Emily: I have always had a huge passion for needlework of all kinds, but the designs available have been, for the most part, disappointing for me. I saw a big disconnect from what was available in the world of needlepoint and what was available in interiors magazines and on the high street. Needlepoint is just another medium to work in, so I never understood why the majority of the designs available were childish, overly nostalgic and twee… it kind of predisposes that people who do needlework are twee and we’re not! So many themes have been covered and recovered and so the way to bring needlepoint into the spot light is to explore new avenues and see what’s possible, whilst still staying relevant and coherent.
Emily: Not well! I don’t understand it. Any artist worthy of the name knows that the goal is true self-expression. My style comes from bringing together the passions and stories of my life – my personal tastes, my passion for typography from years of working in graphic design, my sense of colour, my fondness for exploring new territory. Having a new take on something requires an investment of time, money and energy as well as a degree of bravery. It feels horrible when somebody knocks you off – it’s a very personal theft. I am very vocal about it when it happens to me. There are too many artists getting ripped off and we are often told it’s flattery and there’s nothing we can do about it. All we can do is air our grievances publicly and disassociate ourselves from these people, regardless of whether they are in the same industry and claim to be promoting the craft.
Emily: I think that art and craft has been reduced in so much of the popular press to ‘crafting’. To me, there’s a huge difference. Crafting has it’s place and certainly acts as an introduction to craft skills, but crafting seems to have so much more popular media focus on it than art and craft (probably because it is more easily accessible and requires a low time and skill input). I am a great believer in form follows function and so I like to design pillows and wall hangings that will hopefully be enjoyed and displayed for years to come. I do get a little discouraged with the amount of small craft projects that really have no real function, are the sort of thing that we did at primary school and will most likely be thrown out. I like to keep my designs original. I don’t look at what’s in every shop and replicate it in a needlework design – it’s good to be relevant but not duplicate what everyone has seen before.
And now, it is my turn to answer some questions.
Emily: The US has such a long, rich tradition of needlework. Do you feel that it is harder to break the traditional mold in your country? I am also thinking of the size of your country. Britain tends to be fast-moving because it is small and densely populated and so I wonder if it is easier and faster here for new ideas to be grasped.
Jenny: I think that the rich tradition provides a firm ground to plant new ideas on. The market is thirsty for change but not quite sure how to bring it about. When I would attend the needlework trade shows I would hear of how desperately the shops wanted to attract the next generation to the craft or it would sadly die out. And what I hear from the next generation is that they want to learn the craft but not on the designs that the shops are currently carrying. So you see everybody really wants change they are just not sure what it looks like.
Emily: What would you say was the largest emerging style in non-traditional needlepoint in the US?
Jenny: Jonathan Adler’s non-traditional kitschy line of needlepoint accessories has breathed new life into the trade. His fresh take on needlepoint has lightened the mood and put a stylish spin on the cliché pillow. The problem is they are all already stitched up, so his fun patterns can’t be stitched up by us. Not yet anyway.
Emily: As a designer, do you feel you have changed direction since you began. If yes, how?
Jenny: Oh yes! I have been designing needlepoint for 15 years. The first five were for a big needlepoint company in San Francisco. This was where I learned everything that I know technique wise about needlepoint, an experience that I am profoundly grateful for but it has taken me years to fall into my own personal style. 10 years ago I started my own needlepoint design company, Jenny Henry Designs. The work I was creating in the beginning was still based on what I knew would sell and what people were asking me to create. 6 years ago, after the birth of my first child, things changed. I guess I felt that if I was going to be taking the time to work, time spent away from my baby, well then it better really mean something. So I finally let myself create the designs that I was meant to make. Work that I am really proud of.