Meet Pippa Caley
Working from her studio in Fulham, west London, Pippa Caley creates intricately embroidered textiles inspired by the organic forms and vibrant colours of the natural world. Her bespoke fabrics are defined by their detailed pattern, texture and bold colourways, bringing life to furniture, framed panels, headboards and cushions.
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I grew up on a Yorkshire farm and was influenced by my surroundings from a very early age. As well as making things with colourful yarns, my grandmother was an artist and would always encourage me and my sisters to express ourselves through painting in her loft studio. My passion for textiles developed from those formative days and has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. A cross-stitch needle holder that I made as a child is still a treasured memento – it sits in the drawer of my embroidery machine.
I studied mixed media textiles at High Wycombe and went on to the Royal College of Art, training in constructed textiles. There, my tutor, Karen Nicol, introduced me to the Irish embroidery machine, which was a defining moment. It has a pedal worked by the knee and pushing it in and out controls the width of the stitch, enabling me essentially to ‘draw’ with the needle and thread. It was ideal – all my passions were combined in one traditional embroidery technique. As soon as I graduated in 2004, I set up my studio.
Exploring new techniques through stitches, materials and colour to create unique pieces is my passion. Embroidery is such a traditional technique yet there are so many ways to give it a contemporary edge. Once my work is in situ, whether at a private house or in one of the Firmdale Hotels, it looks instantly modern. I like applying the designs in unusual settings, on an upholstered banquette for example or framed as wall art, or adding a striking touch to a footstool or headboard. What’s important to me is to push the boundaries with materials, colour and scale.
I’m always energised by organic structures. I gather ideas from landscapes, leaves and flowers. The natural world has always informed my fabrics, which are often quite painterly in style.
My textiles involve a process of layering all the techniques that I love. I start by drawing a design on paper, then exposing it onto a screen. Once I have the image on the screen, I can use it multiple times – pulling different-coloured pigment through the mesh, possibly ‘drawing’ on top with a needle and thread. Then I print again over the embroidery, cut onto areas and hand stitch, so every piece of fabric tells a story of layered techniques. My collections are mainly produced on commission. I meet with a client, bringing my portfolio of fabrics, which is constantly evolving as new ideas spring from each project. We discuss colours, fabrics and what the end use will be. A series of sketches, small swatches and then more detailed drawings follow before the fabric is made.
I’m definitely a morning person, so I’m up early. My studio is close to the river and a short walk from where I live and I’ll often walk there, soaking up inspiration and noting unusual colour combinations in random objects. At the workshop, I check emails and, if I have fabric to print, I tend to get on with it immediately so it can be drying while I stitch. At the end of the day, I sweep away all the threads by my machine, as I dislike being greeted by a mess the next morning.
I don’t always work alone. I occasionally seek help on larger projects, but I always look after the embroidery – it would be hard to hand this over as it is very detailed and involved. However, I do outsource the making up of cushions, headboards and upholstery.
Alongside fabric-making, I’ve started to offer an interior design service, as private clients often ask for help with creating the right environment for my fabrics. I really enjoy this, as it means that I am part of the whole journey. Many of my clients are passionate about textiles too, so it’s lovely to exchange ideas. I spend hours sitting at my Singer machine using time-consuming traditional techniques, and it’s satisfying that my customers appreciate the finished result. Recently, I have also launched my first digital printed fabric collection, spurred on by the desire to offer clients the ability to buy my fabric by the metre. Right now, I am working on my second collection, inspired by reflections and geometric shapes.
Pippa Caley, 07801 228004, pippacaley.com.
Photography/ Alun Callender