How Cotton Buds are the Next Best Thing to Bugle Beads


One of the many aspects I like about embellished textiles is its ability to draw you in close and take a moment out of your busy life to focus solely on what is in front of you. Jessica Grady’s work does just that. She creates incredibly detailed surface designs using resources that you wouldn’t really think about stitching on fabric.  “Tactility is a key concept in my practice as well as colour being a focal point.” Jess shares her story of how she got into textiles and how cotton buds are the next best thing to bugle beads.

How did you get into textiles?

I’ve always had a thing for textiles; my great Aunty was a painter and enjoyed embroidery. When I was little she used to draw flowers on fabric and teach me how to stitch over them with different stitches. I picked it up really well and went on to do a textiles degree and graduated in 2014.

Where did you study?

I studied at Norwich University and the name of my course was Textiles Design. I studied four disciplines; weave, knit, print and surface design including stitch. It was a good course because it gave me freedom to do what I wanted without having to specialise in one area. 

Did you learn how to embroider at Norwich?

The embroidery module of the course was quite short so I decided to go off and teach myself. Most of my stitches are self-taught. I had a few classes here and there but other than that I did my own thing. 


What was your favourite specialism while studying at Norwich?

I would say surface design was my favourite specialism because I liked the three-dimensionality of embroidery and creating embellishments. I like making textiles that’s touchy feely and not just flat. 

Do you like printed textiles?

I do like print and it’s something I still work with but I layer them up with my stitches to get more of a textural feel.

What do you do with textiles you make, how do you apply it?

I make some fashion swatches that I send off to companies who then take them to various trade shows. I make fronts for garments; I stitch using a hoop or a big frame and cut a neckline in so the buyer can get an idea of what it would look like. The majority of my work is focused towards interior textiles and textile art, so lots of wall hangings and pieces that I frame in embroidery hoops.  Colour is a strong focus in my work and everything is very bright!


What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent on a piece?

Ooohhh about three months! It was for my degree show and is the biggest piece I’ve ever done. It’s about two metres wide and I completely covered it in hand cut sequins and embellishments. 

Impressive! Did you do it all yourself?

I did. I spent countless amount of hours a day stitching away.

How do you plan what you’re going to make? 

I do lot of free styling, I’m not a fan of planning. I always change my mind so it’s quite hard for me to stick to one. If I’m working from a print I generally follow the shapes and colours to highlight sections. When I’m only working on embellishments I get out all my sequins and beads and lay them on top of the fabric to see what I can do with them. I like pinching and folding sequins to get a 3D look. 


Where do you buy your materials and embellishments?

I get them from all over really – DIY shops and jumble sales are my favourite! A lot of my stuff is unique as I make a lot of my beads from things like electric cables, metal washers and the plastic bit of Cotton Buds, I dye and paint them to get the right colours. 

That’s so resourceful, like upcycling.

Yeah, I do buy ready made beads from a couple of online stores. I buy sequin films from Josy Rose and cut them up in shapes I like. I also make sequins out of bits of leather and melt foiling on them that gives the embellishments an iridescent look. 

What’s the weirdest or strangest thing you’ve used to make an embellishment?

Probably the Cotton Buds. When you cut the ends off you’re left with the plastic bit and it’s hollow like a bead. I’ve also used foam hair rollers before to make beads!


Where did that idea come from?

I have this obsession with looking at anything that can be stitched onto fabric and turned into an embellishment. I love buying things in bulk from plumbing shops to make my own things. It’s given my work versatility. 

It gives you more ownership too because nobody else will have the exact same type of embellishments.

Yeah that’s true. Sometimes when I’m looking for beads I tend to come across the same types. It’s nice to have my own spin on embellishments.

What are favourite types of fabric and embellishments to use?

With my embellishments I have to be specific with what type of fabric I use because it has to bare the weight of them. I quite like working on leatherette or coated PVC. I like working on netted fabric too because it allows you to see the negative space behind the embellishments. I love working with sequins, I have huge collection! 


What materials and embellishments would you like to use that you haven’t before?

I’d like to make more of my own embellishments; I’ve been considering getting some of my own Die-cut petals designed for stitching florals. I’ve been cutting petals myself but I’d like to have some professionally cut in an even and consistently formed pattern. 

Who are some of favourite textiles designers?

I’m a big fan of looking on Instagram to discover new people. I love the Australian designer Liz Payne, she uses amazing colours and I like the scale of her work. I get a lot of inspiration from fashion couture houses too; especially Chanel, their work is jaw dropping.


What are your goals as a textiles designer?

Really, to get my work out there and get noticed. I’m from a small place in North Yorkshire so I’d really like for my work to be seen all over. I would like to have commissions on bigger pieces and challenge myself with larger scales. I’ve got an exhibition running at Leeds Craft Centre and Design Gallery until early January and would like to have my work in more spaces.

What do you love most about textiles?

I find it very calming, especially when I’m sewing repeatedly. Because it’s so hands on I can get fully involved and pass the time away without realising. 


 What do you listen to when you’re working?

It depends; sometimes I put on a film but something I don’t want to watch too much otherwise I won’t get any work done! Otherwise I put the radio on for background noise because I don’t like working in silence. 

You can follow Jess here and see more of her work here.

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