Helen Stubbings Surface Design main logo

Hello world!

So here I am. How did I get here? What is this all about? Why do I have yet another website, and another hat?

Well, lets start from the beginning – the whole shebang… feel free to click out right now if this seems boring, or self indulgent or just not worth reading, but you’re going to get it all – nuts & bolts, all the feels and more.

If you’re new here, and just a surface pattern lover, creator or searcher (oh, if you’re a searcher – feel free to reach out to me to collab or licence!!) then this is my story – the full story, not just the nice stuff on my About page. If you already know me, then you may learn a thing or two your didnt know before – and I know you’d be wondering – what is she doing now!

This was where it began – back in the late 60’s – yes Im feeling very old – but still with so many things yet to achieve. I was born to a country sheep farmer dad who could do and make anything with what he had – and a school and piano teacher mum. I had an older sister and younger brother and we were a very creative family.

My Grandmother was the seamstress, and dressmaker, embroiderer, knitter, crocheter – she taught me everything with needle and thread. My mum taught me my love of music and flowers. My dad taught me too many things to mention, but has shaped who I am today, the biggest trait being determination and persistence.

We lived at the south of Australia and had four distinct seasons – hot dry summers, deliciously sunny springs, wet cold winters and stunning hazy autumns. This made for lush green grass, abundant vegetables in the veggie patch, the scent of many flowering plants and hours of fun outside in the paddocks, turkey yard and mums sort of Australian english home garden.


From a very young age I began to play – make – create – and design. At 12 I won the junior aggregate craft award at our local show and became a Hobbytex master artist! Being out on the farm, we caught a school bus each day to school which was about an hours drive. Apart from sport or music activities, weekends and school nights were spent just amusing ourselves – and now I know, subconcisouly, continuously learning so many life skills, in the paddocks, climbing trees, following dad around, moving hay bales, working with the sheep etc. It was an all-in team – everyone did their part and our reward was so much more than the tangible things we had.

As I mentioned there was also a lot of music in our home – and that was the direction I took after my schooling. (checkout those super costumers Grandma made for us all – I still have it hanging in my wardrobe for prosperity!)

Music was certainly still using my creative brain and I spent many years travelling the country and the world as a full time professional musician – in the Australian Army.

During my 13 year army career, through several postings, promotions, tours and events I had time to foster my love of all things with needle and thread. I took every class I could (pre internet and google so all face to face classes), and spent every spare minute ( there were lots of wasted minutes sitting on buses, waiting for rehearsals, travel time and more) learning and upskilling. I took Certificate IV and diploma courses in Tourism management, Needlecraft skills, business and leadership and learnt anything I could from whoever would teach me. I guess you could say I was pretty passionate and a doer with a need to continously learn! And although I do believe that anyone CAN do it – it does take either a passion or a drive and commitment to persevere.

I was fortunate to travel and experience so many places, countries and cultures during this time and my love of architecture, history, artistic cultural differences and styles began to grow – along with the belief that creating and making a difference through my works was totally therapeautic and beneficial to one’s soul.

Australian Army Musician – Fanfare team

As my family began to grow (yes I married and Army drummer and we both traipsed around the country) priorities and inspirations changed. The pure joy that enters the heart when you first become a mum is not something you can describe. It changes your world, your perspective, your direction and your passions. But my creative brain did not shut down, not for one moment. When my first born was only 4 weeks old I started a new course, new learning, lots of creativity, lots of homework and lots of self satisfaction. My final 6 month elective was quilting. I also started a children’s clothing business in my ‘spare’ time – yes with a small baby home alone. More on the family hat in another email – but suffice to say, my drawings and design work were far more influenced by my girls and quilting/embroidery from this point forward.

After #2 Tess was born, my time in the Army came to an end, but my husband remained and so we had many more years of moving and being a single mum, no family around us and without choice, a totally flexible life. It was after yet another posting that we decided to launch Hugs ‘n Kisses – my design brand – All of my learnt skills from my childhood were re-awakened and for the past 20 years my life has been firmly ensconced in the quilting, textile, embroidery, thread industry. When I do something – I don’t tend to do it by halves, my brain doesnt stop and everything has to be done to the best it can be. I launched with not just one, but a suite of 20 stitchery patterns. Over the years we have certainly developed into a multi faceted business (actually 4 businesses now) and had several rebrands.

It was after travelling to several international quilt markets in the US that I was first approached by fabric companies and my dream (it was only ever an unfathomable dream, I never actually thought this could happen) became a real possibility. I had a few hand drawings, but being in the early days of self teaching myself illustrator I really had no idea how it worked, or how a repeat was made. But I did know what fabrics I liked to work with in my projects and patterns.
The most interesting and suprising thing I learnt was that if a fabric company liked your design style (meaning quilt designs) and you had a presence and style, then you actually didnt need any surface pattern or illustrator skills at all. They had a whole art department that would do it for you! This was actually quite unnerving to me – wasn’t that fraud? how could I be proud of my name on selvedge if I hadn’t even done the designs?

Amazingly (maybe stupidly – as many others just handed over a hand sketch and few paint swatches with arrows pointing) I passed on the offers and went away for a year and set about doing every course or practise task I could to learn illustrator! I wanted to be able to say I designed my patterns to at least 95% of the process, even if my repeats weren’t completely perfect. I clicked on every single button and option in illustrator and googled if I couldnt work out how to use it – what was I saying about persistance and determination?

The next year I went back to market with a fully printed (I think back now to how badly it was done) portfolio in a black plastic folder and met with at least 4 fabric companies. I left that market with my first fabric contract. Many months of back and forth and the painstaking wait (they rushed it through in 12 months which is quick) to see if the world actually liked my style – as you are really putting your heart on your sleeve. You really have to trust that if an art director wanted you – they know that their customers will want you as well. Market the next year my first collection with Red Rooster Fabrics debuted – and was in the top 10 selling lines for Checker that market. That was sure a confidence booster and the beginning of my surface design journey.

Jumping forward to today, I licenced 7 collections and an ongoing basics collection over several years with Red Rooster Fabrics. The company had many changes during that time, closing down Red Rooster, moving me to their P&B brand, being purchased by another company and many changes in staff and designers. But my art director stayed with me, and along with their CEO held my hand through the process until I had learnt a LOT more about both designing and the business of selling quilt fabric.

You can see all of my licenced collections with Red Rooster/P&B here.

With new hats to wear as I ventured into manufacturing, retailing – opening a shop front here in Hobart, teaching and an unexpected third child (oops!) I’ve taken a break from quilt fabric designing for the past few years. If I was really honest with myself it was because I was not happy with my style – where I sort of fell into – I felt almost put into a box, and what I was designing was not what I would have in my home – although my loyal customers seemed to love it. Its a real push/pull feeling – do you design what you love – or what your customers love – I think I needed to find the happy meeting point. So I’ve again been upskilling – taking many courses, challenges, expanding my skill sets and just making patterns – every day. I can now truly say that a design is all mine, from the first photograph, to my sketch (in my sketchbook or ipad) – to the final layout and repeat. Now it’s time for me to follow that unreachable dream again, but this time I hope to see my designs on much more than just quilt fabric!

Now, if you actually read this all the way to here – you are either a glutton, or a true fan… and I love you for that. I do what I do to make others feel joy – and get that same therapeautic buzz in their soul. Without you I wouldnt keep doing what I do – even though I NEED to do it for my own wellbeing….

Come back for more – I’ll be telling you more about each of my current ‘hats’ I wear and hopefully be able to spread some inspiration and courage for you all to reach for those unfathomable dreams..

xxx H

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