Today, our designer interview is with Tracy Miller who began her career in pattern design with a 20 minute lesson in Illustrator
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?
The first design I sold was through my representation, and was a bandana looking pattern that went to someone in Brazil. I was super excited! The client wanted a lot of changes, though, which I was happy to do, but I’m glad that designs I offer are almost always sold as is.
Can you describe the evolution of your business?
The evolution of my business had its conception when I was a small child following behind my Mom in fabric stores. That began my love of pattern. It wouldn’t be until long after I’d raised my two children as a single mom working as a self-employed dressmaker that I would learn to create my own designs.
A job I had at a giftware manufacturer taught me the very basics of Illustrator so I could design appliqué flags. After a layoff, I pretty much sat at my computer for two years teaching myself design and how to create perfect repeats.
I obtained representation, and constantly sought jobs as a graphic designer through Elance and even Craigslist. I still hustle Monday through Friday looking for opportunities, submitting designs, researching trends and making patterns like crazy!
What has been the most important lesson you have learnt along the way?
The most important lesson I’ve learned along the way is that for most of us there will be no overnight success as a designer. You just have to keep plugging away at your dream, day by day, year by year. The second most important lesson I’ve learned is to be versatile and have a wide variety in your library of designs. Be prompt, polite and grammatically correct in your communication, be accurate, and meet deadlines.
We’d love to hear a bit about your process. Where do your designs begin, and how do you develop them through the finished product?
I almost always start with an inspiration image, such as an jpg of a scrap of feedsack from the 40’s. In Illustrator, I recreate it using clean, symmetrical shapes, choose a pleasing color palette and work the group of motifs into a repeat, almost always a half-drop. I am left-handed but learned to draw with the mouse using my right hand.
At each major growth point of your business how do you make yourself take the big leap?
I haven’t really had major growth points. Rather it’s been more of a steady climb. Since I worked for 35 years from home as a self-employed dressmaker, I knew how to be a self-starter, how to get up in the morning and have the self-discipline to put in a full work day at home. I also understand how money comes in spurts rather than regularly like pay-checks do. There is always a bit of fear about how the bills will get paid, but I’ve chosen this for life and I WILL make a success of it!
Please share a little about how your brand look and feel has developed over time.
I initially created an image with birds and flowers for my website. It has continued to delight me, so I use bits of it for all my logos and banners.
What kind of team do you have around you to support you and your business?
The closest thing I have to a team are my satisfied clients, my agent, and April at Modern Yardage. Otherwise, I’m just a girl sitting at a computer trying to make something wonderful happen.
How has the industry changed since you started?
This industry has changed by becoming more and more competitive. For every client that needs a pattern on her product there are hundreds of designers wanting to sell to her.
What makes you excited about your business now?
The most recent event that makes me excited about my business was to become one of Modern Yardage’s designers. Modern Yardage is the future of fabric and I’ll be along for the ride.
What is your creative space like?
Upon an old sewing machine table are my monitor, mouse and mini keyboard. Here I work in the livingroom of my tiny, cute apartment among all of my favorite things, mostly recovered, refurbished and repurposed furniture. I often have the TV on streaming something from Netflix, or listen to streaming music from Rhapsody.
Which of your products is your favourite?
I’m particularly fond of the collections I create. Each pattern in a collection should be able stand alone, but when a group is held together by a dynamic color palette, a specific emotional feel, and has the best balance of scale, and light and dark, I’ve done a good thing. I’m still learning, though, to do it perfectly.
What advice would you give to an emerging designer looking to follow a similar path to you?
My advice to an emerging designer who is freelance, is to not quit her day job. She may be one of the few who hits the big time immediately or gets “discovered” but most of us have to really work at it to make sales, to have and deliver what the market wants. Either have a unique style that everyone clamors for, or be able to create whatever the current trend demands.
What is the big dream for you as a designer and your business?
Asking what my big dream is for me as a designer delves right into the heart of who I am, independent and creative. My dream is simply to make a comfortable living as a designer for the rest of my life, infusing the world with my surface art.
A former dressmaker who raised two children as a single mom, Tracy Miller began her career in pattern design with a 20 minute lesson in Illustrator. In the five years since then, she’s made dozens of pattern sales to big names including Kleenex, Target, Smashgal, Nordstroms, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, CVS, TJ Maxx, and Fred Meyer.
Modern Yardage recently added her to its roster of designers, where she sells her collections of fabrics created for quilts, home decor and craft projects. When not designing patterns, Tracy works as a freelance graphic designer in Northville, Michigan for a wide variety of clients.