Meet Thread & Fabric Master: Miss Jess de Wahls

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art Portrait

Please tell us a little about yourself and your artistic background. Where are you from? Where are you now?

I am heading straight towards my 34th birthday, which means I have been a London dweller for almost 13 years now. I moved here from my hometown Berlin at 21, looking for, I guess, a bit of an adventure.

My artistic background is and always has been passion. I have been a trained hairstylist for nearly 17 years and still chop hair out of my own little salon based in the Cabaret dressing room of The Soho Theatre 3 days a week. That allows me to spend all my remaining time creating my art.

I only just started to take my work away from merely a hobby to something that has become this all-consuming thing. I gradually spent more time creating and at 27 decided to go part-time to really pursue this dream. It’s been going from strength to strength since I made that decision.

I started with painting and illustrating, and then moved on to textile art, which is now my preferred art form to work in.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Portraiture Art 12
 

What’s your creative process like? Do you like to sketch and plan or just wing it?

I used to just wing it. I would have an Idea and go straight for it. That’s slowly changing as my work is becoming more and more complex and conceptual. Almost all my work is concerned with gender equality, feminism and female sexuality. Mapping out projects a little in advance has helped me focus on certain projects in much more depth.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Helen Mirren
 

How long might a piece take to complete?

That’s impossible to say since my pieces range from tiny 4″embroidery hoops, to large scale 1.5sqm in size. It mostly depends on how much time I have to complete it, and then I work till it’s done. I think it’s safe to say that I stitch very fast. Having said that, I still underestimate all the time how long it will take.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery
 

What’s your studio or work-space like?

I have a home-studio, which is like a cave of wonders.

I work with recycled fabrics, so everything in that room is colourful. I have divided it into many smaller work stations, like – computer/desk space, drawing table, packing station (for handling and sending art), and I have a drink-trolly loaded up with Embroidery Thread, which I can comfortably place next to me, wherever I decide to sit and stitch.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art Ovary Bush
 

Did you always feel destined to be an artist? Were you ever unsure?

I don’t think I ever thought much about it; I just always was an artist, I think.
There isn’t a big story behind it. I have always followed what felt most organic to me. Even 6 years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you had told me I would be a textile artist.

I didn’t touch a needle and thread before then, mostly because I was quite the tomboy as a kid, and the mere expectation to do needlework, because I am female, made me not want to do it at all.

So yeah, I follow my gut, if you will. There is some innate trust that something in me leads me in the right direction. That’s getting stronger the older I get, and I never question it. It’s everything to me, so no, I was never unsure that what I do is what I am here to do.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art Meovaries
 

When would you say you developed your current embroidering style? What inspired you to get into embroidery?

Well, like mentioned before, I never tried to have a particular style. What I do just IS my style, because it is I who is doing it.
Having said that, I am inspired by everything. I love learning new skills all the time, and I didn’t embroider at all until 2 years ago. It’s a bit like a fish takes to water. It started with sewing my Retex-sculptures (Recycled textile sculptures ) and gradually evolved to more detailed embroidery work. I have been combining the two and will do so going forward even more. There isn’t any one instance where I can pinpoint when and why I started embroidery. It really just was a natural evolution to what I was already doing.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art Cacti Ovaries
Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art 14_1 Cacti Detail
 

What are your favorite art supplies? Are there any that intimidate you?

Anything and everything really. I am a bit of a material hoarder and also a huge advocate of recycling and re-using materials.
A lot of the hardwood backings on my larger pieces, I found on the streets. I use exclusively recycled clothes as base materials not only because we live in this fast-fashion world where we produce more waste than we can handle, but also because I love the unpredictability of random fabrics that once were something else.

I buy embroidery thread in bulk online because I love the different qualities, from silky sleek, to rough and ready, because it allows me to play with textures within my pieces, purely by facilitating those different threads. Variety is the spice of life, right?!

Nothing intimidates me; it’s quite the opposite. I have a child-like curiosity to anything new that I haven’t worked with yet. In fact, the only thing that I find scary is when people are so set in their ways that they become to scared to try and work with new materials and techniques.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art Portraiture
Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art Portrait
 

Do you collect anything?

Fabrics, embroidery threads, generally art materials… Though, not really for the purpose of collecting but more for having whatever I may need close at hand, when I need it.

I guess the thing I collect most, are actually artist self-portraits, of which I have already quite a little collection, thanks to all the fabulous artists in my life whom I am proud to call my friends. And cat hair….I ultimately, involuntarily collect cat hair on everything I own.

 

Jess_de_Wahls_Embroidery Art
 

What makes you happiest in life?

Without sounding like a total wanker, I gotta say me. I make myself the happiest, because frankly, nobody else has that power. I know what I want and I go for it; so, it’s the most realistic answer I can give. The things that I really love and surround myself with are my man, Brad, who has my back and makes me want to be the best version of myself most of the time, my two kitties (yes, I am a crazy cat lady and proud of it) and I’ll say most importantly, the fact that I managed to carve myself a life in which I may create a balance between my salon job and my art world. That makes me feel incredibly fulfilled.

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Etsy | Web | Group Work – Stop Objectify | Instagram 

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Nirvana

I am a painter and have organized art exhibitions as well. I have been collaborating with Pop Shop since 2013 - helping build festival art and displays and running VIP & the info desk. I love puppies, contemporary art, and can probably outdrink your boyfriend.

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