Natural patterns in organic hand embroidery with Mirjam Gielen

Ref: S4D31788

About this course

Explore patterns in nature and how they can be translated to textile art. Make a 'sketchcloth' full of explorations and samples, using a variety of stitches and techniques.

Course Description

On this course, you will explore patterns and phenomena from the natural and mineral world and how you can translate these into stitch.

An example of such a pattern is branching, belonging to the fractal patterns. You can see this pattern in the branches of a tree, but also in the veins of a leaf, in a river estuary or in the bronchi. But there are other beautiful and intriguing patterns: crack patterns on tree bark, spiral patterns in pine cones, bubble patterns in insect wings, rotational symmetry in flowers and many more. They share certain characteristics that you can use to recreate such a pattern in stitch, without having to copy a specific object or scene.

Each day, we will go outside and gather inspiration, taking photos or making sketches in the gardens and park surrounding West Dean College. If the weather does not permit us to go outside, the Internet can offer inspirational images too.

You will then explore these patterns in stitch, using basic stitches and techniques. The aim is not to replicate what you see exactly, but to develop your individual response to nature.

A piece of eco printed linen will be provided by the tutor as a starting point for your stitch explorations. The prints on the fabric form an ecosystem for your samples to grow in. In filling this fabric with samples of the patterns you have seen, you will experience the similarities between the stitch process and processes in nature. Your stitches will colonise the fabric, so to speak, much in the same way as plants or animals colonise their natural habitat. This ‘sketchcloth’, a contemporary take on the traditional sampler, will become a valuable reference piece and a way to develop your own organic style of embroidery.

Course Materials


  • All materials will be provided by the tutor.

What students need to bring

  • A basic sewing kit with embroidery needles, scissors and pins
  • An ipad or phone, and some simple sketching materials and sketchbook
  • Suitable clothing and covered footwear for outdoor explorations

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A range of drawing and sketching materials, if required

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no sandals or open toes).


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

General Information


Mirjam Gielen

Mirjam Gielen is a textile artist with a focus on organic embroidery. She learned her textile skills mainly from her mother and other family members. She has been creating tutorials and online workshops for several years now and shares her work online on social media and Patreon, a creator platform.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.