Get Mastered: Karen Nicol shares five steps for going pro in embroidery

Get Mastered

Here at Mastered we’re incredibly excited about the opportunity to work with embroidery artist Karen Nicol. In her new course The Business of Embroidery she reveals how textile artists work in fashion, interiors and the arts showing you how you can too.

A selection of Karen's work

After graduating from the Royal College of Art, Karen knew that she wanted to make a living out of embroidery rather than leave it as a hobby. She pursued her dream and has had an enviable career in fashion, interiors and solo work.

For those of you who would like to emulate Karen’s success, she has the following tips:

1. Be Brave and put your work out there

Karen’s first break in fashion came after she “put her courage in both hands and her work in her suitcase” and pounded the pavements of Paris. After approaching numerous designers she secured a commission which then led to her work being seen by a German designer. A ten year working relationship followed; it all came from Karen’s enthusiasm and courage to share her pieces.

2. Don’t be afraid of collaboration

As Karen says, collaboration pushes you out of your comfort zone. When you work with designers, they’ll force you to do the impossible and to think about your embroidery in a completely different way. You have no choice but to become inventive and to create new ways of doing things which will then enrich your work. Karen credits Betty Jackson with her use of resins in embroidery after the designer wanted to create the impression of water droplets on a blouse.

3. You’re a creative. Be creative.

When starting a new project, Karen says to think of ways that you can avoid taking the obvious path. For instance look at your ground fabric. If you’re doing goldwork why not choose a fabric like mohair or tartan for the base. Look at the scale, why not flowers the size of dinner plates rather than the usual small to lifesize size. Try not to be led by the accepted practice of process. For example believing that all fagotting has to be done with a stranded cotton or rouleaux. What about trying staples or hooks and eyes or hand cut sequins. Apply the same critical rigour to every aspect of your work. Not to make it ‘quirky’ but to make it yours. Not every idea will work, but they will be new and fresh.

4. Just do it

Karen had this written on a sign pinned over her machine for years. She says that “as creative people we are all in the same boat here. It is so easy to argue yourself out of trying an idea. There are always a million reasons why we think it won’t work or we’ve seen it before“. Even if you think you have seen it before, your own ‘embroidery handwriting’ will change it and you can develop it with your own visual input.

5. Have courage

This is the real make or break point. As Karen says, it’s so hard to be confident in your work all the time, particularly when you’re starting out, but you have to nurture a strength in yourself to push forward and try new things and believe in yourself. Any creative business is about courage. As she says, “we all have great, unique, personal things to offer and the only way to find yours is to jump in and try it out”.

To put questions to Karen and get personalised feedback from her on your work, join her FREE webinar on 13th May where she’ll discuss how she became the embroiderer that top designers and brands love to work with. Click here for details. It’s part of the Mastered Meets embroidery series which will be kicked off by Mr X Stitch himself on Thursday 1st May when he’ll share how to raise your profile online to secure more clients and commissions. Places are limited so secure your spot here.


Cheryl Adamson
Head of Customer Experience and Success at Mastered. Loves sharing business advice, admiring beautiful things and eating cake.
Cheryl Adamson


Mastered is a talent company for professionals in fashion. We use Instagram way more than Twitter at @masteredHQ.
@Jessiedib It really was! So many good vibes in the room. - 1 month ago
Cheryl Adamson

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