Bird’s eye view embroidery: an interview with Sewn by Collette

13 May 2021
Collette Kinley allotment bird's eye view Allotment, A Bird's Eye View by Collette Kinley
We talk to Collette Kinley, a.k.a. Sewn by Collette about her journey into embroidery, her stunning creation which resulted in a #SaatchiTakeover award, plus top tips and the tool she couldn’t live without...

How did you get into textiles and embroidery?

My textile journey has slowly evolved over the last eight years. I began designing and making children’s clothes, though I now realise I was just dipping my toes into the world of textiles. I began to feel creatively restricted, but I then discovered free-motion embroidery which opened up a whole new avenue of textiles to explore. In the last couple of years I’ve focused on hand embroidery – it’s a technique I love and still have so much to learn. 

Collette Kinley sewing bird embroidery

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Why did you decide to start your own business?

Starting my own business grew slowly and I’m now able to do what I love full time. This hasn’t happened overnight and I had always worked part time as well. In the beginning of Sewn by Collette I was selling children’s clothes mainly online and at fairs. As my confidence grew I started selling free-motion embroidered and appliqué house portraits. As my creativity grew so did my business – social media has been integral in this journey. My embroidery designs are now my best-selling embroidery patterns in my Etsy shop, something I could never have imagined eight years ago. 

What’s the scope of your work?

My work is always detailed – it’s how I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember, so this is a very natural way for me to use thread. My workroom is full of items collected from walks – from bird feathers to twigs with vibrant orange lichen. I observe things that are ordinarily overlooked so my audience sees them through my eyes. I want to pass on a greater appreciation of the beauty in nature and increase awareness of the plight of climate change.

Collette Kinley nature embroideries

Do you have a piece of work you’re most proud of?

It’s really difficult to choose a single piece. As my skills and techniques improve so does my work. At every stage there are certain pieces that have been a big learning curve so each is my favourite at that moment in time. Most recently it would have to be my ‘Allotment, A Bird’s Eye View.’

Tell us the story of ‘Allotment, A Bird’s Eye View’…  

It’s a piece of art that really resonated with people at the time. I think it alluded to the freedom we had all been used to before lockdown, alongside an increasing awareness of nature. Time suddenly allowed our nurturing qualities to flourish. I know the embroidery pattern I went on to design after so many people asked for it has really helped people get through lockdown. That’s an amazing feeling.

The idea of creating allotments had been an idea in my head for a long time. I have an early memory of sitting in the car at a roundabout in Norwich. On the left were allotments – I was mesmerised. They have an organisation both aesthetically and on a practical level, yet there is an unkemptness too – I’m drawn to that juxtaposition. The stitching just flowed – I was completely immersed. Nine different stitches illustrate different forms and textures. I had never done a bullion knot or a Turkey stitch before, but learning new techniques as needed is part of my process. This allows me to evolve and build my repertoire.

Collette Kinley sewing allotment birds eye view

What was the response?

As the allotment slowly started to grow I posted work-in-progress shots on my social media platforms. I was really apprehensive as it was so different from my usual subject matter. I couldn’t believe the response. One post went viral – over 500,000 people viewed it, with nearly 35,000 likes just on Instagram!

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So how did the #SaatchiTakeover award come about?

A kind person on Twitter suggested I enter my work. To complete by the deadline I've never stitched with such vigour! I was totally overwhelmed when I won – I really couldn’t believe it. To have recognition from The Saatchi Gallery that firstly, textile and embroidery is art and secondly, that my work was credited as being one of the winners was, and still is, an amazing feeling.

What has this incredible recognition led to?

I’ve been designing a PDF pattern so people can recreate it for themselves. I’ve also been commissioned by a magazine to illustrate their pages with embroidery. Both are so exciting and shows what's possible when you keep doing what you love. 

How long does it tend to take to create one of your allotment pieces?

I get asked this question a lot and it’s a really difficult one to answer accurately. It depends how many hours you put in a day or even in a week. It took me about four-six weeks designing it, learning new stitches along the way to stitching it.

Collette Kinley sewing allotment embroidery

Any top tips you’d like to share with beginner embroiderers?

Don’t be scared to have a go. I started somewhere and it was at the beginning – when I first embroidered I couldn’t do then what I can do now. There are some brilliant beginner’s embroidery kits out there. If you’re like me and want to do your own design, I learnt all my stitches and techniques from books.  

Is there a tool you couldn’t live without?

I was given a pair of Ernest Wright & Son Embroidery scissors as a present a few years ago. I suddenly realised what a good pair of scissors felt like to use! I couldn’t use anything else now.

What stitching techniques do you tend to use the most?

As my work at the moment is mainly hand embroidery, the stitches I use depend on the subject matter I’m working on. For my allotment pieces there are a variety of stitches from bullion knots to Turkey stitch.  

Collette Kinley sewing stitches closeup

What else do you enjoy stitching?  

I tend to focus on one thing at a time. I’ve just bought a book on weaving, a technique I’ve always wanted to try. I already have lots of ideas of what I could make, I just need to teach myself how first.

Where can people find out more about you?


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