Alumni Success: Cindy Willingham




To tie in with the #100daysofpattern project, we are absolutely thrilled to bring you a whole host of alumni success stories over the next 100 days.

Here we’ve invited our students over the last four years to share some of their designs created on our Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design course, and their stories of what they’ve been up to since they completed our course and where they are now. For all those wanting to know how our courses really make a difference to your career – this is the series to watch.

Today we are delighted to share with you the success of Cindy Willingham a self-proclaimed craft revolution ambassador, sewing and surface pattern designer who is currently enjoying the simple life in Maine.


Do you remember the first piece of work you ever sold? What was it and who did you sell it to? How did you feel?

I have been selling my mixed media art and stitched goods since 2005. My art being sold means so much more to me. It’s much more personal and leaves me more vulnerable to criticism, but is so much more rewarding.




Can you describe the evolution of your business?

I have always had a NEED to create. Painting, collage, baking, whatever. It wasn’t until I bought my 1st sewing machine in 2005 that I ever thought of selling my creations. This was during the huge craft boom and I loved making wares for local craft shows. Inspired by my bestie, who is also a sewing pattern designer, I created my 1st sewing pattern in 2007. I loved the idea of other makers sewing up my goods, as well as the idea of there being no ceiling for selling when you have easily reproducible goods. I currently have 5 sewing patterns in my line and more on the way! Lately my time is being balanced between creating fresh new art and creating computer aided designs.




What has been the most important lesson you have learnt along the way?

Wow! I have had quite a few AHA moments and learned such valuable lessons.

  1. Don’t be afraid to fail! There are so many learning moments in those trials. It’s not about the failure, but more about getting back up when you fall. Everyone does ugly work once in a while, it’s about who has the courage to pick up the brush after that.
  2. Do at least one thing that leads you to your dream everyday. I heard this from designer, Bonnie Christine. This is so key! With all that creative entrepreneurs have to accomplish, it can be daunting. There’s that age old question: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time… Gross, but you get the picture.
  3. Just begin.




We’d love to hear a bit about your process. Where do your designs begin, and how to you develop them through to the finished product? (i.e. how much is done by hand, how much on the computer etc?)

I always start with a sketch or painting. Beginning with a tactile process helps me feel more connected to the work. After developing my art prints, I often enjoy embellishing them with metallic elements.




At each major growth point of your business how do you make yourself take the big leap? (Please share a little about your decision making process, how you deal with fear etc)

A mantra that runs thru my mind is “Be more loyal to your dreams than your fears.” I heard it on the podcast, Smart Creative Women, and it has always stuck with me. I also have a very supportive husband who helps me chase my dreams.

There have been 2 major business decisions in my career. First, taking the ABSPD courses was quite a leap for me. My plate was full- or so I thought- and I was scared to add another skill into my brain. My husband is a web designer/programmer and I have always heavily relied on him for this kind of work. But it turns out that YOU CAN TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS! It just takes practice, practice, practice and life organizing. I can’t express the freedom that I feel!

Second, I just recently exhibited at International Quilt Market in Houston. It was a financial risk as well as logistically difficult. I am so glad that I was able to dive right in! I learned a great deal about the importance of exposure. I couldn’t have done this without the support of my husband and the help of a friend. I literally packed my display, my two girls, and my hopes and dreams into my car and drove across the country.


Please share a little about how your brand look and feel has developed over time

Not too much has changed over the years except for the color of my logo and my obsession with fonts. I have always loved the beauty of simplicity. I’m an organized chaos kind of girl.





What kind of team do you have around you to support you and your business?

Well, I’d like to say that I do it all but that just wouldn’t be true. My husband still does my sewing pattern diagrams and booklets. Let’s not discount the importance of support and encouragement. My little sister is my biggest fan and I cherish the love that I get from my children. I think seeing me go after my passions pushes them to lasso their wildest dreams! My littlest started creating patterns in Illustrator from the age of 8!




How has the industry changed since you started?

It is definitely more saturated. However, I’m a true believer in having your own creative identity. I want clients to want to work with me! For my point of view, my inspirations, and how I decipher the world around me.




What makes you excited about your business now?

There is always room to grow!! As creatives, sometimes the business side can be difficult. I am enjoying taking control and learning new skills. I am also enjoying being brave every day. It takes courage to contact potential clients and submit work. I’m learning so much about myself out of my comfort zone.


What is your creative space like?

It’s a space that allows you to get creative. Like I said, organized chaos. Everything has a place. That’s so important to me. I want to know where things are when I’m ready to work on them. I have an area for painting, a sewing table with 2 machines set up( one for me and one for my girls), and a desk for my computer and printers. It’s a space where time flies!


Which of your products is your favourite?

I love my latest sewing pattern, The Ziggy Quilt. It’s a patchwork quilt pattern inspired by my weenie dog, Ziggy. A definite head turner in my booth at Quilt Market!


What advice would you give to an emerging designer looking to follow a similar path to you?

Instagam!! Show your work and share your process.


What is the big dream for you as a designer and your business?

I would love to have a well rounded design house participating in many arenas. I want to start off in fabric and move to paper and home goods. My dreams will work if I do!!



Cindy Willingham is a self-proclaimed craft revolution  ambassador, sewing and surface pattern designer who is currently enjoying the simple life in Maine. Although fabric is her favorite medium, she enjoys painting, clay, cooking, EATING, and loves to make jewelry. She is a self-taught sewist and started writing her own sewing patterns in 2009 for her cottage industry business, Revel Designs. Revel is defined as taking great pleasure or delight; to make merry. And that is exactly what creativity does for her. She is the homeschooling mother of 3 and you can find her unleashing her creative energy after the school bell has rung. Fueled by her faith and family she strives to live out loud in each moment. You can find her in her studio being inspired by fabric, old books, and vintage cast offs. She has a passion for upcycling and surrounding herself with beloved objects.

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The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design is the definitive guide to becoming a surface pattern design professional.If you have ever dreamed of seeing your designs on stationery, homewares, fabric or other products, this series of interactive online courses is for you! Thriving surface pattern designer Rachael Taylor will guide you along this exciting path from developing your signature style, to putting a collection together, and from protecting your work to monetising your designs. With a rich combination of design inspiration, practical advice, demonstrations, creative exercises, resources and interviews with leading industry practitioners, this is the go-to guide for anyone wanting to develop their design skills and break into the industry. Our next classes begin February 1, 2016 – we hope to be able to welcome you to class!

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