emerged, with only a few holes and in time to fit her! By Daughter #2, I was an expert, even inventing my own patterns! I also knitted teddies in various garb, firemen, ballerinas, chefs, you name it & sold them to my family's workmates. (Fred the Ted, I thank you!)

Next I made novelty cakes for the Daughters' Christenings and Birthdays and other members of the family. I sold a couple, but the cost of the icing alone made them expensive.

See more of my cake pictures here: Tracey's Tasty Recipes

When the Daughters started school I took up Salt Dough modelling, began selling it at craft fairs up & down the country. My cross-eyed sheep were a huge hit! However it began to take over my life. We lived on salads as the oven was constantly full of dough models, the kitchen worktops were stacked with painted, half-varnished drying things. It had stopped being fun & become a chore! Enough was enough. I did some major cross-stich pieces, but I'm impatient and they took forever. I was putting in 16 hour stints, till it was more a case of cross-eyes than cross-stitch! I had also mysteriously developed arthritis in my hands.

I made cushions from jeans and clothes the Daughters had outgrown, but the fabric was far too pretty to throw away. I do have something of a tendency towards obsession though and by the time I was having to evict 30 cushions before climbing into bed, that had to stop too! 
So I got a job as a florist, which I adored! But then my constant health issues were finally diagnosed as Crohn's Disease, and having taken so many years, by then I required emergency surgery which put an immediate end to my budding career!

Now, totally depressed and virtually housebound, I made some beaded safety pin bracelets, and struggled to sell them. The Daughters' friends all loved them, but being young teenagers, they couldn't afford to buy them. That's when The Partner Who Is Not My Husband stepped in. At that time, he wasn't quite yet The Partner, he was still "The Best Friend of 20 Odd Years Standing". He insisted they would sell if I found the right venue and began looking around. As usual, he was proved right! Now he had become The Partner... and he found me a local fair and  Saddleworth Crafts Co-operative.
The rest you already know!

My baby sister is now a fully grown trained milliner! You can check out her work here, on Ebay: All The Cute Things, on Folksy: All The Cute Things, on Facebook: Cut Things Hair Accessories and Hats

Daughter #2 makes, remodels and designs her own clothes in her spare time. Check out her work here (although her website is still in its infancy): Ambers Boutique. She has also taken over the novelty cake making from me.

Daughter #1 bemoans her lack of creativity, yet she draws amazing cariacatures, has made toys from face cloths, bag charms/keyrings for her friends. Like me, she is impatient and wants quick results, I am positive that sooner or later she will find something creative to satisfy that!

I introduced my watercolour artist/knitting Aunt to Saddleworth Crafts, she is now also a member. You can view her work here: Watercolours, Corsages, Cards & Bookmarks.

My Mum still knits and sells it, my Dad has taken up Sculpture since he retired. Sadly both my Grandmas are no longer with us.

So, is creativity in the genes? I really and truly do believe it is! What do you think? Please share your own experiences and opinions with me, I would be interested to hear them.


  1. Lovely post. I think creativity must be in our family genes as like you I was not very good at tradition arts like music, drawing or painting but have always loved making things. And yes, I do still have Fred the Ted!

  2. Wonderful story! What a creative family you have.

    I believe that everyone is born creative. We are all creative in our own way, not everyone creates art or crafts, but business people use creativity everyday, shopkeepers use creativity to sells us things, even the person who cuts our hair is creative.

    A lot of people say they are not creative, I think creativity is something you just need to tap and practice on a regular basis.

    Great post.

  3. Thank you Valerie. I agree with you. I think we all have creative potential but not everyone taps into theirs.

    Michelle, I am so glad you still have Fred the Ted! I have knitted one for my little niece or nephew, it only took me 8 hours and you'll be pleased to know there are no holes in it!