At her home near bush in Auckland, artist, crafter and budding birder Rachelle Wood sketches, stitches and models the creations that comprise Birdspoke. Inspired by local birdlife, she applies traditional hand-stitching skills learned from her grandmother and draws upon her love of sculpture to create her distinctive artworks.
What do you make?
I make bird-related jewellery, homeware, embroideries and plushies. Why birds? Because they are everywhere. On a rainy-day walk recently I noticed a seagull atop every other lamp-post. An underdog but a survivor, the common old seagull is my favourite.
How did you get into your craft?
I got sick of working in hospitality and decided life was too short to spend on somebody else’s dream. I decided to commit fulltime to my own art practice and as a means to earn a crust I developed the crafty side of my work. With all the craft fairs popping up I didn’t need to look far to find a platform to showcase my work. People were becoming very enthusiastic about the indie scene and the new craft object. General interest in craft now is very healthy and our awareness about producing things sustainably has grown.
My grandmother taught me embroidery when I was a girl. She talked about her experiences in embroidery school in the 1930s, which she described as art school for girls. My mother, also, was competent with a sewing machine but would get me to hand sew the hems and detailing of the clothes she made, something she hated doing herself.
Hand-stitching for me has always been soothing and therapeutic and feels like something very special passed down through the generations of women in my family.
In my twenties, I went on to learn dressmaking and pattern-drafting and even worked for a time as a knitting pattern designer. All these skills are connected with textiles with which I have a deep affinity.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Yes, I went to Elam Art School and majored in Sculpture. I loved every minute of it.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Although I am constantly looking for new approaches to my work I typically like to infuse old-fashioned values into the modern and everyday. Doing less attracts me too, perplexingly harder than it sounds!
What inspires you? The big tree in our backyard.
Describe your workspace:
A sunny, frustratingly cluttered room in the front of my house. Oh, to have more space!
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Fabrics, particularly silk. I collect patterned silks and feel warm and tingly when I see them arranged in colour-ways on my shelves. Also, any/all objects and their relationships with each other. I like to treat common materials with great respect and attention. And, I often marry these everyday materials with materials we consider precious and which are at the opposite end of the hierarchy. For example, I spend hours modeling the polymer birds for my long necklaces and then use silk, a luxury fabric, fairly informally as a carrier braid. This juxtaposition feels exciting and unexpected.
Five words that describe your mind: Determined, alert, enquiring, busy and sometimes undisciplined.
What are you currently listening to?
The birds and the traffic, I like to be connected with what’s going on around me.
Recommend an album: My all-time favourite album is Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room.
Your favourite childhood book?
Thumbelina. Something about being very small in the wonder of the world.
What are you reading now?
Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. I have a chapter read aloud every night while I sew birds. I also have a huge non-fiction library in my hallway that I am constantly dipping into. Apart from my study at art school, which feels like a long time ago now, I am largely self-taught, an autodidact.
I can’t say that I have a mentor or a heroine. I admire ideas, not so much the people who have them.
Do you have any pets? Old cat Feni, follows me around.
If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?
Yellow, the colour of my room when I was a girl. I love yellow houses, kowhai flowers and summer.