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  • Nicola

Let's Start at the Very Beginning...

Almost a year has gone by since I opening a teeny, tiny little PayHip shop and sold the first copy of my Jolly Brollies pattern. Well, technically, my third...I sold a couple on Instagram before I summoned the courage to sell them online. But if you happen to have one of those patterns you may have noticed that it's dated a whole year before that. As I am in major reminiscing mode - my eldest son, Tom, was eighteen this month - I thought it would be useful to share the (rather rambling) history of my pattern-writing company...

I never really meant to make a quilt. We were renovating our house at the time and I was looking for fabric on the internet when I stumbled upon Camille Roskelley's blog, Simplify. There was certainly fabric - Camille had just joined Moda as a designer with her mum, Bonnie - but there were also quilts, beautiful, contemporary quilts in fresh, pretty fabrics. There were also links to other quilt blogs and fabric shops: a whole world that I didn't know anything about. I didn't get much done that week. So I found a table runner that Camille designed for the Moda Bakeshop and ordered one of her patterns (Double Dip, the first of many) and started sewing.

I should probably mention that I really wasn't much of a sewer. I could make a cushion, just about, but only because making them myself allowed me to buy the expensive, hand-printed fabrics that I loved. I had a very basic sewing machine and I ordered all my materials online - from Cottonpatch - as we didn't have a quilting shop in Shrewsbury at the time. And when I say 'all my materials' I mean a cutting board, rotary cutter and ruler (they came in a starter pack) and some basting pins, which look incredibly like - and probably are - nappy pins. Plus fabric and cotton wadding. Apart from some lovely, fine Clover pins that's pretty much what I'm still using today.

As soon as I'd put the last stitch in the binding of that first quilt, I wanted to make another.

Initially I loved the delicious process of fabric procrastination: pairing the pattern with the fabric. A quilt is infinitely customisable (word?) and can be tweaked endlessly to suit the room it will be used in or the person you're making it for. I couldn't resist designing something from scratch. I was inspired, appropriately enough, by some Bonnie & Camille fabric called April Showers, covered in tiny umbrellas that looked just like tiny Dresden Fans to me. I was encouraged all the way by friends on Instagram and a couple made similar quilts based on my design, which was great fun. I gifted the finished quilt to my baby niece, Olivia.

cakestand quilts

So I thought I'd write a pattern. Having fretted endlessly about whether the yardage calculations were correct (because, of course, I hadn't noted those down when I was making the original) and over the clarity of the directions, there was only one way to test the pattern properly. Make another quilt. You can see it at Pretty Fabrics and Trims where its having a little holiday in Sarah & Penny's lovely shop.

During the time I spent faffing around writing and testing that first pattern (and then writing a few more) the European Union changed the rules on taxing digital patterns, so my initial idea of opening an Etsy shop had to be shelved. Luckily digital book-publisher Payhip came along to save the day and I followed fellow pattern designers in setting up a digital pattern shop on their site. But personally I'll always choose paper patterns over digital patterns if they're available, so I was keen to offer them myself. And while I love the clean layout over at Payhip, the pages are difficult to personalise, so my adventures in building a website commenced.

A friend recommended I start with website-builder Wix, which is very intuitive to use and has a wide selection of free templates, easily customised to create a distinctive look for your company - so important in such a visual business - as well as offering a simple online shop for me to sell paper patterns.

But customise it how exactly? By enormous good fortune another Instagram friend, Fiona Humberstone, published her first book How to Style your Brand at that precise moment. And it was the perfect guide: clearly written, beautifully produced and photographed and aimed at creative people. Fiona uses the principles of colour psychology to guide you through the million-and-nine choices you have to make. I felt that the Summer personality perfectly captured the combination of creativity and thoughtful technique that sums up quilt-making for me.

There were technical issues of course. Many, many hours spent on You-Tube (I'm practically a teenager) trying to figure out how to give my logo a transparent background so it would 'float' on a web-page. Every time I look at my website I wonder how on earth I did it: I certainly couldn't do it twice. Doing everything myself meant that my only outlay was time, leaving me to invest as much as I could in materials (because 'investing in materials' sounds so much better than hoarding fabric, doesn't it?) and in some beautiful machine quilting by the talented Maureen Shenton.

But there's one more essential element to this story: my friend Shannon. Our sons - she has a just-eighteen year old too - were born on the same day and we became friends when the boys started nursery. Shannon is a business owner and a talented seamstress who's created a beautiful home. She's supported me with practical advice, cheered me on and listened patiently as I've wittered on endlessly about my plans. The girl deserves a medal. Or at least a quilt...

Nicola xx

PS: I found this at the back of a cupboard. Some paper-piecing circa 1984, made - or, rather, half made - with a Laura Ashley scrap pack. Mrs Ashley hated fabric being wasted and, apparently, used to insist on these little packs being sold in her shops even though they cost more to package than they could sell for. A truly inspirational lady, we were very lucky to have one of the very first Laura Ashley shops in Shrewsbury.

Maybe I was always meant to be a quilter...


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