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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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And here is the ‘modern’ one:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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 www.thefestivalofquilts.co.uk 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:

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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 (www.spoonflower.com) 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 (www.storypatches.com) 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.

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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:

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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!

 

‘Key Lime Pie’ quilt pattern

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No, the Key Lime Pie of the title is not an edible one. It’s my title for the quilt above, which has been on the double bed in our AirBnB house for the last year (click here for more information about the house). The house is painted white throughout, which makes the colours of the patchwork quilts sing.

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There’s a new quilt in one of the single bedrooms, which I’m calling ‘Pinstripe’ (see above). The soft blues of this quilt make the room appear calm and restful.

Anyway, back to ‘Key Lime Pie’: the ‘lime’ aspect is due to the inclusion of the sharp light green colour in the quilt and the ‘pie’ is because all the pieces are wedge-shaped (a bit like a slice of pie). It is simple to cut and to construct and I’ve written a very straightforward and easy-to-follow pattern for it.

The final size is 74 x 67″ (188 x 172 cm). In the photo, it is covering the top of a standard double bed (4′ 6″/ 137cm).

A birthday weekend

This weekend has seen major celebrations in the UK, as the Queen’s 90th birthday has been celebrated. In this case we are talking about the ‘official’ birthday, as her actual 90th birthday was in April. On Saturday the Queen  wore a bold bright green coat and hat – the colour of a neon highlighter pen, which seems to have wowed everyone.

Trooping the Colour

Designer: Stewart Parvin    Photo: Getty images

The colour stood out strongly against the red of the uniforms of the soldiers on parade during the ceremony of trooping the colour. You can see the effect in the photo above. The shade of pink on the hat is also a perfect foil for the green. Fabulous!

Bogod & Company, the manufacturers of Bernina sewing machines, decided to join in the celebrations with a ‘Quilt Fit for a Queen’ project. You can see some of the entries on the Bernina blog here. This was also a fund-raising project, benefiting the charity ‘Friends of the Elderly’, as each square-maker made a contribution.  I thought this was a fun idea, so decided to join in, with a pair of corgis (the Queen’s particular favourite dog):

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Also this weekend: a long trip to celebrate a family birthday (84 years)  and rather a large amount of football watching (on the television) and listening (on the radio) by those around. Fortunately, I have two hand-sewing projects on at the moment:  a big hand-stitched patchwork, pieced over papers and the hand-quilting of a single quilt that I am making with a friend. Sneak previews below:

Travelling Trunks

At the weekend I helped with an exhibition day organised by the North-East region of the Quilters’ Guild. My tasks included selling Tombola tickets (great fun seeing people win sewing-related items), and then later, looking after the sales table, full of quiltery-type items for sale: mugs, cards, address labels, patterns, etc and – most usefully – some non-slip quilting gloves. I’ve heard good reports of these, and have seen a friend quilting away with similar gloves on, gently stretching the fabric away from the needle on either side, the textured surface of the gloves providing traction. Looking forward to trying them out…

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As the Quilters’ Guild no longer, sadly, has exhibition space in York, it has put together some travelling exhibitions which can be shown in different parts of the country. One of these so-called ‘suitcase collections’ , known by the name ‘Travelling Trunks’ came to the village of Hett in County Durham, so that 40 beautiful small quilts, all made by members of the ‘Traditional’ special interest group of the Quilters’Guild could be put on display. Here are just a few :

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These pieces demonstrated a wide variety of traditional patterns, and were a pleasure to examine. An accompanying folder allowed visitors to read each maker’s statement about their particular piece.

This small quilt by Lynne Johnson was a particular favourite of mine:DSC_0149.JPG

This is an interpretation of the centre section of a historic quilt, made in 1805-10 called the ‘Billings Coverlet’, from the Quilters’ Guild collection. Click here to find out more about the Coverlet. The notes accompanying the suitcase collection revealed that this quilter had not only made the small quilt, but also a full-size 80″x 80″ version of the full quilt!

If, dear reader, you belong to a quilt group affiliated to the Quilters’ Guild, you too could arrange an exhibition of these small gems. Click here to go to the Guild website.