Katie Essam: the textile artist on a mission to share her craft

My favourite part of being a creative is teaching others the skills I’ve learned. It’s a privilege to help people overcome inhibitions and self-doubt to produce beautiful works of art beyond their expectations. As they flourish in creating, so their own identity and self-belief also develops.

Katie Essam is a mixed media textile artist who combines freehand machine embroidery with painting, crochet, needle-felting and extreme talent to create lifelike art pieces and textile brooches. She has also just launched a range of DIY ‘Textile Workshop in a Bag’ kits, to help introduce more people to the embroidery techniques she has spent years mastering. We spoke to Katie about her craft, and found a maker passionate about helping others express themselves through creativity…

Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hello my name is Katie Essam and I’m a mixed media textile artist, living and making in Watford, Hertfordshire. I make textile art pieces, from large ones mounted on reclaimed palette boards to small wearable brooches. I combine freehand machine embroidery, appliqué, painting, crochet, needle felting and the use of found objects, with any other textile-friendly techniques that I discover. I attend large craft shows in London throughout the year, which are a great way to get my name and products out there and to meet lots of new people interested in craft.

krobin-embroidery

My favourite part of the making process is seeing my ideas and sketches come to life. There is a stage, a kind of ‘ah ha’ moment, when it just pops! The cheeky glint in a hare or chicken’s eye, or the personality of a dog portrait starting to shine through.

When did you first pick up a needle and learn to sew?
My mum and my grandma taught me how to hand stitch and then machine stitch. At school and university I learned more sewing skills, however my freehand machine embroidery is self-taught.

It’s sounds like you had a very creative childhood…
I did. Talking it through with my parents it seems like we were always making something – using cardboard boxes big and small to create anything our imagination could muster, painting with brushes, fingers and feet, fuzzy felt pictures, Fimo and baking. As I got older, I started helping with decorating the house, upcycling and making and decorating flags.

Katie Essam, bicycle embroidery

I taught myself freehand machine embroidery, combining it with appliqué and paint, and came up with a method of creating textile art pieces that matched my love of lifelike textile images.

When and how did you start selling your work?
After graduating from Hertfordshire University in 2011, having completed a BA Hons in Contemporary Applied Art, I knew I wanted to start a creative business. So I started making products to sell at local craft markets and online. I started with textile art and wooden and crocheted jewellery. Back in the early days, I boosted customer interaction by also making and selling delicious, beautifully decorated cupcakes!

How did you move from textiles, crochet jewellery (and cupcakes!) to embroidery?
I’ve always enjoyed seeing and playing around with fabrics, but it wasn’t until after my degree that I really discovered freehand machine embroidery. I taught myself, combining it with appliqué and paint, and came up with a method of creating textile art pieces that matched my love of lifelike textile images.

Katie Essam, textile artist,

Craft is a very tangible expression of creativity and of individuality. A little part of me is in everything I design and make, and I know that I keep growing as a person as every year my work improves, expands and opens new doors for me.

Do you have a favourite textile technique and are there any left on your must-learn list?
I absolutely love combining many different textile techniques into my pieces to create texture, depth and intrigue. My skills include: freehand machine embroidery, hand embroidery, appliqué, crochet, needle felting, wet felting, and tatting, carpentry, up-cycling, painting and combining found objects. I’d love to learn more screen printing and other types of printing, how to knit better (without constantly increasing my stitches on each row!) and fabric manipulation

Who are your design heroes?
I’m inspired by Joules the clothes shop. I love their use of colour and pattern, and I love their clothes too! I really enjoy Laura Ashley‘s nature-inspired patterns as well, especially their wallpapers and fabric ranges.

Who or what else inspires you?
Everyday life, family, vintage finds, nature… and more. The fabrics themselves can also be inspirational – just looking at them I can imagine what they could become.

Katie Essam

I’m inspired by everyday life, family, vintage finds, nature… and more. The fabrics themselves can also be inspirational – just looking at them I can imagine what they could become.

Can you talk us through your making process? How do you start a piece?
I start with an idea in my head and make a quick sketch of my imagined design. I then do a bit of research, accumulating ideas to enhance my design and bring it to life. This then leads to a final sketch and design, which I use as the basis for my piece.

What’s your favourite part of the making process?
My favourite part is seeing my ideas and sketches come to life. When a piece is combined with multiple techniques, there is a stage, a kind of ‘ah ha’ moment when it just pops! The cheeky glint in a hare or chicken’s eye, or the personality of a dog portrait starting to shine through.

Katie Essam studio

I work at home at the one of end of our long living room. However, I tend to regularly overflow my corner, easily filling the house with fabrics and other creative messes!

Can you describe your workspace?
I work at home at the one of end of our long living room. I also have a storage room in our garage which holds all my larger materials. However, I tend to regularly overflow my corner, easily filling the house with fabrics and other creative messes!

What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
My favourite part of being a creative is teaching others the skills I’ve learned – running workshops to equip and enable students to make textile art, encourage them to express their individuality and make the techniques their own. It’s a privilege to help people overcome inhibitions and self-doubt to produce beautiful works of art beyond their expectations. As they flourish in creating, so their own identity and self-belief also develops.

Christmas pudding brooch, embroidery, textile

If you’re thinking about selling your work, go for it! Just be sure you don’t undercharge for your time and effort just because you love doing it.

What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Go for it! If you enjoy making, that’s the best reward. If you’d like to make it a business or a money-making hobby, just be sure you don’t undercharge for your time and effort just because you love doing it.

What does craft mean to you?
I believe we all have the capacity to create original and wonderful things, and that takes many different forms. Craft is a very tangible expression of creativity and of individuality. A little part of me is in everything I design and make, and I know that I keep growing as a person as every year my work improves, expands and opens new doors for me.

How does it feel to be part of the craft scene today?
Craft is a way for me to express the creativity inside me. It’s a way for me to interpret and interact with the world around me; it releases stress and is therapeutic!

embroidery kit, Katie Essam, textile workshop in a bag

My newest venture is making my ‘Workshop in a bag’ range. These mini workshops in kit form allow people to learn and enjoy making textile art, incorporating either freehand machine embroidery or hand embroidery.

How would you spend your perfect day?
It would have to involve family and friends, a slice of cake, a decent cup of coffee and an open fire – but apart from that I’m easy!

Have you got any new exciting projects on the horizon?
I have many ideas of things I’d like to make and do. However my newest venture is making my ‘Workshop in a bag’ range. These mini workshops in kit form allow people to learn and enjoy making textile art, incorporating either freehand machine embroidery or hand embroidery. Each kit comes with extensive step by step instructions, and has a photo showing each step. They are available in two experience levels, and I’ve already launched four designs of hares and chickens but there are more coming soon.

Katie Essam, the story continues

Craft is a way for me to express the creativity inside me. It’s a way for me to interpret and interact with the world around me; it releases stress and is therapeutic!

 

 

See more of Katie’s work in her Folksy shop

To celebrate being our featured maker Katie is offering 20% off with the discount code ‘featuredmaker’. Only valid for a limited time.

 

Photographs by Rachel Anne Portraits
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3 Comments

  • October 21, 2015

    Paulina

    Hi Katie,
    Nice one! I also like to overflow my corner ;-). I am usually making a cards and sometimes I put papers and myself everywhere. My boyfriends is like ” Heeey, I cannot see, what I am watching on TV! Back off!” :D

  • October 25, 2015

    Pei Li Miniatures

    I am so totally in awed and love this beautiful interview. I’m always interested to read about what inspired other artists to pick the creative path and what makes their heart beat with passion.
    Katie is really good in expressing her thoughts and feelings and I feel her.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful feature!

  • December 31, 2016

    Cydney

    I have tried many different crafts, my favourites being cross stitch, making jewellery and knitting. I have become quite good in the crafts l have tried but never excelled and have never had the confidence to sell any of my projects and to be honest would not know where to start. I admire any one who has the confidence and the know how to put thier skills to good use and to share thier knowledge. Thank you for such a lovely and honest interview, may be its showed me that its the craft that counts and not the profit.