Crafting a Charmed Life: Interview With Martha Stewart

Martha shares her favorite projects from a new crafts book for kids, how non-crafty parents can be encouraged, and what inspires her every day.
Martha Stewart headshot

Scott Duncan

There's no doubt that the name Martha Stewart brings to mind a creative and savvy media maven who is known for her strong lifestyle brand and multi-hyphenate expertise in crafting, cooking, gardening, organizing, and more. She has released a series of books through the years focused on home entertaining and fun projects; her latest is Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids, a large volume featuring 175 colorful crafts, both simple and complex, for all ages. When Parents.com spoke with Martha over the phone, she had just spent the morning riding horses with actor Richard Gere in upstate New York and auctioning off a horseback ride and breakfast.

What inspired you to release this crafts book for kids, in addition to your recipe and craft books for adults?

Well, in my life, [I've seen that] it's the children who start crafting at a very early age. They look for something to do every single day after school. They look for things to keep themselves occupied on the weekend. And the children of our employees are all very crafty, as you can imagine.

What are three of your favorite crafts from the book that both crafty and non-crafty parents can try?

I like making any of the little animals because they're fun. They have great expressions. I like doing any of the simple paper crafts because a good way to learn crafting is [with] paper and cutters and hole punches. Any simple sewing is good, too, because I think children should learn how to use a needle and thread.

For non-crafty parents, what encouragement would you give them to take on projects with their kids? How can they set aside their fears?

There's a whole generation of people who don't know how to do anything. And, I mean, I feel bad about that generation and this book is for the children of that generation. I have friends -- young people, millennials -- who are having babies now, who should really try to do some of these things. They're spending more time in the crafts stores looking for materials for projects; they see projects at their schools, get some ideas, and then go home and try to make some with their kids. What we're all about is giving great instruction. We also provide all of the tools. I don't think there's any company that has the same tools as Martha Stewart Living does, and people know that. They really love the tools and, if you have the tools, you can pretty much do the craft. These crafts are so charming that I think they attract attention; they're little magnets for doing things. The whole idea of the book is to offer a variety, from the very simple to the more complex. And you can work your way up.

You mentioned sewing as one of the skills that kids don't know anymore. Are there any other skills you think the new generation of kids has lost that they should revisit?

They don't know how to embroider, they don't know how to sew on a button, they don't how to take up a hem, they don't know how to measure a hat. They don't know how to set in a collar, they don't know how to make the back of a shirt, they don't know how to gather a ruffle. They don't know how to knit, they don't know how to crochet, they don't know how to make lace with a little tatty tool. I was in Texas doing a talk, and I asked this giant audience, Does anyone in here know how to tat? There was one person who knew how to tat, and she was taught by nuns. And I was taught how to do all this stuff as a kid.

People are like, "Oh, my God, you know everything!" I don't know so much -- other people just know so little. I know pretty much what my generation learned because we had home economics, we had cooking classes in school. All of those wonderful programs have been eliminated because of budget cuts. And [there's] also the great, great pressure to do sports instead of learning homekeeping and other things. I have a little granddaughter who's going to be the ideal student for that book. She went through every page of that book. Not that she knows how to do anything yet, but she'll certainly pay attention. She will have all the tools at her fingertips. She already knows how to do punches for paper, she knows how to glue, she knows how to paint, and she knows how to draw, so all of that's good.

What crafts and other hands-on activities did you love as a child?

Oh, planting a garden. Simple cooking in the kitchen was another. All the cleaning chores. Those are all things I learned as a child. Flower arranging: how to pick a flower and make an arrangement in a container.

What Inspires Martha Stewart Every Day

Crafts for Kids book cover

Martha Stewart Living

Your brand is one that bridges print and online media very successfully. As you've shifted toward increasing your digital presence -- with a blog, a Twitter account, Pinterest, and so forth -- what unexpected discoveries did you make about using digital media to connect with your readers?

The more enticing a digital property is, the more connection you can make with a user. So we have a craft app: Martha Stewart CraftStudio. You can glitter, paste, do graphics; you can do all kinds of stuff on this craft app. It is so much fun and people learn a tremendous amount of techniques. But it's all visual and virtual; it's not real. Anything you make you can send to Snap Vision, [which will] send you the printed version.

You're an inspiration and role model for readers who love crafts, food, and design. Who is your role model? Is there someone who has inspired your or who inspires you daily?

I'm very inspired by nature -- you could say Mother Nature. I look at things around me and get all kinds of inspiration daily. I also look at a lot of art. In New York, I get a tremendous amount of ideas by looking at the paintings and the sculptures, adapting artistic endeavors to crafts. There is a lot of inspiration around us that we can see every day and turn into projects. We saw a necklace that...was just satin ribbon and pearls. So we got some very inexpensive pearls, we got some satin ribbon, and we emulated a similar kind of technique for, oh, maybe a thousandth of the cost. We just came out with a whole new line of jewelry-making tools and jewelry-making ingredients. So you can make charm jewelry out of inexpensive materials. Brass rather than gold, silver-colored teal rather than silver.

What advice would you give to moms who blog about crafts, food, home, and other lifestyle topics and want to expand their own expertise?

Well, I would go through a book like this crafts book and map out a program of involvement for your children and for yourself. These are great things to do at birthday parties. They are great things to do on a sleepover night when your daughter brings home four of her friends. Have the ingredients ready, have a table set up where they can stand or sit and work. They will spend hours doing these projects and get something out of it rather than just sit down in front of the television.

What was the best parenting advice you received when you were raising your daughter, Alexis?

The best advice was just [to] treat your child as you would any adult. With, you know, good conversion, with good instruction, with good encouragement. And they don't have to be treated like babies. They are really civil adults and they are smarter than we are. Each generation is smarter than the generation before, and they need total diversion and encouragement and things to think about.

As a grandparent, what have you learned that's different from parenting?

I don't look at it so differently. I have to respect the middleman and her wishes. That's my daughter. Because she does not want the children to have sugar, I cannot give them sugar. She does not want them to have meat, so I cannot feed them meat. And I ask if I'm going to step across a boundary; I feel like I'm obligated to ask. [It's] very important to maintain the relationship with the parents when you are the grandparent.

Is there a quote that inspires you and captures the essence of your outlook in life?

Learn something new every day. If you learn something new every day, you can teach something new every day.

Besides your books, your craft lines for Michaels, and so on, what do you have in the works that you're most excited about? You recently released your book Living the Good, Long Life.

Living the Good, Long Life is a game-changer for everybody. We're working on a new wedding book. I'm working on a massive gardening book, and I'm working on a book all about my farm and about the practices I use running the farm. [Martha Stewart's Cakes will also be available in September.]

You recently announced on Today that you decided to go on Match.com. How has the process been?

Oh, it grew out of a curiosity of mine for algorithmic matchmaking, and it's been a good experience so far. It's "learn something new every day." It's a learning process.

Photo Credit: Photo of Martha Stewart by Scott Duncan.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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