Capturing skies and seas using machine embroidery: part one – artistic insight

06 January 2022
'Winter Embroidery' by Rachel Wright 'Winter Embroidery' by Rachel Wright
In part one of her feature textile artist, Rachel Wright offers insight into her artistic signature and the inspirations behind her beautifully detailed and vividly depicted landscape machine embroideries. 

Vast expressive skies and crashing waves along the shoreline are common denominators in Rachel Wright’s machine embroideries. But what drives her to tame the energy and drama of these forces of nature in stitch?

Along the Shoreline by Rachel Wright

'Along the Shoreline' by Rachel Wright

Artistic signature

Many artists have what could be described as an ‘artistic signature’. This refers to their own unique style – a thread that runs through much of their work. Something that sets them apart and makes their work instantly recognisable.

If you were to ask anyone who knows or follows my work what my artistic signature is, you might get an answer that includes the words ‘sky’ or ‘sea’. I have a fascination with both. As a subject matter they crop up time and again in my work and are probably the most distinctive aspect of my embroideries. I never grow tired of expressing the perpetual movement and fluidity of these elements in my own unique way. Capturing their mood at a single moment in time is one of the most challenging and, yet ultimately fulfilling aspects of my work. 

Shifting Skies by Rachel Wright

'Shifting Skies' by Rachel Wright

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I grew up in a home full of my father’s paintings, etchings, and wood engravings. So as a child I did a lot of pencil drawing and painting with watercolour. But I found my love of textiles at the knee of my grandmother. She was always knitting, sewing, and mending. She also had one of those old-fashioned sewing boxes full of curious bits and pieces that seemed endlessly fascinating to a young child. I still have a huge soft spot for any vintage haberdashery tools and sewing related items!

Eventually I began to realise the sheer potential that fabric and stitch had as a way of painting – just like my dad did with oil and gouache. I could use the fabrics as a glorious paintbox full of wonderful colours and textures. They provide such a treasure trove – shiny or matt, plain or patterned, opaque or sheer… The options are endless. 

Working with fabric also eliminated the need for mixing paint colours, which I could never quite master. So, I essentially think of myself as a painter. Although in my case, the fabrics create my palette, and the stitches are my brush strokes. 

Winding Away by Rachel Wright

'Winding Away' by Rachel Wright

Fancy creating your own moody beach scene? Don't miss 'Beyond the Beach', a mixed media coastal project in Stitch issue 131... Or for year-round inspiration and projects be sure to subscribe! Explore the print and digital offers today.


The things I’m passionate about are usually the things that get my creative juices flowing. One such passion is the lovely North Norfolk coast – it has a character all of its own. It’s an area unlike any other with its vast flat sandy beaches, salt marshes and creeks. It’s become a favourite place for holidays and somewhere I long to get back to when I need inspiration and mental refreshment. 

Norfolk is known for its ‘big skies’. I think it’s these that capture my imagination – those amazing huge panoramic skies, an ever-changing, constantly moving canvas over our heads. They give Norfolk a very distinctive flavour, which I love. This, perhaps, goes some way to explaining why skies have become a particular feature in many of my embroideries. 

Whether it’s a stunning sunset, a moody threatening cloud formation or merely a backdrop to a swoop of acrobatic swallows, skies offer a wealth of opportunity to let my creative imagination fly.

My designs incorporate spirals and swirls to convey the never-ending motion and the energy of these unseen forces of nature. 

Sky Trails by Rachel Wright

'Sky Trails' by Rachel Wright

Favourite part 

I've dealt with many different subject matters through my work, but the sea and the sky are things I come back to again and again. I often find myself saving the sky portion of a landscape until last because I relish the freedom it gives to express myself creatively. So often it is the part where I can go a little ‘off script’ and be more playful. 

These elements are so very much the parts that set the tone and mood of a land or seascape. Large bodies of water (seas and lakes) are almost always a reflection of the colours and moods set by the sky. So, the sea can look cold and forbidding on a grey wintry day. Or jewel like, bright and sparkling in the sunshine.

Machine embroidery closeup

About me

I studied fashion & textiles (specialising in embroidery) at Birmingham City University, undertaking both a BA and an MA course before graduating in 1994. I exhibit and sell my embroidered work through exhibitions and galleries mostly in Bucks and Oxfordshire. I also undertake commission work. I participate annually in Bucks Art Weeks and I’m a founding member of The Buckinghamshire Craft Guild where I demonstrate twice a month. I've exhibited with the 62 Group of Textile Artists, and The Society of Designer Craftsmen. I've also shown my work at events such as Art in Action and Artisan at the Edinburgh Festival.

Find out more

Rachel Wright textile artist

Twitter: @RSetford 
Instagram: @rachelsetford 

Next, enjoy part two of Rachel's feature all about the technique and process... And for even more, be inspired by the incredible works of fellow machine embroidery artists, Janine Heschl and Stacey Chapman!

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