Rachael matthews

The tex­tile artist and yarn afi­cionado talks knit­ted lob­sters, Dadaism and why mis­takes are so im­por­tant when mak­ing

Mollie Makes - - Introducin­g - Words: JANETTE MAR­SHALL Photograph­s: POLLY ELTES

Prick Your Fin­ger, Rachael Matthews’ wool and craft shop, sits in hip Beth­nal Green op­po­site a veg­gie restau­rant. A haven of cre­ativ­ity, it’s also a bridge be­tween two worlds of London, Ca­nary Wharf and the grit­tier Mile End Road.

Rachael, who also plays a key part in run­ning the Art Work­ers’ Guild, founded the space in 2004. The Vic­to­rian build­ing was orig­i­nally on a con­ser­va­tion list, “but the ar­chi­tec­tural the­o­rist Kevin Row­botham, who owned it be­fore me, rad­i­cally al­tered the in­te­rior to make a liv­ing space above the shop. This is now the stu­dio where I teach knit­ting and craft skills and work on my own knit­ting and mak­ing projects.” The stu­dio also houses Rachael’s col­lec­tion of an­tique knit­ting arte­facts such as knit­ting sticks and in­trigu­ingly- named goose throp­ples.

Prick Your Fin­ger over­flows with a kalei­do­scope of colour­ful yarns and fas­ci­nat­ing hab­er­dash­ery items such as bonework nee­dles and hand- turned darn­ing stools. It also houses tex­tile art exhibition­s by pro­fes­sional artists and stu­dents. We vis­ited for a nosey round and a chat about Rachael’s story. De­scribe your style in a few words? I don’t like my work to be put into a cat­e­gory, as I love many styles of art and fash­ion. It’s im­por­tant to me that the ma­te­ri­als and the process of mak­ing in my work are hon­est and that the fin­ished prod­uct feels au­then­tic. I con­stantly try to im­prove my skills but if my work re­sults in mis- matches or mis­takes then that can be in­ter­est­ing and fun, too. I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to be com­fort­able – in your clothes, your home and your heart. Which books and mag­a­zines are cur­rently on your bed­side ta­ble? My house and workspace are full of books that I re­visit. I’m al­ways try­ing to fill gaps in my art and craft his­tory knowl­edge and love read­ing The Crafts in Bri­tain in the 20th Cen­tury by Tanya Har­rod, a brother at the Art Work­ers’ Guild. I’m also read­ing the work of sci- fi writer Philip K Dick, au­thor of Do An­droids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep?, the book Blade Run­ner was based on – I’m fas­ci­nated by how fash­ion and cul­ture are so in­flu­enced by sci- fi. I loved Tove Jans­son’s Moomins books as a child and I’ve just started Sculp­tor’s Daugh­ter, a col­lec­tion of her me­moirs. I also loved Jonathan Ra­ban’s Driv­ing Home and this sum­mer my boyfriend and I took a Ra­ban­like jour­ney, driv­ing across the prairies through Kansas and In­di­anapo­lis, stop­ping

so I could read his books on the banks of the Mis­sis­sippi. Name your top three cre­ative blogs? Can I name four? I love POP mag­a­zine’s blog ( www.the­pop.com/pop- life) about glossy fash­ion styling, the an­tithe­sis of what I do; Style Bub­ble ( www.style­bub­ble.co.uk) for up- and- com­ing fash­ion and small la­bels; The Glass Pin­gle ( www.the­glassp­in­gle.blogspot.co.uk) writ­ten by Fleur who does in­spir­ing nee­dle and craft work and who has ex­hib­ited in my shop, and Lisa Anne Auer­bach ( www.lisaan­neauer­bach.com) a po­lit­i­cally ac­tive Amer­i­can knit­ter pro­duc­ing cosy sub­ver­sive sweaters. What’s a typ­i­cal work­ing day for you? Noth­ing hap­pens un­til I’ve had real cof­fee in bed, lis­ten­ing to Ra­dio 4 while I an­swer emails. I then write a To Do list on pa­per which I lose through­out the day. I open the shop at 11am but be­fore that I start mak­ing lunch. I eat around 3pm with who­ever’s work­ing in the shop. Noth­ing cre­ative for my art or knit­ting projects

‘ If my work re­sults in mis- matches or mis­takes, then that can be in­ter­est­ing.’

hap­pens dur­ing the day be­cause I’m too busy with the shop, web­site, Art Work­ers’ Guild, or prac­ti­cal tasks such as dy­ing wool, spin­ning and knit­ting sam­ples. I also love com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Prick Your Fin­ger cus­tomers and other craft work­ers via my blog and so­cial me­dia.

Around 6.30pm I try to make ev­ery­one go home! Then, if I’m not go­ing out to yoga or a Guild meet­ing, or run­ning a class, I use the time to write a lec­ture or work on my own un­til late. That’s why I don’t wake up be­fore 9am. How does your cre­ative process work? I use sketch­books a lot – not just to sketch what I’m mak­ing, but be­cause sketch­ing and ob­ser­va­tions of na­ture, as Ruskin said, are good for the soul. When I re­ceive a brief for a piece of work I keep a sketch­book to store in­for­ma­tion and ideas. At the mo­ment I’m mak­ing a knit­ted lob­ster from a spec­i­men in the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum. I’ve spent hours sketch­ing it try­ing to un­der­stand its anatomy and how to trans­late that into stitches. Lob­sters are very dif­fi­cult to draw – and even more dif­fi­cult to work out how to knit. Did you know that they have lay­ers of hid­den legs?

I use on­line re­sources to un­der­stand how Prick Your Fin­ger fits in, and re­lates to, so­ci­ety, and for re­search when I’m cu­rat­ing

01 01 Rachael en­joys work­ing on her knit­ting as she minds the shop.

02 02 The wel­com­ing shop front. Rachael de­signed and made the un­usual sig­nage.

03 03 A ver­i­ta­ble cor­nu­copia of rare yarns and hab­er­dash­ery sup­plies makes for a shop of fab­u­lous cu­riosi­ties.

02 Rachael spe­cialises in vi­brant and ex­cit­ing colour com­bi­na­tions. 02

01 Hand- dyed Bri­tish wool dry­ing in the roof gar­den over the shop.

03 The gar­den and the se­cret rooftop bed­room ( on the left of the pic­ture) were both built by Rachael.

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