Every year, Hand & Lock organizes a competition for the prestigious Prize for Embroidery to promote the use of hand embroidery and to discover emerging embroidery talent. The 2018 brief invited entrants to “celebrate culture, gender and individual heritage in the global atmosphere of transformation.” They were asked to make their work “stand for something bigger than itself conveying a meaningful message relevant to the transient state of the world today.”
London’s Bishopsgate Institute hosted the final judging and award ceremony for the 2018 Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery.
Name: Jessie Dickinson
Location: West Sussex, UK
School: Falmouth University, studied Textile Design, specialising in Mixed Media
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
My entry was a bell jar containing embroidered plants that were lit from below. The base of the bell jar was designed and made by Michelle Facey, a now graduate from Fashion Design at Falmouth. Michelle and I were working on similar briefs in our third years and collaborated on this piece that we were both able to submit with our final projects. Michelle’s looked into life on Mars with no breathable atmosphere, mine looked into air pollution and how humans might have to adapt to a degraded air quality.
I began by thinking about the differences and similarities between nature and electronics: the aesthetics of circuit boards vs petal formation, the use of colour, the meaning behind the placement of components. Imagine a line with ‘100% natural’ at one end, ‘100% technology’ at the other and ’50/50′ in the middle. All my samples and final pieces fitted at different intervals along this line.
By a happy coincidence, the 2018 brief seemed to suit this blend of subjects perfectly. ‘Material Alchemy’ interpreted as electronics, and ‘Modern Morality’ looking into a hypothetical use of future fabrics and energy.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
I’m not sure I have any secrets? Maybe just that as this piece was part of my final university project, it was already complete before I even knew I was a finalist. When I was selected, I had a pretty chill 12 or so weeks until the submission date because it didn’t need further work done to it!
When and how did you first discover embroidery, sewing, etc., and what impression did it make on you?
Sewing has always been in my periphery, my mum and Granny both always had projects on the go. My Granny knitted and made bobbin lace, and went from there to wood carving! My mum, Diana Dickinson, would have interior projects on the go, and has more recently been dedicating time to hand felted and embroidered landscapes.
I didn’t really fall into it until GCSE, where I studied Technology Textiles. I didn’t really enjoy market research or learning how to make a bag, but I knew carrying it through to A Level meant Art Textiles, which was much more intriguing! Learning hand embroidery, printing techniques, felting, applique, and more made so much more sense to me then the Economics essays I also had to write (don’t get me wrong, economics is interesting, but I cannot write about it in exam conditions to save my life)!
When it came time to pick a university course, part of me doubted whether I could do anything remotely related to textiles, let alone make a living from it. However it was 100% the best decision I ever made, and Falmouth University was 100% for me.
What was your first textile project?
My very first memory of using a sewing machine, is being given a tiny, plastic, kid’s sewing machine for Christmas or a birthday when I was 10 or younger. It was glittery purple, with a pink drawer in it filled with brightly coloured beads. I think it also came with a rectangle of cheap denim, so my first project was probably a denim rectangle with scrawled stitches (of probably questionable tension) and overloaded with beads. Strangely, it wasn’t kept for any sentimental reasons.
The first self-directed project that I was proud of was a large wall hanging made from pockets of recycled jeans. My Granny and I saw one in a craft shop, perfectly sewn together jean pockets, of the same size and colour, and it was available to win as part of an art competition. Granny said “you could probably do that yourself”, so we went to some charity shops, bought some jeans and big beaded necklaces, and off I went. I don’t remember how long it took, but every pocket was embellished differently, some with random patterns, others more topical, for example the 2012 Olympics were on at the time so one of the pockets has the Olympic rings embroidered on it in a back stitch.
To date, what’s been your favorite course of study or project?
My final project at university was without a doubt my favourite project to work on. Right from the start I was confident in what I wanted to achieve and created pieces that were solely my own and I enjoyed doing them.
But since leaving uni I have been doing some freelance work with costume embroidery designer, Cathryn Avison. Every new project I’ve been able to work on with her has been fascinating, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of the work I did for her in Maleficent 2 (Oct 18th), and The Crown season 3 (Nov 17th)!
My job in The Funk Files is to interview “pioneers on the embroidery frontier.” That’s you! What is the embroidery frontier, and what does it mean to be a pioneer here?
I’ve never considered myself a pioneer, I just create what I enjoy…. But I suppose I’m an advocate for individuality, so I use digital embroidery in such a way to avoid mass production. If a design is replicated, it’s because I’m going to change the colours or bead it differently…. Or the first attempt went wrong so I’m trying again! I want to celebrate the joining of techniques, or the combination of mediums to create one-off pieces.
If I truly am a pioneer then that’s all I can ask for! If anyone sees my work that way, then I’m incredibly flattered. I’d want to be seen as someone who loves all embroidery techniques and wants to keep embroidery alive, no matter how experimental.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I’m set up as self employed, so I’d love to start producing and selling my own work on my own website (which is in the making at the moment). It would be amazing to be able to produce my plants as a product!
I’d also love to widen my client list, I’ve worked/am working with costume and tailoring clients. Bridal clients would be something hugely interesting to me!
Where else can we see your work?
My Instagram is @jessie.dickinson.design, and I’ll post on there when my website is live.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to expand his/her embroidery skills?
Only one piece?! I feel like I’ve learned so much in the last 4 years…
This is probably too generic, but “just try it”. It’s taken me a long time to get over my fear of going wrong (even now I’m not totally over it), and honestly if something doesn’t work, you don’t have to show anyone. But you had an idea and you tried it. Hopefully, in it going wrong you worked out why and how to fix it. At uni my tutors said “if it goes wrong, don’t throw it away, document it” and I didn’t understand until recently that they wanted to see us problem solve, they want you using your brain, having a determination to get a result through trail and error.
So if you want to learn a back stitch, just try it. If you want to learn to learn goldwork, just try it. I didn’t learn how to use bullion or an Irish embroidery machine for too long because I was scared it would go wrong. Don’t miss out on learning a skill just because attempt one might go badly.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
You’re creating an accessory for an animal. What is the animal, and what is the accessory? My fiancé and I adopted a dog 4 weeks ago, so probably a bandana or scarf for him, because I’m OBSESSED with him!
If you could work with just one color for the next three years, what would it be? GREEN!
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? I guess it would have to be one of my 3D succulents from my H&L entry!
A place you want to visit: So many, but high up on the list, Venice.
You are making lunch for the artist of your choice—and s/he will love it. Who is the artist, and what are you making for lunch? I’m in love with Michelle Carragher’s costume embroidery, it would be incredible to talk to her. I guess I’m pretty good at making lasagne? But I think I’d rather take her to lunch where she can order exactly what she wants!
A studio is remaking a movie, and they want you to create a prop. What is the movie, and what prop are you creating? Okay, picture this…. Little Shop of Horrors… But the plant is fully embroidered! A gigantic embroidered plant will forever be my dream installation!
You must include something live in your next project. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Would it be too same-y to choose plants? Maybe a mixed garden of real plants and my embroidered plants that light up…? I just love plants.
If you were not an artist/designer, what would you be? I honestly have no idea…. I nearly chose product design instead of textiles at GCSE and swapped on the last day it was possible to swap, so maybe something in that area? Or maybe concept art for movies or video games? Graphic design would be pretty interesting. I do wish I was better at using Photoshop for drawing.
A book you’ve enjoyed recently: I’m a sucker for period dramas, and having studied in Falmouth I fell in love with the Poldark books! 7 down, only 5 more to go! Check how many books are in a series before you get too invested.
Describe your dream commission. What and for whom is it? Like in the movie prop question, I’d love to create an enormous plant…. Something that fills the reception of the V&A or the centre of Liberty London. Something that spans a few floors…. And probably years!
Alternatively, maybe a large scale living wall, but it’s all embroidered plants.