What first drew you to the world of textiles? How/when did you first get involved in rug making?

I first discovered hand weaving when I was 15. I was given a small frame loom by my art teacher who was very much my mentor during my high school years. She observed my personal style through the way I would draw, paint, and craft in class as well as the way I would dress and suggested it may be something I would enjoy. I fell in love immediately. I would take it back and forth to school every day and work on it at night. I was so thrilled to be working on a craft other than drawing that could come with me wherever I went freely and easily. That is part of what sparked my interest in embroidery as well, after weaving on a large floor loom for years.

Tell us about how the element of play or spontaneity guides where your work will go. 

After graduating, my studio practice had remained mostly hand weaving on my loom at home. Eventually, I started cutting up the wovens that I was making and mixing them with pieces of scrap fabric I collected. I would then pin them down and stitch them onto a larger piece of fabric to form a new pattern. This was my first experience with hand stitching. I was enjoying a new movement that was not as linear as weaving, it felt less top to bottom and more all over. I became so absorbed in taking these textiles apart and then stitching them back together. From there I became interested in embroidering without the collage. I still play with both though. I like bouncing between projects. I am in the process of experimenting with embellishment.

Tell us about your process, start to finish how you make your pieces. 

I start by photographing people. As for now, that is usually my friends or family. I then draw from the photograph and will use a projector to trace it to scale on fabric that is stretched across a frame. Most of the time I will do color placement sketches referencing the yarn I already have to use, and I will definitely deviate from there as I go.

Do you have a clear idea from the start or do you let materials guide you?

I let the materials guide me. I love to work with what I have. This is also why I hoard miscellaneous materials. It is not so often that I go out in search of something that is needed for a piece I am working on. I am better at visualizing with what is already in front of me and on hand and then allowing that to lead my process. 

Where/what do you look to for inspiration? Has this changed over time or stayed constant?

For as long as I can remember I am most inspired by my time spent in a museum. I find there to be something calming by getting lost and wandering through the rooms with nothing to do but explore, investigate and be exposed to a variety of precious work. I see so much beauty on the streets of NYC and in the natural world too but sometimes I don’t know where to look or for how long. In museums the surrounding blank walls and spaces with not even a chair to sit on keep me centered. My partner and I like to go to the Met to sit on the floor and sketch in front of the same artwork for long periods of time. I leave feeling so fulfilled and grounded but also ignited.

Why do you focus on portraits, specifically of women?

I grew up drawing and painting portraits of people that were close to me until the time I started college.  At that point I focused on learning textiles but I continued to be drawn to artworks with figures and faces. It wasn’t until 2 years after graduating from my BFA that I revisited these portraits with fiber art.  I was missing capturing a person’s essence and the process of bringing someone to life that I had experienced through drawing and painting, and now through embroidery. Some of my most memorable works were portraits of people who had passed and that tremendously impacted my perception on being able and honored to catch someone at a moment in time by making with my own hands. 

My recent work explores the way women are a symbol of vulnerability as well as resilience.  I’m interested in women capturing women through any medium, and through my embroidery presenting women who I admire as powerful and mystic.

What part of textile/fiber history interests you the most?

The Unicorn Tapestries, traditionally known as “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” are my favorite works. No matter how many times I view them I am awed by the mystic and fantasy feeling between the gestural figures and fruits and trees. The Arts and Crafts movement has also been a great inspiration to me.

Which artists or creatives do you look to for inspiration in textiles?

Paul Signac, Theo Van Rysselberghe, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh- I love to see their paintings as if they were embroidery work. And then there are fiber artists like Susan Ciancolo, Billie Zangewa, Cayce Zavaglia, Sheila Hicks, Ghada Amer. I draw from a little bit of everything.

Jessica’s work is currently for sale here

Illustration and Photography by Lynn Hunter