The Alhambra, Granada

Gosh, it’s ages since I last wrote a blog post and if I’m being honest, I have spent the last couple of months not only thinking about what to write but how I take my business, website and blog forward. As the pandemic has progressed into its 3rd UK lockdown, travelling to new places seems like a long long way away. I had hoped that I would be able to document my travels by now and show you how I use this as inspiration for my ongoing projects and gain ideas for new ones, but alas, that is not to be.

So, for the foreseeable future I will be documenting my previous travels and for this post I’m going to go back in time to 2016, where I visited the very impressive Alhambra in Southern Spain. I’ll show you how I used my visit and the things that I found that became the inspiration of my Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery submission piece.

The Alhambra is located in right in the centre of Granada in Andalusia, Southern Spain and as soon as you drive towards the city you can see it commanding the skyline with views of the Sierra Nevada mountains behind. It was built in 889 as a small fortress on the remains of Roman ruin. However it remained like this until it was rebuilt in the mid 13th Century by Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

One of the things that immediately struck me was the absolute beauty of the stone carvings and carved stucco that adorn the walls and ceiling of the Nasrid Palace. The decoration for the upper part of the walls are of Arabic inscriptions, mostly poems that praise the palace. They decoration on the lower parts of the wall are manipulated into complex mathematical geometric patterns and form a major part of the pattern on the fabric that I designed.

As well as being an Hand Embroiderer, I am also a Textiles and Surface Pattern designer which means that I can also design fabrics and wallpapers etc however my main passion is to embroider.

One of the first stages of my design is to collect images for inspiration. As you can see above, this is only a very small example of the amount of photos that I took on the day. You may be able to see me in one of the photos taking close ups of the decorations on the wall – it’s a rare sight as I am normally behind the camera.

Now, I don’t consider drawing to be one of my strong points however it serves a purpose as it allows me to study the shapes and intricacies of the design closely. The next stages was to come up with a design of my own, inspired by but not copied from the carvings. The design in the middle uses elements of the carvings and you will see this more throughout my fabric design and the design on the leather dress straps. I use many techniques to test out my designs and used both paper cutting and stitch in this process.

The image above you will see the final pattern set into a half repeat and exposed onto a large silk screen. I start all of my drawings on paper and once I was happy with each of them, I scanned them into photoshop and manipulated the drawings to come up with the final image. This particular design because of the intricacy and size, was digitally printed rather than being hand drawn onto kodatrace. In total, I hand printed 8 metres of material onto a silk devore fabric. Devore, also called burnout, is a fabric technique where a chemical gel is applied to the material through silk screen printing, dissolving the cellulose fibres to create a semi-transparent pattern. The fabric was then dyed by hand to achieve the correct shade needed. The process is a long drawn out one but highly satisfying, and one that uses mostly traditional techniques.

As you can see from the images, I also used one of my drawings to create the dress straps. I put these drawings into Illustrator where I converted the files to use with a laser cutter which enabled me to use a really beautiful metallic silver kid leather which I then embellished with Swarovski crystals and beads. This leather work allows the Phoenix on the back to be held into place.

So I hope I have explained how just a visit to a place can really influence a design and how the use of imagination and design techniques can transform a little idea into something exquisite. This dress and its Phoenix won me 2nd Prize in the prestigious Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery 2017 in the Student Fashion Category. I was absolutely overwhelmed as this was the first garment that I ever made. This dress is totally cut by hand and fitted on a mannequin – no patterns were used and came from a drawing that I did. A huge thank to to my Colette Dobson, Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University for her help, advice and support in making this dress come to fruition.

Published by Claire Edwards

Multi award-winning hand embroidery artist working with non conventional materials

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