Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Feature Artist: Cynthia Shaffer

Cynthia Shaffer is a quilter and creative sewer whose love of fabric can be traced back to childhood. In all of her creative pursuits, she enjoys the thrill of seeing a project to completion before moving onto a different project. She learned and mastered this discipline to start what she finishes early on from her father.  At the age of 6, she learned to sew and in no time was designing and sewing clothing for herself and others. After earning a degree in textiles from California State University, Long Beach, Cynthia worked for 10 years as the owner of a company that specialized in the design and manufacture of sportswear. Numerous books and magazines have featured Cynthia’s art and photography work: she is the author of Stash Happy Patchwork (Lark, 2011) and Stash Happy Appliqué (Lark, 2012). She lives with her husband Scott, sons Corry and Cameron, and beloved dog Harper in Southern California.

For more information visit her online at or

Hi Cynthia, thank you so much for being here.  It is truly an honor to have such a well published and multi-talented artist.  Oh and thank you for sparking my photography fire (she was my recent Photography 101 great).  I know you have some inspiring and helpful advice for up-and-coming artists so let's get started......
Your website lists photography, creative sewing and quilting, knit and crochet, mixed-media, and rubber, you are so creative!!! Why so many art forms?  Why not just focus on one?

Oh, Harmony, there was a chapter in my life when I could only work on one craft at a time and I did just that. For example, when my children were little I mastered the art of quilting. It was the perfect craft … I had little ones running all around the house and then a couple extras from the neighborhood. When they would take a nap, or go into their rooms for quiet time, I would work on a quilt square. If I got one square done a day, then it was a great day. After 3 months I had enough quilt squares completed to make a king sized quilt.
In the past couple of years I have turned the final page of that earlier chapter and have started a new chapter of my life … my children are in high school, and while I’m still home tending to their infrequent needs and all their friends' needs, my time is mostly spent working on freelance projects, photographing art for books, crafting and exploring a variety of medium. It seems like with every new art form I try, I am relying on a skill set that I have been honing for the past 45 years. So while it my seem like I can just try something for the first time and be pretty successful, what people might not know is that I have been sewing since I was 6 and took oil painting lessons when I was 7. I always tell people that if they did something, like sewing, for 45 years they too would be really good at it, and maybe even better than I am. Oh … I was also given the gift of patience and perseverance.

I am intrigued by the statement in your bio that mentions you learned to finish what you start from your father.  I find that many artists (me for example;) often work on many projects at a time and finish few; can you tell us a little more about what you learned from your father and how you put that into practice with your art?
When I was young my father recognized my passion for sewing and pretty much let me sew as much as I wanted as long as I finished what I started. So when I was about 9 years old I would ride my bike up and over a hill and go shopping at our local fabric store. I would roam the aisles for hours, then paw through the pattern book and pick out clothes that I wanted to make. I'd do all the math … how much fabric would I need, and how much would that cost if the fabric was $1.25 a yard. I’d add up all the costs of the notions, thread and fabric and then I'd ride my bike home and show my dad everything that I wanted and how much it would cost, almost down to the nickel ...

He’d check out my list and hand me some cash and then up and over the hill I would go, back to the fabric store. My father let me make three garments a week, as long as I finished what I started. This was such a valuable lesson that I am forever grateful to him for. If there was a problem with something I was sewing, I had to figure out, fix it or repair it. It taught me to persevere and to push through the not so fun stuff. I also learned that it feels really good to finish a project and to have something to show for your hard work and time. 

You have a book coming out soon and this will be your second solo book.  You have also been published in numerous magazines.  Can you offer some advice/suggestions to those readers that are hoping to get published? 

Yes, my second book, Stash Happy Appliqué, Lark Crafts, is due out April 3rd and I'm very excited about this book. It's packed with fun projects and I hope it really inspires people to grab their stash and appliqué a little something here and there.
There are a few things I tell friends when they want to get published... Make a lot of art and just send it in to publications that you think are perfect fits. Also, show your work on your blog and then … if an editor sends you a request for a particular project send exactly what they want and then send in even more. Editors are always looking for good art; they need good art so they can do their jobs. Make it easy for them … if they want 2 samples of your art, send 4 pieces and most importantly, meet the deadlines, in fact send your work in a week early. Good things can happen when you send your art in early. For example, a few months ago I was contacted by the editor of a new magazine tilted Stitch Craft Create, and she was asking if I would contribute some stitched pieces to her new magazine. So after brainstorming with my knitting group, I submitted my list of projects and she accepted 3 projects for her publication. Of course I had a deadline to meet, but as I was working on my projects, I sent the editor a quick note and photos to show her where the projects were headed. Because of that quick email I sent her, one my projects landed on the cover of the magazine!  

Like many artists (probably all) you have to balance your craft with your family life and social life, what strategies have you learned that help you to stay committed to your art and also able to devote the amount of time needed in other areas of your life? 

First off I’d like to say, that you can't do it ALL, all at the same time that is ...Or at least not very well … something has to give.... Does that make sense?  I’d also like to say that for me …work is fun and fun is work. I love to work and I love to work really hard. It's real work for me to try and have fun!  Now having said that, you need to know that I have always worked in the creative, crafting, sewing, art world, which makes it a little easier to love to work.

Finding that balance between my art/work and family life has been different through the years. About 20 years ago I owned a business where I designed and manufactured a line of clothing. Like any business owner, most of my days and nights and social life were spent at work. Thankfully my husband worked even more hours at his place of employment, and when he wasn't there, he was helping me out with my business. Then came the kids and something had to give. I thought I could do it all, you know, raise my kids, keep the house going, run my business, make meals, do all the laundry and so on ... it's not possible, really … not possible. If someone says that it is, they are probably lying, or not doing a very good job in one or more of those areas. In those early days when my kids were young, my husband and I decided that I needed to stay home with our kids. It wasn't an easy decision, I was the one who earned the higher income, and ... I had almost 10 years invested into a thriving clothing business. But for me as a mother and a wife, and as a person that likes to be good at what I’m working on, this was the only option. I also realized that this decision was not forever … there would be a day in the future, like today, when I can choose if I want to work on photographing art, create some projects for an upcoming article, work my Bible study or take the dogs for a walk! I live by the motto … Go. Do.  And … I rarely watch Television!

What and who inspires you?
There has never been just one thing or one person that inspires me. I do love color, details and texture and i find beauty in just about everything I see. Funny thing ... A clean house will inspire me to get in my studio and create. And If I have my camera with me I can almost always find something interesting to photograph.  
I was recently at one of my kid's high school baseball games and I was told that it was out in an area that was pretty ugly. I didn't believe it ... I could find beauty there, I just knew it. So off we went to the baseball game and I was thrilled at what I found. There was an abandoned field right next to the baseball field and while the team was warming up, I went exploring. There was amazing beauty all around me; wildflowers sprouting up, lizards scampering around, fantastic barbwire fence all gnarled up and then, much to my delight, a cargo train came flying by with beautiful graffiti painted all over the cars! I switched my camera to 6 frames a second and snapped away. 

How does art promote health and wellness in your life? 

Crafting and creating gives my mind time to rest and to heal. While I'm creating, knitting in particular, the rhythm of my needles and the softness of the yarn are all very therapeutic and meditative. You have to be still to be able to knit and while I'm still my mind can think about either the person I'm knitting for, or about life and family things. 


My husband was in Japan last year during the big earthquake and I remember just being in sort of a trance as the phone started ringing. Friends and family members were calling to find out if he was safe and how I was doing. He was safe ... bruised and shaken, but no broken bones, and after several hours he finally made it back to his hotel. Late that night, after my kids were in bed, I stayed up and crafted for hours. I worked on a journal cover while thinking of all my friends who live in Japan.

What do you know to be true??... 

Oh...I love this question.  I know many are just a few that I love and live by....

  • "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35
  • We are all given 24 hours in a single day.  Now how you spend those hours is up to you.
  • We were ALL created equal.
  • Owning a dog is a good thing!

Cynthia, thank you so much for taking the time to give us such thoughtful answers.  First of all, you have the cutest dog I have ever seen(shhh....don't tell my dog I said that).  I just loved the story about riding your bike over the hill to the fabric store and back to tell your dad all the costs.  He must have been so proud of your creativity AND your math skills ;)  I hope readers were inspired to send in their art work for publication, send more than asked for and be early on deadlines....great advice.  For more information on Cynthia please visit her websites and check out her new book,
Stash Happy Applique' that comes out in April!!!



  1. Wonderful interview ~ thank you for sharing. Off to visit Cynthia

  2. you asked just the right questions to give us good insight and good advice! thanks!

  3. what a wonderful interview! thank you so much for sharing your experience cynthia!!! i am going to take you advice to heart- i am struggling with finding time to do it all, and this is just what i needed to hear! thank you harmony for your great work! you rock!

  4. I have seen Cynthia's name in print before and was curious about her. Thank you for a GREAT interview. You have such a nice way about you and ask all the right questions. I love the lessons to be learned in this one.

  5. SUCH a great interview, Harmony. The best!!! Thanks to you and Cynthia.

  6. Hi Harmony. Loved this interview with the ever-so-talented Cynthia!