In 2006, in the midst of a hugely successful career as a luxury handbag designer, British-born maker Emily Jo Gibbs gave it up. In high demand from designers and press around the world such as Koji Tatsuno and American Vogue, it was with thanks to a grant that Emily chose to break free from the constrictions of commercial production and venture into her then lesser-known genre of textile art. She then went on to create her intriguing ‘nature table’ displays, finding the beauty in bits of moss, grass or peeling bark, and recreating them one stitch at a time.
‘I started making hand embroidered drawings of sticks in jam jars,’ she explains, ‘enjoying the quiet beauty of these everyday items… Determined to make work that was personally and creatively rewarding, I then embarked on a series of embroidered portraits of my family.’ Sine then, Emily’s reputation as an independent textile artist has become just as celebrated as her career first was in the fashion world.
From her family photographs Emily reached out to her own community in a project known as Kids Today, where she has been embroidering portraits of the children who live and play on the small cul-der-sac where she lives in South East London. After having her own children, Emily’s priorities in life shifted and this project attempts to capture this new trajectory, interpreting a moment in childhood that can be kept as a memento throughout many generations.
Just last year, Emily took these portraits one step further by embarking on a new phase of her on-going project; depicting people through their workspaces. By stitching an artist’s paintbrushes, a sewer’s pincushions and many maker’s knick-knack items that are so often accumulated in the worker’s space, Emily aims to navigate the intricacies of people’s personal relationships with their tools, and therefore with each of their life’s practices. After coming to this place of reflection from such great heights in the fast-paced fashion industry, Emily's practice is a great example of what can be gained when we pause, and take it in.
Emily Jo Gibbs will be teaching a Silk Illustrations workshop at the Selvedge studio this November. For more information and to book a place, click here.