If ever there was someone to inspire you to slow down and follow the path of your own creativity I think it is our latest guest Jessie of Cutts & Sons who has found a freedom in sewing, playing with colour and following her natural creative instincts. I love her modern, organic lines and subtle colours which are all combined by hand into contemporary quilts.
Come and meet Jessie in the eclectic workspace she has curated in her beautiful home overlooking the sea in Ramsgate, Kent where she hand makes the most special and unique art quilts...
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into sewing and quilting as an art form…
My background is as a graphic designer, fine art and illustration. I have been sewing and making things ever since I was little, so craft has never been far away. I started sewing seriously when my first child was born and wanted a quilt for his bed but couldn't find one I liked. I looked at quilt patterns and was frankly terrified by how strict and overwhelming they felt. I saw a picture of a freeform quilt, it was actually a painting, and the penny dropped that actually you could just sew pieces of fabric together fairly randomly and then you would have a quilt. So I tried it. I was quite shocked and so just kept going until I had something I liked the look of.
For the technical parts like hand quilting and binding, I just googled it all and found so many resources from the generous people on the internet. It was a few years later that we moved out of London and I quit my job, because two people with demanding design jobs travelling to London with pre-school age kids wasn't going to work. I started out making quilts, some knitted pieces and some toys, but my love was the quilts for the freedom, the never making the same thing twice and the ability to use my design and art background to create something both beautiful and useful. I just didn't think anyone would buy them!
The organic lines in your work have a strong graphic quality which gives each piece a really contemporary and distinctive feel. Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you add your own style to such a traditional craft?
Having never officially learned to quilt has given me freedom to just try things and to have things fail. I'm not very good at following patterns or rules and prefer to find my own way of doing things. I'm also not very good at precision or keeping things straight, which in the end I've made work for me rather than against me. I have to really work at the finishing process to make the pieces neat and straight. I like to look at so many sources for inspiration, there are the obvious things like other quilters, traditional Amish quilts, Gee's Bend Quilters and quilts of necessity. I am often looking at traditional woven textiles, fashion, paintings, tiles, photography...really anything and everything! I often jot down little ideas to try and then they become something else of their own by the time I get to them. I'm also just inspired by the way the fabric behaves or the shape the scraps are already, I like having a starting point, and that can often be the scraps I have to hand.
The balance of colour and the combinations you create are such a personal element in your work, I’d love to hear more about how you select and put colours together…
I really enjoy playing with colour and there's something about (solid colour) fabric being so completely one colour that I love. I'm quite instinctive about colour but also very picky about particular shades. I guess years of graphic design has given me a lot of practice with what works and what doesn't, at least to my eye. I have my favourites for sure, but I try not to get too stuck in the same ones. Commissions often give me some new colours I might not have thought to try, which is a lovely way to try some new combinations. However, I will always and forever love using a very bright, orangey tomato red!
A lot of the fabrics you use are sourced and re-used from other projects. Tell us about your approach to sustainability…
I can't claim to use completely upcycled fabrics, but I often start new things by first diving into my scraps as I only throw out the smallest pieces. I will often chop up clothes that I no longer wear or fit me, sometimes I buy things from charity shops if the colour and fabric is right. But I always use natural fibres like linen and cotton. My favourite recent practice is to save already sewn offcuts, like little slivers of stripes from larger projects and sew them into smaller artworks. I love the challenge of trying to see what can be made from the smallest pieces.
Sewing is a repetitive process which requires a certain amount of calm and patience. Do you find creating your art a mindful or meditative practice and how does that reflect into other areas of your life?
When I'm sewing the pieces of fabric together, I like to work quite fast, get into a rhythm and try not to over think where things go. It's only after I've sewn a bunch together that I start looking at it from afar and figuring out how it all goes together. I will often have a few pieces going at different stages so that I can come back to them all and don't get either sore hands from hand sewing or make hasty design decisions. When it comes to hand sewing, I often do it while watching TV in the evenings as I always like to have busy hands. I'm terrible for never being not busy with something and have a habit of starting projects that take ridiculous amounts of time.
I love that you only take on as many commissions as you can manage yourself without giving in to the pressure to produce more. It’s really admirable and keeps every piece extra special. What makes the custom process enjoyable for you and do you have a favourite bespoke piece?
I love being able to make something that is both my 'style' and specific to what someone wants to have in their home. I try and make it as collaborative as possible, together we often end up somewhere different than where it started. Doing commissions often pushes me to try things I might not do of my own accord, new colours, different ways of putting shapes together and sparks some new inspiration. I made an absolutely enormous piece in all green and white which was so fun to make because it kind of let me go pretty wild with stripes and triangle combinations, seeing how far it could be pushed with the limitations of just two colours.
When you make on such an individual level it’s easy to feel a personal connection to your work and your customers, what is your favourite thing about running a small business?
I get to interact with customers at every level, instagram is a great way to do that, but I always get a thrill when I have a repeat customer or someone sends me pictures of the pieces in their home. Last Christmas I saw two orders come in for some smaller works and while packing saw they were going to the same address, I can only assume that a couple had bought each other a piece for Christmas. I wrote the addresses in different pen and different hand writing and sent them a day or two apart, just in case it was a surprise and to help with that. I've had friends chip in together to buy quilts for other friends' new babies and then the parent comes back to order another for their second. I've made quilts with special fabrics that hold meaning for the person and gives them a way to hold on to memories. That's the stuff I love.
How do you balance the demands of motherhood and your creative work?
Both my partner and I had very demanding London jobs which was not great with two small kids so we moved out of London to try and live at a slower pace. Starting the business was a way for me to work more flexibly and be around more, not have to juggle travel, late nights and difficult clients. Quilting is something that can (reasonably) easy to pick up and put down, so I can do it in fits and starts. It gives me the flexibility to work how I want and on the work that I love the most. For a while I was making things that ultimately weren't doing that, but I just realised that wasn't worth it. I don't make enough money doing this to do something that I'm not enjoying, so I just stopped doing the things I didn't enjoy. I actually think at that point, my work got better because I gave myself the space to not be constantly working on things I didn't love making.
Tell us about some of your other creative passions and projects…
I have so many, and so many going at once. I sew and knit a lot of my own clothes, which is such a treat really. I have, in the last couple of years, joined a choir and I absolutely love it. It's such a joyful thing to do and something I hadn't really realised or even thought I would like, let alone love and become so evangelical about! As we are so close to the sea I swim a lot and try to swim throughout the year. Then we also have a big renovation job going which requires quite a lot of attention.
Describe your fashion style…
That's definitely changed since I don't have a 'proper' job or live in London and have had kids! And getting better at sewing clothes means that I can make things exactly how I want them to be. I like simple shapes, oversized things made with natural fabrics, classic shapes that can be worn for years. I can never resist making myself dresses for their ease and comfort. I often repeat styles – I have maybe 4 in a couple of designs I tweak – because I know I can rely on them to look how I want. Dare I say they're a bit of a uniform. I have started hand sewing more elements in the clothes I make, for example embroidering my initials into the back. I feel that gives the clothes more specialness and makes me remember to be proud of having made something and the time and effort that goes into it.
What do you admire about Chapter 2?
It's exactly that same thing – the care and effort that goes into making beautiful shoes that have been made to last in classic styles that will last you years and years. I had a pair of black boots very similar to the Wren boots that I had for about 15 years and finally became no more. I always looked out for a tan pair and I think these are those boots. A perfect shape that will go with everything, not following a particular trend, made with care, to last.
I like to think that shoes are the item of clothing in your wardrobe which actually take you places, where will your Wren Boots take you?
By the sea, my favourite place to walk, but without getting them wet! These are going to be the every day boots that accompany me everywhere. They are going to be welded to my feet by the end of Winter!
Jessie wears Wren Boots in chestnut.