Jan McGarry Interview: Africa in Stitch

Jan McGarry Interview: Africa in Stitch

Our introduction to Jan McGarry came through the Embroiderers’ Guild Graduate Showcase at the Knitting and Stitching show 2013. We were drawn to Jan’s delicate use of free machine embroidery in the creation of her African inspired textile art. She is a member of the Zeronine Textile Group, Marks and Stitch Group, the Embroiderers Guild and the Marwell International Wildlife Art Society.

In our interview Jan talks about her frequent trips to Africa and how she uses first hand observation and photography as an integral part of her process.

Textile art by Jan McGarry

Textile art by Jan McGarry

Free machine embroidery

TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?

Jan McGarry: I had always enjoyed sewing but more from a dressmaking side for my daughters when they were young. I had not done any embroidery or textile art until I joined an evening class during the 1980’s, but still did not take this any further until I left work in 2004 when I decided that a more artistic form of sewing would be fun to do.

What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work ?

It was not until I attended the evening class during the 1980’s that I became aware of the scope of embroidery and textile stitch, this was my influence outside dressmaking and knitting.

What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)

My working career was a long way from textile art working in the NHS with a career in Pharmacy.

In September 2005 I enrolled on the two year course ‘City and Guilds Certificate – Embroidery’, by the time I was near completing this I was hooked, so the two year ‘City and Guilds Diploma – Embroidery’ followed. After City and Guilds I joined a Contemporary Textile Workshop for a year and it was during time I decided to apply for the three degree course ‘Foundation Degree – Stitched Textiles’ which was successfully completed this year. It was following the Graduate exhibition I was selected for a Graduate Showcase exhibition space at the Knit and Stitch show at Alexandra Palace this October which I thoroughly enjoyed. There was huge opportunity to talk to many textile artists, and people who just enjoyed stitch or were part of groups and guilds.

Jan McGarry – Knitting and stitching show, 2013

Jan McGarry – Knitting and stitching show, 2013

What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?

During the City and Guilds courses I experimented with many types of stitch, dyeing and other textile art forms e.g. felt making, but it was free machine embroidery that really inspired me. Much of the for the degree course was done using free machine stitching.

Zebra stripes

How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?

I am very fortunate to go to Africa twice a year and all my work is influenced by my trips there. Photography is very important to me and it is through my photographs I am able to record my travels and experiences during the trips. Wildlife is my predominant theme for my work but also the people and landscapes influence me too.

Zebras are a particular favourite design source for me, the stripes are all individual to each animal in a similar way to our fingerprints being individual to us. It is these stripe patterns that are the main influence for much of my work at the moment. It was experimenting with the patterns of zebra stripes and using them as a basis that the final design evolved for my pieces of work for my graduate show.

Jan McGarry – Zebra, October 2012, Northern Botswana

Jan McGarry – Zebra, October 2012, Northern Botswana

Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?

The majority of my work is done using free machine embroidery and particularly using a water soluble fabric to stitch on. I like this because it enables me to create ‘holey’ pieces of work, I am using this technique to create large pieces of work.

Do you use a sketchbook?

I used to shy away from sketchbooks as I always considered myself a stitcher not an artist, from a purely drawing point of view. During my courses particularly in the degree work, I have learnt how closely the two are intertwined. My sketchbooks are not just used for drawing in but also for ideas, book references, websites, email addresses, adding photographs, fabric samples that I like and small stitch samples too. So my sketchbooks become a good reference tool.

Textile art by Jan McGarry

Textile art by Jan McGarry

Unconscious decisions

What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?

I have just returned from a safari to Botswana and Zambia, during this I was gathering fresh inspiration for a complete new body of work that I am eager to begin.

Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?

When I was coming to end of the City and Guilds Diploma the last big piece of work was based on zebra stripes, my final degree body of work was also based on zebra stripes too, this was a completely unconscious decision. I had completed forgotten about the City and Guilds piece when working on the final degree work.

How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?

I am not quite sure how my work will evolve in the future. I think it is good not to have too many hard and fast rules on where you want to go, but to let your work develop as you are inspired. But one thing I do know is that my work will be influenced by my trips to Africa.

Textile art by Jan McGarry

Textile art by Jan McGarry

Keep an open mind

Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?

Books that particularly inspired me were those by Chris Spring. These include Africa Art Now and African Textiles Today.

What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.

I use many things as resources, whether it is a museum or gallery exhibition, website, magazine, or artists who give me help or inspiration, I try to keep an open mind and look at many things even if they are not directly related to my themes or subject matter.

What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?

My sewing machine and my camera.

Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?

I do talks and workshops and currently have bookings for 2014, I can be contacted by phone, email, all my contact details are on my website.

Where can readers see your work this year?

I am in the process of planning where my will exhibited during 2014 and beyond into 2015. The details will be put on my website.

For further info please visit: www.janmcgarry.com

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, why not let us know by leaving a comment below.

Thursday 30th, March 2023 / 22:19

About the author

Sam is the co-founder of TextileArtist.org and son of textile artist Sue Stone. Connect with Sam on Google+c/a>

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One comment on “Jan McGarry Interview: Africa in Stitch”

  1. Hi jan,
    I am particularly drawn to your delicate machine embroidery and the statement about which piece of equipment you could not live without 🙂

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