Kat Ball: Stitching the Stars

Every so often in life, you catch a thread of something and if you follow it, you’re led deep into a Wonderland of Magic.

Has that ever happened to you?

It has happened to me recently.

I followed a silver trail into the breathtakingly beautiful world of textile artist, Kathryn Ball.

Gazing around her treasure trove home and hearing Kat weave tales about history, fabrics, secret finds from secret walks, vintage frames and beaded gowns, it is clear that to understand the magic Kat stitches into her embroidered brooches, you must first experience the qualities that create the artisan herself.

And early this December, walking from room to room in her house (whilst stroking cushions and touching curtains like some sort of supressed-sense-starved seamstress), this is what I attempted to do.

“These are gorgeous!” I whisper, touching the unusual curtains.

“They’re called Kantha quilts,” Kat replies. Her knowledge and passion for fabric and its artisan roots bubble up as vibrant as the quilted curtain itself. “They are made from saris that are stitched and quilted and then given to young couples on their weddings day in India. I just love them. They make the most gorgeous curtains and they are so beautiful.”

It is here we sit, in a shard of winter sunshine, surrounded by vibrant cushions and colours that Kat tells me how her love affair with fabrics began.

“My mum was extremely creative and had she not gone down a teaching route, would probably have followed a much more artistic path. My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, had a unique eye for textiles. This was apparent in the beautiful things she’d collected and preserved, but it was only when she died and I walked around her home feeling the textures and looking at everything that I realised I’d inherited this same appreciation of fabrics.”

Kat's grandmother, Betty Ball.

Kat’s grandmother, Betty, lived in a tiny cottage in the New Forest with her mother and four sons.

“They had no heating, the toilet was outside and that is how my dad grew up. You can see why Nan would have had a real care for her belongings. Even though she didn’t have a lot of money, she’d never have let that come across to anyone. That’s partly why she was a good hand with a sewing machine and able to make everything.”

Kat continues, “My Grandma was an unusual lady. She was the only person I’ve known who has gone out and bought a Christmas tree and then put all the decorations on it, but it didn’t look right so she took the Christmas tree back again! She really had an eye for visual beauty. She appreciated things. I have this amazing Welsh woollen rug that we have hanging in our dining room and a Navaho rug too. She collected and was drawn to fabrics. I think she appreciated the art of it.”

Kat's inherited Welsh Rug that hangs on her dining room wall.

And this love has been undeniably inherited by Kat.

“As a child I was drawn to unusual clothing and it always seems that the things I really like are very expensive!” she laughs. “I loved textiles and clothing but throughout school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t enjoy high school and it didn’t make me feel academic. I felt restricted. In the end I thought that if I learnt to do hairdressing I could possibly get into the fashion industry doing back stage work, so after my GCSEs I trained in that.”

Following her training, Kat worked in an Island hairdresser for one year before heading up to Brighton.

“Brighton called to me,” she smiles nostalgically. “I felt like it was a place I could belong. The music, vintage clothing, alternative fashion …. it all excited me. I had a great time and Brighton was fun, but it didn’t work out and nine months later I decided to come back to the island. I got a job in a little café and decided to have some time out from hairdressing.”

By coincidence Kat’s boss’s mother worked at Portsmouth University and one day, after chatting about her passion for fashions and textiles, she enrolled Kat on a course.

“I commuted across from the island and following that first year decided to stay on and do a degree in fashion and textiles.”

The first year of her degree gave Kat the opportunity to explore both textiles and fashion. Believing that fashion was where her passion lay, she decided to opt for the latter.

“I wanted to learn how to pattern cut and make my own clothes,” Kat tells me. “I knew that I didn’t want to follow the rat race to London. I liked the idea of opening a vintage wedding shop. But then, right at the end of the degree and I was faced with my final end of show, I decided to combine both fashion and textiles. “

“The tutors told me NOT to do it,” Kat groans. “Bearing in mind I’d done fashion for the last two years and this was the final project to get my grade and suddenly I’ve chosen textiles – it was crazy! But I took a risk, combined both textiles and fashion and based my end of year show on birds of prey.”

As Kat talks about the formation of feathers, the layering of patterns and the feathering and structure of the birds, her face lights up.

“To make the print design, I visited the falconry at Appuldurcombe house. I took pictures of the Tawny Owls and then digitally manipulated the print. Then I got to work on creating the garment itself. At this point, I realised that textiles really were where my heart is. I looked around at my peers, who were all planning on being the next big thing in London, and I knew I wasn’t destined for that path.”

On the very day that Kat completed University, she was commissioned to make a wedding dress for her close friend, Sophie Honeybourne.

“I designed Sophie’s dress from a couple of different 1950s dresses. We went to London and brought this beautiful fabric; original 1930s beaded fabric and it was gorgeous. Following Sophie’s dress I was then commissioned to make another one for someone else. Things had been non stop since I’d finished University and I’d begun to feel quite burnt out.”

Still hairdressing, Kat decided to have a rest and just enjoy her creativity without the pressure of bridal deadlines and commissions.

She eventually picked up her needle and threads around the time of her grandmother’s birthday.

“I decided to embroider her a picture as a gift,” Kat smiles. “The picture I made was of her little cottage in the New Forest where she had brought up my dad and his brothers.”

“The cottage had this amazing garden, filled with foxgloves and flowers. I felt compelled to embroider it for my Grandma as I felt it was a time that she was truly happy.

When I gave it to her, she was moved to tears which was completely out of character for her. A week later she felt very ill. Then she passed away. Later her friends told me that in those last few days of her life, the little embroidered picture hadn’t left her side.”

It wasn’t long after this that Kat’s dear friend, Sophie, fell pregnant. “I’d seen some gorgeous baby blankets where friends of the expectant mother all hand stitch a square. Inspired by this, I contacted everyone we knew and facilitated the making of Sophie’s baby blanket.”

Kat confesses, “I got carried away and did a couple of cross stich squares. Then I remembered a story that Sophie told me about daisies and how she and her husband had met there were daisies everywhere. I stitched an embroidery of Sophie and Raff in a meadow, surrounded by daisies and a stork carrying in their little baby boy.”

Having received her baby blanket, Sophie – who is a successful silversmith and jeweller – looked at Kat’s embroidery and suggested turning them into some sort of wearable piece.

“Sophie found a little silver plated brooch that had embroidered daffodils in it,” Kat says. “She gave it to me and suggested that I encase my work into it to make it wearable in a similar way.

Throughout all of my life, ever since loving vintage clothing, I’ve always been obsessed with embroidery. It had always been there but I just wasn’t the one doing it.

I loved leather jackets with leather that had embroidery, Hungarian traditional clothing that had embroidery and if I find a blouse with embroidery on it I’ll buy it. Even at University I knew I really loved the texture of embroidery.

I love the craft of it, but it’s more than that!

If you think back to the Tudors – before that even – before they were able to print digitally or screen print, everything would have been embroidered to create images and design.

I suddenly realised that whilst I’m not the best drawer I can create an image using thread and that is my pen and the fabric my paper. Suddenly it was really easy to create these beautiful images and I was so excited!”

All of a sudden, I was embroidering these beautiful brooches. Just like my Grandma’s picture of the cottage, my subjects were moments, memories, places that I really liked or had seen. I realised that I was capturing magical moments … leading me to describe my work as a moment or memory that has been captured in these beautiful wooden bezels.”

One of my initial challenges was how to secure the piece inside the bezel and still keep it fine like jewellery. I took the pieces down to Sophie and asked her how to secure the pieces. Sophie then taught me a few little skills and I used Betty’s husband’s tools to fix the embroidery into the bezels with silver fastenings.”

Since that time Kat’s embroidered brooches have gone from strength to strength. She began by selling them in shops and at pedlars markets, but as word has spread, has opened her own Etsy Shop and taken on private commissions.

Moving to idyllic St Lawrence on the Isle of Wight offered Kat a whole new landscape to explore.  

“There are new flowers, new breeds, new places to walk and a whole world has opened up. I don’t just decide what I want to do with my embroideries. I am literally jotting down with thread on fabric what inspires me.”



Occasionally I take photographs, but I mainly do everything from memory and what I feel at the time.

The Sunset Meadow Collection was created this autumn. Everything was so gold and yellow and mustard and burnt orange. The colours on the brooches almost seem farfetched, but for me that was exactly how beautiful it was.

Another collection, called Blue Moon, was from earlier in 2105 when my partner, me and a few friends went up to St Lawrence Downs. The moon was providing enough light for us to sit, have a glass of wine and create the most stunning view.

In my line of view the moon was shimmering on the sea and its reflection looked as though it had been spun in silver. Just in front of me were these beautiful purple flowers and green grasses. I thought, I am embroidering that tomorrow – and I did.

These are my memories and moments, but the people who love and buy my work can identify and feel those moments too.”

A lover of wildlife, Kat and her man can often be found strolling through the quiet leafy lanes of St Lawrence, enjoying the great expanse of starry skies at night. Indeed it has been these incredible skies melding with the wild grasses and meadowland that inspired her Starlight Meadow collection and the little fox families along the way that continue to inspire her Midnight Foxes (below).
 It is with a sense of wonder and gratitude that I tie up my chat with this wonderful artist of word, perception and thread.

In fact, I’m kind of hankering to come and hang out in her beautiful sanctuary pretty soon again.

Instead, I’m going to make do with heading over to her Etsy shop and purchasing my very own bit of Kat Magic for Christmas.

And if I were a fox, sitting under a massive sky and making a wish on a star, I’d wish that you’d head over and capture one of Kat’s Moments too. XXX

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