Inspirational Interview: Nicola Jarvis

In honor of her upcoming show at the William Morris Gallery, today’s Inspirational interview is with Nicola Jarvis.

When and how did you decide or discover that you would be an artist?

“From a very young age I’ve looked at the world around me with a sensitive eye.  I spent hours watching my dad hand paint wooden shop signs with oil paint in a tumble down garage at the end of our garden.  He showed me how to create straight lines with chalked string and I was mesmerised at his steady hand as he deftly guided the brush around the chalk-drawn shapes of ornate letters. That was when I felt that my ability to draw and paint came from his side of the family – a very strong artistic expression running through the line of my paternal grandmother Dorice Rainbow.”

‘Pink Flower’ (2012) Colour Pencil on Arches paper

How do your fine art and your textile art overlap and influence the other?

 Ultimately I have always seen myself as an artist who uses stitch within a range of media and some of the most interesting areas develop where different disciplines and techniques merge.  My fascination with the aesthetic and mechanic of stitching has informed and shaped my drawing practice and embroidery designs for many years and continues to do so.  To understand how stitches and techniques work is invaluable when designing embroidered textiles and you never stop learning and discovering.”

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

 “I am intrigued and fascinated by numerous examples of historic and contemporary hand stitch, particularly by work that has been made with immense sensitivity and skill.”

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

Discovering the collection of embroidered textiles at the V&A in my early twenties inspired me to design and make a bodice from calico, stitched with a spray of dog rose, honeysuckle and sweet peas.  I knew nothing, I was completely self taught.  This was just before I started the RSN apprenticeship and I still have the piece.  It must have had some merit because it convinced the then boss Elizabeth Elvin to give me an interview!”

What has been your most unusual source of inspiration?

Experiencing the 1999 solar eclipse on a cliff top in Brittany, France.  This incredible sight prompted me to embroider the scene from memory with silk and metal threads on a silk painted background.”

‘Black Bird (crewel work) 2012/13 Designed by Nicola, Stitched by Victoria Laine

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

 “SILK – thread paint.  For the melting tints and tones of colour and its lustre.  I love how light is cast from a silk-stitched surface, constantly changing and transforming the composition depending on the time of day and the position you are viewing it.”

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

 “I always have a source from which I take inspiration or information for a design and that drawing/photograph, etc, will suggest a basic colour scheme and this then might be further modified with other colours/schemes that I am interested in at the time.”

‘Blue Birds’ (2012) Colour Pencil on Arches paper

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?

I select a stitch, or stitches, depending on how I want to interpret an aspect, or aspects, of a design.  I choose a stitch, or stitches that best express a tone, a texture, a pattern, etc.  And yes, I will change a stitch/stitches until I achieve the desired effect.”

Is there one stitch that’s your favorite and that you almost always include in your designs? 

 “Split Stitch is the stitch of the moment and doubtless I will change my mind again next week.   However, in designing the embroideries for the Morris-inspired show, Split Stitch has proved to be so versatile.  It is functional in creating super-smooth edges underneath areas of Satin Stitch and Long and Short but it also creates beautiful decorative surfaces when stitched in dense lines, packed close together, as seen in the figures of saints on copes and fragments from the Opus Anglicanum.  May Morris studied Medieval embroideries extensively and was fond of using Split Stitch in her work.”

‘Robin’ (canvas work) 2012 Designed by Nicola, Stitched by Pat Healy

What is you top tip for beautiful stitching?

“Delight in your design.  Really love the shapes, colours and composition of the piece.  This is the key to enjoying your work and thus, being inspired to stitch it beautifully.”

 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?

“An orangery with a glass roof, frilly chandeliers and French doors leading out to a lovely garden canopied by a 400-year old oak tree.  Having spent the last thirty years making work in bedrooms, bedsits, kitchens, converted dining rooms, warehouses, disused shops, etc, etc, I wouldn’t change a thing right now.”


Nicola working in her beautiful new studio space

Please complete this thought: When I’m stitching I feel…

 “When I’m stitching I feel . . . hope . . . that someone will like what I’m making.”

What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming exhibition at the Willliam Morris Gallery?

“I’m very excited about seeing how all the work operates and links together in the gallery space and when hung/installed, I want to see what the visitors/audience think about the show.”

Thank you so much for this opportunity and platform Kathy – truly grateful and excited to share some thoughts with your readership.


To visit Nicola Jarvis website where you can see more of her work, click here.

My favorite quote from this interview is “Delight in your design”. True and thoughtful words of advice.

What about you? What thoughts were provoked by Nicola’s interview?


The Acorn

Including the design by Nicola Jarvis, stitch diagrams and instructions


For more information and to purchase The Acorn, click here


6 thoughts on “Inspirational Interview: Nicola Jarvis

  1. In one word Inspirational!

    I especially love the first floral design, because of the movement, it is alive!The flower is blooming, the tendrils are reaching, and the lady beetle searching. I love it.

    Thank you Nicola and Kathy for sharing!

  2. Thank you for such an informative interview. Could you explain what each of the pieces shown are, such as, threads, technique, fabric, inspiration?

    • Hi Cynthia,

      I’ve added captions to each photo to give you a bit more information about each piece.
      I’ll see if Nicola if she would be willing to give us more information after the show has opened and she’s taken a break! I’m trying to encourage her to publish a book with all her designs for the show so all of us can stitch them!
      Liebe Grüße,

  3. Excellenuy interview with Nicola, with very thoughtful answers to your questions. She really conveys her passion for stitching and drawing. Certainly hope you can persuade her to publish her patterns – I love those birds!

    • Hi Sharon

      Yes, Nicola is one special artist. Her passion is infectious. I’m glad you agree about the patterns…we’ll all encourage her and maybe in the future we’ll see them for sale!

      Liebe Grüße,


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