Jennie Hughes has transformed her handmade cushion business, So&Sew Crafts, from a market stall into a hugely successful company.

She told Sunday Life: “I sent one to America again today, this time Tennessee. They’ve also gone to Spain, Belgium, Italy, Canada, South Africa, the UAE, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and China.

“No one is more surprised about it than myself, but my friends and family are exceptionally proud and encouraging.”

Jennie at home

After years of enjoying crafts, Jennie “eventually bit the bullet” and took a stall at a local market, and the business snowballed from there.

Since then, word of mouth has been her main marketing tool, and social media-friendly pictures of her work helps to bring in the orders.

Carrickfergus-born author Adrian McKinty, who wrote the Sean Duffy series and the recent thriller The Chain, which has been optioned to become a TV series, ordered a cushion from Jennie showing Belfast’s famous Samson and Goliath cranes for his New York home.

Her products are particularly popular with expats and their families because they feature Northern Ireland landmarks and are a comfy reminder of home.

Jennie Hughes with her Samson and Goliath cushion

Jennie, who has more designs in the pipeline, only sells her cushions through one shop, 2020 Art in Whitehead, but she quickly sells out when she displays them at craft fairs such as Naturally North Coast & Glens, Artisan Markets NI and more. She keeps her products up-to-date too. When a rare blue lobster was caught in Belfast Lough, a cushion featuring it was available within days.

Jennie has been making cushions for six years. While she has always enjoyed sewing as a hobby, it was when her children became adults that she found she had a bit more time on her hands and was able to turn her passion into a business.

She works on the cushions at evenings and weekends in the family home at Islandmagee, and spends her days at the engineering company she runs with her husband, Richard, who she met at the Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast in 1991 and married in 1994.

Jennie outside a row of homes in Whitehead that inspired one of her designs

Her engineering career began aged 18 in the unlikely location of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“Being a nurse was something I’d always aspired to do. I enjoyed helping others and find it fulfilling to help people get through a difficult time,” she said.

Working her way through the ranks, she reached the position of senior sister, with a large part of the job involving monitoring. During periods of maternity leave, she found she was using her skills to help Richard, a calibration and instrument engineer, and they founded their company in 1998. As quality manager, Jennie maintains their accreditation, but she also works as the accounts manager.

She gave up her nursing registration when So&Sew took off.

Jennie showing off one of her cushions at a craft fair

Her son Aaron (24) now works for the family company, and her daughter Katie (26), a sustainability analyst for DHL Ireland, is a big supporter of her mother’s work.

When making a new cushion, Jennie will photograph the landmark or location she wants then edit the photo to portray the effect that she wishes to create. That image is then digitised to create an embroidery pattern.

“It’s a meticulous process that requires a lot of tweaking to arrive at the product I’m completely happy with,” she said.

“Katie also appreciates the fact that any finished cushion with even a tiny imperfection ends up as soft furnishing in her apartment.”

The company’s Dark Hedges cushion

After the pattern is digitised, she uses it time and again, and depending on the complexity of the design, making a cushion takes between two and four hours.

Sizes vary according to requests, but with So&Sew taking up more of her time, Jennie has stopped taking commissions for now, preferring to be “the master of my own creativity”.

When she does get some free time, she enjoys travelling with Richard in their motorhome.

“This time last year, we did a month in Portugal. This year, we are planning a month in France and Italy around September,” she said.

“We also love just heading off to the north coast for a couple of nights, or to Donegal.

“Anywhere there is a beach, really, and not too many people and a chilled glass of wine.

“Also, going across America in a RV is definitely on my bucket list.”

The Samson and Goliath design

If she could take just one of her cushions on that mammoth trek, which one would it be?

“The one that features The Dark Hedges. I actually learned to drive on that road many years ago.”

For details about Jennie’s products, see, or search for her on Instagram @sosewcraftsbyjennie