Meet the maker: Nicola McEachran from ndm handmade
Scottish embroidery artist and jeweller Nicola McEachran from ndm handmade fell in love with the art of stitching at secondary school but it was when she took a break from her career in architecture to become a stay-at-home mum that she returned to her needle and thread to fill the creative void. Here Nicola talks to jewellery designer and fellow Folksy seller Joanna Wakefield about her embroideries and inspiration, and how she feels the desire to design and make is deeply ingrained…
Treat yourself to 20% off all ndm handmade embroideries with discount code HELLO2018. Only valid from 8th – 21st January 2018. Shop ndm handmade on Folksy >
I think the desire to design and make is a deeply ingrained part of me, either by virtue of genetics or learned habit. It’s an itch I just have to scratch.
Could you introduce yourself to us and tell us a little about where you’re from, what you do and a little about your life journey that got you to where you are now.
Hello! My name is Nicola and I live on the West Coast of Scotland with my husband and son. I make small-scale, hand-stitched embroideries and hand-embroidered jewellery from my home in North Ayrshire. I love design. I studied architectural design to post-graduate level at university and worked in architectural practice for over a decade, specialising in housing design.
I have loved embroidery for as long as I can remember. In secondary school my art teacher taught embroidery as the practical classwork element of our Higher Grade Art exam and from the moment my chosen fabric was first stretched in the embroidery hoop I was completely hooked. While living and working in Glasgow I attended embroidery classes in Glasgow School of Art as part of their programme of Continuing Education and from there became a member of ‘Stranded in Glasgow’, a group of Glasgow-based embroiderers. When my son was born I decided to take a career break from architecture and become a stay-at-home mum, but over time I missed the challenges of design work and started to work in a more focused way on my embroidery.
I have loved embroidery for as long as I can remember. In secondary school my art teacher taught embroidery and from the moment my chosen fabric was first stretched in the embroidery hoop I was completely hooked.
What is it that you feel motivates you to do what you do?
I read somewhere recently that you should choose your career wisely as it will shape the habits of a lifetime. I think the desire to design and make is a deeply ingrained part of me, either by virtue of genetics or learned habit. It’s an itch I just have to scratch.
A lot of my stitching style is informed by my architectural training. I love clean, simple lines and a pared-down, understated aesthetic.
Where do your designs and ideas come from. Are there any specific influences, and how would you describe your stitching style?
I think that a lot of my stitching style is informed by my architectural training. I love clean, simple lines and a pared-down, understated aesthetic. I tend to use a restricted colour palette and limit the number of stitch styles used in each piece, normally favouring couched threads, back-stitch, french knots, shisha stitch and bullion knots.
My surroundings also influence all aspects of my design work. Living on the coast, I am often mesmerised by the constantly changing colours of the sea and the sky and the way the light changes the appearance of the islands I can see from my house. I think my preference for blues and greys has a lot to do with where I live.
My surroundings influence all aspects of my design work… my preference for blues and greys has a lot to do with where I live.
Design ideas also come from images that catch my eye and lodge themselves like little seeds in my brain. A couple of years ago I started work on some embroideries based on images shown in the Press of the Higgs Boson experiments undertaken in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. These became large goldwork embroidery panels and a series of tiny embroidered goldwork brooches.
My work is also influenced by artists whose work I particularly admire. My art teacher at school, Gordon Wyllie, and my tutor in Glasgow, Kirsty Gibbs, have directly influenced my love of embroidery and I am very grateful to them for sharing their expertise and enthusiasm. I am in awe of the work of embroiderer Karen Nicol – her approach to different techniques is truly inspirational. I also love the work of embroiderer Kathleen Whyte, the artist Joan Eardley and the illustrator Charley Harper.
I usually fit embroidery work in whenever I can and fortunately my small-scale embroideries are very portable projects, so they tend to move around the house with me.
Tell us a bit about your typical working day and your creative space.
I don’t really have a typical working day at the moment! I usually fit embroidery work in whenever I can and fortunately my small-scale embroideries are very portable projects, so they tend to move around the house with me. I do use our small spare room as a workspace and for storing all my materials but I also stitch in the garden, in front of the TV in the living room and in the car waiting to collect my son from various activities.
Have you had your work exhibited anywhere?
Yes! When I was living in Glasgow I exhibited in the Lloyd Jerome Gallery with ‘Stranded in Glasgow’. That was the first time I’d shown my embroidery work in public and it was very nerve-wracking but exciting. I subsequently sold work in two exhibitions of Scottish Art organised to raise funds for the RNIB – one in the Lloyd Jerome Gallery and the other in Bonhams, Edinburgh. More recently my Higgs Boson inspired goldwork brooches were selected for inclusion in the Alternative Giving 2015 exhibition shop in the Barony Centre, West Kilbride.
I tend to use a restricted colour palette and limit the number of stitch styles used in each piece, normally favouring couched threads, back-stitch, french knots, shisha stitch and bullion knots.
Which aspect of your work would you say you enjoy the most: designing, creating, meeting clients or contact with like-minded makers and creative folk?
I would say that I enjoy the designing part of the process the most. I love establishing the brief, sketching out initial ideas, refining the design and developing the finished piece. At the moment the client has mainly been me, but I recently designed and produced some embroideries inspired by the Ring of Brodgar for a client to stock in their shop on Orkney. I really enjoyed working to their brief, although they pretty much gave me free reign.
Do you have any other interests?
I’ve recently started going to watercolour classes and I’m enjoying the challenge of learning a new technique (so different from painting with acrylics!). I also draw, read and occasionally dabble in a bit of lino-printing. I love how working in a different discipline can spark off new ideas that can feed into my embroidery work – it can be like having a fresh pair of eyes! And I still love all things architectural…
I definitely favour blues and greys in my work, often with a tiny flash of silver or gold added. I also have a bit of a soft spot for bees.
I love incorporating certain colours into my work, do you have colours or motifs that you prefer over others?
I definitely favour blues and greys in my work, often with a tiny flash of silver or gold added. Favourite subjects include trees (especially winter trees without their leaves), starry skies, little cottages and Ailsa Craig. I also have a bit of a soft spot for bees.
Your pieces on Folksy are beautifully detailed. Have you ever done any large scale work?
Thank you! Yes, I have produced some larger scale embroideries – not huge, but considerably larger than the work I currently have in my Folksy shop. The largest embroidery I’ve stitched to date is a landscape piece measuring 45cm wide by 100cm high. My Higgs Boson panels each measure about 55 x 55cm. It takes a long time and a lot of hand-stitching to embroider the large pieces, but I love the challenges they offer.
Having a creative mind and life can mean it’s a constant. What do you like to do to un-wind?
I know exactly what you mean – it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve woken up in the middle of the night thinking about embroidery! To switch off you can’t beat a walk along the beach. There is a lovely coastal path that passes very close to my house and I often spend time strolling along it, listening to the waves crashing and the watching the seals that congregate on the rocks. Bliss!
I’m exploring the possibility of creating patterns of some of my designs. It feels like a natural progression – a bit like drawing up house plans for someone else to build!
What are your plans for 2018 and for the future?
This year I plan to develop my range of embroidered jewellery and work on some larger embroidered pieces. I’m also exploring the possibility of creating downloadable patterns of some of my designs as people have been asking about this for a while now. It feels like a natural progression – a bit like drawing up house plans for someone else to build! In the long term I would love to develop an embroidery career that allows my design work to expand into the time that will become available to me as my son grows up.
Treat yourself to 20% of all pieces by ndm handmade with discount code HELLO2018. Only valid from 8th – 21st January 2018.
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is jeweller Joanna Wakefield. You can read our interview with Joanna Wakefield here.