Dorset-based fabric company Jacqueline Milton was launched in March 2017 at the Chelsea Harbour Hotel in London, during London Design Week. Jacqueline’s fabrics are now available in 44 selected stockists across the UK and further afield in Ireland and New Zealand.

Here, she tells Dorset Living more about the design process, her passion for local business and what the future holds...

Q: How did the idea of starting your own company come about?

A: Like a lot of ideas, it didn’t suddenly happen, there was a great deal of planning before the first fabric collection was launched. With 30 years' experience in the interiors industry working as a designer, it seemed a natural progression to produce my own collection and the digital era has made that happen.

Q: Tell me about your background in fabric design – is it something you always set out to do?

A: From an early age, I’ve enjoyed drawing. At college I wanted to be a cartographer or an illustrator, but I was lucky enough to become a designer for Axminster Carpets, Devon. I can only describe my early days there as the equivalent of an apprenticeship. Computers were not part of everyday life and so I was tasked to mix paints and match the yarns. It was some time before I was let loose on designing my own carpet patterns, but I’m proud that one of my designs won a national award and is still available today.

Learning the basics was the best thing that ever happened. I loved it, and it gave me a good understanding of pattern, pattern repeat and the restraints of design in relation to manufacturing.

Q: What fabrics/products/services do you offer as a company?

A: Working from my studio in Halstock, near Dorchester, I offer a collection of printed linens based on my original paintings and floral studies. I use cloth which has been carefully sourced in Scotland and the patterns are printed in England using the latest technology. My collections have been designed to mix and match using a palette of gentle, chalky colours and are perfect for all kinds of soft furnishings and curtains.

Fabric is printed to order, and you can have as little or as much as you need for your interior project. I also have a small selection of cushions and shades made with my popular bee fabric. These have been made locally, I’m a big believer in supporting local business.

As the designer, I’m able to offer a truly bespoke service. For example, if you are looking for a particular colour to match your decorating scheme, my studio can tweak any of our fabrics to match your scheme or paint choice.

Q: What inspires you when it comes to fabric/product design?

A: It’s been a busy time in the studio finalising our new collection called Melbury Lane. Using local names gives a nod to my environment where I gather my inspiration. My work is hugely influenced by my surroundings. I know that sounds cliché but it’s true for a lot of creative people.

Miles of hedgerows bursting with life, orchards, crops and rolling hills. I’m constantly inspired by the effortless combinations in nature and this collection is based on just a few of my studies. I have just introduced six new patterns and each one is available in several colourways. This is a big undertaking for a small business because, in total, that means 24 new fabrics.

It’s difficult to know when to stop adding new colours or patterns, the desire to keep adding is huge!

Q: Tell me about the design/production process – how does it all work and how long does it take from the first idea to the finished product?

A: The design process starts with sketches and once an idea starts to germinate, I will draw it into a repeat pattern. This is quite a mathematical process. The pattern must match top to bottom to produce a continuous roll. And it must also match side to side.

Once I’m happy with the placement, I will mix the paints for the final piece of work; this is the fun bit! I use a variety of mediums; water-based paints, inks and pencil are my favourites. The finished painting will be converted to a digital file in my studio.

In all, the design process takes about three weeks, but that is just the beginning. It takes time to decide on the final colours and to ensure that the new patterns link to the existing fabrics. Each new fabric must work on its own and also with the other fabrics – like one big family.

I will spend several months testing different colours on linen. The process of launching a new collection from start to finish will take six months to a year. There are always a few challenges along the way, but it’s exciting seeing the finished fabrics emerge all that time after the initial sketches!

Q: Would you say you have a signature style/common theme?

A: We are not mass market, we never will be, but we appeal to people keen to create a relaxed country feel. I believe interiors should be comfortable and easy to live with. There is a common theme with my work and that is my love of flora and fauna. I like to add an insect or two into a floral design so there’s an element of surprise.

Q: Are the designs in your work in line with your own personal style in your own home?

A: Where possible, I use my own fabrics in the home because they reflect my personal style. However, the ultimate thrill is when a customer buys my fabric. They’ve chosen it above all others because they love it, and that is the best reward any artist could ask for.

Q: What are your aspirations/future plans for the company?

A: My next job will be to prepare for upcoming shows and possibly an open studio event next year. There’s always plenty going on in the studio and I’ve already started planning out new designs, but it will be a little while before they are in the pipeline!

Q: What do you particularly love about being based in Dorset?

A: Being creative, Dorset is the perfect place to live. It’s a large county so there’s plenty to explore. I’m lucky to be near the coast, surrounded by countryside and near to some great towns and villages. Bridport is one of my favourites, I love the weekly markets. I live in a very friendly village where we have our own cinema club, a community shop and much more besides. There are some great walks from the front door, and if that’s all too energetic, there are some excellent pubs. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.