Conversation with Claire

V: First can you share a little bit about yourself with us?
C: I'm Claire and I live in Bradford, Yorkshire, with my four young daughters. I teach and manage community-based textile projects, keep an allotment where I grow dye plants, and dye and stitch as often as I can. My blog name, clarabella, was a childhood nickname, and also the name I used when I had more time to make and sell my work. I also love to take photographs

V: I am curious to know if you have always had a passion for textiles?
C: My mother made most of my clothes when I was a child and I remember going to the remnant stall in the local market with her and stroking the bales of fabric when I was tiny. She is a very accomplished knitter and embroiderer also. My Grandmother could make pretty much anything, and had a fantastic attitude towards trying new things. We also had interesting textiles (Hungarian embroideries mainly) around the house that I loved looking at and touching. I am sure that growing up in this environment sparked my interest at a very young age. I can't really remember a time when I didn't make things.

V: In november last year the first dye plants were planted in your community dye garden. Can you share a little bit about this project?
C: Bradford was hugely important in the world textile industry from the nineteenth century onwards. This project looks at the heritage of the dye industry in the city in a hands-on way, working across different communities, growing dye plants and processing them. It also looks at contemporary issues around sustainable textiles. The project is generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is run at Hive, a local community arts charity.

V: I once read these words in one of your blog posts: "Sometimes thread holds greater meaning to me than fabric. It's all about the linking, the joining and the connecting".
What about when it comes to the process of dying? Which part of the process do you find yourself enjoying the most?
C: I love the alchemy of the dye bath. There is something fairly magical about the transformation that occurs. However, I have recently begun to think more about the slow nature of natural dyeing. Seeing a process right through from seed to colour on cloth is not speedy. It is very, very rewarding though, and I think I understand colour and cloth better for it.

V: You teach and lead workshops, what do you especially enjoy about it?
C: I am an enthusiast about the work I do, but I do not enjoy it in isolation. Teaching is a reciprocal experience for me - as much as I love to show and to share knowledge, I learn a phenomenal amount from my students.

V: I always love seeing photos from your workroom! Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of athmosphere you like to be sourrounded by in your creative space?
C: I am very lucky to have a basement workroom in my house. It is pretty untouched - concrete floor and peeling paint, but it has an old sink (essential for dyeing) and a door that leads out to my backyard. Having said that, my projects tend to spread around the house. I always have stitching to hand that I can pick up and put down when time allows, and often a dye pan simmering away on the kitchen stove.


V: "I've had a few days off work and have had a bit of time for mending, patching and darning. I love these tasks and like to make repairs bright and visible. Around the house the same favourite scraps of fabric appear on clothes, quilts, and a particularly battered old armchair". These word are from one of your blogposts a little while back and i have it the same way...i find so much beauty in this process.....The most treasured things i have in my home are the ones who have lived a long life and that are marked by it. I were so lucky to grow up with two grandmothers who both were crafty women. They did things like homegrowing of vegetables and fruit, bee-keeping, weaving, knitting, chrocheting, plant dyeing and embroidery. There were almost always some kind of mending going on and i think that is the main reason for my attitude towards the throw-away society that we live in today. I am so deeply grateful for having with me this heritage from my grandmothers. Do you have some thoughts about this throw-away topic...some thought about how extremely short lived the items are today?
C: I too was brought up this way, worn and mended things have so much more life about them I think. I try very hard in my practice and my day to day life to live and work in a sustainable way. This means that I am mindful about the materials and techniques that I use and reuse. I get much satisfaction from prolonging the life of clothing and objects through mending. I've taught darning and patching workshops in the past and it is so enjoyable sharing these skills.

V: I am passionate about the topic of colors and i am curious to know if you have a favourite color and colorcombination?
C: I love the olive green shade that comes from a saddened onion skin dye bath . The way that natural colours are so harmonious together still excites me.

V: "[dyeing with plants is] a way of leading people, especially children, out into the world they live in, to observe it more closely and to find a new set of relationships to it, to lead them to have a care for it through the wonder at its variety and complexity." I love this quote by Seonaid Robertson that you had with in one of your posts! Have there been some special moments that you have experienced together with children while doing plant dyeing that you can share with us?
C: Indigo dyeing is particularly exciting with children (and adults!). The transformation from green to blue as the fibre is lifted from the vat has a real 'wow' factor. I always take specimen plants along to my workshop sessions, and it is so interesting looking at a plant, seeing what can be made from it, and telling stories of a dye that connects all cultures around the world.

V: Are there one of the seasons that you cherish more than the others and if so why?
C: If I had to pick one it would be Autumn: harvesting colour, bright clear skies, getting ready for winter. I love these things.

V: Slow stitiching....i don't stitch (but i would love to learn) but i knit a lot and that is also something that also gives this slow feeling, at least for me it does. I find this slowness almost kind of meditative sometimes..it's calming and relaxing in a way...is this something you also can relate to when it comes to stitching?
C: I've worked on an arts and mental health project for the last three years, and have made some strong connections between mindfulness and stitching in the groups I work with. My personal experience of hand stitching is that it allows me time to focus, to think things through, whilst affording me the pleasure of creating something. The action of stitch on cloth and the repetitive nature of the task is very soothing. Good quality needles, and natural fibres and threads all help, too, I think.

V: If i were to try stitiching or plant dyeing and i don't have a workshop nearby to join are there any books that you could recommend OR are they both in your opinion crafts that needs to be learned through a workshop/course?
C: I'm a great believer in learning in a hands on way, and there are some great dyeing books out there with simple and effective projects for beginners. Try The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr.

V: Do you have some new projects that you look forward to?
C: I'm planning new work and a collaboration for an exhibition in 2014 that I'm quite excited about. I've also been doing some writing and I am looking forward to seeing what comes of it.

V: And lastly, do you have an inspirational quote that you would like to share?
C: 'You repair the thing until you remake it completely.' Louise Bourgeois

Claire's blog clarabella,


  1. i am so enjoying your conversations. They are with some of the most thoughtful makers that I have great respect and admiration for. I would love to hear more about Claire's mindfulness with handsewing. That subject would make a really wonderful book.

  2. absolutely beautiful claire's work is a person whom I follow and I love what she is doing within the community, thought provoking, personal and perfect

  3. you are the best interviewer who finds the most wondrous interviewees.

  4. thanks so much for introducing me to Claire and her blog!! lovely interview!

  5. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking interview. Claire has such insight in the nature of manual crafts and how it relates to us.

  6. So lovely to find you here Claire - a great interview with some of your most beautiful photographs!!

  7. Your interviews are always so deep & interesting, Viebeke !
    Thank you for sharing !!
    Psst, you shall stop by the blog today ... ;-)

  8. I'm crazy for Claire's work!!!! Especially these little knots!
    Fantastic interview. Thank you!

  9. haPPy valentine's day to you too :)
    What a lovely wrap the pattern you bought is ~ what colors are you planning it in ~ your right you can't have too many wraps :) ? Such a cute knitted heart :)
    have a cozy weekend :)

  10. so much inspiration! i've really enjoyed this conversation with claire. i am feeling like i will look for my needle and thread now too. i hope you have a lovely weekend.

  11. Another wonderful interview, Vibeke. I've enjoyed Claire's handwork for a while so it was nice to get to know her a bit better. Thank you for continuing to bring such beauty to your blog. xo

  12. This is very interesting, but golly is it hard to read - the typeface is so pale!

  13. Claire's work is so stunning and inspiring. Thank you V for this.


Thank you for taking the time to write, i hugely appreciate your comments!: ) xxx