Interview with textile artist Emma Giacalone

In her back garden studio, textile artist Emma Giacalone is surrounded by notes and sketches for her exquisitely stitched pictures. When you see the intricate work in her images of houses, scenes from children’s rhymes or minutely detailed street scenes, it’s hard to believe that she only began six years ago.

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She started in textiles while her children were small, working in the evenings. And she can sometimes still be found working into the night when she is completely absorbed in a piece.

Emma has always been attracted to the artistic side of sewing, rather than precise cutting and measuring, and when she discovered the techniques of raw edge appliqué and free motion embroidery she instantly took to them.

Many of her pictures are commissions, and she is often asked to create likenesses of her clients’ houses. A recent picture done for a local restaurant was a 4ft canvas depicting Castle Street in Thornbury. She starts with a photo and draws a sketch of how she envisages the scene. Then she builds up layers of fabric to represent each part of the picture, on a base of canvas or linen.

The fabrics used are a mixture of Liberty pieces and repurposed cottons sourced from vintage sales and online auctions. The final details include tiny buttons and old lace.

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Emma also makes pictures with purely free motion embroidery, much like freehand drawing with a sewing machine. “You have to be quite bold with the sewing machine, and accept that sometimes it might not go the way you want it to, and accept that that’s part of the charm of it, rather than it being too neat or exact.

“A commission I’ve done quite recently was for a wedding present, which was a scene where the couple got engaged. It was all free motion, with just a tiny bit of paint on it just to pick out the details. One of the things that’s quite nice about doing commissions is that you can just play and chat through people’s ideas and the style they’re looking for and you can explore different techniques.”

For the future, Emma is looking into having fabric printed with her images, and adding finishing touches by hand, as well as creating prints of her work, making it more widely available. For example, a recent picture of the Owl and the Pussycat would make a lovely nursery decoration.

Published in BS35 Local, November 2015