Sometimes Instagram offers you great encounters. Mesmerized by the strange insects embroidered by Rach (Stitch and Bone), I asked her if she was okay with a Portrait. This artist is extremely kind, and despite her very fragile health, has incredible life force and creativity. Without forgetting a good Australian humor!
A very nice meeting to read here …
Photos – © Stitch and Bone – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire
Where are you from? Any influence on your art?
I am from rural Australia, and I currently reside in the New South Wales inland city I have spent my whole life in. A great deal of my childhood was spent with a pencil in my hand scribbling away, devouring whatever book I could get my hands on or discovering the wonders of the natural world outside – digging through the dirt for insects and creepy crawlies as my parents would garden or looking for other insects amongst the plants. And yes, I can’t help but feel like this was definitely the start of my love for insects and nature that is for sure!
My childhood was filled to the brim with creativity! I find that the creation process of my work to be incredibly nostalgic, it takes me back to a childhood filled with hours and hours of wandering the gardens looking for little critters to draw and study closely. I would say that my childhood has massively informed how I present myself and my work creatively.
Organized chaos – workbench © Stitch and Bone
Framed pastel Trio, 2019 © Stitch and Bone
What is your story with embroidery?
It was actually my sister who introduced me to embroidery about a year and a half ago. At the time I had been pretty unwell for a good couple of years before being diagnosed with Crohns Disease, and more recently Lupus (SLE), Myositis and Arthritis during the last year, and as a result I spent a lot of time at home. I was looking for things I could do that did not require much energy and that I could do at home and my sister decided one day that we would start embroidery – something neither of us had ever done before! My first embroideries were actually of insects but were ‘flat’ images. I transitioned into stumpwork not too long after and was inspired by images I had seen on the Internet of all sorts of creations that were literally popping off the material – I was drawn to the amalgamation of metal threads, wires, fabrics of all kinds, beads, crystals and thread work. I enjoyed the process of working out just how I could construct these little critters – it was something that took a while and quite a lot of failed attempts before getting a base process that I can now fine tune depending on the individual design of each work.
If you had told me 5-10 years ago that I would enjoy embroidery as a creative outlet I probably would not have believed you! I never really had any inclination to dip my toe into it as I thought it to be too slow, boring, traditional and ‘old lady’ – all things that would drive me insane! I am glad to say that times have changed – the slow nature of embroidery is one of the things I enjoy (although it can drive me a little insane sometimes!). I like that there is a thoughtfulness to it – everything is deliberately chosen when it comes to the materials picked, where the stitch is placed and the how it is designed – and when you look closely at a handmade piece you are reminded of the hands that made it. There is no limits as to how you can interpret this traditional craft (something my younger self didn’t realise) and if I had seen the contemporary and modern spin that artists are injecting into their embroidery works earlier in life I probably would have gotten on the bandwagon much sooner!
Green and pink Longhorn Beetle, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
Purple Longhorn Critter, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
Are you influenced by other artists or arts or by something else?
I have always been fascinated with the natural world and I have always been a true lover of ‘things’ and a keen collector of facts, curiosities, objects, trinkets and all things beautiful, shiny and spellbinding! As a child – and indeed still as an adult – I have always had a real magpie tendency when it came to looking for and finding objects and ideas that appealed to me. I love nothing more than wandering around museums and finding little shops that are filled with vintage, antiques and collectables.
My own quirky mélange of objects – in particular all the beautiful taxidermy insects I have found and been gifted over the years – have heavily influenced my work and were the springboard for how I would present these creations. It was the vision I had of my own pieces sitting in their own frames on the wall amongst my collection of prints, art pieces, framed taxidermy insects and all the little bits and pieces I have collected over the years that was the catalyst for Stitch and Bone.
You don’t see yourself as an artist: what is your definition of an artist?
I have never really seen myself as an artist – I just see myself as someone who loves to embroider! I think perhaps there is a little bit of Imposter Syndrome lurking behind me. As I am not classically or formally trained in my creative area, I feel like I don’t fit into that ‘artist’ world and don’t have any credentials that I associate with being a professional artist. That being said though a large majority of the artists I admire and follow are not formally or classically trained and I do not hesitate when I call them artists. So, I guess my inability to see myself as an artist is probably a bit of a self-confidence thing – I feel that the nature of creative work makes everyone more vulnerable to feeling inadequate and even more so if you are not classically trained – but it is something I am working on! And after speaking to many artists that I admire it seems to be a bit of a running theme, so it is nice to know that I am not the only one!
Mole Cricket, close-up, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
Jungle Nymph Stick Insect, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
How do you choose your material?
When it comes to choosing the materials I use it honestly comes down to a gut feel – I either love it as soon as I set eyes on it or I am just like ‘meh’. There is no in between! I know almost immediately where it will fit into. When it comes to picking materials for a piece, I usually pick the fabric first and from there I have a pretty clear idea about what thread, beads and crystal colour palette I will be going with.
Do you have a favorite range of colours or tones?
I have to admit I cannot go past a beautiful jewel tone/colour! All those beautiful rich, deep colours – oh my! It appears though when you take a look at the pieces I have made I am a little bit obsessed with the colour green – it seems to always pop up in every insect creation in one way or another! That being said I love all colours/tones and more often than not I have surprised myself with the colours/tones I choose for each piece. For example I never thought I was much of a pastel colour person but I have made several pieces in pastel shades and adore them. Go figure! I have just decided it is easier to just go with the flow!
Pink Dome Beetle, 2021 © Stitch and Bone
Orchid Mantis, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
How is your workshop? Clean, open, white, messy, dark, small, noisy…
The state of my workshop very much depends on the exact moment you happen to be there! Some days all I will do is organise my small workspace – cleaning up all the loose threads, putting all my little jars of beads and crystals into some sort of ordered chaos, dusting, vacuuming and general cleaning and basically just re-organising the space. Quite often I will walk in and just re-organise the whole room because I am just not feeling it! Other days it is just an explosion of materials, books, drawings, frames, hoops and thread strewn everywhere! I definitely go to both extremes. The things I never change however is that my desk is always right near the window – I love natural light – and that I always have some ‘noise’ like music or a tv show/movie in the background when creating.
How do you like to work? Day, night, with sounds, stressed or relaxed…
When it comes to creating these little critters, I can get quite persnickety! I used to work a lot at night but of late I usually find myself creating in the afternoon after work or on the weekends (I think I just love having natural light too) and I have to know I have at least a couple of hours available because once I start, I am in it for the long haul! I also need noise in the background – usually music or a tv show/movie that I can half pay attention to when creating. And the weird thing is quite often I find that the pieces I end up loving the most I really had to make myself sit down and do – I go from not feeling like creating to making myself sit down and do it and before I know it I am two hours in and loving it! I have gotten to the point where I just don’t question it anymore – I just go with it!
How do you feel when a piece is done?
That is the million-dollar question! I don’t think I ever feel as though a work is ‘done’. In fact, I usually don’t like the work at all when I finish it – I seem to just pick it apart! I think that is partly because I have spent so much time looking at the work as ‘pieces’ that need to be put together and never as a whole. I have found that if I pop the finished piece away somewhere in the shadows for a few days and then pull it out and have a good look at it that is when I fall in love with the piece. And boy howdy I am finding it so hard to part with the pieces I make! I have a few that I don’t know if I will ever be able to part with! That being said it is such a lovely feeling when you can tell that the person who is taking the work home loves it more than you do!
What is your creative process?
My creative process usually starts one of two ways – either I find an insect shape that speaks to me in one of my many books (in particular vintage insect illustration books) or I create my complete colour palette of fabrics, beads, crystals and threads. It all depends of what catches my eye first – form or materials. I am not one to sketch out an idea, do a sample or do anything that is probably known as good planning, although it would be a good idea to! Instead I tend to get a really strong visual in my mind and I just work off that. That visual almost never changes from start to finish and the details in the finished piece are almost always spot on with what I first visualised.
From there I plan out how I am going to construct the 3D body along with getting the shape, size, placement, proportions and all the little details ironed out. From then on it is just many, many, many hours/days/weeks/months bent over a hoop trying to get everything exactly how I envision it! I always seem to work on the wings first before moving on to the body, then the legs, the beading and all the little finishing touches.
Decision making, time and the self-doubt that can creep in are probably the hardest parts of the process. I am not sure why but every time I have created something throughout my life there is always a point during a project when I just feel like nothing is working out how it should and I have the urge to abandon ship! The things that throw me off when making these bugs could be the materials, the colour scheme, the shape, the placement, the size, the padding, the threads looking too messy, the idea that something is uneven/misplaced or the simple fact that I feel like it just doesn’t look right. When this occurs I tell myself to cast the histrionics aside and get on with it – find a way to either work around or work with the ‘problem’!
Angel Plume Moth, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
Do you feel you work by periods?
I don’t know if I work by periods exactly but I have noticed that if I make one type of insect – like a species of mantis – I will be more likely to look at more mantis images and create another species of mantis right after. Also, I have found that if I work with a colour palette I really love I have in the past taken it to another insect creation. So maybe that is my version of periods – working through different species of insects and colour palettes!
Mantis, detail, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
You have a full-time job beside; can we ask you about it?
At the moment my full-time job is working at my family’s little cafe and creating these little guys is done in the spare time I find outside of working, studying, all that health stuff, family and caring for a horde of real-life furry critters – including one rambunctious puppy (my sister has this talent of attracting rescue animals that need a home) so time is a precious commodity!
As a family we are very hands on with the cafe and it keeps us very busy – at the moment it is just my Mum, Dad, sister and I working in the cafe. With the pandemic it has been hard for the hospitality industry – the restrictions that came into play due to COVID have hit our business hard. We have found ways to adapt how we run our little shop but it has and still is a bit of a struggle. But all we can do is just keep going and do our best I suppose!
Whenever I can find time to create I seize it with both hands – most days after work I can find an hour or so and the weekends are my most productive days. I definitely find embroidering to be something I do for fun and is something I enjoy immensely (even though I may have get a bit dramatic when things don’t work out!). The dream however is to always carve out more time for creating and make this little venture more of a full-time thing! One day perhaps!
Any new techniques you would like to learn?
There is so much in the world of embroidery that I would like to learn about. As I have not undergone any formal training in needlework and am self-taught in Embroidery/Stumpwork my knowledge of stitches is not that extensive. I have learnt what I have needed to in order to achieve the specific look I am after but in all honesty most of what I do is improvised. I think that lack of knowledge is something that has worked in my favour a little bit – I am not constrained by how things are ‘supposed’ to be done and that adds a bit of freedom with how I create these little critters.
The Bullion knot is definitely on my to do list. I am not at the point yet in which I am satisfied with how they are turning out. Like the French knot I love the textural element that the Bullion knot offers – I have so many ideas on how I would love to incorporate this stitch into my work but I just need to practice a bit more on them before I commit!
Violin Beetle, 2021 © Stitch and Bone
Peacock Spider, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
Is there an insect you like most? Do you really like them when they are real?
Words cannot describe how endlessly fascinating I find these beautiful and strange organisms. They are such a wildly diverse bunch, presenting themselves in a vast array of shapes, sizes and colours – essentially embodying our modern ideals of form, construction and finish when it comes to the shapely, colourful, sleek parts on the outside and all the moving parts of the inside. I find that insects create quite the dual reaction – to some, such as myself, they are absolutely beautiful and engrossing but to others they trigger the reaction of ‘oh my god, get those creepy crawlies away from me!’.
More often than not we overlook these crucial and under-appreciated inhabitants of the natural world, and my aim is to ignite a spark of curiosity back into these little critters. My hope is that my work will not only incite the imagination but also inspire and speak to others, encouraging people to see them in a more favourable light and take a closer look.
I don’t have a particular insect I like the most however I have noticed that I have made a lot of mantis inspired works over the last two years so maybe I have an extra soft spot for them?! The only insects I am not too fond of in real life are spiders – specifically Red Back Spiders! Here in Australia majority of the spiders are quite venomous so you don’t really want to mess with them and Red Back Spiders get in everywhere – the house, the garden, all those little nooks and crannies – I always get a little shiver when I see one!
Any other hobby?
One of the things I have learnt about myself over the years is that I appear to be one of those people who accidentally picks up hobbies! I will give anything creative a go and quite often I surprise myself with what I actually end up enjoying – ironically stitching was one of those hobbies I accidentally picked up! Another hobby I love is illustration – whether it is with pencils, pens, watercolours, inks or paints I am obsessed! I have managed to incorporate a bit of illustration into Stitch and Bone through the branding which I have really enjoyed but I am always looking for ways to do more. Also, I just need more time! Both illustrating and stitching take up a lot of time, so I am never satisfied with how much time I get to do both! Other than that, my hobbies outside of the creative field are gardening (or at least attempting!), doing things around the house, reading, and hanging out with all the furry critters at my place!
Tiny Purple Critter, 2021 © Stitch and Bone
How did you live the pandemic? Any positive sides?
This is quite a hard question to answer. The pandemic has been such an odd time to live in – I would say for me there has been both the positive and negative. There has been a lot of stress with the uncertainty and fear of the unknown, financial stress, worrying about family and our business and how it would operate with the restrictions and lockdowns – not being able to really plan ahead. It was also very tough as my grandmother got very sick with terminal brain cancer at the start of the pandemic and that came with challenges such as border restrictions which made it really hard for a lot of family to come and see her and trying to keep her as healthy as possible for as long as possible through treatments was stressful.
That being said there has been glimmers of the positive – being forced to slow down I think has been good. As my grandparents live right down the road from us, we were able to spend more time with them due to the slower pace of life that COVID spawned. And as a lot of people started to work from home two of my uncles who live in cities came back home to help care for my grandmother for a year as they could work from wherever. So, I guess in a way the pandemic gave us time that we would not have had otherwise.
It has also been quite odd in the sense that as a person who has been living with a few quite serious chronic immune illnesses for almost 17 years I have always been quite aware of my health and the safekeeping of it – I don’t have the luxury of good health. And as it takes so much effort to try and stay ‘healthy’ I am more aware of getting sick, so I have always been very good at hand hygiene, staying away from people who are sick and all these little things that are now becoming the norm with COVID. So, it has been quite the thing to see health come to the forefront of thinking especially with all those lucky people who have never had to really give it much thought.
But it is definitely a time in history I would have been happy to have skipped that is for sure.
What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness to me is family (both human and furry critters), health, physical movement, a good book, time to unwind on my own (I am quite the introvert), a bit of Haighs chocolate and of course, time to create!
Violin Beetle, close-up, 2020 © Stitch and Bone
Your website seems to have be put on hold. Are you going to launch it now?
Ahhh the website! Getting a website up and running is still one of my ultimate goals and it seems to be alluding me at the moment! There are a few factors that contributed to the website being put on hold – my health, the pandemic and the general uncertainty that was around put me in a bit of a ‘wait and see’ bubble. I was also unsure about whether I would be able to continue making these little critters when I was having all these issues with my health and not being able to use my hands but now I have found answers and have started treatment I have been able to get back into creating and I am now able to think about the future of this creative venture which is exciting. So now I am turning my attention back to all things Stitch and Bone again, such as the website, and fingers crossed I can get it going soon!
Projects to come…
At the moment I am madly organising and creating pieces for an upcoming exhibition I am putting on in 2022. It is my very first exhibit and I am equal parts nervous and excited – I have not attempted something so big and it is slightly daunting but I am grabbing the opportunity with both hands!
Any artist, website, account, book you would recommend?
I am obsessed with vintage illustrations – especially anything to do with the natural world – and I am always on the hunt for undiscovered books to add to my collection at home and to feed my obsession! At the moment I would have to say I adore the book ‘Innumerable Insects’ by Michael S. Engel & Tom Baione (I get a lot of inspiration for my work from this book) and I love romanceofbooks Instagram account for vintage illustration. In regards to artists who I think are amazing I can’t get enough of I adore lemonpepperstudio, calacaceramicart, monstarmaker, megembroiders, felicityandink, hello.elena and the gardencurator Instagram accounts. And I have to absolutely mention my favourite feel-good accounts are wolfgang2242 and ladypigford – I always love seeing one of their posts pop up on my feed!
Rach Instagram account – https://www.instagram.com/stitch_and_bone/
Mole Cricket Critter, 2020 © Stitch and Bone