Jemima Schlee’s books Take a Tea Towel, Take a Bandana and Take a Ball of String show how to use simple household items and turn them into wonderful items that you can use in and outside the home. We caught up with Jemima to find out where her inspiration comes from.
What can people expect from your new books?
I have always enjoyed problem solving, be it in a work environment or at home in using up scraps of threads and fabrics, cooking with random ingredients! This series of books use familiar resources, bought new or found around the home, to make simple and useful objects for around the home – many of them making really personal gift for friends. I really enjoyed working to my own limited budgets and briefs to get the most out of the lovely fabrics and materials I worked with.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I think that if you are a maker and craftsperson, you never really stop looking around and things get tucked away and stored for – hopefully – future creative retrieval. Many ideas are fresh takes on classics, or converting traditional designs for personal or modern usage. As for inspiration; organic patterns in nature, colours, formal architectural structures, shadows, and the list goes on. As children we spent weekends drawing fabric and lace in the V&A, or making plaster casts of animal spore in Richmond Park. I recently spent a couple of days in Marrakech & Fez to take photographs – so many amazing and inspiring colours, patterns and textures. Alternatively, the pattern left within the pith of a jested orange will do the trick too. I suppose I’m foremost a designer and maker, but I teach and contribute to interior and lifestyle magazines, and in doing so, have become a writer and author. A lifetime ago, I trained as a graphic designer, and had a determined, but also lucky career in London for ten years, spanning the 80’s and 90’s. I then retrained to teach art, specialising in graphics and textiles – the skills I learned in the design industry are completely transferable to what I am doing now.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
I have to say fabric really, and yarn… I really have known how to sew and knit all of my life. My grandmother and mother made our clothes – of course, in the 60’s, this was for economy. My mother writes and my father paints, and all three of my siblings are creators, they have wonderful diverse skills from dressmaking to bookbinding, taxidermy to printing. I’m so cheered that the recent ‘throw-away culture’ appears to be abating and respect and understanding for applied art and craft skills is increasing with the spread of recycling and make-do-and-mending. I grew up completely surrounded by music, art and craft.
Which designers do you admire?
Romantically, an aunt who is a weaver in NYC… My family, my sisters stitch and knit and book-bind and print – my brother makes his own clothes and – just to prove a point to his three sisters perhaps – made the most intricate and beautiful patchwork quilt many moons ago which beat us all hands-down … Historically: the work of the Shakers and the Bauhaus, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden. Most recently: the Alexander McQueen exhibitionat the V&A was an overwhelming inspiration – a complete assault of wonder, beauty and imagination on my senses.
Where do you make your work?
It took me two years following my son moving to London for me to purloin his lovely bright attic room. I was teaching three days a week up until then but, when I decided to start the books, I knew that I would have to be more disciplined. That should mean no longer working in my bedroom, no more falling asleep to and waking up to the sight of my work. So now I have – still with a tinge of guilt – a beautifully light and airy workroom. My desk is now in front of a large window that looks across the roofs of Kemp Town and down to the sea. Seagulls scamper and slip and chatter and launch on and off the roof above and around me, and the sea and skies change incessantly. The nature of my work means there is always a certain amount of chaos – it’s incredibly hard to throw even the smallest scrap away. But, on occasion, a clear out is necessary and passing things on to my sister who teaches textiles is a good guilt-free option. I also make sure I tidy my desk – a large dining table in fact – every evening. Apart from keeping an eye on texts and emails, I listen to radio 4 and dramas on 4 extra and I work away in a peaceful world, regularly loosing track of time.
Your books look at up-cycling every day items, what is it about this process that you find interesting?
I am not alone in finding it hard to throw things away that just may become useful one day – within the realms of sanity! There comes a point where, if you don’t have the time nor eyesight to make patchwork quilts for dolls’ houses, those tiny though beautiful scraps of Liberty lawn really must be re-housed… Finding a new use for a square of simple linen or ball of cotton string really is satisfying.
What is next for you?
It’s quite typical that, although burying yourself in quite a long-term project like a book, the truth is that you never stop taking visual ideas and influences in as you work and walk. As a result, there are new ideas evolving and developing in both your conscious and sub-conscious – the eagerness to get going with your next ideas adds to the impetus of your current projects. My next book takes me back to a combination of my beloved knitting, sewing, embroidery and up-cycling…
Where can people find your books?