Preserving the Past with Jessie Cutts
28 Sep 2023
Growing up in rural Australia, sheltered by the walls of the house her father built, Jessie Cutts began to absorb something of the fearlessness its bones were seeped in. ‘My dad was always making furniture and picking stuff up off the dump,’ she remembers. ‘It was very much about doing it yourself. That was the household I grew up in: you make stuff, you fix stuff, you use what you’ve got.’
That resourcefulness has fed and nourished the current chapter of Jessie’s life on the Kent coast, where her dual creative focus is poured into creating exquisite art quilts and carefully renovating, inch by inch, the Georgian terrace house she lives in with her husband, Ivo, and their two sons.
The house and the quilts have grown up around one another, intertwined to the point of being inextricable. And Jessie’s early lessons in making-do and mending have proved formative, both in the renovation – which has garnered a riveted Instagram following (@townley_terrace) – and in the slow-stitch textiles she creates for her company, Cutts & Sons. There is an abiding sense through everything she touches, that breathing new life into what was once dilapidated, forgotten or discarded is where the joy lies for Jessie.
Every find is, you sense, is an unhurried labour of love. Take, for example, the bookcase that transformed a large hallway from near-institutional austerity to a space that invites afternoons spent plucking books from shelves and curling up in a nearby corner. ‘We wanted to turn the hallway into a sort of library,’ recalls Jessie, ‘but all the big bookcases we saw were far out of our price range. I found one on an auction site for almost nothing with dreadful photos but the right size. We realised it wasn’t going to fit up the stairs, so we had to take it apart in as few pieces as possible and put it back together, scrubbing away years of dirt, fixing lifted veneer and waxing it all over. Now it looks like it’s always been there.’ After all, in the end, good craftsmanship goes with everything.
Homes have a tendency to echo their owners back at them, and that goes double in Jessie’s case. Having felt stymied by the prescriptive world of quilt-making in the nascent stages of launching her textiles, she celebrates the imperfect!’ If Jessie’s methods in the often-restrictive landscape of quilting sound unorthodox, the results are works of staggering beauty, their graphic lines bold and organic. It stands to reason, then, that one of her very favourite pieces in the house should similarly flout the rules.
‘It took me a good two years searching eBay for a log cabin quilt I could afford,’ she explains of a piece that now hangs splendidly in her hallway. ‘It’s extra beautiful to me because it doesn’t follow the ‘rules’ of log cabin patterns and the maker has gone ahead and placed their blocks in a wild, almost haphazard design. The threads are starting to wear thin in places and you can see every tiny hand stitch and the layers of fabric underneath.’
For Jessie, everything circles back to that same persistent thread: use what you have and never, ever cleave too close to the rules.