Lessons in Living a French Life

Bringing a touch of French culture to everyday life

A Maker's Life

Karen Kriebl

We are well into the New Year. For me, this is a big year. My daughter applies to graduate school. My son leaves for university. Tim and I find ourselves “empty nesters,” searching for our permanent home in France and negotiating the art of French paperwork. It’s a year of new beginnings. New schools. New home. New business. While all the changes can feel unsettling, I am focusing on the making of a new life. I love to create things and this moment, while overwhelming to be sure, is an opportunity to apply all that I have learned in order to create a new way of being in the world.

I have always been a maker. Drawn to the quality of handmade things, I desire to have a direct relationship to the object. To design. To produce. To consume something that has a story of which I am a part. It is always more about the process than the final product. For me, it is the way that you get to it.

A few years ago, I went down the Rabbit Hole that is Midori traveler’s journals. It’s a wonderful way to repurpose old wallets, collections of papers, and favorite charms. You can make planner pages, notebooks, and even sketch pads. I used an old Hermes catalogue to make covers for some of my Midori notebooks. The paper proved to be the perfect weight. You’ll find a lot of information and creative inspiration online. Check out my Pinterest account - Karen Kriebl - and find a Pin board just for my “Planner Fetish.”

A few years ago, I went down the Rabbit Hole that is Midori traveler’s journals. It’s a wonderful way to repurpose old wallets, collections of papers, and favorite charms. You can make planner pages, notebooks, and even sketch pads. I used an old Hermes catalogue to make covers for some of my Midori notebooks. The paper proved to be the perfect weight. You’ll find a lot of information and creative inspiration online. Check out my Pinterest account - Karen Kriebl - and find a Pin board just for my “Planner Fetish.”

The rise of the Maker’s movement in the United States, both its ideas and response to the current manufacturing process, is nothing new. Think back to the Aesthetic movement in Victorian England. The focus was on quality and craftsmanship over the new mass production of inferior goods. These ideals of John Ruskin and William Morris left a lasting impression on design and the creation of objects. Their work influenced the Bauhaus in Germany, art nouveau in France, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School of architecture in the U.S. The 19th-century American Arts and Crafts movement lead the discussion regarding form and function, influenced how people thought about what should be made, who should make it, how it should be made, and why we even make things in the first place. These are the same tenets of today’s makers, infused into a social movement with an artisan spirit.

Am I a maker or am I an artist? People are passionate about this question. Perhaps, it’s a conversation best left for another post. Yet, there is an important commonality between the two that fits into my maker’s life:

cre·a·tiv·i·ty | noun
The use of the imagination in the production of an artistic work
A partnership between an idea and the materialization of that inspiration

I am inspired by countless things. A simple scrap of vintage French fabric can be the inspiration for an entire room. A simple bead can spark my creativity to want to design a new bag or embellish the edge of a scarf. You can often find me hovering over the dining room table with piles of fabric. I move pieces around to create different possibilities. I stand back, squint, and consider how they work together. Sometimes the project spills over to a nearby chair, or if really challenging, the sofa. I have to see things as combinations. Touch them. Experiment. The same is true for my beadwork or my spinning, or my knitting. Every type of embellishment, fiber, or yarn has to be on that table for consideration, encouraging inspiration to strike. Somewhere in that mess, magic happens.

I do organize my piles into smaller groups of possibilities before I begin to construct whatever I am making. But at the start, it is sheer chaos until inspiration strikes. I love to do tiny work so I am attracted to small beads. I enjoy using a kevlar thread to crochet beads into bracelets or necklaces. I must have been a jewelry maker in a past life.

I do organize my piles into smaller groups of possibilities before I begin to construct whatever I am making. But at the start, it is sheer chaos until inspiration strikes. I love to do tiny work so I am attracted to small beads. I enjoy using a kevlar thread to crochet beads into bracelets or necklaces. I must have been a jewelry maker in a past life.

Creativity is closely connected to curiosity. One way to be curious is to discover new artistic outlets, explore different techniques and mediums. No doubt you'll find some things won't work. For example, me at a potter's wheel. Not a positive experience. But give me a spinning wheel and I make magic happen. Ask me to paint a still life that resembles a bowl of fruit, the result is a frustrating experience. Yet, repurposing vintage fabric into something beautiful and useful, I can do that successfully and with pleasure. I'll take needle and thread over brush and paint any day. We all have our own creative gifts. If something doesn't work for you, move on. Perhaps that experience leads you to your maker’s groove. Try something else and see what happens. You just have to be sure to begin.

I discovered this amazing tool at a flohmarkt in Berlin. It’s called a ruling pen and is often found in vintage drafting sets. It is the pen to the left of the paintbrush above. You adjust the tiny screw to change the thickness of the lines. I used a handmade watercolor from the pastel plant and you load the ruling pen with a paintbrush. You can use ink or thinned acrylic paints. It takes some practice to get the pressure just right but I really enjoyed the process. It definitely sparked my creativity. I plan on making some mats for a collection of 19th-century French drawings. They require something special.

I discovered this amazing tool at a flohmarkt in Berlin. It’s called a ruling pen and is often found in vintage drafting sets. It is the pen to the left of the paintbrush above. You adjust the tiny screw to change the thickness of the lines. I used a handmade watercolor from the pastel plant and you load the ruling pen with a paintbrush. You can use ink or thinned acrylic paints. It takes some practice to get the pressure just right but I really enjoyed the process. It definitely sparked my creativity. I plan on making some mats for a collection of 19th-century French drawings. They require something special.

For anyone living a maker’s life, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic, is a must read. Through her collection of short reflections, she argues that in order to live a creative life, one must uncover their own “treasure” or “gift” and offer it to the world. That personal process of discovery is what she means by “Big Magic.” She writes, "The courage to go on that hunt in the first place - that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one." Gilbert reminds us that living that life doesn't mean dedicating yourself solely to the arts. It is a life driven by curiosity and courage, rather than fear of failure and "shoulds."

Being curious opens the door to allow inspiration - that thought that gives you goosebumps and makes your heart beat fast - to slip in. Once you have that idea, then you have a choice to make. Say "no." Most people do. Or say "yes" and then it is game on. You have entered into a contract with inspiration. Be assured:

If you are inspired to do something, you also have the ability to achieve it.

If you embrace this knowing, you will allow inspiration to point you in a direction and reveal paths. Coincidences will appear that confirm you are heading toward your desire. You'll wake in the middle of the night thinking about your idea. Your inspiration will distract you from your daily routine. It will pester you. Not leave you alone until it has your complete attention. The next thing you know, you packed your family, pets, and favorite belongings and are now house hunting for your forever home in Burgundy. I found that nothing else could take the place of my desire to live in France, so there was no choice but to make it happen.

Embrace the fact that you are called to be a maker. Yes, living a creative life is about making things. But it is also about courage, persistence, and trust. You define your outlet. Whether you enjoy writing, knitting, cooking, painting, or gardening, think about how you can open that door even wider to experience a fuller life. A few ideas to help you to live a maker’s life:

Slow your tasks down. Be selfish and carve out time just to "unplug" and be present with whatever medium gives you joy. Infuse creativity into your simple, daily tasks.

Give yourself permission to be curious. Pick up something new to learn. If it doesn't inspire you, let it go. Yet, the experiment just might lead you to your creative passion.

Create a small space in your home that is just for you to make things. It doesn't have to be a grand art studio. I remember visiting a neighbor in Hawaii. She was a skilled painter and illustrator of children's books. Micki showed me her "studio." A tiny portion at the end of her front lanai. Not a useful space at first glance. The square footage was smaller than my dining room tabletop. But she incorporated a bench filled with colorful pillows along the end and placed a table in front to hold her paints and brushes. A carefully repaired handmade precious ceramic cup held her water. She had a small easel propped up with a canvas already in process. A tiny watercolor book went with her in case inspiration struck while she was in the coffee orchard. It was a lovely space. Simple and beautiful. Like her.

In Hawaii, my “studio” was a portable table that Tim made from some old wood found under our coffee shack. A couple of pillows and I was ready to create. Here, I was gold leafing the tops of jars.

In Hawaii, my “studio” was a portable table that Tim made from some old wood found under our coffee shack. A couple of pillows and I was ready to create. Here, I was gold leafing the tops of jars.

The hardest part of living a maker’s life is that once you create something, you have to put it out into the world. This can be scary and make you feel vulnerable to criticism and people telling you that it just won't work. Self doubt creeps in. Thoughts that you should have stayed with the safe option nag at you. But you were born to create. Trust that. Human beings have always been creative beings. 40,000 year-old cave paintings provide beautiful evidence of that fact.

Besides the alternative is not to make things. Not to be curious. Not to allow inspiration to find you. For me, that life is just not possible.


Find some time this spring to do something you really enjoy, for no other reason than you really enjoy doing it.

À bientôt,

Karen

I add a blog post quarterly - more or less with the changing seasons. For a weekly dose of something "short and sweet" and a nod to French culture, be sure to subscribe to my Weekly Voilàs on this website. For those that have already subscribed, merci. Your support encourages me to take the next step in “living a french life.” If you have any questions about our online collection, Le Shop, or if I can provide further information, please feel free to drop me a note. I enjoy the conversation. As always, it is a privilege to share this journey with you.