I’ve loved getting to know Sophe through our email exchanges these last few weeks. She and her husband have made their home comfortable and stylish without feeling stuffy, and the house is also a home base for Sophe’s clothing and textile business. Their home has a clear emphasis on art and creativity — you know when a family has decided to use their living room as an arts and crafts room, that you are with a family who values creating beautiful things.

Sophe also shares, quite vulnerably, what it was like growing up with a mom with mental illness, and her own fears about being a parent. Welcome, Sophe!

My name is Sophe and I live with my husband Sonny, our children Vita and Leo and an obscene amount of stuffed puppies, in a 1930’s frame house painted a shade of pink that we’ve been lovingly warned by neighbors is a landmark that we can’t (read: shouldn’t) change anytime soon. Truth be told, the color really does grow on you, so if I hated pink before I moved into this house, I now love it. 

Our daughter, Vita, is a 5 year old aspiring chef who has already illustrated over twenty art books that I usually find stuffed into the couch cushions or hidden under her pillow with a stack of colored pencils. Our son, Leo, is a 4 year old master builder and tree identifier who can correctly name and use tools I’ve never heard of and play the finest smooth jazz on the piano at dinner time, but can’t seem to perform the simplest task of putting his shoes on before leaving the house without the most theatrical display of extra-ness I’ve ever seen. 

My husband Sonny is a gifted mathematician and skilled craftsman who works long night shifts as a machinist and usually has too many projects going on at once. His hobbies include restoring his ’69 Chevelle and storing welding equipment and car parts in our dining room and any other previously uncluttered space in our small home. As for me, I’m a lot of wonderful and odd things I haven’t figured out yet, but mostly I’m a passionately curious artist and seamstress, and generally delightful but strict mother. I can usually be found making my own clothes, gardening, creating art with my kids or watching BBC historical dramas, but maybe not in that order. 

My husband and I met in 2005 and dated on and off until 2013 when we discovered I was pregnant with our daughter Vita. That year we got married, bought a house, and had a baby, but definitely not in that order! Everyday we work hard on communicating better and making our marriage feel supportive and our children feel nurtured. We don’t always get it right, but we are always trying to be our best, and I think that’s what matters the most. 

Our home is located in the Saint Streets neighborhood of Lafayette, Louisiana, a neighborhood of eclectic homes that resemble cottages built in the mid 1900’s with prices ranging from $150,000 to $1,000,000 in quick walking distance.

Lafayette itself is a mostly charming college town with lots of young folks and some good energy to back it up. Within walking distance to our house we can catch live music at several stages downtown, watch a ULL football game at Cajun Field, grab a few books at the library, get our groceries, play at a few nearby parks, or visit the Paul and Lulu Hilliard Art Museum.

Our kids go to the community supported French Immersion school in the neighborhood which is a wonderful, and also free, public school program we have loved being a part of.

There is always something going on less than a mile away like Festivale Internationale in April, Festival Acadien et Creole in October, an Art Walk every month, and so many other wonderful things to do with kids (and let’s be honest, without kids!).

Our home itself is a 1500 sq ft pink cottage surrounded by lush plants and tropicals, with two bedrooms, one bath and two living spaces, one of which is a studio space where I sew clothing and home goods under the business name Urban Roots Handmade. We bought our house in 2013 for close to $200,000 and have been working on it constantly ever since.

We live and have enjoyed living modestly here most of the time, but when we do occasionally get upset with the neighborhood for either the lack of personal space or the negligence in a few homes’ upkeep, we remind ourselves that ours is nearly paid for and that we don’t need a fancy house to live comfortably or to raise happy kids.

We have loving family and friends nearby, who help out enormously in the raising of our kids and the keeping of our sanity, and that is worth its weight in gold and is much cheaper than therapy.  

When we were house hunting in 2013 after finding out I was pregnant, we looked in the town I was currently living in, doing environmental work along the Gulf Coast, but nothing felt like it fit there, and we decided to look in our hometown of Lafayette.

When I walked into this pink house for the first time, the adorable and lively family that was living there made me feel like this house could be a happy place to raise kids, which I was already so nervous about doing. The daughters who were at the table coloring pictures of their pink house made me think that someday I’d have a daughter coloring at the table, too.

I knew instantly that this was going to be our first house and urged my husband to offer to buy it on the spot. He did, the offer was accepted, and we moved in within the month. Now my daughter is usually spotted at the same table (which they left for us) coloring landscapes of her pink house with rainbows and her family picking flowers in the front yard, too. 

This house has always felt like home to me, and sometimes home is calming and sometimes home is challenging. When I walk into my home I first walk directly into my sewing studio, which can remind me, if I’m behind, that there’s work to be done, but can also remind me that this is a creative little house full of life and holds the beauty of doing and not simply of being.

A few years ago I would have considered myself a neutral minimalist, and while I haven’t completely eschewed my taste for the spare, I do love the way a full house of clashing pattern and art can make me feel alive inside.  Colors and textures can be powerful inspirations, and can help to remind me that life should be warm and full of life, and will sometimes include chaos. 

Above all, I believe a home should have in it practical items that are beautiful and of high quality, antiques, natural textiles, and colorful art. If flowers from the garden are in season, or are gifted from friends’ gardens, they’ll find their way into the house as well. There is nothing like a house full of flowers, and of happy thoughts of those that love you enough to gift them. 

Growing up I took a few summer sewing and painting classes from my grandmother that really made an impression on me. She helped me to sew my first dress in middle school, and in high school I sewed my own quilt, but didn’t pick up sewing again until my daughter was born and I found myself knee deep in cloth diaper sewing and clothing making.

While I’d appreciate if no one ever asked me to sew another cloth diaper, I feel that I could sew clothing every day and truly do, whether personally or professionally. To this day, I’ve made around 1,000 handmade garments and people literally stop me on the street to tell me (sometimes yelling it at me) I LOVE YOUR PANTS! WHERE DID YOU GET THAT SKIRT! THAT SHIRT, I NEED IT!

It’s been a beautiful experience and one I use to encourage people I meet to start sewing themselves, to start making their own clothing, and to make pieces you’ll love so much that you will wear it until it needs mending. And then, of course, I urge mending.

Several years ago I was interviewed on the Close Knit Podcast about my sewing business and how I make clothing plastic free. My discussion on plastic waste in the sewing industry seemed to resonate with many people, and the feedback seemed to be one of inspiration and action. Since that podcast, which you can find here  there seems to have been an explosion in the efforts to make and ship plastic free. I was one of the first shops to start the plastic free work style in 2016 and now there are many carrying the torch to promote better quality items that last longer, are made by hand, and that use little to no plastic. I’m thrilled about the progress. 

There is something so inherently delightful about wearing clothing that you made yourself, from a textile you’ve sourced, in a style that feels authentically you, but I will tell you, it’s much more than that to me. I started sewing because mothering was and still is exceedingly difficult for me, and I was losing myself in it. I know the role of Mother is a powerful one and some people get consumed by it, but I knew I didn’t want to be over identifying with the role and losing the things I remember so loving to do.

When my grandmother warned me that I was dissolving into depression, she strongly urged me to pick back up one of the creative hobbies she herself was so well known for and had taught me how to do. Having sewn many of her six children’s clothes herself, she knew how important it was to have a creative outlet when the stress of mothering gets to be too much.

She was right, and I owe a lot of my view of what a creative mother can be to her and to the talented and loving women she raised.

Often people will ask my parents about how I was as a child, and I joke that the only thing they can come up with is talking about just how adamant and particular I was about wearing the clothing I picked out for myself. This must’ve made a lasting scar on my mother, and I like to think this was some foreshadowing of what was to come with me and my need to feel authentically myself in clothing I’ve made.

I like to think that whatever I don’t have in life I can make, or I can make do. I think this is one of my best qualities, and something I hope to teach my kids. 

I would not have started my own business if I didn’t have kids. The desire to be present with them when I can and not send them to daycare in their younger years was extremely motivating for me, and I worked tirelessly at night while they slept to grow my business, often until three or four in the morning, to then get up and have a full day with my young kids.

Often I found myself unable to prevent slipping into a work flow at night that would give me seemingly boundless amounts of energy, living off of the high of creativity and passion for several days afterward. It happened so often that I would continue like this, with little sleep for months, until I felt my body would be close to crashing.

I’ve since learned a little better how to regulate my creativity and passion, but I don’t think regulation of it for my health’s sake is as personally inspiring as being in an intense state of flow that I’ve known to be extremely productive. 

Right now I am trying to focus on moderation, and I work diligently at maintaining it. I am always a work in progress; I hope that my children see that their mother was able to contribute to their lives and to the family, while doing something she loved and was happy to be doing. 

Sometimes I joke inappropriately that I birthed two kids, but I really have three (my husband!) but aren’t we all kids inside?

I wish you’d asked me what I want to be when I grow up — and I’d have answered that I’d love to be a seamstress on the set of any period drama made in Europe. I sometimes feel I am living in the wrong century, in the wrong country, but I don’t want to take the luxuries and rights that women before me have worked so tirelessly to have for granted for even a second.

Put a long dramatic skirt on me and I’d be perfectly happy to slip into another century, if only for a day, and knowing history very well by now I’d have to be allowed to pick the day, too. Gosh I’m sounding a little particular, aren’t I? 

If I were to be completely honest, I might say that no part of parenting comes easily to me. At 32, I am just now learning how to take care of myself and to bolster my inner life to be the best version I can be everyday for my own self, my kids, my family and my friends.

My own mother was a strict disciplinarian and my father was very authoritative and at times intimidating, but if I learned anything from them it’s that there is no right or wrong way to parent, that as long as your kids know they can come to you when they need to, you’re doing the job well. As long as I am truly present with my kids, encouraging them to do and be their best and support them when they aren’t, I’d consider it a job well done.

If I had any special skill as a parent, I think it might be that I have honed my skills for introspection, and I hope am able to give my kids the words and the mental tools to help them now and in the future to understand themselves and handle challenges they might come across in their own developing lives. 

If my children take away one thing from their childhood in this home, I hope it’s that they always remember how we loved nature here, that we were always finding and taking in new insect specimens, collecting old wasp nests, and looking at anything and everything under the microscope. 

I hope they remember me as a mom who collected hundreds of feathers with them, who stopped to admire the butterflies, who taught them to watch the birds, to name the trees, and to smell the flowers we walked by daily.

I hope they remember that I read them poetry at the dinner table, and that I lovingly made their clothes, their pillows, and their quilts. I hope they remember that I worked hard everyday to make a beautiful life for them, even when it felt extremely hard and especially when I wanted to give up. 

I hope they totally forget that living with such dynamic, bright, and vocal kids can be so sensorily overwhelming for me that I sometimes have to put earplugs in because the noise of play, while so exciting to them can be so overwhelming to me, and if they do remember that, then I hope they recognize that I was just trying to be the best mom I could be while still preserving my sanity. 

There is something to be said about the brightness that comes with being surrounded by the colorful artistic expressions of your kids’ inner joy, and I absolutely adore having my children’s art around me at all times.

My own childhood at times felt very dark, and I knew going into parenthood that I wanted to actively create a bright home where my children feel impelled to express themselves in creativity.

For two years, much to the confusion of visiting friends, I chose not to have a living room but instead opted to use the room for art all day long, with long community work tables surrounded by open windows that looked out into the backyard garden. Guests who came over looking for a place to luxuriate on a comfortable couch or a reading chair were out of luck those years, but we made a ton of memories. 

My kids are getting older now and while I don’t yet miss the overwhelming amount of stuffed animals that I’ve been guilted into buying over the years, I might start to miss the stuffed sleeping puppy vignettes I find all over the house everyday. Just the other day our two largest puppies got married (news to me, I thought they were sisters!) and the affair was complete with paper rings. I’ll also miss the outstanding number of rainbow landscapes my daughter paints everyday and the stacks of artwork that have grown to unmanageable levels.  

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that I am not my mother, and that I am not going to repeat the mistakes with my children that my mother made on me. I wish someone had really looked at me, had really saw who I was inside, and said YOU ARE NOT YOUR MOTHER.

I don’t want to underemphasize the effects that a traumatic childhood can have on a woman about to embark on motherhood, but I can say this now that my mother is in her 70’s and I have made peace with my past and forgiven her: that having a mother with an unidentified mental illness gave me such a heartache in life, such a feeling of unworthiness, that I felt I was doomed to repeat the mental abuses to my children that I experienced as a child under her care. 

When my father recently told me lovingly that I am not like my mother, that I don’t have the same mental health issues that she has now and in the past, I felt relieved in a way I can’t quite verbally express.

I often wish someone had told me that before I had my kids, but would I have listened? I truly believe I needed to do the work myself, to prove to myself that I could be and was a mentally healthy mother before hearing it, or else it’s likely I wouldn’t have believed it.

Even crying now as I’m writing this is proof that every day I put in the work to be and do the best for myself and my kids, and this work is ongoing and it’s tough.

Our hardest relationships are with ourselves, and they are often the most rewarding. My kids have helped me enormously to be a better person, and I could not ever repay them for the honor of being their mother. 

—-

Thank you, Sophe. I love when a home feels like the pieces were collected over time — some look brand new and some look second hand or thrifted. It gives the house such a collected and interesting feel. It doesn’t look like you just bought everything from a 2-page spread in a catalogue.

The last couple of paragraphs of this essay really got me. “Our hardest relationships are with ourselves, and they are often the most rewarding.” Isn’t that the most true? We are often so hard on ourselves, saying things to ourselves that we would never say to anyone else.

The struggle is forgiving our parents for their mistakes and trying not to repeat them with our kids, while recognizing that there will be mistakes that we make, that our kids will have to forgive us for. It’s so easy to strive for perfection — but we should remember that it’s in the imperfect moments that we often grow the most, or deepen our relationship with our kids, or learn things about ourselves.

Is it hard for you to forgive yourself as a parent? Do you hold yourself to a high standard? What are some areas that you could be more gentle with yourself?

SOURCES

  • Adorable Red Microscope (Sophe says they work great and you can find them used on Ebay sometimes too.)
  • Spoonbill Print
  • Wooden Platform Bed

You can see more of Sophe’s textile work on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com