Salt and Stitches

Emily Botelho’s nature-inspired embroidery


Text by Claire Dalgleish

I was miles away from the nearest coastline or national park when I met with Emily on Zoom during lockdown. Emily smiles back at me through the computer. She is serene with her newborn son, Albert, asleep on her chest. It is difficult to resist falling into the dreamy world that Emily Botelho’s works create. Emily’s pieces are characterised by their textures, colours, and forms. Each piece is unique. Precious stones, shell fragments, tufts of thread, and beads adorn abstract panes of embroidery. The effect is captivating and sweeps us into the imagined landscapes she recreates.

Emily practices as a full-time fibre artist and sells her works online. She has over 115,000 followers on her Instagram account @salt_stitches, and streams of traffic on her Etsy store. Before becoming an online fiber artist sensation, Emily had a 10-year career in fashion and beauty, which is where she honed her eye for aesthetics. “The joke that I make is that I couldn’t sew a button before this. It’s not something that I grew up doing; there’s no brilliant story of being taught to sew by my grandmother. It very much came out of the ether.”

Along with being a prolific artist who is constantly producing new works, a large amount of her time is spent maintaining and growing her online brand. We weigh the pros and cons of online platforms together. Her understanding of algorithms and marketing strategies is far superior to my own. One thing is clear: managing an online brand can take away time for making new work. For Emily, time spent stitching is a healing process and provides her with a sense of self. I ask her how long she spends each day creating works. Before Albert was born, she spent anywhere between 6 – 8 hours embroidering.

Nature, travel, and photography are integral to Emily’s creative process. Inspiration often strikes when spending time outdoors and in nature. Emily captures “sections” of textures and visuals that catch her eye in a photograph. “I’m looking for the individual textures as I go, rather than zooming in on the images.”

She forages in the area and extracts elements of the environment to take to her workspace. The image is then printed onto cotton and set on an embroidery hoop. Emily hand-stitches each piece by working into abstract shapes with varying panes of colour and threads. Foraged elements and tight beadwork are layered onto the final piece to add texture and dimension to each work.

Emily retains the original process she first started using to create works two years ago. In the early days of @salt_stitches, Emily’s pieces were inspired by coast lines and rock-pools, hence the name of the brand. Emily terms it “texture hunting,” and it’s a family affair. Whether they are in Switzerland, England, or France, her family is used to her hanging back on hikes, or asking to stop the car so she can photograph a texture she has spotted. 

Emily explains that nowadays, despite the pandemic, she doesn’t have to travel too far to find what she needs to create. She can find inspiration just about anywhere by looking closely at details others may miss. “You will be able to find something in your own environment, it’s just about knowing where to look and training yourself to be on the lookout for those things.” It’s part of her creative process. “I try to really stay true to my process, but expand the limitation of what that might look like.”

Given that COVID-19 has shone a light on how we engage with online spaces, and I am curious to know: has Emily noticed a shift in engagement with her platforms? She responds that engagement has increased, and her ever-popular DIY kits continue to sell, however sales of original works have taken a downturn. “In some aspects, things have definitely been more popular and more in demand, but then on the other side of the business, where I make the most of my money, it’s absolutely disappeared. So it’s been a give-and-take situation for me, really.”

As lockdown restrictions begin to lift in the UK, many of us are taking stock of how we want our lives to look post-pandemic. I asked Emily what she hopes to take forward from the experience, and she responds that she hopes to hold on to a newfound feeling of confidence in her work. She explains that she finds the fact that people continue to buy her works and products, in spite of the current climate, is hugely comforting to her. 

As we wrap up our conversation I ask Emily where she wants to travel to, once restrictions lift. She lists the places that are special to her: Canada, Switzerland, and North Wales. Rhosneigr, in North Wales, is especially important to her. A lot of inspiration for her works has come from the area’s coastline. “Every time I go, I always find something new. I hope that doesn’t run out; I hope it’s something that carries on.”


Claire Dalgleish is a London-based curator, lecturer, and writer.

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