Jessie Wylie Newbery (1864–1948) was born in Paisley, near Glasgow, on 28 May 1864, one of the four children of William Rowat and his wife, Margaret Downie Hill. William Rowat was a shawl manufacturer and later tea importer who had strong views on the education of women. Like her father, Jessie had an independent nature. At the age of eighteen she visited Italy, where she became interested in mosaics, textiles, pottery, and ‘peasant crafts’. Throughout her life she collected textiles from Italy, Russia, and the Balkans. In 1884 she enrolled as a student at the Glasgow School of Art, and ten years later she became head of the school's department of embroidery, which she had established earlier. She married Francis H Newbery four years after his appointment as headmaster, on 28 September 1889. Her work raised the status of embroidery to that of a creative art form.
"She evolved a characteristic linen appliqué … worked on linen ground, with applied simple stylized flowers and leaves, cut out of coloured linens and held down by satin stitch in silk … the stems coiled into strong lines, outlining the shape of the article". (Swain, ‘Mrs J. R. Newbery’, 105)
She ‘liked the opposition of straight lines to curved; of horizontal to vertical … I specially aim at beautifully shaped spaces and try to make them as important as the patterns’ (ibid.). The Glasgow rose, emblem of the Glasgow style, ‘is believed to have evolved from her circles of pink linen, cut out freehand and applied with lines of satin stitch to indicate folded petals’ (ibid.). She introduced lettering, mottoes, and verses as part of her designs, and also taught needleweaving and dress design. In an interview with Gleeson White she commented, ‘I believe in education consisting of seeing the best that has been done. Then, having this high standard thus set before us, in doing what we like to do: that for our fathers, this for us’ (G. White, 48). She was a fine teacher and inspired many of her students.
At the same time Mrs Newbery managed her mercurial husband and brought up two daughters, Elsie and Mary, for whom she designed artistic yet practical dresses, as she designed and made her own attractive clothes. Her original and individual designs for dresses incorporating embroidery set a style for her students which was emulated by many of the Glasgow Girls, including the Macdonald sisters, Margaret and Frances. Like women in other artistic circles, for example, Jane and May Morris, Jessie Newbery wore dresses of an Italian Renaissance appearance, though she also believed that dress should be practical as well as beautiful. At a school at-home in November 1900:
"her black merve [sic] gown was slightly trained and had the long sleeves puffed at intervals to correspond with the simply fashioned bodice which was finished with a narrow collar of old lace, and on the shoulders bows of reddish gold velvet". (Burkhauser, 148)
It was later noted that ‘she never wore a corset in her life … she deplored the tight lacing imposed by the current fashion’ (ibid., 50), a comment that reveals her interest in rational dress (she possessed a ‘rational’ skating costume with red flannel bloomers). In 1918 she retired with her husband to Eastgate, Corfe Castle, Dorset, where she died on 27 April 1948.