Textile artist Emma Giacalone gives us a tour of her big and bright sewing studio in a former chicken shed…
At first glance a former chicken shed on a working farm doesn’t seem like the obvious home for a sewing studio. But past the grazing cows and the lush fields, Emma Giacalone has found her own little oasis of calm to create and make her intricate textile pictures in perfect peace and quiet.
After trying freehand embroidery while on maternity leave with her eldest child, Emma turned her hobby into a business, sewing bespoke and personalised artwork, inspired by local landscapes and scenery.
As her projects grew larger, Emma knew her business had outgrown her home – especially when she had to make sure scissors and buttons were out of the way of little hands – so she set out to find her perfect workspace. We caught up with Emma over a cup of tea to find out how she turned a chicken shed in Gloucestershire into the sewing studio of her dreams…
Hi Emma, we love your studio! Are you sure it used to be a chicken shed?
Yes! The building is a large barn on a farm that really was once the chicken shed. I started out making as a hobby, so found spare corners in the house to work from. As I became busier with commissions, I realised that I was spending a lot of time packing and unpacking my materials – almost as much time as actually making. Some space became available in my husband’s business unit 18 months ago, so I saw an opportunity and moved myself in.
Describe your workspace and why it works for you.
It’s a very large, open plan workshop. Going from a spare room to this huge space was a very big leap, but it has completely turned around the way that I work. I now have different desk spaces for each stage of my making process. As well as an admin desk and sewing table, I also have a desk where I do my sketches, a cutting table and a framing area. There’s also masses of space for fabric storage, not to mention a home for all the vintage bits and pieces that I pick up along the way.
What are people’s reactions when they see your workspace for the first time?
Surprise! My husband runs his business designing 3D printers on the ground floor, so people drive onto a farm, walk through an industrial area full of 3D printers, lathes, and laser cutters. It’s pretty unexpected to find a workshop full of embroideries at the end of it.
How do you store your crafting materials?
Because I use lots of colours and textures of material, I have lots of small scraps rather than bolts or rolls of fabric. I store them in clear plastic storage boxes, which allows me to locate the material I’d like to use relatively easily. As well as Liberty lawns and linen, I like to use upcycled fabric in my work to create more texture and to save it from landfill too. I keep buttons and ribbon on display as I love how they look and it makes it quicker to find them. Right now my buttons are all kept in old Hovis baking tins, and my ribbons are in the drawer of a Singer sewing table that I’ve attached to the wall.
Any secrets for finding unique materials?
I tend to scour charity shops for clothes in interesting colours or patterns. It definitely pays to befriend the people working in there too, as there’s been many an occasion when I’ve been saved a bag of scraps, a box of buttons, or even been allowed to go out to the stock room to have a rummage. Another amazing source is my local vintage jumble sale, which takes place quarterly. I’ve found several toy sewing machines, vintage papers, and even a beautiful Parisian dressmaker’s dummy.
Does being by the river inspire your work?
Definitely, I adore creating seascape pictures. There’s a sailing club very nearby, so there’s a lot of nautical inspiration on my doorstep. Not to mention the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside. I’m also very fortunate to undertake a lot of commission work. People often ask me to make pictures that I wouldn’t have thought of which sparks my imagination.
Name three things you can’t live without?
My Janome DM3000 – I have several other machines in the workshop, but I just keep coming back to this one, as it’s so easy to use, and great for free motion embroidery. Audio books, which are my company while I work, and tea.
What’s been your proudest make?
My Clifton Suspension Bridge picture. It’s A1 sized, so larger than anything I’d previously undertaken or indeed would have been able to consider before I had this space. I spent hours and hours putting in all the tiny details that are typical of my work, and because of the size of it, this meant a lot of details!
What does making mean to you?
To me making is a complete escape, I love watching an idea evolve and grow from a sketch through to a finished picture. I have to pinch myself to believe this is my job sometimes, because it just doesn’t feel like work. My aim is always to create something that will make people smile.