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Jennifer Clouston creative explorer of joyous colour & textiles

Jennifer Clouston is a passionate crazy quilter, designer, inspiring tutor and author of 3 books: Foolproof Flower Embroidery; Foolproof Crazy Quilting; The Visual Guide to Crazy Quilting Design.  

She began her quilting journey after the birth of her first child in 1988. 

“Both my mother and grandmother sewed. However, their approach to it was very different. My mother was a perfectionist and sewed clothes for the family. My grandmother’s hands were never still. She was always doing something: tatting, darning, playing patience, crocheting. There was no particular reason or person she was creating for, she simply kept busy. Evidently, “idle hands were the devil’s work”!!!!!! Her crochet rugs were quite unfortunate as she used whatever yarn was on hand; not being concerned about the ply or colour. Yet, there was something beautiful about her rugs and I loved them. I believe that my love of simply keeping my hands busy comes from my grandmother, and I thank her for it.”

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Jenny soon discovered that handwork, rather than sitting at a sewing machine, was what she enjoyed the most.

Jenny’s mantra of “start where you are and use what you have” is a big motivator in her own work and that of her students. That includes the fabrics, threads and skills she uses when creating her freeform embroidery projects. Her goal is to promote creativity and not consumerism, encouraging embroiderers to design their own creations and use the threads that they have on hand.

A great sense of her enjoyment and passion is in teaching – “Small groups of women in a circle sharing beads, buttons, threads and life stories is one of life’s simple pleasures.”.

Q. In quilting and other creative arts, there’s traditional and there’s contemporary…. quite different. Would you say that this true of embroidery? If so, do you think this is to be embraced or can it go too far, be too far removed from the tradition of embroidery – or perhaps it’s more sculptural? ie embroidery on car bonnets, buckets etc

A:  At the end of the day, embroidery is an art form. It is open to all forms of interpretation and expression.  Where would we be, in the embroidery world, without the likes of Erica Wilson and Constance Howard who revolutionised embroidery in the 60’s and 70’s?

Q. A quote from INSPIRATIONS magazine: “The rhythm of the stitch soothes your senses, lifts your spirit, nourishes your soul and ignites your passion”. Is this you?

A: Absolutely, hand work is my yoga. As I do not end game my work; I have no preconceived idea of what it should look, so I am free of the constraints that we put on ourselves to create a perfect piece of work. it’s the process that I enjoy, not so much the end result.

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Q. How would you describe your “signature” style 

A: My crazy quilting is quite structured; I like to keep my seam treatments clear and strong.  In place of large amounts of embellishments etc lace, trims etc I prefer to embroider thereby retaining a cleaner version of crazy quilting and keeping the shapes within the block.  The premise that “anything goes” in crazy quilting is not something that I follow.   When studying antique crazy quilts you can see that a lot of thought was given to a colour palette and seam treatments.

When it comes to my embroidery, my work is characterised by the use of a wide range of threads, stitches and techniques.

– colour palette: 

A: For me colour is the most important aspect of any quilt or embroidery project. . I am fastidious about my colour palette –  as it my believe that no amount of beautiful embroidery can cover an unfortunate colour palette.

– favourite stitch/ technique: 

A: Feather stitch is my favorite stitch by far. It is so versatile and creates movement to a crazy quilt block or any form of embroidery. I love the way that, by adding more stitches, beads, etc., feather stitching can be made unrecognisable. That is predominantly what I enjoy doing – taking a stitch, then adding to it until you cannot see what the original stitch was.   

– fabrics/ backgrounds: 

A: I love using vintage or preloved fabrics and linens ( op shop finds, tablecloths, men’s suiting) ;working with textiles that have had a previous  life, even if they have small stains or rips,  I don’t mind, that’s a part of the history. Threads, beads, buttons… like a magpie, anything bright and shiny is mine, and my nest is untidy!!!!!!!

– technique: 

A: My approach is a bit different: when I start a project, I don’t have an end game, I prefer to let the project unfold as I go.

First step – and this is where I will invest quite a bit of time – I pull my background fabrics out as a starting point. From there I audition my threads and simply start stitching.  

I let the process evolve and am very quick to change direction at any  stage. Crazy quilting is all about the seam treatments, so  I try to keep the fabrics plain and not overly patterned. My seam treatments are very strong and busy while the underlying blocks remain clearer, cleaner – a little more orderly than most crazy quilting.

– biggest influences:

A: Antique crazy quilts, great mid-century embroiderers and maverick quiltmakers like Rosalie Dace and Odette Tolkstoff influence me greatly.

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Q. Does your style/ colour palette change with your mood? Describe:

A: On any given day, my mood influences how I embroider. Some days my embroidery stitches are way smaller than others. However, I practise a stream of consciousness exercise most days before I begin my main work. Its process of stitching whatever comes into your mind – there is no goal or outcome – you simply stitch. This practise is surprisingly difficult, but the benefits are worth the effort.

Q. Do you reach a point in each, or some, projects where it takes on it’s own life?

A: Definitely. Because I so enjoy the process not the end result, I can relax and let my work flow.

Q. UFO’s?

A: I tend to have a lot of them because stitching and creating is a constant source of enjoyment for me. I begin new projects all the time as I am not concerned about what they will be. I actually love my UFOs as they are often a starting point for new projects.

Q. Is your workroom your haven?

A: I have a big work area, and am not fastidious about storage – I prefer to be stitching rather than rolling threads onto bobbins. My threads, silk ribbons and wool are stored in  glass jars or plastic tubs according to the type of thread. But I do not mind working in a mess!

Q. What is the piece (of your work) that you would never part with?

A: That is a an interesting question. Because the reward for me is in the doing not the end result, I am not sentimental about the finished project.

Q. What can we look forward to seeing in “The Gentle Arts” exhibit at this year’s Q&C Spectacular? What type/style of embroidery will you be displaying? At the event, on display, the piece you’re most proud of?

A: The work that I will be on display will be what my latest book (Foolproof Flower Embroidery) is based on,  all things flower Embroidery . A freeform style of embroidery, using all manner of threads, stitches and techniques to design and create beautiful embroidered flowers.

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