Creative Caversham – Lou Jessop

Embroidery and the use of textiles can be raised to an art form in talented hands, as Lou tells Elestr Lee.

THERE has always been a tendency for the art world to regard embroidery or stitched work to merely be ‘craft’ – despite
great examples down the centuries from tapestries to fashion clothing, not to mention contemporary pieces by artists
including Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin.
Local artist Lou Jessop is determined to make the case for her art, and was very pleased that her embroidered picture entitled ‘Running With Wolves’ was selected as part of the exhibition, ‘Animal – World Art Journeys’, on show at the John Madejski Gallery in Reading Museum until April, and available to view online.
“People have always used embroidery to make pictures,” Lou says, “But mine are a bit different, as they include the use of relief appliqué elements.”
Biblical stories, literature, plays, characters from Hinduism, and themes from ancient myths and legends, have all fed into the inspiration behind Lou’s embroidered pictures. She first became fascinated by embroidery and stitching whilst at school.
“All the girls at my primary school did sewing, and I loved my first project stitching coloured thread to make a needle case. Then, when I was at secondary school, my woollen gloves needed repairing. I darned the holes and found myself carried away with the pleasure of working with coloured wool and didn’t stop until I had the gloves completely covered!” she recalls.
Lou, who is a professional gardener, didn’t go to art school or take her interest any further – apart from decorating things for her own children as they were growing up. However, around 12 years ago, an aunt sent her some beautiful colourful old but moth-damaged jumpers, and she was inspired.
“I had the idea to copy a Matisse nude. I cut out a figure from the purple jumper, padded it a bit, then added a background to the image with thickly layered stitching. I developed this technique as I went along. Odd as it sounds, when I am working, I imagine the characters are communicating with me, helping with decisions about colours and patterns,” Lou explains.
Lou’s vibrant embroidery pictures are certainly eye-catching. “The central characters are cut from re-cycled knitwear, tacked on to a cotton backing fabric. The surroundings are a mixture of pictorial elements and patterns. I always use brightly coloured wool and the stitching is very thick. It is all done by hand. I layer stitches over one another for density and texture – it’s very time-consuming, but utterly absorbing,” she says.
Her work has certainly attracted attention; as well as being selected for the Madejski Gallery, she submitted a piece for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition a few years back, and, on her first attempt, made it to the short list. “I didn’t get any further – but I was very pleased just to be considered.”
Lou also creates woollen figures. When she can she spends a lot of time travelling by train, visiting her grown-up children. “These small woollen figures use up scraps of fabric and are something I can do on the train,” she says.
Lou is pleased that one of her daughters followed in her footsteps by completing a degree in embroidery design in Manchester. As a member of the Reading Guild of Artists (RGA) as well as of S.E.W (Society for Embroidered Work), Lou remains determined to make the case for textile art.
“Much of my spare time is spent stitching,” she says. “I get engrossed in completing a picture. My interest is in the doing; the slow filling of the spaces, the choosing of colours, and the rhythm of the needle. Once it is finished, I put it away and am ready to start on the next one. I can get side-tracked such as recently when the RGA decided to put on an online exhibition inspired by Reading. I decided to make a figure, loosely based on the Elizabeth Frink statue near the Reading Abbey ruins. I can be a bit of a flibbertigibbet – starting one thing, then moving on to another! I sometimes wish I had more hands and many more hours in the day!
I usually take part in the Caversham Arts Trail, so I was sorry it was cancelled last year as I like to have an open studio
and to meet people. But I have to say, the pandemic hasn’t affected my work except it has meant I have slightly more time than usual, as we have no guests or visitors.
“I am fortunate in that I just don’t know what it is to be bored!”

Find out more about Lou’s work:
Or visit the RGA exhibition online:
Reading Museum exhibition online: