Acru – poetry and threads, an Irish love-affaire


When poetry is at the heart of the art of embroidery, every dream becomes possible. Meet a wonderful, Irish artist…

Photos – © Acru_ – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès

Cosmic Heron © Acru_

Who are you? What is your background?
I’m an Irish embroidery and mixed media artist living in New York. I have a Master in Economics and spent the best part of ten years working as an analyst in Dublin and London. I have been stitching since I was very small and have always been drawn to creating beautiful objects with my hands.

When / where did you learn embroidery? What is your story with it?
I learned to sew from my mother. She is incredibly talented and nurtured our love of art from a very young age. We grew up in an old country house, which needed a lot of renovating when we first moved in. So my mum turned one of the old bedrooms into a makeshift art studio for myself and my sisters. It was magical, we felt we were true, uninhibited artists!

How did you come to this particular technique, subjects?
I worked with paint as a child but quickly moved to knitting and then on to embroidery, spending much of my youth watching my mother stitch. It was with embroidery that I found a deep connection with art. I’m drawn to its tactility and how you can directly engage with thread. Working with threads feels most natural to me.

Terrazzo © Acru_
Amber sky © Acru_

Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am inspired by colour, nature, the sky, art history, interior design, architecture. Everything really! Right now, I’m spending a lot of time exploring Irish mythology, which is so beautiful and rich, and full of drama. I’m looking at ways to retell it through thread, in a contemporary way. I am also mum to a two-year-old boy, so it is a lot of fun seeing the world through his eyes and understanding what he finds engaging and funny.

What is your creative process? Do you draw on your canvas before stitching?
This I am still figuring out! But often I think, what is the intended use for my piece and where is it for? I always design with the home in mind. My pieces are intended to be enjoyed in a domestic setting. And mostly I have a large part of my colour palette chosen in advance. Often before I start a piece I think, what colours do I want it to be? Or more accurately, I’ll see a colour combination I like, and think, that will be my next piece.
Once I have these considerations worked out, I think of subject matter and composition. And then I get drawing. I do a lot of prep work in paint. Previously my approach was quite organic, but for larger pieces that often doesn’t work. I found that I was doing a lot of detailed, time-consuming stitching, only to realise that I hadn’t developed a concept around what I was making. Now I do a lot of sketching and painting, which I then photograph and play around with in photoshop. This allows me to figure out the layout of my composition and tweak the colours. Once developed, I start stitching. Sometimes I’ll deviate from the plan if I discover something new during the making process, which can be quite exciting.

Etaín © Acru_

What material do you use?
My work is constantly evolving. For a long time, I have hand-embroidered directly onto linen using cotton embroidery floss, which can be very time consuming. But as I scale up my work, I’m loving the possibilities and immediacy of appliqué to fill large spaces and give greater dimensionality to a piece. I have started painting fabrics to achieve a colour range closer to that of paint/thread, and then cut this fabric for appliqué. I then reserve the more detailed elements of my composition for pure hand embroidery.

Joseph’s Lam © Acru_
Pink Cosmic infograph © Acru_

How do you stitch?
Anywhere I can! I have a kid, so it’s important I can do my practice in front of the tv at night! But I try to get the majority of work done in my studio, and then I reserve the more process orientated work – like the pure hand embroidery – for the couch. I always work out my colours during the day, in natural light, so that I can work at night in a more intimate and relaxed setting.

What is it that you wish to give us with your art?
I get excited by beauty. I love the idea of objects elevating the everyday. I have basic items in my home that bring me pure joy because they are beautifully designed and/or tell a story. That’s what I want to achieve with my art.

My childhood has shaped a huge part of who I am and what I create. I come from such a warm, loving, creative and slightly off-beat family, and my parents’ home reflects this. It has been decorated with such originality and care, it’s sometimes very difficult to leave! It also has provided such a refuge and source of inspiration. So as my own small family moves around, I feel it is even more important to recreate that refuge, to give me that same sense of connection. And I pour this feeling into my art. When someone owns a piece, I want them to feel joy and a connection every time they look at it.

Elephant cushion © Acru_

Do you think about the next work while working? Do you have one or many pieces at once?
Always. I am constantly thinking about other pieces. But I am trying to be more disciplined and more present. I think this is necessary to keep momentum and finish projects in a reasonable time frame. I am sure there is a beautiful balance somewhere, one where you can give the right amount of attention to a piece and still be open to generating new ideas, so that when one piece is finished you can dive into the next. I just haven’t found that balance yet!

How do you feel when a piece is done?
I am very attached to my work and do find it difficult to part with it. So much consideration goes into the story, the feel, the execution. What you don’t see is the hours spent ripping back stitches if something isn’t quite right!  However, it is a very humbling and moving feeling to have someone choose to buy your work and put it in their home. I don’t say this lightly, I am very appreciative of my buyers. I am so appreciative that my work can exist in the real world, outside of my studio.

© Acru_
Pink Cosmic infograph , in situ © Acru_

Who are the other embroiderer artists you admire?
So many, in no particular order: Karen Nicol (@ karennicol1), Stacey Jones (@bystaceyjones), Tessa Perlow (@tessa_perlow), Helen D Wilde (@ovobloom), Jill Burke (@jilldeburca), Emma Mierop (@ skippy.cotton), William KW (@williambroidery)

Do you exhibit your work?
Not yet, but would love to post Covid.

Is there one piece (or more) than you just cannot be parted from? Why?
Yes. My numbered shell collection. So much of my life at the time is wrapped up in this piece. We had just moved to New York with a one-year-old, and the house we were planning on buying fell through. So we had no home, and had to move around a lot for many months which I found deeply unsettling. During this time, I poured so much of my energy in this piece, as it was the only aspect of my life that I felt I had any control over. This was also the piece that crystallised what I wanted acru to be. So once I finished it, I framed it and resolved never to sell it. The piece I created immediately after was the first piece I ever sold and formed the inspiration of all subsequent pieces.

© Acru_

And finally, why “acru”?
Before I knew what my business would be, I wanted a name that summed up all the things that were important to me: the idea of collecting, or accruing, beautiful objects, and curating them for my friends, family – my crew. With this in mind, my talented husband took the idea of amalgamating the key words (accrue, curate, crew) to come up with my brand name.

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The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire