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In the In Their Words series on Cutting for Business, I invite readers to share how they got into a Silhouette or Cricut business or how they they’ve overcome challenges or obstacles. Today, I’m turning over the blog to Sara to share how her life journey isn’t what she planned – but how she is thriving today. I’m turning it over to Sara:
As the owner, designer, and trainer of CutFiles4U, I honestly can say that being where I am today was never a goal I had. It’s nothing I wanted.
My friends might describe me as passionate. I’ve always been that way. If I like something, I give it my all. With that drive starting at the early age of 4, I was a swimmer and a gymnast for two decades.
I grew up in the woods of Northeast Alabama with my Southern California parents and two younger siblings. We had well water, and cable didn’t run down our street, so we played outside in the woods and had to create our own fun. Needless to say, our youth was a bit different than most.
My jobs weren’t the everyday norm either. I worked as a gymnastics coach, water fitness and swim instructor, lifeguard and water front director at gyms, rec centers, and Girl Scout camps from my very early teens through college. Girl Scouts is the only place I ever crafted. I wasn’t particularly crafty but enjoyed making friendship bracelets and such. Dance, art, music, and most things creative and right-brained were never my strong suit. In fact, I often joked that the right side of my brain barely operated.
In college, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I loved my computer and recreation classes and knew I loved sports and teaching. Eventually, I wanted to be a strong and independent woman in the work force. I had no plans to marry or have children, so after graduating from college with a computer science degree, I had to make a choice: pursue coaching gymnastics at the college level or use my computer science degree. After much anguish, I chose computer science and dove into technical writing.
I enjoyed my technical writing career for 12 years. Midway through that career, I met my future husband, formed an amazing life with him, and married three years later at the age of 33. Three years after that, we thought perhaps we’d try getting pregnant to have one child. Being diagnosed with some health conditions, I left the corporate life and got back in the water to ensure a healthy pregnancy while enjoying a change of pace. I started my own aquatics business, Splash Water Safety, and soon after started working at an indoor pool. I enjoyed a busy schedule packed with teaching swim lessons, water fitness, Kids Swim Club, and CPR while certifying lifeguards and water safety instructors. Busy is pretty much the way I’ve always done it.
Once pregnant later that year, at 6 weeks, we learned we were expecting two babies. Two babies – twins! I almost fell off the table. My doctor told me then that I would go on modified bed rest at 26 weeks with no more work for the rest of my pregnancy. I thought that was pretty drastic. The initial shock stayed with my husband for days and with me for weeks. I worried for months. How on earth would we manage? I left corporate America for a healthy pregnancy. We didn’t plan for this. 2 babies! 2 to feed, 2 to change, 2 to dress, 2 to sooth, 2 to hold, 2 to entertain and teach, 2 to referee, and of course, 2 to love. We connected with our local Mothers of Multiples group, which has been a true lifesaver for me. And we got busy educating ourselves on our new future.
In no time, I was saying goodbye to coworkers, clients, and my paycheck and thinking how smart my doctor was after all. The last trimester I was on strict bed rest and in real discomfort. A year and a half after leaving corporate and at the age of 37, we delivered our girl/boy twins respectively at 36 weeks 4 days weighing 7 lbs. 8 oz. for Victoria and 5 lbs. 15 oz. for Zachary. And thus our journey really began.
It was 2013 and I quickly realized I wasn’t going back to work for a while. Feeding, changing, and caring for the babies around the clock every three to four hours was my new full-time job. In the early months while I tandem breastfed, I was so tired that I didn’t know what time it was or what day it was. I just knew it was dark or it was light – no joke! I lived from one hour to the next. The log we kept was my only sanity. My husband took one night shift with the babies so I could sleep for more than 3 hours per day. That was heaven. After 3.5 long months, they started sleeping through the night and I could finally remember my name and carry on a simple adult conversation.
At 4 months, I returned to the water for a couple hours twice a week. My employer has childcare for members. So I took them to childcare at work and my husband would pick them up on his way home giving me 15 minutes of solitude on my drive home without any crying, double stroller, diaper bags, loading, or unloading.
At 7 months, I was working 5 days a week and quickly losing my mind. During this time, my aunt graciously gave me a Xyron Wishblade craft cutter she just wasn’t using. We couldn’t afford personalized clothing or gifts for our children, so I reverse engineered the software and figured out how to use the outdated Wishblade and was surprised at everything I could make. At the same time, I was trying to figure out how I could stay home with my still-very-needy twins as we approached their first birthday. It was at that point that I dropped my part-time aquatics job from 5 to 3 days per week and started cutting vinyl for our rambunctious and inquisitive twins, but nap time and bedtime were my only work windows. And honestly, I needed that time for sleep and quiet myself. So craft time remained limited.
Through lots of research, I decided it was time to invest in a Silhouette Cameo. Over the next year, I tinkered with it every now and then as I needed or wanted something made. It wasn’t long after that friends and family wanted customized things too. In 2015, Two Lucky Designs was born. I was finally bringing home a little extra cash while staying home and enjoying the new activity even though I was working late, early in the morning, or while my husband was watching the kids. It seemed like I was crafting every spare moment of the day when I wasn’t tending to the twins. It was exhausting but stimulating to use my brain for not only something creative but something grown-up, as well. I needed a break from kids between my own toddler twins and young swim students, and this seemed to be a great reprieve.
My love for design and customization grew, and I took note of how much time I spent prepping to cut, weed, and apply the designs. In January of 2016, I launched CutFiles4U so I could sell some of these designs with the prep work done including layering markers, material-saving weeding boxes and cutouts, some instructions when needed, and color coordinated fill and cut lines. At the same time as the launch of CutFiles4U, our twins gave up their nap when we converted their cribs to toddler beds. With them growing and changing, I found it possible to get 10 minutes here and maybe even 30 minutes there working on designs on my laptop wherever the kids were playing – living room, playroom, outside, or wherever. They finally didn’t need to touch me all the time but still needed to see me. I learned to snuggle and work some too, which was helpful and necessary.
Shortly after the launch of CutFiles4U, I found out about an upcoming Silhouette conference, invited my crafty aunt, and we decided to go. It was there that I realized I wasn’t a beginner to intermediate user but an advanced user with lots of knowledge to offer. My technical writing and computer science background coupled with my teaching abilities gave me the idea to write tutorials and start offering tips, tricks, and step-by-step instructions making the Silhouette experience more enjoyable, efficient, and precise for other crafters who may not have the same background, passion, or desire to figure it out.
CutFiles4U grew and expanded as this year progressed. It wasn’t long and Two Lucky Designs, CutFiles4U, and Splash Water Safety were keeping me very busy. CutFiles4U went from having just an Etsy shop to having a Facebook group and Twitter account, and then Pinterest followed by a blog, and then a Facebook page, an app, and most recently YouTube
Just last fall once outdoor swim lessons for Splash Water Safety were finished for the year, I added craft parties to the mix. I hosted my first Craft Adventure with friends at no cost to them. This was quite literally an event for me to have some fun girl time at our home. It was a first (in years) since the kids came along. Chris graciously took the kids out that evening for this special occasion. I cooked dinner. We hung out. Then, as kids came home, we evacuated to the craft room, made Christmas ornaments, and had a grand time.
Around the same time, I also hosted my first in-person training focused on Silhouette Studio. In the end, I had two attendees and was pleased with the outcome. I’ve had additional craft parties and already have both parties and trainings scheduled in 2017.
Looking ahead, 2017 is already shaping up to be a full year for CutFiles4U with more firsts and lots more of everything else from designs to training to parties.
I started writing this on Christmas Eve of 2016 and our twins were 3.5 years of age. With each passing year, I find more ways to squeeze in work, passion, family, and education for all of us. It’s always a balancing act and sometimes we fall off. It’s not the fall that defines us. It’s the climb back up with perseverance that shapes and molds the character, emotions, and well-being of each of us. Tears are a real part of life, but it’s the things that make us cry that make the climb worth it.
I had a clear path growing up. I didn’t want to get married or have children. I knew I’d go to college and work for the rest of my life. With age, I knew I wanted to be a corporate women – strong, independent, and smart. I wanted to be innovative and ground-breaking. While I still want many of these things, I never expected to veer off of course so much. Life experience is continuously changing our paths. We start out on a paved road and often times end up stomping through the jungle.
Embrace opportunity in front of you even if it’s not what you pictured. Marrying Chris, having the twins, and having my own businesses… All of these have been life-changing and I never saw any of them coming until they were right in front of me. Sometimes you can’t plan what you should be doing, but you can create opportunity or take advantage of the opportunity before eventually making it your plan.
“Create your own happiness. It’s the biggest and best DIY project for each of us.”
Sara Beth Gilbert
Owner/Designer/Trainer at CutFiles4U
Wow, I find Sara’s story so relatable. I never grew up saying, “I want to be a blogger” – instead, blogging found me. Did you always want to own your own craft based shop? Share in the comments: how did you get into your Silhouette or Cricut small business? Don’t forget to hop on over and show Sara some love at these links: Mobile App, Etsy Shop, Facebook Page and Group, Pinterest, Twitter, Blog, YouTube, or classes.
Read more from the In Their Words series on Cutting for Business here or share your story with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Since 2015, Christine Schinagl has been helping crafters start and run craft businesses through her blog, Cutting for Business. As a Silhouette and Cricut crafter herself, she has a unique take on what works and what doesn’t work in the craft business world. She also teaches a course on creating digital SVG designs, available at How to Design SVGs.
Misty J Kieschnick
Thursday 12th of January 2017
Awesome inspiration!! Thanks for sharing! I too am taking a different path than I planned. I currently only have a FB page, but getting ready to really launch!
Saturday 14th of January 2017
Best of luck with your journey!
Thursday 12th of January 2017
Thank you so much for this post. My husband gave me a Silhouette Cameo for Christmas and I have no idea how to use it! I look forward to learning more about it.
Saturday 14th of January 2017
Awesome! Thanks for sharing!