Developing (textile) products for sale

As I have noted before, in a small business like mine, I have to fulfil all the job descriptions. In a larger set-up there would be a Product Manager  to brief the designer in the early stages of developing a new product and to check the prototype, once the product is made. At Amanda Jane Textiles, it doesn’t quite work like that…

With the patterns I write for Patchwork, Quilting and Sewing, I usually write a rough version of the instructions while I am making the textile item, trying to remember to take a photo at every single stage.  So I know the pattern works because I have the finished item right in front of me, BUT it is really easy to make small errors in typing up the instructions, so in this case I do rely on someone else. An eagle-eyed proof-reader who is also a quilter, subjects my work to careful scrutiny before it goes to the printer. Every time the pattern has been improved by this process, so the contribution of my expert proof-reader is an absolute necessity to me.

With the fabric designs I create, which are on the Spoonflower website (click here to see them), there is a built-in development stage, because Spoonflower rightly insist that a proof is made of the design before it can be put on sale. Often, the print looks just right as it is, but on occasion I have adjusted the scale of the print (smaller, larger) or have very slightly adjusted the registration of the repeat, so that the pattern looks seamless when printed in quantity. Or there may  be a tiny change to the art-work which will enhance the print, so I will do that. I always make sure I have a perfect (corrected) print before putting the design on sale.

Photo OF 'Stitcher's Kit' cover (reduced).jpg

With the textile products on Spoonflower, it is a bit more complicated. My first was ‘The Cheshire Cat’ which is a cut-and-sew-kit, printed on a lovely linen-cotton mix fabric.



Making up the kit showed that it worked well, but the size of the cat needed to be reduced as it didn’t fit easily onto a fat quarter. The photo above shows the second version. The cat is designed to be fairly flat so it can be cuddled by a child, but so it can also be used as a pillow to lie on. I decided it was important to say in the instructions that the head shouldn’t be stuffed too much, so that meant re-writing them and re-inserting them into the art-work. The second version of the cat was duly printed and then cut out again and made up and looks fine.


Next up was a festive bag to put a gift in, maybe a bottle of wine, but which could equally well contain a nice bottle of olive oil. This is also printed onto a fat quarter, so a yard of fabric makes four gift bags. When I made up the first prototype, I found that I wanted to change the instructions a little, so once again they had to be re-written and re-inserted into the art-work. Also a couple of small adjustments to the design made the cutting and stitching lines clearer. So that is now all set.


Most recently, it was an Advent Calendar, which I designed because someone at a show asked me to!


Once again, I wanted this to fit onto a fat-quarter of fabric (including the instructions too) so it makes a finished product fourteen and a half by ten inches (37 x 25.5cm), with pockets that are a perfect size to slip in a small treat such as  piece of chocolate money. Only small adjustments were made this time: a slight straightening of a line, a touch-up of the hand-painted background and a minor change to the instructions.

Having done all this development in isolation, it is particularly nice to get feedback from customers, so if you are reading this and you have tried and liked – or even if you have not liked – one of my products, please get in touch!

Quilting in the news

DSC_0724[1].JPGIt isn’t every day that quilting gets onto the front page, but recently in the Durham Advertiser (our local free newspaper) there it was: ‘Quilters raise tidy sum for cause’. It appeared beneath a photograph taken by Tom Banks, a professional freelance photographer and son of the person pictured. The piece reported on the recent Durham Quilters’ three-day quilt show.  All twenty members of Durham Quilters pitched in with the organisation of the show, which was coordinated by Ann Diggory and Maggie Taylor.

In the picture is Gillian Banks showing her own ‘Challenge’ Quilt to her grand-daughter Georgia. Fifteen of the group members each made a single block 15 times and gave one of these blocks to each of the others. Each quilter then used the collection of blocks in the way they chose. Gillian’s version included borders and panels of stems and leaves.

Gillian’s professional training was in Primary Education, specialising in Embroidery and she became interested in North Country Quilting when she lived in Durham in 1982. From 1985 to 2000 Gillian taught Patchwork and Quilting at various locations in the Durham area. She taught no less than eight members of the current Durham Quilters group and both of the two honorary lifetime members also.

It has made me think (again!) about the influence a teacher can have: many people now living in the Durham area are quilting because Gillian taught them. I am currently teaching a ‘My First Quilt’ course at the moment, which I enjoy very much. You never do know what someone will do with what you teach them…

Tops for the Quilt Show

When I first started out with the whole Amanda Jane Textiles venture in 2014, I set myself a challenge to make three dresses in three days. (You can read about it here.) On that occasion the emphasis was on recycling, which I still enjoy (see, for example, the most recent quilt pattern ‘Pinstripe’where I use recycled shirts –  click here to see it). I dyed and printed the three fabrics myself.

By the time the Festival of Quilts 2016 came round, I was in a position to order up four fabrics that I have designed and that Spoonflower have printed. Now designs can be printed in, and posted from, Berlin to the UK, the parcels come fairly quickly and with no customs to pay, which is great. I then made four different tops to wear on the four different days of the show. I have a filing drawer full of garment patterns which I have collected over many years. Some of these are vintage. I sometimes use these as a basis for a garment, adapting the paper patterns to suit.  Here is Thursday’s top which has a wide neckline, with narrow neck and sleeve facings and reaches to mid-hip.

Cotton top made up in ‘New Hairdo’ fabric

On Friday, I wore this one, which hangs to just below the waist and has a deep scoop neckline:

Cotton top made up in ‘Ribbons and Roses’ fabric

Saturday’s garment, using one of my favourite fabric designs, is a short top with a V-neck and princess seams. The neck, armholes and hem are bound with contrast bias binding.

Cotton top made up in ‘Bees and Bumble Bees’

And on Sunday, I wore this one, which reaches to hip level and has a notched neckline and armholes bound with contrast bias binding :

Cotton top in ‘Cephalopods’

You can see – and order – these fabrics by clicking here.  Once designs have been selected, customers can choose whether to order from Durham, USA or from Berlin, Germany.  I particularly like the  Kona cotton because of the quality of the cloth, and  because I like wearing natural fibres, but for any one of my designs it is possible to choose from twenty different fabrics, allowing for plenty of scope for different end uses.

Running a small business

The start of this month marks the second anniversary of Amanda Jane Textiles.Cardoor magnet.jpg This year I hardly noticed the date for the schools going back after the long summer holiday and although I sometimes still dream about teaching(!), I feel I have finally made the transition from teacher to entrepreneur. During these 24 months I have been running two businesses: Amanda Jane Textiles and also our holiday lets house which is listed with AirBnB  as ‘Comfy 3BD house Durham‘ . Click here to see it.

I have read lots of magazine articles, studied relevant books and investigated other creative businesses on the internet. I’ve taken a couple of courses too. However, nothing quite prepares you for the reality of running your own business (or businesses!). I should have had some idea, because my sons have been running their own business, High Six Media, for the last few years (click here to see their website). Perhaps it is slightly different if you work in a partnership (as they do) but if you are a sole trader (as I am), you literally have to do everything and decide everything yourself. Doing everything includes, for me: buying marmalade, washing sheets, vacuuming carpets and rinsing sinks as well as drawing, painting, designing, stitching and writing patterns.

I feel at times like the performer who spins plates on sticks at the circus. On any given day, I have to decide what to do, in which order, so as not to let any of the plates drop (and not miss any deadlines). All the business jobs are mine: Manager, Maker, Photographer, Sales, Accounts, Marketing, Display, etc. I enjoy the freedom of choosing how and when to work but the pressure is considerable; getting ill can be disastrous! I tend to work intensively and put in a lot of hours.   I am full of new ideas all the time, but each one takes time to develop, so I have to learn to be selective.

Selling has changed almost beyond recognition with developments on the internet and this works in my favour. I can design patterns for patchwork, quilting and sewing in my studio in Durham, North-East  England and then post them on a website where they can be seen virtually anywhere in the world: click here if you are in the UK/in the EU and click here if you are outside the EU. There are now 75 of my fabric designs, which can all be viewed online (click here to see them).  The use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram also helps me to show my work to others. This month’s challenge was to get to grips with Instagram (which has slightly knocked me off course with my blog-writing). I am posting a photo daily as part of the #100 days100 blocks Instagram challenge. At the time of writing we have reached day 35, so I’m over one-third of the way through. Here is today’s block:


I have pushed at a lot of doors over the last two years. Some have failed to open. When that has happened, I have just carried on and nudged another one. Open doors have included the opportunity to write for an online magazine and the chance of teaching in a lovely fabric shop nearby (click here for more information), both of which I find very enjoyable. Sometimes unexpected things appear, like a commission to design quilt labels. There are two sets of quilt labels by the way in my Spoonflower studio (click here to go to the studio) and I have 75 fabric designs, which can be ordered directly from Spoonflower, either from Durham USA or from Berlin, Germany and printed on a wide range of fabrics or on wallpaper or wrapping paper.

Another strand of the business is progressing well. Writing quilt patterns takes a very long time: the patchwork needs to be done, the quilt layered up, the quilting completed and the binding stitched on. Each step needs to be photographed and clear instructions written. Finally a beautiful ‘glamour’ shot is needed to show the item at its best. Then the whole pattern goes off to be proof-read. I am getting better at all of these, but none of them is a ‘quick win’. Nevertheless, at the start of year 3, I have 13 patterns on sale and 4 in development. ‘Pinstripe’ is the latest:


This is what my stand looked like at the recent Durham Quilters’ Quilt Show, with quilts, patterns and samples of my fabric designs on show:

Quilt show stand.JPG


Currently I have pinned above my desk a quotation which is attributed to Steve Jobs. I am taking it with me into year three of my venture. He said:  “If you look closely, most overnight successes took a long time”


Sewing for special celebrations

I enjoy making textile pieces to mark a special celebration. Click here to read about this quilt made last year for a 30th birthday:

The 'dolphin' birthday quilt
The ‘dolphin’ birthday quilt

Earlier this year, there was a very special 100th birthday to mark so I designed and made a quilt with exactly one hundred pieces contained within its borders:

'One Hundred Quilt' by Amanda Ogden
‘One Hundred Quilt’ by Amanda Ogden

This month there was a wedding and I was commissioned to design and make a cushion cover, which contains the initials of the bride and groom (E+D). There are also other small signs representing the happy couple, in the designs of the chosen fabrics.

Wedding present cushion cover by Amanda Ogden
Wedding present cushion cover by Amanda Ogden

Next up is a double-bed sized quilt for a couple with a 60th birthday each this year. I have promised to complete it before they turn 61!

Christmas preparations in August

I have to admit that this week I bought the first of my Christmas presents for December 2016. Well, to be truthful: one Christmas present, all the Christmas cards, wrapping paper and two small gifts to go in Christmas Stockings.

I started doing summer Christmas shopping the year I was expecting twins in December. I realised life was going to become rather busy around Christmas time. The habit has remained, because it is so much more restful to gradually purchase interesting and unusual gifts when on holiday, for example, and also because I have more energy in the summertime. This year two family members will be abroad at Christmas, so I am particularly on the look-out for lightweight small stocking-filler items that are easily  posted.

I have always enjoyed decorating the house at Christmas time and we usually have two Christmas trees, one in the living room and one at the back of the house (in the utility room!). They are both artificial (the real ones make me sneeze!) and the forest green one in the living is decorated in a very traditional fashion, with red, green and gold ornaments, including lots of painted wooden pieces and a string of lights with a warm yellow hue. The other tree is bluey-green and its ornaments are pale blue, white, pink and silver with lights which give out a cooler white light. Some of the decorations make reference to snowflakes and skiing (a favourite occupation of mine as you can see from this post here or this one here). One both trees are some tree ornaments which I recognise from my childhood. I love both Christmas trees.

So when it came to designing a Christmas tree skirt, I made one for each of my trees: a  red/green/white one in traditional colours and a modern one in white/blue with white polka dots/dark green.

Here’s the traditional one:

cover picture.JPG

And here is the ‘modern’ one:


Both Christmas Tree skirts have a finished size 25″in diameter. The template included in the pattern can easily be adapted to make a larger size (though you would obviously need extra fabric and wadding).

Like all my patterns, there’s a really easy-to-follow set of instructions, each with its own colour photo, like this, for example:


To see the pattern, click here.

Three new challenges and a tea cosy

After the excitement of the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, I was ready for a new challenge. This has appeared in the shape of the  #100days100blocks challenge, which is coming from Australia. I found out about it on Gnome Angel’s website (click here to go to her site). Thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, it’s possible to take part in something like this internationally. What fun! The challenge is based on the book by Tula Pink ‘100 City Blocks’, which I already own, so I was all set to begin on the start date of 17 August. I know I need to work on the skill of really accurate piecing and one hundred days of piecing sounded like the perfect way of encouraging myself do that!

The whole challenge is being carried out on Instagram, so therein lies a second challenge for me, as I have been urged to make better use of Instagram, so I will now be compelled to use it every day for 100 days! I’m hoping that I then continue to use it as a good daily habit. Over time, I aim to post photos of all the fabrics I have designed and also pictures of items I have made from my fabrics. Now the fabrics can be ordered via Spoonflower from Berlin, Germany as well as from Durham, USA, they are more accessible for customers in Europe. (Click here to see all the fabrics in the studio).

And the third challenge? Well, that’s to do with colour. I have noticed how little I use purple and mauve in my quilt-making. I can’t really account for that, but there it is. So all my 100 blocks will have purple, plum, violet and/or mauve in them.Here is the first block, for the 17th  August 2016.

Block 1.JPG


To see participants on Instagram, search for #100days100quilts. You will find me at: @amandajanetextiles

And the tea-pot cosy (or rather the cafetiere cosy which preceded it) was originally made for a coffee-drinker I know, who complained that the coffee cooled too quickly in those handy plunger-type glass coffee pots. I made two cosies in the end and then wrote a pattern, so you  can make them too.

Rise and Shine coffee and tea cosy.JPG

Click here to find the pattern.

The Festival of Quilts 2016

Each year my Quilt Group (Durham Quilters), travels together down to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England to attend the Festival of Quilts. We generally spend three days at the Festival, which lasts for four days in total. However, this year some of us set off at 7am on the Thursday, arriving soon after 11, so we gained an additional day.

For the first time, I entered some quilts into the Festival, so I was keen to see that they really were all there! Of course, they were. I haven’t cropped the photos, so you can get a sense of how the quilts were hanging in the space (several of the halls at the NEC are taken over during the Festival of Quilts). I have also included, in quotation marks, the catalogue entry written for each one.

The Quilters’ Guild Challenge for 2016 was ‘On the Beach’. I made a single-bed sized quilt with fabrics I have designed. (To see the fabrics, click here).  Here’s the quilt, entitled ‘Happy Holidays’. “This is a celebration of holidays at the British seaside, remembering buckets and spades, sandcastles and beach balls, plus the frequently necessary windbreak. Treats such as ice cream in cornets are included, plus my particular favourite, candy floss.”

'Happy Holidays' Festival of Quilts 2016
‘Happy Holidays’ by Amanda Ogden (fabrics designed by Amanda Ogden)

In ‘Contemporary’, a single-bed sized quilt was made from up-cycled embroidered fabrics and it was entered in that particular class because of the unusual use of materials. “Non-traditional fabrics used here are embroidered pieces from the 1940s-1960s: tablecloths, tray-cloths and towels. Though the unknown embroiderers have used standard patterns and motifs, it is lovely to see how they have revelled in the colours available to them. This re-purposing of their beautiful work is a way of celebrating them.” Here’s the quilt:

'Forget me not' Festival of Quilts 2016
‘Forget me not’ by Amanda Ogden

In ‘Traditional’, I went for the very traditional hexagon motif and used the English Paper Piecing method to make the quilt, so all the hexagons were stitched together by hand. It was also hand quilted and even hand-stitched around the edge. There was a story behind the design and making of this quilt (called ‘The Missed Exhibition’): “Arriving in York, I found both the Kaffe Fassett exhibition and the Quilt Museum closed. Mortified, my consolation was the online purchase of 40 Kaffe Fassett five-inch squares (the centres of the rosettes) surrounded by fabrics from my collection. In between the rows, Kaffe Fassett fabric bought on a later, happier visit to York.” Here’s the quilt:

'The Missed Exhibition' Festival of Quilts 2016
‘The Missed Exhibition’ by Amanda Ogden

‘Modern’ was a new category this year and I made a cot-sized piece called ‘Dawn’. I thoroughly enjoyed working in an improvisational way, picking colours as I would select paints when I am painting. “A Willem de Kooning painting entitled ‘Rosy fingered dawn at Louse Point’ was a strong influence on the making of this quilt. The size is suitable for a cot or first bed, the colours appropriate for the dawning of a young life.”

'Dawn', Festival of Quilts 2016
‘Dawn’ by Amanda Ogden

In the Pictorial section, I submitted ‘The Bride’, which included a number of techniques, including, patchwork, applique, printing, painting and quilting. The antique lace around the edge was a gift from my husband’s aunt and the modern lace was a scrap left from my daughter’s wedding dress. Click here to find out how I made the dress. Here’s the quilt:

'The Bride' FoQ 2016
‘The Bride’ by Amanda Ogden

The last quilt, which went into the ‘Two Person Quilts’ category, was made with my friend Alison Moore. We devised a plan to challenge each other with fabric choices. “We are friends living in two villages close to each other in County Durham. We each made 10 light and 10 dark blocks of four squares, then swopped them to add borders. No new fabrics and no repeats allowed. We got together to agree the lay-out and do the quilting. It was scary, but fun.”

'To and fro' FoQ 2016
‘Two and Fro’ by Alison Moore and Amanda Ogden

The judges’ remarks and feedback on the quilts (with just one small exception) was encouraging and will spur me on to work on my skills: I know what I need to improve on. It was a great experience exhibiting this year, so when I am asked that difficult question ‘What do you do?’, I can at the very least say ‘I am a quilter’!

Quilting by the Sea

I have been working hard on completing the finishing touches to the quilts I have entered to  the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham, which takes place from 11-14 August 2017 (see for more information). If you have bought your tickets already, see you there!  A large package was sent off to the organisers today from our wonderful local post-office in the village.

I have entered six different categories, one of them with a friend (in the ‘Two Person Quilt’ category of course!) so there has been a lot of stitching going on at my house, and even some stitching going on whilst on holiday, in the beautiful South-West of Scotland. This was my top location for stitching:


I had to negotiate stitching time whilst on holiday with my co holiday-maker, but fortunately the European Cup was on at the time and so was Wimbledon, so agreement was quickly reached!

Enjoy your holidays, whether at home or away…


Swans and other creatures

One of the things I have most enjoyed about being self-employed has been the opportunity to design fabrics. I trained as a surface pattern designer between 1995 and 2000, by means of a degree studied part-time. Although I then taught Textiles in school, this mostly involved encouraging the students’ creativity, rather than exercising my own. Over the two years since I began Amanda Jane Textiles, I have drawn and coloured 69 designs, which Spoonflower can print onto a wide range of fabrics and also onto wallpaper and wrapping paper.

Anyone can go on to the Spoonflower website ( and order original designs from literally hundreds of designers. Spoonflower now has a base in Berlin, Germany, so items can now be produced and sent within Europe, where this is desirable.  My fabric designs are all visible in the ‘Amanda Jane Textiles’ online studio on the website (click here to see them). Many of them have been created in response to the Spoonflower ‘contest’. This used to occur weekly. Recently, it has changed to a once-a-month challenge, which provides a useful brief to work to.

This month, the challenge was set by a company called Story Patches ( who have devised a quilt label which includes a computer scan-able code, giving access to pre-recorded message about the quilt. So the brief was to design a set of four labels on the theme of ‘family’. I wanted to create images that wouldn’t be too prescriptive of the type or size of family and in the end choose to depict family relationships among creatures.

The idea came from a chance happening a week or so ago in the Druridge Bay Country Park, in North-East England. A mother swan with quite a crowd of cygnets was swimming near the bank of the lake.


On the shore was a human family accompanied by a large dog, which barked at the swans, whereupon the baby birds became very agitated. All at once the second swan, who I assume was ‘dad’ drew himself up out of the water wings outstretched, beak open, making a loud hissing noise to deter the dog and protect the little ones. It was quite dramatic! So the incident gave the inspiration for the label bottom left:

Creature families.jpg

Last year I made a dolphin quilt for my niece (click here to see this), so a mother and baby dolphin  became the subject for the label top right.

Dachshunds have always been popular in our household (notional ones, I should add, never yet an actual dog), so that made another ‘family’ (top left).

Finally, there have been reports of peacocks in our County Durham village (click here if you don’t believe me); they even made the national news, briefly. No-one seems to know where they have come from and they are considered a nuisance by some local inhabitants and valued by others. So they became the subject of the fourth label bottom right.

Where do ideas come from? Well, from all over the place!