Finding Balance

Hi again.
Life is hard and projects get away from me. But here I am again!

I’ve been working with Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh for almost two years (in August) and I am beginning to feel an itch. The desk-life, 9-5, administrative grind is really starting to crush my spirit, and I’m having a hard time finding the light at the end of the tunnel… SO, I have started to try and illustrate [more].
I’ve been trying to pick up my ipad and do a quick drawing about once a week, casually attempting to use my discontent to build up a little portfolio. Taking moments on my lunch break or in the mornings before work to jot down ideas for drawings. I’ve been trying to pack my ipad (or at least a sketch book) with me wherever I go, so that when inspiration strikes I’m not left wishing.

The result is slow relief from the drain of non-profit direction. While at the moment I don’t have a real product in mind, there’s something really peaceful about creating just to create. Not marketing or meeting a deadline, just practice and fun.

My goal is to finish up the 2019-20 school year in my current position, and then to take the summer off to try and set myself up to work for myself (as much as I can). I’m hoping to do some freelance illustration work, pick up the pace on Stitch Party, and make time for my own creative practice… including sewing, knitting, painting, embroidery, and rug tufting. (I plan on posting about this later, but I am obsessed)

But as I dream about leaving this current work life to find my own (much poorer) rhythm, I am using my creative energy that remains untapped by my current employer to fuel my daydreams and doodles, and I am sharing them on my instagram.

Here’s my most recent one. I’m obsessed.

That’s all. I hope you are all having great Tuesdays, and that you are finding ways to channel your untapped potential into something meaningful. 💕

How many projects is too many?

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few months, and I’m so sorry!
In September I got a new job, transitioning out of the world of 100% Maker Ed and into a more literacy-based educational role with Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh. I’m the director of the Everybody Wins! mentoring program, which matches adult volunteers with 1st 2nd or 3rd grade students as “Reading Buddies”. It’s a pretty great program that gives these students a space to learn to love reading and grow a relationship with a caring adult, but it doesn’t leave much time for maker ed…
Luckily, I have no concept of being TOO busy or overcommitting, so my after-work life consists almost entirely of projects.

Current projects include:

  • Stitch Party (check it out we’re dope)
    We hand-dye our own yarn, design our own knitting patterns, and create hand-curated beginner knitting kits for those of us who still haven’t learned or who need a little extra support.
  • Picture Book Maker Prompts
    I went to SXSW to present this project. You should all know about it by now… book-based maker prompts printed onto stickers and stuck on the inside of children’s books. Since I don’t work at the MCL anymore this is a completely hobby-based project of mine. It’s still happening, just quite slowly.
  • Nelly’s Nose Children’s Book
    If you don’t follow Nelly’s Nose on Instagram I don’t know if we can be friends. Nelly is my parents’ dog who is more famous than I will ever be, all because she can balance almost anything on her talented little nose. She’s adorable, and I love her, and am working with my friend Adam Dove on a children’s book that has changed forms about 100000 times, and will likely change a few more before it’s release.
  • Marshmallow Magazine
    I don’t have a link for this one because it’s the newest, but potentially one I am most excited about. I am partnering up with one of my talented pals, Murphi Cook, to create a small-scale children’s magazine for kids in the city of Pittsburgh. A quarterly publication, Marshmallow will be a free portal into a magical world that connects the ordinary with the secret histories and stories of Pittsburgh. Giving kids an opportunity to explore and discover, this project is really blowing my imagination wide open…


BUT, as you can see, I am spreading myself a little thin. I want to keep you all up to date on what I’m working on, so I’m making a goal to post at least once a week to this blog. We’ll see if I can keep it up…


Thank you to everyone who actually takes the time to read my ramblings… I dedicate my overabundance of projects to you. ❤


‘Til next time, Internet.
(next time will be before next week, I promise)

The Sewing Machine as a Tool for Artists and Educators

Sewing is one of my favorite things to do. I love how quickly you can see progress, and how it’s relatively simple to make something impressive. Fabric hoarding is in my blood, and I have boxes, baskets, and bins labeled “small fabric pieces” and “trims/pompoms”.

My mom tried to teach me how to sew when I was little, but the frustration quickly overpowered the enjoyment. I didn’t decide to really jump back into formally learning how to sew until I was in high school. My high school had a “fashion arts” program that became my safe space for four years. I blew through the elective courses offered in the space, and by my junior year I was in Ms. Simon’s class more periods than out of it… using my mornings, lunch, and study hall time to work on the clothing garments I was learning to make. I spent countless hours in the back of her classroom swearing under my breath about an invisible hem or misplaced pleat.

In college I learned to see the sewing machine as a useful tool. My university didn’t offer sewing classes, but I used my trusty Brother A-Line to whip up curtains to spruce up my garbage apartment, patch up holes in favorite jeans, make presents for friends or roommates, and eventually make sculptures! It was a creative break through when I realized how freeing it could be to use the machine without a pattern! The sewing machine became an artistic tool that I used as frequently as a pencil sharpener.

When I graduated from college, I began working with kids and found that the way I saw my sewing machine had changed again. From a way to escape math class to an artistic tool, my machine became an important feature in the maker space where I was working with kids. Learning to use the machine created this sense of pride that was so amazing to witness as a young educator, that it quickly became my favorite thing to teach.


“Fiber Fridays” during the summers at the library filled the back room or maker space with laughter and creative sparks as learners left wearing homemade shorts or sundresses. When kids hear that I am going to let them use the machine, their eyes light up with some combination of fear and excitement, and usually they ask how fast they will be allowed to go. The feeling of empowerment and strength that comes from using the foot pedal and “steering” the fabric is usually worth all of the stress surrounding getting little ones on the machine.

I just finished teaching a camp where the end result of three days of sewing was a handmade skirt. I loved seeing the fabric choices and unusal combinations that these creative kids decided on. At the end of the three days, I was completely exhausted, but also totally inspired by the pride that these young seamstresses exhibited when strutting their creations through the library and neighboring tea shop.

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For me, it’s really important to remember that it was too hard for my mom to teach me how to sew because of my frustration. Sewing is hard! It requires patience and accepting imperfection as not only a possibility but a reality. That’s something I still struggle with!

Do any of you use sewing machines in your work with kids? Share your experiences below! I would love to hear from other educators!


Teaching Artist/Maker Educator

Hi, I’m Nora!
It’s nice to virtually *meet* all you!

For my first post I would like to introduce myself and give you some kind of idea of what this whole blog is going to be about!

Right now at this very moment, I am sitting in my apartment kitchen in Millvale, PA. Millvale is a small Appalachian-esque town across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. My apartment is above a tea shop and next to the library where I work. The Millvale Community Library is an amazing haven of books, art, and collaboration. I was lucky enough to find it three years ago when I started working as a Maker Educator, running summer programming for the kids in town. Now, about to enter my fourth summer at the MCL, Millvale is my place of work, my place of residence, and naturally the place where I spend all of my time. All of it.

I created this blog as a way to share the work I do as Maker Program Director at the MCL, as an artist living and working in Pittsburgh (Millvale), and the point where those two intersect. I consider working with kids to be an artform of it’s own, and over the past couple of years I have collaborated with many
little monsters to create a really exciting body of work.

Ms. Nora Makes will serve as the platform for documenting basically every creative thing that I do, whether it’s a project/initiative at the library, a new skill I’m fine tuning myself, or an activity I completed/plan to complete with the kids. My hope is that someone other than myself (maybe you!) will find value in my ramblings and use it as inspiration for more creativity. Let’s spread the love, eh?

Here’s to yet another social media outlet, and another item on my list of things to remember. 💁🏻🌻