Embroidery and applique are no longer something only your nana does – embellishment is back in fashion and the pleasure is in doing it yourself

Textile artist and designer Karen Nicol busts the myth that techniques such as embroidery, tufting, faeggotting and hand-cutting are outmoded and she reinvents them to give simple fashion items exquisite decoration.

“It’s like being a painter and sculptor with thousands of combinations of materials at your fingertips,” says Nicol of her passion for embellishment in fashion design. “There is so much you can do that will transform a silhouette, enhance a simple line, make a garment unique, and all these possibilities are constantly updated by technology.”

Nicol finds her inspiration in car boot sales and flea markets and her work is an eclectic mix of shredded silks, nests of vintage ribbons, melted sequins, exotic feathers, buttons, straw, plastic jewellery and more, transforming a simple bag or garment into a contemporary work of art. Fashion labels Chanel, Givenchy, Matthew Williamson and Clements Ribeiro all have been clients.

“Embellishment is part of fashion’s armoury to help us keep things changing,” says Nicol, who is the author of Embellished: New Vintage (Bloomsbury, $69.99). “Most fashion still relies on the textile skills and innovation in embellishment, knit, weave or print to enhance the basically very simple shapes of normal clothing,” she says.

Brisbane designer Annika Forsberg also experiments with texture and form in the hair accessories and jewellery she creates for her label Glochidion. “My label is named after a tree and I’ve always been inspired by nature. I bring that fine detail and delicacy into my work,” she says.

Forsberg’s designs are created with chiffon petals, glass beads, sequins, buttons, lace, fabric offcuts and complemented with hand-embroidery and sold at Willow & Frock in Cleveland, online at Etsy and at the South Bank Young Designer Markets. She says it’s the intricacy of her work that lures people to look at and appreciate the pieces, which range in price from $10 to $300.

It’s this appreciation for labour-intensive detail that Karen Nicol hopes will maintain its place in a world of fast fashion. “It does concern me that a fabulous vocabulary of techniques will disappear and CAD (computer-aided design) will take over, but I think there will always be those who see it as a valuable source of inspiration and keep it going but, hopefully, constantly mix it with the new and approach it in contemporary ways.”

Embellished: New Vintage by Karen Nicol, published by Bloomsbury, RRP$69.99.

As seen in bmag issue 259