Emma Jacobs lives and works in Bruges and specialises in crochet and embroidery. She set up her brand Novelsnob in 2015. We initially started talking via Instagram DM about the lack of crochet in couture fashion. I’m constantly fascinated to know people’s views about the perception of textiles and craft and Emma gladly shared hers.
How did you get onto textiles?
I used to paint but developed a Multiple Chemical Sensitivity which made me allergic to any kind of paint. I wasn’t really looking for some other kind of medium, I was still mourning the loss of my ability to paint. But after a while I started itching to make something similar to what I used to paint which were houses. Drawing always felt like the starting point of a painting so I started a thread painting through embroidering. I’ve always played around with textiles so I didn’t have to go and buy the materials. I just took out some materials and started.
The first piece Emma made.
What kind of textiles do you make now?
Mostly crochet and some embroidery; there’s so much to do and I have a lot of ideas but so little time. I recently bought a small weaving loom but still haven’t found the time to try it out.
How do you start your work?
Most of the times I start something new because I want to try some sort of material or tool that I haven’t used yet. A lot of projects I start don’t get finished because I’ve found something new or interesting I want to try out. I’m a serial project jumper!
Dolce & Gabbana S/S 16 photo by Marcus Tondo for Vogue Runway
Christian Dior F/W 13 RTW photo by Gianni Pucci
What made you want to look into couture brands that use crochet?
I like crochet but the things I want to make are very different to the crochet you see on Instagram with bright colours; I call it rainbow crochet. It’s kind of a hippy style and everything looks the same to me. There wasn’t anything I could find that was different to that kind of crochet so I started looking at fashion designers. So far I’ve only seen Dolce & Gabbana and Dior use crochet in a different way. Some designers take the “rainbow crochet” concept and run with that.
How do you think crochet is perceived?
When I think of crochet the first thing that comes to mind is that hippy crochet, yarn bombing and granny squares, I think many people think the same way. It’s the reason why I’m looking for something on another level.
Did you study textiles in school or college?
No, I studied graphic design, photography and started a masters in painting but had to stop half way through my last year because of my allergies. The oil paints and thinners were becoming really toxic for me.
That’s so weird that you became allergic to something you had been using for a while.
To begin with it wasn’t so bad and I could handle it but during my masters it got really bad and even affected the skin under my eyes. At the time, I didn’t know why I was having these reactions and I went to the pharmacy and they gave me some medicine but only later I realised I was allergic to that too.
Scary! Could you not have changed your masters and studied something else?
Well I tried to use different paints like acrylics but they weren’t good either. There were only these water based oil paints that I could use … which are as ridiculous as they sound! I felt like I had to start learning to paint all over again, they weren’t like real oil paints or even acrylics. Eventually I just had to quit because my tutors and mentors weren’t supportive. They expected me to produce something similar to my giant paintings, which to me felt impossible to do. They just couldn’t understand I was having a hard time with losing the ability to paint. Nothing could come close to that look and feel of paint and anything else I made felt inferior to those paintings I used to make.
What did you do after you quit your masters?
I had to have an operation and I knew it would be difficult to go back to studying after missing three months. It was the definitive end of my studies. I started looking for a job; there wasn’t much else I could do. In the meantime I picked up my crochet hook again.
Are any of your friends into textiles?
At school, there was a textiles degree but I didn’t really know those students very well. My friends are illustrators, graphic designers and photographers. I’m the only person who works with textiles. I’m really happy that I can see other textile designers’ work on Instagram and communicate with them through there.
When did you set up your Instagram account?
When I got my iPad! Around three years ago but in the beginning I posted random pictures, I became more serious with it last year. Now if I post random things like food I’ll lose around 20-30 followers. I use Instagram stories for random stuff now!
Do you want to work as a textiles designer?
Yes, yes, yes! It would be a dream. I love the videos you see of designers like Chanel and Dior when they’re mixing pearls and flowers with their embroidery. If I worked there I’d like to work on embroidery and embellishments, but if that was my job I know I’d still like to make my own things on the side. I actually would like to design a line of zipper bags and tote bags, maybe focusing on textile designers. Something stylish and pretty to carry your tools and projects around. Very different from normal project bags, forget the rainbows!
Is it easy to find a textiles job in Bruges?
No, I don’t think there’s anything for textiles designers here. I’ve only ever seen one job advertised but it was only for three months “designing” costumes for the procession of the golden tree (Gouden boom stoet). You had to have three years experience and the job was actually more administrative work than sewing.
That’s frustrating. When I was looking for a textiles jobs after I graduated in 2007 there weren’t many jobs advertised and when there were they wanted you have a lot of experience and the jobs didn’t really pay that much. I’m so curious to know how textiles designers get jobs apart from the ones that set up their own businesses. The more I talk to people about this the more I realise that I wasn’t alone and so many others are in the same boat. I’ve come to conclusion that you should just start your own business and do what you like.
What are your goals for 2017? What do you want as a textiles designer/lover?
I have my Etsy shop and I want to work on that, finding new and exciting tools to sell. Also I would really love to make those bags I mentioned about earlier. I’m thinking about different lines for these bags. For example a vintage line, made with vintage fabrics.
Where do you buy your materials?
In Bruges, everything is close together and we have many stores that sell fabric and yarn. There are three smaller shops and one big chain store Veritas, which is actually my favourite so I get a lot of stuff there. I go there almost every week, they know me by now!
What do you love about textiles?
That I’m not allergic to it! You can make anything and everything. You can make something that looks like a painting or you can just make pillows. Crochet is very versatile too, you can make plain fabrics or make something very complicated, like these leopards I’m working on. What I was looking for in those couture brands, was if someone used crochet as a kind of fabric to make a piece and not as being a crochet piece (think granny square coats). I hope more people share my love for the textile crochet process and not just for the crazy forms and colours. I would love to hear from likeminded people!