Jessica Grimm – From old bones to gold threads

03/10/2020

Doctor Jessica Grimm is a Dutch embroidery artist who lives in Germany. She let her carrier as an archaeozoologist to become a professional embroiderer.
Interview by Claire de Pourtalès

What is your story with embroidery?
In my recollection, I have always embroidered. This can’t be true, of course. I just don’t remember learning to stitch. Since my mum is a great knitter and seamstress, I think she has taught me as a child. My grandmother did a lot of cross-stitch and I vividly remember her basket with WIPs next to her favorite chair. It is very possible that she taught me to stitch too. And then there is my grandfather, who died before I was born. He was a prolific stitcher. So, it is definitely in my genes.
I started off with cross-stitch and by my mid-teens I had progressed to quite elaborate patterns. This coincided with a renewed interest in embroidery in general in the Netherlands in the early ‘90s. The popular ladies’ magazines published special editions solely on embroidery. This whetted my appetite to try some Richelieu and some simple surface embroidery. I more or less kept stitching throughout high school and University; it never completely broke off. As I wasn’t a cool-kid anyway, having a nerdy hobby didn’t harm me any further.

© dr Jessica Grimm

From archeology to embroidery: what was the trigger?
With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that a purely academic career did not suit me. However, as is nowadays the case, an academic career is more highly valued than ‘working with your hands’. Our whole school system is geared towards getting people to get a degree. And don’t get me wrong: I love archaeozoology (the study of animal bones from archaeological excavations). But I didn’t like the commercial archaeological environment I had to work in. I need to be able to do some creative thinking. And that has almost vanished in modern-day archaeology as the pressure is very high to keep costs to a minimum.

How was it at the RSN*? Why study there?
(*Royal School of Needlework, London)
Studying at the RSN was a great steppingstone to what I am doing now. It provided me with a firm base and a keen understanding of embroidery technique. It is very inspirational to be in a class with many different people and to see what each one creates. And it was simply the only place I knew of where one could study embroidery in-depth.

How do you work – what is your creative process?
My creative process is very visual. For the pieces I had to make at the RSN, I would read the brief and almost immediately an image would spring into my mind and I would subsequently stitch it. Nowadays, I have specialized in medieval silk and goldwork embroidery. I like to recreate small sections of historical pieces to unravel the techniques used, and to create new art works with a strong message. And again, I will get an image in my mind, collate the materials, draw the image on my ground cloth and I am good to go. I very rarely need to deviate from that initial image.

Creation – detail © dr Jessica Grimm
Blackwork technique – Lion’s skull © dr Jessica Grimm

Do you keep on learning?
Learning new techniques is really my thing. Over the past ten years, I have explored many embroidery techniques, but lately I have zoomed in on medieval goldwork and silk embroidery. This is such a diverse topic, that I doubt I will ever get bored with it. And I am not a purist either: I happily create pieces with different embroidery techniques. I particularly enjoyed combining non-white Schwalm embroidery with the wired elements found in Stumpwork. I like to share what I stitch. And I am not at all bothered when something might be ‘below the standard people expect from a former RSN-tutor’. For instance, I almost never re-stitch my workshop samples to make them absolutely perfect. That can just be too intimidating for people. And I find my own mistakes great teaching tools too.

You travel quite a lot to see historical pieces – how do they fit into your work? What influences do they have?
When you progress beyond a certain level in any craft or art form, it gets harder to find teachers within your area who can add something to your knowledge. In addition, when I take embroidery classes, it often gets a little out of hand with people asking me for advice instead of the tutor. I find that quite unpleasant for the other tutor. And then there are tutors who do not wish to teach fellow tutors as they are afraid that these will steal their class materials, etc. Visiting historical collections is my way of Continued Professional Development.

There is definitely a feel of a “historian” about you, the way you share information, the pieces you create…
So true! There isn’t much archaeology in what I do nowadays, but my academic skills are never far away. I really need to use both sides of my brain to be happy. And disseminating information is important to me too.

In Germany, embroiderers are not considered (officially) as artist. What impact does this definition have on you?
The problem is not so much that textile art is not considered art, it is that embroidery is not considered art. In Germany, embroidery is a craft and people who embroider are craftspeople. If I were to make a mixed media piece with paint, I am likely accepted. That’s just not what I am about. But I will keep them busy and re-apply for artist status as often as I can. Maybe it will not change during my lifetime, but it might help those who come after me!

Goldwork embroidery – Pope Francis © dr Jessica Grimm

Can you live from your art?
Selling art is, at the moment, definitely not enough. And luckily for me, I do like to share my skills and research. Again, this is something I have been doing since a young age. First at the local sports club teaching gymnastics and later as a student teaching other students to identify animal bone. But it wasn’t something I planned to do when I started at the RSN. After all, I had no idea when I started there that I would be any good at all those different forms of embroidery. This year will be a year of teaching so that I can make money to hopefully afford another exhibition in 2021.

Goldwork embroidery – Pope Francis, detail © dr Jessica Grimm

Visit her Blog, you will find fascinating articles on history and historical embroidery techniques.
She teaches online too – visit her page here.
And here is her Instagram account.

Acupictrix – Dr Jessica Grimm / Dorfstraße 79a / 82435 Bad Bayersoien / Germany / +49 (0) 8845 4449803

At Le Temps de Broder we offer a French version of her Snowman done in Canvas technique, as well as her E-book (in French) on the medieval Long Arm cross stitch technique. You can find both in English on her website.

The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire

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