katie mcclain's teacher tribute

Katie, what’s a story about someone who taught or encouraged you to write (or create) in your own way?

I’m surprised to say that the person who encouraged me to create is my mom. Why am I surprised? Well, she often told me I could do or be anything when I grew up, but I never realized before being asked by Grace that my mom’s encouragement was the fuel that got me started on my creative path.

Mom didn’t say no to me when I was nine and asked her if I could use the old Singer sewing machine. The machine lived in a closed cabinet in the tiny, oppressive hallway in the one of the houses I grew up in. Mom showed me how to open the top of the cabinet and lay the cover flat to create my workspace. She pulled the heavy machine up from the case and set it in place. I watched her thread the machine and she showed me the correct way to fill and thread the bobbin. She taught me how to put two pieces of fabric together, place them under the presser foot, then send the pieces carefully (“So you don’t sew your finger!”) through until they came out joined together. This was quite miraculous to my nine-year-old self and it opened up a world of possibilities.

I was soon making doll clothes (without a pattern) that didn’t really fit the dolls. I explored craft magazines and used old scraps of fabric to create or to just sew. I loved the experience of seeing what would come of cutting and sewing pieces of fabric together.

I became obsessed with sewing and was soon making myself clothes for school. In one of the craft magazines I scoured, I found a pattern with instructions for making a prairie doll holding an itty bitty teddy bear. She was so cute! I begged for jobs around the house (I ironed piles and piles of clothes for a nickel per piece) to earn money so I could buy the supplies needed to make that doll.

The base of the doll was an empty two-liter coke bottle ­– the kind made of glass (remember those?). The head was a Styrofoam ball that was pushed down onto the neck of the bottle. There was yarn for hair, brown and pink felt for making the bear, beads and lace for detail, and coordinating calico fabric for the dress and apron. Making the doll required hand sewing, machine sewing, and embroidery. I was in heaven.

I completed my first prairie doll and my mom proudly took her to show off to her friends at work. When mom arrived home from work that evening, my first business was born. She brought with her orders for seven more dolls! I can’t recall whether they set the price or I did, but I was paid $12 for each doll I delivered. I made no profit, since each doll took hours and hours of work, but I learned that I could use my creativity and passion to make anything I wanted to.

That early experience with creating still affects my work and writing life today. I find that I get very inspired by things and then go a little wacky creating my own take on them. I’m proud of the skill and stick-to-itiveness I learned starting at age nine when I learned about using that sewing machine.

Believing in another person’s ability to fulfill their dreams is one of the best gifts you can give to someone. That’s what my mom did for me.


katie's writing desk (click the photo to enlarge it)


more about katie

Katie McClain was once a fashion designer who traveled the world. Now she’s a certified Life Coach who specializes in working with moms and their boys. Katie’s books include How to Tame Your Thought Monster. She lives in California with her husband, teenage son, and three doggy children.

[Photos from Katie McClain]


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