Zero-waste embroidery: an interview with Jess Grady

24 June 2021
Get to know contemporary embroidery artist, Jess Grady and her environmentally-aware, zero-waste approach to hand embroidery, incorporating recycled materials. Need to source materials for your next textile project? Jess shows that a little imagination goes a long way…

Drinking straws, rubber bands, metal washers, bits of sponge and bubble wrap – there’s not a lot Jessica Grady won’t use to embellish her futuristic pieces. At the heart of her kaleidoscopic designs is a mind-blowing mix of conventional hand stitching and quirky handmade sequins. However, her playful creative approach sits alongside an enviable work ethic. 

After graduating in textiles from Norwich University of the Arts in 2014, she undertook internships and freelance embroidery design jobs in London. Then three months travelling around South America left her with a head full of colour. Receiving the Art & York RAW Talent Award gave her confidence a much-needed boost. Securing a scholarship with the Embroiderers’ Guild in 2018 proved pivotal.

As a contemporary embroidery artist, how would you describe your work?

Some people would say my work is a little mad. I can accept that! My pieces are always 100% hand embroidered with traditional stitches. However, my methods and materials can be quite unconventional. I don’t just want to create work that is exciting to look at. I want to make you wonder – to consider the details and origins of my embellishments.

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How do the environment, waste and recycling influence you?

They are the backbone of my whole design process. What excites me is looking at new ways to create sequins, beads and embellishments out of rubbish – quite literally sometimes! Giving things an unexpected new lease of life gives my work fresh inspiration. And I feel good knowing I'm saving items from landfill.

What materials and techniques have you been exploring?

My current obsession is embellishing with found objects and materials. Flotsam and jetsam washed up on the beach, such as old plastic buckets that have been shaped and softened by waves. Or even bits picked up from the gutter on the street. I can drill then bead with wires and fabric snippets. Clear plastic waste is fascinating. It can be transformed with heat, dye or paint then chopped into lots of lovely sequins.

Jess Grafy embellished textile art

How do you manage the creative process with running your own business?

With great difficulty! On social media and in person, I have to be upbeat and fully in my role as an artist. Only those closest to me get to see the low moments – like opening the tenth rejection email of the day. It’s hard not to take it personally. Finances can be difficult as I’m not guaranteed a set wage every month. Pricing is the biggest headache – it really is trial and error, coupled with lots of practise.

If you love the variety that embroidery offers, Stitch magazine is for you! Covering a wealth of techniques, step-by-step projects, inspiring features, ideas-galore and so much more, you’re sure to get absorbed into the exquisite world of stitching! Check out the print and digital subscription offers today! 

Describe your work space...

I operate from the top floor of my house. I’ve lots of drawers of mini samples documenting quick ideas. These are great if I get stuck. I like to switch out materials and keep bundles of newly dyed or painted swatch materials up on my peg board for inspiration. There's a large spice rack with recycled jars filled to the brim with colourful beads, embellishments and punched sequins.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt so far?

That it really doesn’t matter if people don’t like my work! I’d rather be a marmite artist – to have someone love or hate it, rather than it just being okay. But mainly it’s about enjoying and feeling gratification from creating something I love. If I love a piece, it comes through and makes it better. However, brushing off negative comments can be really hard, but after a while you can play an interesting game of artist bingo with the things people say!

How has being a Type 1 diabetic influenced you?

I’ve been diabetic over 20 years. It’s very much a part of me and always will be! It’s never stopped me doing anything and I don’t intend on letting it. But it has made me aware of how much plastic medical waste is being thrown away daily. I often use the bright orange plastic caps from my insulin vials to create embellishments!

Jess Grady recycled textile art

How do you keep a balance?

Relaxing is hard – I get twitchy fingers if I’m not busy! My cats, Spencer and Henrietta, are great stress relievers. I also have an allotment which gets me out of the house to clear my head. If all that fails then a good cup of Earl Grey tea, chocolate and a scary movie will sort me out!

What’s ahead for you?

I’m currently busy preparing for the 2021 Festival of Quilts where I’ll be exhibiting some brand new work with Art Textiles Made in Britain for our gallery space "Found" – I’m also teaching a series of in-person workshops at the Festival too. I’m just so excited to be back out with a physical textile show – so I can chat and see people again! I also have a lovely community project I'm working on for a local textile festival – helping encourage children and young people to get involved with stitching. Fingers crossed it’ll be a busy summer! I’m also really looking forward to delivering the three online webinars for Stitch where I'll be chatting all things textiles, stitch and creative recycling – as well as ideas for doodle cloths and mindful embroidery practice.

Where can people find out more about you? 

Instagram: @jessica_rosestitch 

Eager to learn more about how you can adopt a zero-waste approach in your textile projects? Explore our upcoming webinar with Jess and book your place today!

Book now

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