Designer Q&A: Jill Nammar of Sew French Cross Stitch
Her patterns are inspired by vintage linens, flower gardens, and French motifs.
When Philadelphia native Jill Nammar moved to the North Shore seven years ago, the seaside sunsets and charms of coastal New England proved to inspire her cross stitch design work. A casual blogger, Nammar worked full-time in a psychiatric emergency room until she transitioned to part-time last year. That’s when her website, sewfrenchcrossstitch.com, was kicked into high gear. There, Nammar sells French-inspired cross stitch patterns that she has designed. Downloadable as PDFs or available though mail order, her work is often floral-filled and fit for fine vintage linens. She also sells cross stitch supplies and notions on her site. Here, we talk with Nammar about her art form and inspirations.
How did you get started in designing patterns?
I’ve always loved to make things and in Philadelphia I had this little small business. Back then, I used to work for a florist part-time and they sold these sort of garden-y floral wreaths. Not twiggy things but very cottage garden. That was all the rage back then, and they wanted me to do some designing for them in their store. What ended up happening was I thought ‘Well, I’ll put some of these things on the internet.’ That was back when the internet wasn’t what it is today. What happened was: it got to be too much for me. I had Target calling me. Harvard University was asking me for like 20 wreaths for their Admissions Ball or something. And I was kind of like ‘I am one person doing this out of my kitchen!’
Where does cross stitching come in?
Then I actually took care of my mother. She was very ill and died of cancer. After she died, I also got diagnosed with stage four endometriosis at 33. And then my husband lost his job. It was a bad time. It was during that time people were saying knitting was very zen. I thought I wanted to learn to knit but I don’t know…how many scarves does one person need? I knew I wanted to do something with textiles. My friend had a collection of cross stitch samples from school girls in the 1800s. I said ‘Is that hard?’ and she said ‘No, it’s very easy.’ So I took a short lesson about 12 years ago at a little needlework shop. The teacher said ‘You’d better be careful because once you start this, it’s going to be an addiction.’
And that was the beginning of the French-inspired designs you sell now.
Cross stitch can be very kitschy with teddy bears and things. But I was gravitating to more simple designs that had a more elegant feel, which were mostly found in France. So I started buying these designs mostly from France. They were all in French and I was trying to figure all of that out. So I thought maybe I could start designing my own patterns. I started playing around with that and created these simple designs that you can incorporate into any type of decor. My designs are meant to be grouped together and you can put them in any room. They’re soft—and I would say not too kitschy. I try to make them elegant and timeless.
A lot of these cross stitch kind of things have these myriad of colors. But the French designs are simple. Swedish and Scandinavian designs are similar. They just want to do some zen stitching. You don’t need to invest a whole lot of money into supplies.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from a lot of places. One is definitely from the natural world. I love the colors of pearly shells and those pastel-y shells. I always keep shells on my desk when I’m designing. I love flowers—there’s always fresh flowers in my house. Even if they’re from the supermarket, just a little bouquet of them. I also love rose gardens. Monet’s art, which is kind of Impressionistic, oil paintings, and all kinds of pastels, too. I look everywhere for inspiration. In high school, I took a career aptitude test that said I should be an interior decorator. My mom was very heavily into interior design. She did pastels so it kind of runs in my family.
But I always go back to the interior decorating part of it all. I say ‘How will this work in somebody’s home? Will this end up at a yard sale? Or will people want to keep this and pass it down? Will it work in a traditional home? Will it work in a modern home with eclectic design?’
Any advice to newbies who want to download your patterns and try out cross stitching?
It can be intimidating. But cross stitching is easier than embroidery. Hoop art is all the rage, where you have to transfer a pattern onto a piece of fabric or iron it on. With cross stitch you don’t have to do any of that. You’re given a pattern, or a graph, that you follow. This is what my teacher told me—once you start, you’ll see the squares. In other words, linen has these little squares that look like a tic-tac-toe grid. She said once you do one, they all start to show. You just have to put that first stitch down and you’ll see it, it all starts to flow. And then I did, and I thought ‘This is not hard at all.’ Your eye gets kind of used to it.
Nammar has written an extensive tutorial about how to get started cross stitching with her pattern, Ombre Hearts. You can read it here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.