A Remarkable Two Years


Two years ago I was in bed. It didn’t matter what time of day it was; chance are I was in bed. We didn’t yet know what was wrong with me, but we knew something was wrong. A few months earlier I abruptly took a leave of absence from my position as an Assistant Professor of Design and began the full-time search for answers. My wife, newborn daughter, and I went from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, took trips to visit specialists, even spent two weeks at Johns Hopkins. Still we had no answers. I was in bed. I wasn’t asleep; I just couldn’t move.

Eventually we learned that I had Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis, a rare neuromuscular disorder, and over the next year we slowly developed a management protocol: lots and lots of meds, a crazy diet, and constant vigilance. Slowly we regained some semblance of normalcy: I was able to be a part of my wee daughter’s life; my wife gradually let some of the perpetual fear slip away; in the fall I returned to teaching in a limited capacity. Hope was returning.

One year ago we felt like the rug had been yanked out from under our feet. Because of my illness I was forced out of academia: the one thing I ever wanted to do was stripped away, what we had spent so much of the last year working toward was gone. Yes, I was still giddy to be able to move again, grateful for the ability to be with my wife and daughter again, but I must admit I was at a loss as far was what to do next. I was lost.

Six months ago my mother visited. My darling wife was at a conference in the UK (she is the most stellar young medievalist on the planet) and we were all just excited that I was well enough to be Little One’s primary caregiver while she was away, but I still needed backup – we never know when I will have problems with my HKPP. Well, a long story short, using the sewing machine my mother-in-law had given my wife the previous Xmas, my mother gave me a couple quick lessons on the sewing machine. I don’t know why, but I decided I wanted to make Little One a dress. It turned out to be more of a tunic than a dress, but here is my first sewing effort:

We would never have guessed what we had started. Over the next few months I made dozens of wee dresses. I practiced and practiced and gradually figured out what I was doing. In October I launched Way Cool Kid Dot Com and put a few dresses and some of my prints up for sale, but more importantly I was hooked. I had fallen in love with sewing and fabric. And even more importantly I had stumbled upon a new path. I am generally loath to wax hyperbolic, but I was finally refinding myself, or at least some of the parts of myself I had lost over the past eighteen months.

From there it was a logical leap to jump into textile design. I am a math geek with MFAs in Sculpture and Printmaking; I had spent the previous seven years as a design professor. I love sewing wee dresses, but I patterns were calling me. I went on a designing spree in October and November and put together six sample lines to send off. (That’s one print from each up above there; they are definitely not designed to go together.) Before too long I was emailing back and forth, and then a couple of phone calls, then an agreement, and finally a contract. I signed that contract exactly six months after that first sewing lesson. Two years after the scariest time in my life I find myself excited, ecstatic, giddy, joyous, ebullient, and just downright happy. My wee girl is a constant delight, I am married to the most wonderful person I could ever imagine knowing, and I am in the midst of embarking on a new career in the land of quilts.

So, I am now profoundly happy to announce that I have signed on with Andover Fabrics. In fact I couldn’t imagine being happier. They just put what I think is the sexiest line to come out in ages: Melissa Averinos’ Swoon. Lizzy House and her wonderful Peeps are there. And I am excited to work with them to bring what I hope to be my wonderful designs to cotton near you. I am giddy to be part of the Andover family and am counting the days until Little One and I get to roll around in yards and yards of my designs.

So, as Little One would say: Hip hip Hooray! (Insert best two-year-old yell here.)

Now, about that contest. Once again I want to thank the Fat Quarter Shop for their generosity in offering a $50 gift certificate to their shop to help celebrate. I am totally in love with FQS and want to crawl through the internet tubes to roll around in all that fabric. Thanks Kimberly. Yay you!

Not a lot of you got this one right, but luckily you didn’t have to guess correctly to win. So, the handy dandy random number generator pulled out #28: Judy Blinkenberg is our winner.

Congrats Judy, and thanks to everyone who came by, commented, and helped to celebrate the exciting news. I can’t wait to see my designs on cotton and to see what fabulous things you all make with it.

Finally, I totally need to thank the online sewing and fabric community for all of your support over these past six months. You have offered me so much advice, compassion, feedback, and warmth. You have no idea how much you have meant to me. (Insert giant hug here.) I can’t wait to meet so many of you at Quilt Market, either this spring in Salt Lake City or in the fall in Houston. I will the the extremely giddy one trying to cover up his extraordinary nervousness and general starstruckitude (that’s a word, right?).


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32 Responses to A Remarkable Two Years

  1. 1
    Ana says:

    WOW. . what a story and such a happy ending with a new beginning! Congrats Thomas, as the saying goes “Life is Good”

    Looking forward to your new designs and exciting new fabrics!


    • 1.1
      Andie says:

      Oh my goodness, Thomas! So happy for you! I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. God bless you on this journey – I can’t wait to see where this takes you!

  2. 2
    Jen says:

    Awesome! Your story is inspiring and not just because I also lost my job as a graphic designer AND my husband is a medievalist as well. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with myself now that we have two kids on top of it all (I lost my job when I returned from maternity leave with my first son). I don’t know what direction I will take but I know it won’t be at an office. I need to be creative but not in a cubicle. Thank you for sharing your story. And congratulations on your achievements!

  3. 3
    Karen Linton says:

    Congratulations on your contract and to Judy. I’m even more excited for your physical well-being. :o)

  4. 4
    teresamnj says:

    What a happy ending to a very frightening situation. Congrats to you, and I can’t wait to purchase some of your fabric. I have a few baby quilts to make coming up soon. 🙂

  5. 5
    sally says:

    Ohhh yeah!! I knew it!! you are a rock star!! congrats and i love your testimony!! it is awesome!!!!!!!

  6. 6
    Judy Blinkenberg says:

    I want to say thank you for your story and thank you for picking my number. I have Addisons Disease where I don’t produce any Adrenaline. I have low sodium and high potassium. I have been on hydrocortisone for many years. So thank you for many things. And I look forward to many more lines of your fabric.

  7. 7
    MARLENE says:

    Congratulations, I just found your blog via FQS and am so glad I did. God Bless ! ! !

  8. 8
    Jennifer says:

    Congratulations on your new success! Also congratulations to contest winner Judy! Thank you Thomas for sharring your story, like yourself sewing has been the best coping therphy that has come around to in my life as well. Take care and congrats again!

  9. 9
    WandaFish says:

    Congratulations on joining Andover (my second guess, yeah right!) and thanks for sharing your story.
    Your daughter is so lucky to have a designer daddy who’ll actually produce cute clothes from his cute fabric 🙂

  10. 10

    A huge hug back Thomas because you really deserve it. Just under 20years ago I was a high flying insurance salesperson here in the UK (I am a displaced Yank) anyway I went overnight from that to a wheelchair and was diagnosed with MS. So I went to University cause I don’t do well bored then started stitching and this last six months I got bored with that too. So now I’m quilting with all the gorgeous fabrics and loving it. Can’t wait to see your new line.

    • 10.1
      tknauer says:

      Thanks so much. I am amazed by how much stitching and the stitchery community give back. There is something truly quite wonderful about taking time with needle and thread to make something, especially something for someone else. It is both grounding and connecting. I am so glad that you found sewing and then somehow found your way here. Yay fabric!!!

  11. 11
    Dr. S says:

    YES YES YES YES YES YES (to every single thing you’ve said).

    love, S

  12. 12
    Rachel Locke says:

    Congrats!! You’ll have to take pics of you and little one rolling in the fabric!!

  13. 13
    moxie*Lisa says:

    Congratulations Thomas! You totally deserve the success that I know is coming your way!

  14. 14
    SarahB says:

    I’m glad that you were finally able to figure out the cause of your health issues and get things somewhat under control, and that you’ve found a great new path. Congratulations again on the fabric line!

    • 14.1
      tknauer says:


      Sewing, and the sewing community have been so open, warm, and welcoming to me over the past six months. Between all of you and my family I feel so profoundly lucky!!!

  15. 15

    God Bless you and your family ! I guessed Moda ; but Andover — YAY !! how exciting !! thanks for the giveaway and congrats to the LUCKY Judy !! I’ve sewn for probably 40 years , but just started quilting . I used to make most of my daughter’s clothes , especially when she was under 5 — she’ll be 28 soon … so I’m old ! hah ! good luck !

    • 15.1
      tknauer says:

      Thanks. I so love making Little One’s clothes. I am totally looking forward to spring so I can make her some more frocks; she currently has more winter weight ones than she knows what to do with. I think it will be a big time upcycling spring…

      And I am so happy to be with Andover!!!

  16. 16

    Congratulations, Thomas! You’re on your way to making some amazing contributions to the quilting / homesewing world. I’m so sorry to hear about your health troubles; I hope you maintain the strides you’ve made so you can fully enjoy all that awaits you! Thank you for being so positive about your family – it’s refreshing!

    • 16.1
      tknauer says:

      Thanks Jan. And thanks for all your support. I am so excited to have my designs hit cotton. I can only hope to make some real contributions, and not just on the design side. I am already starting to hatch some plans to use this opportunity to give back. Don’t be surprised if your inbox starts ringing (or something like that) this summer…

      *Huge hugs!!!*

  17. 17
    Amy says:

    You and your family are an inspiration and lessons in strength and support. Your creativity has been your deepest blessing. I can’t wait to get some of your designs! Wish I had a little girl to sew dresses for…

    • 17.1
      tknauer says:

      Thanks so much… I really did get lucky on the family side of things. And I can’t wait to see my designs on cotton!

      Most. Exciting. Thing. Ever!

  18. 18
    WendyMT says:

    What a road you have traveled to get where you are! God bless you and your family. We are experiencing a similar path with my 21 yr old BIL who just returned from John Hopkins, with two previous stints at Mayo Clinics. 21 yrs and they believe its youth-onset ALS…Lou Gehrig disease. No family history. Good for you for pulling up your boot straps and doing amazing things … nothing more touching than the look of “yay you” from you 2 yr old’s eyes 🙂 Congratulations!

  19. 19
    Rosanne Derrett says:

    It’s funny how the most serious of situations that seem so dark can actually turn out to be proverbial silver lining. You are so lucky in so many ways and I love your attitude to the illness and your sheer zest for life now. Long may it last.

    I’m another one of the long term sick forced out of the workplace but for me I have not found the true direction of the next phase of my life – apart from it being creative. For me though I constantly have to balance my illness and my aims to avoid falling ill again but it’s all good really!

  20. 20
    Eileen says:

    Thomas, what an amazing story. What a difficult and scary time that was for you and your family. I am so happy for your recovery! Congratulations on your new line! I’m so new to FQS and I’m just beginning to discover the list of fabric designers. I’m thrilled to see you’ll be with Andover! That was my guess! {congrats to Judy!} 🙂
    That was your First Little One’s dress?! Wow! Cute! Will you be at Sewing Summit?

    • 20.1
      tknauer says:

      I wasn’t planning to hit sewing summit, though I would really love to. I am going to both spring and fall markets this year and the budget for events is not infinite, at least not until I become super famous and all… *Wink Wink*

      But seriously, I would love to make it to Sewing Summit, but October is already out of control with market and hopefully my first line coming out around then. And of course can’t jet around that much with Little One and all. But if there is any way I can figure it out it is super high on my list!!!

  21. 21
    Heather says:

    After your recent comment on Twitter, I thought I would stop by to say hello at your blog. And h-e-l-l-o! You have big news posted here. Congratulations to you!

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