Walking into Jayne Amoah’s living room you can tell instantly that she is an artist. Against a backdrop of marigold yellow walls, art supplies and pieces of her work are scattered around her Bethnal Green flat.
There’s a beaded necklace on display, her sewing machine is out and behind it, a stand covered in spools of cotton in all the colours of the rainbow.
Jayne is midway through a hand embroidery commission, a large hoop with a flower and greenery going around the edge. Faint outlines of names yet to be embroidered are sketched onto the fabric.
Her TV sits on a piece of Ghanaian fabric in yellow, red, green and blue and a tree is in the corner with trinkets hanging off it. Lying on her sofa, themselves covered in geometric patterned fabric, is a guide to embroidery techniques.
Sewing is something that has always come naturally to Jayne, apart from a few lessons in embroidery at primary school in Ghana. “I’ve always embroidered, I taught myself basically,” recalls Jayne.
Jayne grew up in Accra, the capital of Ghana after her family moved there when she was a toddler. Her father had finished studying in London and wanted to move back. When Jayne was 18 she returned to East London to study interior design at the London College of Furniture on Commercial Road, now part of London Metropolitan University.
Life as a market trader
Since then she has spent much of her life making and selling her crafts in markets across London. She first started by selling silk painted scarves at Camden Lock when she graduated, after a friend had set up there.
Jayne didn’t stick to silk scarves for long: “I decided to branch out, people weren’t prepared to pay for that, so I focused on greeting cards.”
Looking back, Jayne says things have changed a lot: “I was at Camden market before it got crowded. There weren’t 10,000 stores there so it wasn’t manic.”
Jayne spent a brief stint at Petticoat Lane before settling at Greenwich Market. She recalls: “I did Greenwich for a long time. That was indoors before all the development.”
She had space in a shop at the market called Talents of London where she sold her wares during the nineties. “That was quite good for a while because it was when people were really spending and there was a feel-good factor.”
With the development of the Millenium Dome, however, things started to change. “One minute we were okay just trotting along and then the next minute they hiked up the price by about three times so it was eating all our profits,” says Jayne.
Now Greenwich is unrecognisable: “Hardly anybody is left there from when I was there.”
It was then that Jayne decided to take a break from self-employment, working full time at a jobcentre. She explains: “I didn’t feel safe you know, it was a moment where it was right for me to go back to work.”
Jayne’s creative process
Jayne’s creativity wasn’t dampened despite the office job. She didn’t stop making, continuing to make greeting cards throughout. Her relationship with crafts, however, has changed over the years: “With greeting cards I found myself liking designing rather than actually making them, so I had to push myself to make them.”
In 2013 she took early retirement to pick up her business again, initially planning to sell embroidery kits. Instead, Jayne fell in love with jewellery making and doing embroidery herself.
Jayne’s inspiration comes from everywhere. “I always do sketches and I look back on my old sketches and then from there get ideas and see what is trending as well, you know what is in,” she explains. At the moment florals are popular but Jayne wants to branch out into abstract work: “I’m thinking of just starting and going and seeing where it takes me.”
She shows me a small hoop with a hedgehog peeping out from behind a bejewelled log. Jayne describes it as a doodle, something she started, unsure of where it would end. She says: “Because it’s just a single thread to create the hedgehog I found that really satisfying.”
When Jayne works she likes to listen to music, in particular, she loves Cuban music. She also puts the TV on in the background. She says she likes to watch old programmes like Murder She Wrote and says, laughing, that she refuses to watch any reality TV.
You would think after years of working for herself Jayne would know exactly how to take a break from thinking about work, but she says: “You don’t tend to switch off, it’s not like working nine to five when you go home and switch off. I’m always thinking of new ideas and what to do.”
Even in her downtime, Jayne is often looking for inspiration. She loves to visit the Tate Modern and Tate Britain with a friend to see the latest exhibitions.
Lady Lane Market came along at the perfect time for Jayne as she was looking for a way to exhibit her work beyond selling it online. She says she hopes it will “be built up to be a go-to place”.
As a seasoned market trader, Jayne says she and her fellow female traders really support each other, sharing social media and business learning. She laughs and says: “It’s like we’re in a blanket, cocooned. It’s very helpful and I appreciate that.”
When it comes to giving gifts and cards to her family, Jayne has set the bar high. She recalls: “My nephew if I give him an ordinary Christmas card he is like ‘Oh why didn’t I get a handmade one’, you see his eyebrows rise.” Her plan for gifts this year is to turn her embroidery into bags.
Much of Jayne’s downtime she spends visiting her sister, but she also recently joined a walking group and she says she has discovered a lot about East London: “We’ve done a lot of places around here, going to little historical places we never knew were there.”
Her favourite place that she has discovered in Bethnal Green is Mander Organs, a company that has been making and selling organs in the area since 1947. “Until the walking group I never knew what was a street down,” laughs Jayne, “I just joined for the exercise.”
Jayne plans to carry on selling her embroidery kits, but says: “I am thinking of getting a part-time job to fund my business because I like spending a lot on it!”
With so much experience making and selling her work, Jayne is a reassuring figure for newer traders at Lady Lane Market. More than many, she knows how to adapt and thrive in a market setting, bringing her intricate art to the capital’s shoppers. Petticoat Lane Markets is all the richer and brighter for this stellar seller.