For years, Susan Weeks has been recording interviews with textile artists. She has to take a break and I thought that it could be interesting to edit and update some of the meetings she had with embroidery artists. Here is the first article.
Jessica Grady is an embroidery artist from the Yorkshire region. Her colorful and contemporary work has been exhibited in various locations in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world and has received numerous awards. Jessica’s textiles are an exploration of bold colors and intricate patterns through hand embroidery and unusual embellishments. Her creations are a visual treat for the viewer.
Photos – © Jessica Grady – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview Susan Weeks and Claire de Pourtalès / Original podcast (in English): https://www.stitcherystories.com/jessicagrady/
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
Would you like to share with us what you are working with at the moment (2018)?
I’ve just finished a big show that I did in York so I’m starting a new collection which is quite exciting. I’m working on a piece that is quite fun but has a lot of experimenting to do with, so this collection will go depending on this experimentation.
I’ve been watching a lot of Blue Planet and David Attenborough’s work, so I have been working on corals and seas. My work is quite abstract in a way that I don’t try to replicate something else. I normally give it a bit of a tweak to make it more of a pattern. It’s about the color and texture. At the moment I am also exploring something that is a little bit more sculptural to see if I can also work with glass cloches. I would like to do a 3-dimensional piece and I don’t want to be limited by a frame. I’ve done pieces with a frame that’s about 9 centimeters deep. It’s actually two frames back-to-back. But it is expensive to have custom made frames. It is a challenge to display my art.
I also have to do the administration tasks, editing photos, the website, applications and stuff and it takes a lot of time to do that, and my time is limited.
I’m trying to apply to some residencies, even abroad, so that I could have a long span of time to do only experiment and create.
2021 – Were you able to do it?
Yes! My main pieces of work now that I sell, and exhibit are my 3D textile and mixed media sculptures. I really enjoy this challenge of stitching upwards rather than purely flat across the fabric surface. I am still on the lookout for an international textile residency – like for many people the pandemic put a stop to many of my plans to teach and work outside the UK . I have however still been able to reach people further afield by moving my workshops online and have had participants attend from all over the world.
Great Star, detail – JessicaGrady © Proud Fox Creative_2018
How did you find yourself in a French magazine?
I share my work on different Facebook groups and those groups are made up of people from all over the world. A single post brought a lot of other possibilities!
I got an email from the editor of a French quilting magazine who invited me to do a show in France (Nantes) in April 2017, so it was a great opportunity. It is called Pour l’amour du Fil, a sort of equivalent of the French of Knitting and Stitching show.
How did you got interested in embroidery?
I’ve always been artistic, and I had a grant-aunt who was a watercolor painter who also liked embroidery and she taught me how to stitch. I also did a little bit at school, then I decided to do a textile degree, but I’ve never liked doing anything that was flat, I needed something with some texture. I think I’m slightly mad and that’s why I enjoy experimenting with all the weird materials on my embroidery, like bits of sponges, metals, all sorts of things. I actually think it’s a really good use of materials, especially when you can create things out of something else etc. The textiles industry is such a wasteful industry in general so my idea is just giving something back, that you can recycle something and turn it to something creative, to move up from the original form, to manipulate, transform, melt a plastic bag, dye a piece, etc.
After your textile degree did you just move into self-employment?
I did a lot of internships in textile design and fashion, then I went into freelance design for both commercial embroidery and print design. I worked freelance in this way for several companies across the world for a few years, but always continuing my own work and explorations on the side. It was nice to learn those skills, but I decided that I would be much happier and much more successful in setting up my own business and showcasing my skills to others through workshops, lecturing and talking about my art practice.
Who would you say have been your major inspirations over the years?
Michael Brennand-Wood is a huge inspiration; I absolutely love his mixed media work. I remember in university we had a talk by Karen Nicol; I think her work is stunning and she is quite inspiring in terms of looking at alternative things to create and that’s set me on that track. She’s always going to jumble sales and car boots/vintage markets. You don’t have to think of the norm when it comes to textiles and that gave me freedom with my work.
There’s obviously a lot of amazing embroidery artists on Instagram like Liz Payne who makes fantastically bright and colorful work – someone else who like me is a huge lover of colour!
Odds and Ends, Jessica Grady 2020 © Jessica Grady
Encrusted, Jessica Grady, Quilt Festival Tokyo, 2020 © Jessica Grady
What are your favorite techniques, and why?
Originally, I made my own sequins because I didn’t like what I could find in the shops unless you bought them from India or somewhere, but it is not a viable option or a very sustainable option. I love washers, they are my absolute favorite; you can get them in any size, shape, material. You can dye or paint them.
If you use metal sequins, they affect the weight of the fabric. During my studies, I did a wall hanging with them and the weight completely altered the fabric.
One of my favorite materials is medical tubing – someone gave me a huge bag of expired tubing that would normally be thrown in the bin – it has never been opened but cannot be used because of the expiry date. It is an alternative to beads, and I can easily dye them and then slice them into shapes. I started using the tubing because it was a little bit wider than your traditional tube/bugle beads. I find it so annoying to have to switch needles while stitching.
In Leeds there is a huge ScrapStore – it is housed in an old mill that is absolutely stuffed to the roof with waste and scrap materials direct from industry. I get a lot of unusual materials from here. Scrap stores exist all across the UK and all have different materials which would normally be put into landfill and instead are sold to the public, art groups, schools – all sorts. They are a fantastic resource and what’s better than being as zero waste and sustainable as possible with your artwork!
What would you say has been the high point so far of your textile art and embroidery journey?
I had my first article in Be Creative with Workbox magazine. I thought it would be a tiny little thing, but the article covers two pages! It was so lovely just to see my work in print. It’s different from seeing it on a computer screen. So many people read it and then I’ve got so many lovely responses from it. All sorts of opportunities came out from it, like a nice trickle-down effect. Since that first article several years ago I have had my work published in a variety of art, textiles and embroidery magazines all across the world including: Embroidery, Daphnes Diary, Textile Fibre Forum and Fiber Art Now. I also had my first project published in a book for WOWbook no.6 with D4Daisy publishing, as well as my work appearing on the cover of the magazine for the broadsheet newspaper the Yorkshire Post.
Rhubarb and Custard, detail, Jessica Grady, 2018 © Jessica Grady
One of the proudest things I’ve ever done is to be recognized as an artist.
I applied in 2016 for this RAW talent award program. It’s not just textiles, it’s all disciplines across art and craft and it is for emerging artists just starting out in the business. It gives you a bit of a launchpad because shows are very expensive and so it was sort of an introduction to an actual retail show. I had a business mentor in support as well, and that’s worth a lot. I found out that I was chosen as one of the 12 to actually win the award so that was fantastic. They recognized that my textiles are more than just a craft. That’s the battle that every textile artist faces to be honest, so to have that recognition from professionals was fantastic.
It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of tears and bloody fingers but you know it all came together and really paid off and I had a really good experience, so it’s great.
That experience gave me a lot of confidence in myself, and my work and I have since been awarded the Embroiderers Guild under 30’s scholar award in 2018-2019. I also am now a member of exhibiting group “Art Textiles: Made in Britain” and through the group was invited to go to Japan to exhibit at the 2020 International Great Quilt Festival in Tokyo. This has to be the highlight of my career so far and was an incredible opportunity.
What about a “disaster” and what did you learn from that experience?
I think I have had and will continue to have many disasters! When I start, it’s always by a bit of an experiment, there’s always materials I think they’re going to be fantastic to work with then they just don’t work out. I’ve done stuff with metal where I’ve done these huge pieces of work and then the metal was so heavy, they just fall off. I did some pieces with makeup sponges, and the people at the gallery must have put them by the window because when they sent me back the piece, it was completely deteriorated. Most people just don’t know how to look after textiles properly. They don’t think that the sun will affect them. It is a bit of a learning curve, and it is why I’ve started putting pieces behind glass in terms of preserving them more. When you’re designing, you’re not always thinking about the practicalities.
With social media too – many people think being an artist is always a very glamorous and exciting job. What people don’t see is all the rejections for different projects or having a show where you don’t sell any work or when sometimes you have artist block and can’t create a new piece of work. You have to develop a really tough skin and not take knock-backs personally which is really, really hard to do!
Do you have unfinished objects?
I don’t think I’ve actually had anything that I haven’t finished. I have samples, boxes and boxes of samples. Some pieces are not working, so I will cut it out and make a sample of it. I think that’s easier than having something that’s half done. It’s still a working sample in my eyes so I still utilize it.
Circuit, Jessica Grady, 2017 © Jessica Grady
How do you keep track of your projects and your time?
I’m quite self-organized but still able to keep those creative juices flowing. For me if I have a plan, it means I have something to work towards. I am much more productive that way; it means I get stuff done. Stress doesn’t make me work productively. Saying that though – I never plan out my embroideries before I stitch them.
When I moved to Leeds, I realised that being in a more urban area gave me not only more opportunities for different venues, places to do things, but also showed me that my work is more a city thing. I’m using urban materials, like waste plastic, metal components etc.
I also have some fantastic students with the workshops that I teach and it’s just so nice to be able to share some of the techniques and for the people to enjoy them as much as I do. It’s very rewarding.
Circuit, Jessica Grady, 2017 © Jessica Grady
What are your coming plans (2018)?
I would like to really push this sculpture embroidery and work on more 3 dimensional and potentially something that’s more like an installation. I would love to do online workshops because I’m getting a lot of requests from for people all over the world.
2021 – So, did you?
Yes! Online workshops began in 2020 after all my workshop and events were cancelled due to the pandemic – although now I am back to teach more in-person workshops again, the online classes are something I am going to continue to do. I really love the idea of connecting with other people who enjoy stitching from all over the world. I also do lots of online work with education and ran an artist talk for schools to attend in 2020 during lockdown – in total I had over 100 schools who joined the event which was fantastic!