Inspirational Interviews: Tanja Berlin

Tanja Berlin is an embroiderer with such a myriad of talent it’s hard to know where to begin when talking about her work. I first knew of her as a supplier of goldwork materials. When i came across her web site the very first time I got quite excited thinking I had found a shop in Berlin, Germany, where I live. Of course, I quickly figured out that it was the name of the artist not the location of the studio that gave it’s name to the site!

As I explored the site, I was amazed at the variety of beautiful designs in so many different techniques: goldwork, blackwork, needle painting, Jacobean, applique and more. Tanja comes from Dorset, UK but now lives in Calgary, Canada. Her journey from England to Canada wasn’t straightforward, however.

She studied at the Royal School of Needlework, completing her three year apprenticeship and a further two years in the work room at the RSN. After five years of being immersed in the world of embroidery, Tanja decided it was time for adventure. She spent three years traveling and exploring the world, finally coming to Canada with her future husband. If you want to know more about her life and her fascinating story, you can read all about it here, on her web site.

1. Do you have a favorite kind of needlework? If so, which kind and why?

“I am fortunate enough to have been trained in many types of needlework. From the techniques I learnt, I have 3 techniques that I enjoy designing for the most. They are Needle Painting (Thread Painting), Blackwork and Goldwork. I like to alternate between these techniques.”

2. What motivated you to create your very first design? Looking back, do you think it was a successful design? If so, why? If not, why not?

“The first design I made for teaching was the Wild Rose. I chose this design as it is the flower of Alberta, where I live, and as a learning technique for needle painting. It has been very successful and popular. I think it is successful because it is a recognizable flower for most people and it is a beginner design in a relatively hard technique.”

3. What’s your favorite kind of thread to work with and what qualities does it have that makes it your favorite?

“I enjoy the metal threads the most as there is so much variety and you can make different effects so it is fun to design with. Pearl Purl is a versatile metal thread in that it can be used for outlines in Goldwork and other techniques. I use it as an outline in some of my blackwork designs.”

4. When it comes to choosing a color palette for a design what guides your choices?

“As most of my designs are from nature, the photograph or picture that I am working from inspires the colours.”

5. Tell us about your process of choosing stitches. Do you choose your stitches and then never change them or do you adapt as you work the  design?

“This question mostly applies to Blackwork as Needle painting is just a straight stitch, so there are only changes in the length of stitch and colour of thread.  Goldwork employs different metal threads which are usually sewn down in a particular method.”

“When designing for blackwork I work from resource books such as “Why Call it Blackwork” by Marion Scoular and Beginners Guide to Blackwork by Lesley Wilkins. These two books have a good selection of blackwork patterns to use. I will adapt the patterns to the design I am working on, changing the pattern by adding or reducing stitches in the pattern to create dimension and using different thickness’s of thread to create shading.”

6. Do you produce your design by hand or digitally? Use a computer or draw or a combination of both?

“The initial design is done by hand. For needle painting I will use tracing paper and trace from photographs to get the most accurate representation of the subject I will be stitching. For Blackwork and Goldwork I hand draw the design onto paper from pictures I have collected as inspiration. I use the computer for making accurate diagrams for my instructions.”

7. Describe your embroidery studio or space for us. What makes it the perfect place to work? What would you like to change if you could?

“My workroom is a large room in the basement where I make up kits, prepare orders and teach private classes for up to 10 people.
For doing my designing, stitching and instructions I prefer to be upstairs in our dining/living room at the table so I am with the family – my husband and two dogs. My husband doesn’t really like me working up stairs as I take up the whole dining room table, with pictures, and threads and he likes a tidy house, but I think he is okay with my company.
I have always wanted an attic studio with lots of windows, hardwood floors, nice and large, but cozy, but I would probably end up stitching in the living room anyway as I want to be with the family.”

8. Please complete this thought: When I’m stitching I feel


9. How does needlework allow you to express your creativity?

“Designing and stitching is a time when I am relaxed and at ease, as I am doing something I enjoy and am good at. I really love animals and this is the time I can express this in my art.”


Tanja has a very full teaching schedule all over the world. If you’d like to know more about her classes, look here. And, of course, to go to her web site – which will keep you busy for hours! – click here or on the link on toward the top right of the page.

Thank you Tanja, for taking time out of your very busy life to share your inspiration with us!

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