Behind the scenes: what’s it like being a fabric designer?

We talk to 3 designers for Riley Blake about what it’s like to do our dream job: creating and fondling quilting fabric for a living!

Sponsored-post-flashAmanda Herring, Gabrielle Neil and Sara Davies talk to LP&Q about how they got into fabric design, what the role involves and share their tips for anyone out there who would love to give it a go.

How did you get started in designing fabric for a living?

Amanda: I started out designing quilting patterns as a side hustle. I really wanted to design fabric, too, but I didn’t know how to do it. It took me almost a year to figure out how to do it and get my first collection designed. There were a lot of frustrating and tearful moments along the way, but the moment I got it was wonderful! After that, I was designing two lines a year for almost 10 years.

GabrielleNeilPortraitGabrielle: My journey to becoming a fabric designer was definitely not straightforward – I didn’t dream about it as a child or know it was what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’. As a kid I always loved drawing and art class was my favourite. When it was time to graduate high school I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, all I knew was that I wanted to spend my days doing something creative. I moved out of home and started a course in Interior Design, but realized it wasn’t for me. The next year I began a Bachelor of Graphic Design, which I loved, and halfway through completing my degree I was lucky enough to start working for Sue Daley as her graphic designer. It was through Sue that I was exposed to the world of textile design, and found a new passion. I suddenly found myself spending all my free time practicing repeats, experimenting with design ideas, and choosing colour palettes.

Sara Davies bioSara: I’ve always been creative. From a very young age, I baked, knitted and crocheted with my mum and grandma. That creativity turned to business while I was studying for my business degree at university; I spotted a gap in the market for a papercraft tool that enabled crafters to create envelopes in all sizes. I worked with my dad (a retired engineer) to develop it, setting up the Crafter’s Companion business from my university bedroom in the process. The product was an overwhelming success, and from then on, we’ve worked hard to develop new, innovative products for the craft market. In recent years, we’ve established our sewing and soft crafts sector, which is where I’ve taken my background in designing paper to designing fabric. I never fail to get excited to see designs printed onto fabric – especially when I think of all the beautiful things that can be made with it!

Tell us about your latest fabric collections for Riley Blake

Amanda: My latest collection for Riley Blake is called Harry and Alice go to the Sea and it is a follow up collection from the first Harry and Alice collection. Harry and Alice like to go on adventures, and this time they are heading to the sea. Nautical collections are so fun, and can be made into so many great things. I particularly can’t wait to make a beach bag and beach accessories, but this line will look great in quilts and clothing as well. There is a fun panel with an anchor design that will be fantastic for appliqué, a few preprinted stitcheries and more. You could have fun for days with the panel alone!

Amanda Herring quilt 0

Amanda’s Harry and Alice go to the Sea collection for Riley Blake in action

Gabrielle: My new collection for Riley Blake, Midnight Rose, is an exploration of my love for combining florals, geometrics and subtle textures. To be honest I didn’t have a clear vision for this collection when I started – I just began with what I love and the collection came together from there. While the colour palette is simple, the contrast in tone looks wonderful when used for quilting projects. It’s hard to pick a favourite thing about Midnight Rose, but I am proud of its subtle versatility. 

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Gabrielle’s Midnight Rose range for Riley Blake. “I can imagine the damask and floral prints as women’s apparel and the navy geometric, honeycomb and bud prints as men’s shirts,” she says.

Sara: Sew Retro is a collection that I’m incredibly excited about, especially as it’s my first collection with Riley Blake. It’s inspired by taking a step back in today’s busy world, pausing and enjoying the present moment. The collection incorporates a playful and modern-retro twist on my love of florals and geometric patterns, and I’ve combined this with a fun and uplifting colour palette to evoke happy days of embracing the simple things in life.

Sara Davies fabric

Sara’s first collection for Riley Blake combines retro tones with on-trend geometrics. “I love that alongside this collection, we have also developed a co-ordinating papercraft range to make it so easy to create beautiful stitched and papercraft projects,” she says. “I can’t wait to use the collection myself to sew a handmade gift and create a co-ordinating card for a loved one.”

Do you sew or quilt yourself?

Amanda: I have been sewing since I was young. Sewing is one skill that always seems to come in handy, and I have been able to make clothes for my kids, curtains and pillows for my house, and, of course, lots of beautiful quilts. My teenage daughters are learning to sew, and I love that it is something that we can pass from one generation to the next.

Gabrielle: My mum is an enthusiastic crafter, so I grew up with her teaching me to use the sewing machine, learning some basic embroidery (I still don’t know how she gets her stitches so perfect), and spending AGES in our local fabric store while she looked around and bought what looked exactly like the fabric we already had at home. While working for Sue my appreciation and obsession with fabric grew and I now understand why Mum always took so long in fabric shop. Sue taught me her awesome English Paper Piecing method which I could then teach my mother, which was a nice change of roles for us.

I am definitely no sewing expert but I give it my best go and love designing quilts for my collections. Recently I find myself prioritizing my time to allow for painting and developing my textile design portfolio, but it is definitely nice to sit down every now and then with a small hand sewing project.



Sara:  I love to find time to take in the pleasures of sewing – it’s my way of relaxing. I’ve dabbled with sewing, knitting and crochet while growing up, but only recently picked up the needle and thread again having being inspired by the sewing sector of our company as they develop innovative die-cutting products. I’m already familiar with die-cutting in papercraft, and seeing the advantages of using the technique with fabric to cut multiple layers with ease and accuracy had me hooked! I love to make quilts, bags and purses, and you’ll often find me in our retail store unable to resist purchasing more beautiful fabrics for my next project.

What fabric collections or designers have inspired you recently?

Amanda: I always love Deena Rutter’s collections and am inspired by her kind and generous spirit; I’m also crushing on Hedge Rose by Kelly Paanaci. I think it’s a great line!

Gabrielle: I’m loving the palette of the Golden Days collection by Fancy Pants Designs, and the whimsical and undeniably nostalgic illustrations from Minki Kim. Also, I wouldn’t be a true floral addict if I didn’t say Liberty. I am always drawn to their timeless prints.

What advice would you give anyone reading who wants to follow in your footsteps and design fabrics for a living?

Amanda: It’s important to know the difference between who you are and what you create. Rejection will always be a part of design, and learning to separate yourself from what you create is important. It is natural to be attached to something create, but important to be able to see it from an outside perspective. Not everyone will love what you make, and that’s okay! Being open to critique is important, because that is the best way to make your creations even better.

 Gabrielle: Designing is tough. There are so many amazing artists in this world, and I think it is normal to question ‘am I good enough?’.  With social media it is so easy to see what fellow designers are working on, and all too easy to compare yourself against them. My advice is to be true to what you love, don’t get caught up chasing trends or comparing yourself against others. This is something that is a constant struggle for me, and I try to remind myself that if I love what I’m creating, chances are that many others will too. People respond to authenticity and there will always a be a niche for you. So, just be yourself! And work hard.

Sara: Follow your dream, but be prepared to work hard for it! Find a design style that suits you and combine this with thinking commercially about your designs; it’s all too easy to design for yourself and what you like, but you also need to appeal to your key customer for success. Don’t be afraid to showcase your designs and get your name out there and find those opportunities!


This is a sponsored post, in association with Riley Blake. To shop any of the fabrics in this post, visit EQS for stockists

Riley Blake Designs

Sara Davies quilt

Sara’s Sew Retro fabrics are singing out to be stitched into modern quilt tops.