“I took my broken heart and healed it by teaching children how to sew.”
Shannon Allbright does not consider herself a single mom. Instead, she thinks of it as “parenting without interference.” She had a vision of creating a “place of peace” for her son and fashioned a home that is quiet and loving. “We have a circle of protection. There are things that are not allowed in our home—violence, active alcoholism, abuse, or slamming doors. We are happy. We like to cuss. My son has been allowed to cuss since he was three—and he’s prolific.”
Allbright is also the owner and creator of a successful business she fashioned for herself, “Miss Shannon’s Sewing,” where children and childlike adults learn to hand- and machine-sew, embroider, and advance their sewing skills with new projects.
An Air Force baby, Allbright was born in England. At four, the family moved back to the States where Allbright grew up with the nomadic Air Force–offspring lifestyle. “I’ve lived in Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, New Mexico, and England, where my dad flew F-111s during the Cold War.”
In 1990, Allbright quit Boise State University and moved to LA to pursue a career in modeling. But thanks to some grueling life lessons, dumb luck, a newly discovered artistic talent, and words of wisdom from a self-help guru, Allbright was able to take a life-changing risk and carve a niche and life for herself and her son, Jesse, now 13.
Q: How’s business?
A: Soon we will be at over 30 schools, teaching hand sewing in after-school enrichment. We also have a public space for classes. We’ll be opening a second location in Los Angeles and then a third up north, probably Berkeley. To date, we’ve taught over 6,000 children how to sew.
Q: How about the charitable aspects of your business?
A: We conduct a sewing circle at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital for mothers of pediatric patients. Once a week, they can leave their child’s room and get a little relief by sewing and talking. We’re expanding to other hospitals and working with our local council member’s office to bring sewing to underserved children in Los Angeles via the Parks and Recreations Department.
Q: What brought you to LA in the first place?
A: I moved here to be a model and actress. I laugh now because I was a terrible model! It was the ’90s and heroine chic was in style. I was a former beauty queen who could walk in heels while wearing a bathing suit and smile for the camera. Not good! I tried to be friends with the models. They didn’t want to be my friend.
Acting was worse: I was naive, didn’t have a car, and was at the mercy of LA. So I started staying home at night and doing art. With some serendipity, my art was discovered. I started having shows, selling work, and was able to quit my job at Bullock’s where I was the snottiest salesgirl in the world. It was actually [self-help guru] Marianne Williamson who told me rude salespeople are the root of all evil, and to quit my job and do art full time.
Q: When did you become a Solo Mom?
A: I left my marriage 10 years ago when my son was three. I have love and respect for my former husband because I am the mother of his son. But my son has many characteristics of his father, so I had to “get over it” a long time ago so my son wouldn’t feel resentment from me if he did things that reminded me of his dad. I am also very close with my former in-laws. My former mother-in-law is still my mother. We agreed she is not giving me up and that I will always have a seat at the table.
Q: Was there a defining moment that drove home you were raising a child alone?
A: When Jesse was in first grade, in an LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] school, the homework and pressure were too much for him. He’d always been incredibly artistic and creative. But with the homework packages he was so frustrated that he developed severe tics. I took him to our pediatrician, and he was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome.
Q: How did you manage?
A: I was devastated. I sat on the floor and cried until there was a puddle of tears, Who’s going to make this better?! Then I heard my God voice, You are the mom, and you are going to make it better.
I felt this incredible power. I got up, and my dog licked up my tears.
I called a friend who had three sons with Tourette’s. After the conversation, I was on the Tourette’s train and ready to have a bunch of new friends. We had a follow-up appointment with the doctor, and after hours of testing and interviews, the neurologist told me my son did not have Tourette’s. He explained that Jesse is a type of creative genius who needs to be in an artistic environment. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed he didn’t have Tourette’s. I was so ready to be that mom.
I put him in a private progressive school. His tics went away, and shortly after, a gallery owner discovered him. He’s since had seven gallery shows and currently exhibits at the International Museum of Children’s Art in Oslo. Last summer, he had a show at the Boston Children’s Museum. All I have to do is make sure that he’s in a creative environment, and whenever anything challenging happens, I get back to that place of power, “I’m the mom, and I am going to make it better.”
Q: How did you land in the sewing biz?
A: I’ve been sewing since I was seven. I went on to have a children’s clothing company. I sold to 250 stores in the States. I became pregnant and thought I could do it all. But I developed preeclampsia after Jesse was born—the ultimate effects leading me to realize I couldn’t go back to work. I gave up my company and devoted myself to motherhood full time. When we divorced, we sold the house, and I was able to live off the proceeds for three years. My money started to run out, and I’d wake up at 4:00 a.m. in terror. What was I going to do? That summer, I wanted to put my son in a summer camp I couldn’t afford, so I asked the owner if I could teach sewing. She said yes and Jesse was given free tuition. Soon, parents were signing up their kids for the camp to be in my sewing class.
My son’s school asked me to teach sewing for after-school enrichment. Then other schools invited me to teach. I started hiring and training friends to teach and sew. The success of my business has been from parents spreading the word.
Q: Did being a Solo Mom impact your career?
A: I love to work and am in love with what I do. But I’m limited because I’m also raising a child. The older my son gets, the more I get to work. The blessing is the balance that having a child has brought to my life. I get to eat dinner with him and have that time while he draws and plays music. We have a divine life.
Q: How do you manage now?
A: We don’t carpool in the morning because I love that time with my son. I have a wonderful woman pick him up from school twice a week. He goes to his father’s house on Wednesdays and home with friends sometimes. I also trade sewing classes for rides and have discovered HopSkipDrive, which is basically an Uber for kids.
Q: When your status shifted from being married to being a Solo Mom, did you feel a shift in your community?
A: I did. I was the only divorced person in my son’s preschool and wasn’t invited to a lot of events. It was a bit shocking. I also left a lot of relationships behind. I needed a fresh start.
Q: Has being a Solo Mom posed any detriment to furthering your career?
A: I could be in many more schools with multiple studio locations. I’ve also been invited to foreign countries to teach. But I’m Jesse’s mother first. I’ve been able to control the growth of my business and make it better by going slow. When the time comes, I’ll franchise and become the Color Me Mine of sewing. I’ll also have a retail product line and sell sewing kits along with our projects. I have a huge vision for sewing.
Q: How were you able to parlay your business into philanthropy?
A: Children have always been my heart. At 22, I set up an arts and crafts program for at-risk kids. Every Saturday for five years I taught and discovered how amazing children are. I’ve held drug-addicted babies and knew intuitively how to calm them. Three years ago, my infant nephew was in need of a heart transplant. He spent five months in the hospital waiting. I spent hours with him, giving my niece a break. As long as I was calm and peaceful, he was calm and peaceful. He received his heart and is now a healthy child—powerful and sweet.
Afterwards, I missed the hospital: the doctors, nurses, cafeteria workers, valets. I contacted my nephew’s doctor. I now have a sewing circle at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. Every Wednesday I sew with the mothers of the pediatric patients there. I know their stories and struggles. We become friends. I was in the circle when one of the mothers was pulled away and told it’s time to let her baby go. While sewing, they are allowed to fall apart and then go back to their child and have the face of peace and calm for them. A child looks to mom to find out if they are OK. There is a primal calming of the mind while the hands are busy.
Q: What advice do you have for other Solo Moms considering the leap into entrepreneurship?
A: Think of what you wanted when you were little. I wanted to be an artist, a writer, and a teacher. I’d set up my dolls and teach them. Now that I’m an adult, I’m doing it!
As far as figuring out how to make money at it, it’s best to make sure there is a demand for your gifts. It’s good to find a niche and think of what you can do to be of service to others. Serve in all things and be humble. When you serve, it’s hard to think of yourself. Kindness is key. And I use my fears as motivation. I embrace my fears. They get me out of bed and help me make my calls. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
Q: Favorite solo parenting tip?
A: Emotionally, make your girlfriends your witnesses. Tell the truth. One day I was driving home from my volunteer work at the hospital after something sad happened. I was crying. I called my best friend, Carrie McSherry, and said, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard. I’m only here to meet a cute doctor!” And then, we laughed so hard. Everything becomes a funny story . . . eventually.
Practically, I don’t cook, and I have a cleaning lady. (And so happy I can have her now!) The only shortcut I have is to wear flip-flops all the time. I have a wicker basket with 15 pairs of flip-flops by the door. Also by the door is a stack of shawls and a jar of chopsticks for my hair.
Q: Of what are you the most proud, about yourself?
A: I could say I’m proud of my company and what I’ve accomplished, but if I’m being 100% honest, it all means very little to me. I’m proud I was able to create a career I love, doing something I love, that allows me the flexibility to be with my son . . . but the only thing I’m truly proud of is Jesse being happy and creative.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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