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