Why have you dived into the world of embroidery and not another craft?
I have always been fascinated with sewing and making things from an early age. When I was about 9 years old my mum went back to university to become a teacher and did a degree in textiles. I loved going into the textiles studios with her and seeing all the printing and sewing and crafts going on. I think from this point I was destined to do textiles. I actually did my degree in print and surface decoration - at University of East London - So even though I did incorporate a lot of stitch into my work the course was very focused on print and any embroidery I added was pretty much self taught. My mum gave me her old Bernina (which I still have and use now) and I used this for all my embroidery work - I was never that into hard embroidery because for me it takes too long - I want quick results! … I loved combining print with embroidery and really focused on this for my degree.
In 2000 I was lucky enough to be given a place at Royal College of Art on the mixed media MA course and my tutor was the amazing Karen Nicol. Karen is the Queen of the Irish machine and was a massive inspiration to me. I also had Debbie Stack for my embroidery technician who was absolutely brilliant. I fell in love with all the vintage embroidery machines at the Royal College of Art and spent most of my time in the embroidery room learning from Debbie and being encouraged by Karen. One of the things I love most about the Irish machine is that once you have mastered it you can create beautiful fluid high end designs really quite quickly and this has been one of the prominent things that has made a success of the studio and made UK embroidery viable for my clients.
What makes an embroidery design original?
To make an embroidery design original you must not copy something that already exists. By all means be inspired by existing embroidery but if you want it to be truly original you need to find a new angle of looking at it and give it a twisty from the traditional or the expected.
How would you describe a ‘good’ client brief and how do you accompany your client in the creative process?
Oh I love it when we are given a mood board and lots of free rein and plenty of time to experiment! The best briefs come after working for a client for a long time and when there is a shared understanding and trust between ourselves. The longer we work with a client the more fluid the communications and understanding is. I love it when it gets to the point when a client says “just do your thing” or – that’s when you know there is total trust in the design process .
Has the art of embroidery been consistently embraced by Fashion Houses or has there been a resurgence in recent years?
I think it always goes in phases just like all trends. Embroidery is always there in some way but can be translated in so many different techniques. Also, there are so many different platforms of fashion that it may be more popular in one and less in another at the same time.
Your studio is based in Brighton, UK - have you visited workshops and/or craftsmen in other countries that have sparked your inspiration and ignited your passion further?
I would so love to visit the amazing artisans in India that we work with for our embellishment. I really hope to do this soon. Obviously at the moment travel is very restricted but hopefully in the not too distant future this will be possible again. I am consistently amazing and spun out by the quality of work they produce. The attention to detail is incredible.
What would you say to the next generation of designers and craftsmen, with a budding interest in embroidery?
I would definitely say “go for it”. I absolutely love my job and feel very lucky to be able to have my studio and make a living from something I love. I would also say don’t expect it to be an easy ride though! Like so many crafts it can be a struggle to make a decent living and you have to be very lucky to have things fall on your lap. Generally you have to work incredibly hard to make a name for yourself. I worked a lot for free, or for very little money or sometimes for clothes (!) when I was starting out - I worked with a lot of up and coming designers and sowed a lot of seeds that had no guarantee of sprouting! One of the designers I worked with in the very early days of mine and their careers was Erdem - at the time of course I had no idea how amazing successful he would become and just worked on his embroidery for the passion and friendship involved in it at the time. Working alongside Erdem was incredible for me and his success helped to give me a name in the industry. I did all his embroidery for his first 10 shows and all his production pretty much single handed with a very small and learning team around me. It was a very exciting time and I look back at the collections with fondness.
Any future plans for a Jenny King School of Embroidery?
Oh I would love to have a school! Maybe one day! I do get asked very often about this. I am considering doing a two or three day course in the studio. I know it is very difficult for a lot of people to find tutoring that really specialises in Irish embroidery, so I would love to help if I can. We are just so busy - I am not sure how we could fit it in at the moment!
In terms of keeping the craft alive, what is the most challenging aspect?
Well, following on from your last question - the main issue is finding people with the skills. Sadly a lot of universities have got rid of their Irish machines for varying reasons from them not passing the health and safety tests to the machines simply not being used as there are no tutors or technicians that can operate or fix them when they (inevitably) go wrong. I do feel that Instagram has been very good at spreading the word and the love of the Irish machine though and I feel that now there are more people knowing about it and interested in it than there was say 5 years ago.
Can you share what you are working on at the moment?
At the moment we are working on multiple projects - We are working on costumes for Andrew Lloyd Webbers “Cinderella”, some embroideries for Bridgerton series two, Our Spring / Summer facemask range production, some samples for J W Anderson, some incredibly long fringed Kaftan production for Banke Kuku and some wonderful new pieces that will be available to buy from our online haberdashery which we are planning to launch soon.
What did you think of Wing’s of Wisdom’s embroidery designs and how did you find working with the brand?
Oh we loved the concept behind Wings of Wisdom ’s recent collection - the symbolism and vibrancy of the collection is exactly I think what we all need right now after coming out the other end of all these lockdowns! I personally love symbolic designs and something that I really enjoy wearing. I think Wings of Wisdom’s aesthetic and colour pallets are spot on. Catherine is a great designer to work with and even though we were very many miles apart in distance it felt like we were working very closely together.
A big thank you to Jenny for her time in answering our questions, a true pleasure and honour to work with for the making of the Spectacular Six collection, the first T-Shirt line to launch in 2021. Jenny simply understood the brand's vision and aesthetic style and the result of her craft and what comes out of her studio is nothing short of exceptionally breath taking.