From the Pope to the Runway: Karen Nicol is the Textile Master

When it comes to the art of embroidery, Karen Nicol is the ultimate master. With a BA in embroidery from the Manchester Metropolitan University and a Master’s Degree in textiles from the Royal College of Art in London, her clients include some of the biggest names out there, both in the fashion industry and elsewhere.

Commissioned by Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, The King of Qatar, and even the Pope himself—Nicol has clearly made a name for herself. Based in London, her career has spun for more than twenty-five years, with her techniques including Irish, Cornelly, Multihead, beading, and hand embroidery.

For her work in fashion, she collaborates with fashion designers and creates samples of embroidery designs, often inspired by a given theme. “I work in a completely ‘what if’ scenario, trying out things that may look new and fresh,” she described the process in an interview with Upcyclist. “We then develop these samples to work on garments and I do the first pieces for the shows.”

She explains that in interiors, it’s quite similar but with different scales and practicalities. But with her art pieces, the process is more leisurely. It begins with sketching (her favorite theme being animals) and then enlarging the sketch to the correct size. “I then sample and experiment and start to embroider the piece,” explains Nicol. “Each one is so different. So, in all cases whatever I do it’s a process of rough drawing, sampling and developing in general.”

As you might have guessed, the finished results are quite remarkable.