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.

How to use a sketchbook in mixed media embroidery design

One of the many misconceptions about sketchbooks is that they should be filled full of beautiful sketches. Now thats OK if you have a talent and are good at drawing, but, if like me, you don’t have much confidence in your drawing, then that can be a really daunting prospect.

Quite early on in my time at University, I discovered that I really didn’t like drawing in the traditional sense of the word, even though I was on a course that required it. The thought of opening a brand new sketchbook with all of those black white pages filled me with dread. So how did I get over it and how would I define how I use a sketchbook today?

Well for me, the sketchbook isn’t just for drawing, it’s for all of those ideas, the research – visual, artists and academic, the testing, exploration and embroidery sampling. Once I understood that I didn’t really need to draw masterpieces then I felt much freer. I like to draw directly onto a piece of fabric, by using a needle and adding thread or embellishments, for me this is how I develop a piece. Using my intuition, I play with materials or colour to build a piece step by step, but this is informed by lots of research that happens in my sketchbooks well before I even start sewing.

The first thing that I do is to complete a mind map of what I want to achieve in a project. At this point I normally only have an idea of the subject matter and there’s never a title as that always comes later. I also have no idea of what I want to create – thinking of the end piece rules out the exciting processes that comes when exploring new ideas. For me the whole process is about play. Playing around with different materials and seeing how I can combine them together often brings unexpected results that can be built upon. I think as adults, we often lose the ability to just play around with things and see where our imagination can take us, time constraints and wanting to produce perfect things to start off with can hamper our experimentation. But think back to what we were like as children, we learnt everything through play.

It really shouldn’t matter what our sketchbooks look like – after all, they are about our own personal journey, the exploration of a new subject matter and as such they should contain anything which helps you to explore the chosen subject. I have collected all sorts of different materials, completed lots of experiments and taken lots of pictures and these are all put into the sketchbook. I go back to them time and time again especially when I can’t remember the formula to a great experiment that I did and want to recreate. I also see how far I have come in my journey.

We never stop learning but most of all it’s important to remember the fun that we have creating things, even when they don’t go to plan.

Meet Martha


Those of you who read my first post will already know who Martha is. She is the one who enables us to travel in comfort to anywhere that we wish to go, she is our motorhome. A home from home really as she is quite a big girl at 8.7 metres long and has everything needed for self contained travel. It also means that when I’m away I can continue to work as there is plenty of room to both store my kit and to work comfortably.

She’s taken us to some really exciting places so far, such as Greece and Italy, which I will talk about in later posts but for now I’ll show you a little about how I work and what she looks like.

Martha the MoHo
Martha the Moho

The above photo was taken just outside Bridlington in September. Due to COVID-19 we have been really limited on where we can visit so we are staying closer to home. There really are some beautiful places right on our doorstep but with many people staycationing, places are much busier than usual. Our ideal would be to be somewhere really quiet and beautiful without the throngs of people about that there is at the moment.

She has everything we need to travel throughout all of the seasons. Solar panels and good battery storage means that we can live off grid along with refillable LPG gas for cooking and heating. A good sized oven and fridge freezer also means that we don’t need to go shopping any more often than we would at home. We are quite adept at being frugal with water and can go a week without needing more and as long as we find appropriate places to empty the black and grey waste, we need nothing else. It’s quite difficult to do this in England – the continent is far better geared up and welcome motorhomes with open arms.

There are a few areas that I can work in Martha. At the back a large U Shaped rear lounge with lots of windows (which means that I often spend more time staring out at the view than working) and gives some great natural light. I also work in the cab area as the seats are really comfortable or in the dinette area next to the kitchen which also means that him indoors can watch the TV in peace.

Most of all though, I love sitting outside in the sunshine and working there.

Under all of the seats there is a huge amount of storage along with cupboards at head height all around, a large wardrobe and drawers to keep everything tidy. In fact, there are probably too many storage areas for what we need. I tend to travel quite lightly as I plan exactly what I’m going to be working on, so I pack the materials in clear boxes so that I can see at a glance what I need. That may change in the future though as travel becomes less restricted and we can go away for longer, I may need to revisit what I take with me.

Overnighting at a beautiful vineyard in Northern Italy

One of the issues that I find when I’m travelling to new places is that I want to explore and not sit in the Van sewing. Luckily, I don’t see my work as just being embroidery, that may be the final outcome but much more thought goes into my pieces than that. The inspiration comes from lots research, the photography (which I absolutely love) and visiting new places. I’ve even bought a drone so that I can start making films of my travels and get those really gorgeous aerial shots.

So thats all for now, I’ll leave you with an image of Martha on the ferry crossing from Corfu back to Igoumenitsa on the Greek Mainland. I would love to hear your comments and any suggestions of things that you would like to see on this blog and now that I’ve got this site up and running, I’ll be writing regularly

Claire x

Hello and welcome to my new blog – The Nomadic Maker

My name is Claire and I am a Mixed Media Hand Embroidery Designer – so what does that really mean? I create pieces of art for interiors or to wear. I have a love of combining unusual materials together such as encasing hand embroidery and beadwork in concrete and resin. Much of my inspiration is taken from the fragile world including my latest collection based on coral reefs. Becoming a PADI Open Water Diver in 2018, I witnessed first hand the effect that climate change and pollution were having on our reefs and this inspired me to create a whole collection celebrating the beautiful world we have under the water. I would describe my art as intricate, brightly coloured and unusual – no two pieces are ever the same even if I am creating brooches or earrings. As well as being a creative, I also have a love of travel. There are so many amazing places out there to discover!!

So my blog will cover a few things:

Firstly I will talk about my travels around Europe in my Motorhome called Martha. She has given us many amazing memories so far and we hope to inspire others to travel the way we do. The trips that we do will hopefully provide others with ideas of where to go, what routes we take and the places of interest. Not only that but in all true travelling blogs, things don’t always go to plan so you may just get some insight into some of our happy disasters.

Secondly, with the help of Martha, I have taken my business on the road so I will be blogging about how I do this and the trials and tribulations of starting a new business. Being a designer and hand embroiderer you would imagine that I would need loads of kit, so where do I store it when space is limited and how do I create pieces of art from the side of the road. Fingers crossed our travels will give me the opportunity to create drop in opportunities for workshops with a difference – Imagine sitting on a blanket in a beautiful location, sun shining, an embroidery hoop in hand (are you there yet?) learning how to create contemporary beadwork brooches or sea scapes.

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