Interview: Karen Barbé

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Karen Barbé creates unique designs using sewing and embroidery. I was lucky enough to interview Karen about her blog, website and what she is currently up to.  

Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you! How are you?

I’m great thank you.

How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?

My mother got me into embroidery when I was a girl. She was always doing things with her hands—sewing, knitting, embroidering, quilting, painting—so it was natural that I got into this world. My first stitches were half cross-stitch on painted penelope canvas. I still remember getting one row right and then totally losing the grasp of it on the next one! In 2015 I attended the certificate program in hand embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace (England). This is how much I care and consider tradition and historical influences on my work. This place is quintessentially a guardian of history and embroidery cannons, filled with incredible people devoted to the craft in ways that have become my measure and guide.

Have you always been into embroidery?

My love for needlepoint has remained since I first learned it and I’d say it’s the technique I enjoy the most. It’s a constant source of inspiration for my designs!

If there were no resource restraints, what would be your dream project?

I dream of creating a fabric collection with Minä Perhonen. I love their patterns and the mix of print and embroidery.

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What equipment do you use for your work?

I work from my studio which is located in one of the busiest and most vibrant areas in Santiago. Despite all the buzz I’ve managed to build a space where I can achieve the tranquillity and peace that I need to embroider. My walls and ceiling are painted in pure white in order to get the maximum amount of light. I have LED panels on the ceiling that provide a great atmosphere when daylight is gone. At the studio I store all my embroidery supplies like threads and fabrics, and my lovely tools that I use everyday: needles, scissors, pencils, paper and yes, my computer.

What tools or materials could you not live without?

My eyes! In the last year I began using prescription glasses and I notice that my eyes can get too tired if I embroider or do computer work for long periods of time. Now I have to be really aware of the time spent in stitching and take several breaks to let my eyes rest.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

I started blogging 10 years ago. Posting was my way of getting in touch with a worldwide community of creative people. Then I moved into social media platforms—I jumped into Facebook and then into Instagram, but in both cases I was a late adopter. In my heart I remain being a blogger and try to keep that original blog essence of slow making, slow story-telling.

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Who inspires your work?

I’m inspired by talented and powerful women. On a personal level I deeply admire Maria Callas, Dian Fossey, and Jane Goodall. On the design front, I love the work of Gunta Stolzl and Anni Albers.

Do you have any favourite pieces of work that you adore at the moment?

My current favourite thing is not a piece of work but a colour. Violet. But I will be honest. I hate purple. I hate violet. Both sit on my top 1 most hated colours (followed by red and green). But after writing Colour Confident Stitching I realized it wasn’t healthy to hate a colour (though “dislike” might be a more appropriate word in this context). So since last year—and considering that Pantone has named UltraViolet as the colour for 2018—I’ve been seriously flirting with purple and violet in the hope of introducing them into my life.

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram and your work?

My Instagram account (@karenbarbe) feels like my new blog. Here’s where most of the conversations around crafts and embroidery is happening so I’m infusing much of my blogging style to my feed, that is, posts and images that are both educational and inspiring.

What’s your typical working day?

I divide my day between computer work, creative work, embroidery practice, and teaching classes. I usually manage to work on two or three of these areas in a given day.

What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?

Definitely it’s been learning about business! As a designer I’m always focusing on the creative side of things so having to confront the numbers and all the paperwork has been hard.

Do you have any exciting plans for this year?

Yes! I’m re-launching my online shop. I’m working on digital patterns, fabrics, and textile homewares which will be uploaded very soon to my site.

What advice would you give to people looking to define their own style?

Work, work, and work. That’s how I built my own style. When I started I wasn’t sure what my style or voice was. I just kept doing what I felt like, and tried different techniques until I had a body of work large enough that I could understand what my own style was made of.

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Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to do embroidery?

I’ve learned that the most important thing when embroidering is the process itself, the time invested in each stitch rather than the final piece. This means forgetting about being perfect; just do and try to find your voice in it. Good technique will come gradually. When you only focus on the outcome you can get really anxious about doing it right whereas if you decide to enjoy the journey of stitching as a time for experimenting, learning, and relaxing you won’t be afraid of unpicking a stitch or a off-tone colour thread.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

Practice makes perfect. Though I don’t believe in perfection, I really live by this motto (in Spanish we use “master” instead of perfect). With enough time and enough work almost anything can be achieved.

You can take a look at her website ‘www.karenbarbe.com’. She has some great images on her blog and website. You can also find Karen on Instagram ‘@karenbarbe’. Make sure to take a look at her website and Instagram for inspiration. 

Rhiannon BrittenComment