Learn to Embroider Flowers by Hand with Mariana Barran Goodall
The talented Houston-based artist took to needlework in grade school—and hasn't stopped stitching since.
Needlework artist Mariana Barran Goodall's bond with flowers runs deep. She's always wearing a daisy pendant from her parents—her name is linked to la margarita (Spanish for sunflower) in a beloved song—and her elegant line of hand-embroidered and -crocheted textiles got its own moniker from the hibiscus tea her mother makes when expecting company. Like the welcoming libation, Hibiscus Linens are fit for entertaining. Naturally, the tea towels, cocktail napkins, and runners feature a garden's worth of botanicals and greenery in lively arrangements. "They're grown-up linens, but more modern than your grandma's," jokes Goodall, who first learned needlework techniques at her Catholic grade school in Monterrey, Mexico. To her, however, the class was never a duty, so much as a delight. "I found joy in my ability to refresh something basic by hand," she says. It wasn't long before she imbedded herself with the seamstresses at her mother's performing arts studio, helping them embellish tutus and headpieces with dainty medallions—and falling in love with sewing in the process.
Working in human resources in Houston years later, she found reason to pick up her needles again. "I was at the big-milestones stage of life" she says, describing her late 20s: Her friends were getting married, having a child, buying their first home—and Goodall needed gifts. She bought soft fabric and crocheted the edges for baby blankets, and embroidered powder room-prettifying towels galore. The awestruck reactions poured in—"You made this?!"—inspiring the launch of her exquisite line in 2015.
Today, she shares her passion for needlework in virtual classes, too.
Although Goodall previously hosted needlework workshops at her Houston studio, the pandemic inspired her to take her offerings virtual (via Zoom and IGTV), where she now reaches a bigger audience of all levels. "Because I focus on organic things like florals, there's no need for perfection," she says. "If one leaf or petal is longer than the other, there's plenty of wiggle room for it to still look pretty."
With that free-spirited philosophy, she welcomes total beginners to her open-level tutorials for small projects, which are capped at three to five people, so that everyone can easily ask questions. (The flower video above is also for newbies—no experience required!) And for avid sewers, she runs more advanced classes, too, in which students learn several techniques, and start a larger project like a sweater that will take a few more hours to finish once the class wraps up.
"I love that I get to expand how many people in the world do this craft," says Goodall, who notes that many of her students have found it a fun and meditative pastime while quarantining. "I always say, hand-embroidery is like the younger, chiller sibling to needlepoint," she says, "because we do have patterns, but for much of the work, you can trace your own design with a pencil and just stitch on top." From there, she adds dimension and texture by layering different kinds of stitches, but in her classes, the level of detail is totally up to you. "It's like coloring with different kinds of markers," Goodall adds, "and creating thin lines or thicker, velvety ones." Essentially, you can learn just one or two stiches and never have to pick up another—or become fully immersed and learn tons more: "There's something for everyone."
Goodall loves to change up her offerings, so you'll always find something new.
A glimpse into her endless creativity, Goodall's selections at her Hibiscus Linens shop in Houston and her website are constantly changing, "as life changes and as my mood changes," she says with a smile. (No, she doesn't even have a regular catalogue!) Even so, she sticks to the same 13 colors for the crocheted, fringed, and hemstitched edges of her pieces to create cohesion across the collection. "This way, people can return year after year and grow a little family of matching pieces over time," she says.
Her motifs—billowy hydrangeas, dainty daisies—reflect the season and, in non-COVID times, the sights she sees on her frequent travels. "I like things that seem to have natural movement or connection, like a twirl of ivy as a connecting point for letters or for ladybugs to travel through," she says. You'll see it in the tables-capes that she shares on her Instagram, too: "When I'm setting the table, instead of placing blooms in vases, I like for them to fill the horizontal space," she says with a laugh, describing her runners laced with florals, of course: "I just think that if you can surround yourself with flowers, that's always a good thing."