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Enchanting Embroideries by Rachel Gooden, An interview with the School of Stitched Textiles.

Rachel Gooden: Enchanting Embroidery & Taxidermy Stumpwork

Discover the most beautiful and intricate hand embroidered pieces by Stitch and Bone: The home of handcrafted embroideries, inspired by nature’s most fascinating inhabitants and uniquely created by artist, Rachel Gooden. As the creator behind this captivating venture, Rachel delves into the exquisite art of stumpwork embroidery, weaving her fascination for the natural world, particularly insects, into intricate and fantastical creations.

From the earliest days of her existence, Rachel has been an avid creator, drawn to the allure of artistry and an ardent collector of curiosities. Her affinity for “things” and the mesmerising beauty of the natural world converge in Stitch and Bone’s exquisite pieces. Inspired by her collection of taxidermy insects and a deep-seated appreciation for the diversity of shapes, colours, and sizes found in nature’s tiny wonders, Rachel Gooden brings these critters to life in a wholly unique way.

Nestled in Rural Australia, Rachel’s studio serves as the birthplace of each meticulously designed and delicately stitched masterpiece. Every creation is a testament to her artistic vision, with no two pieces identical, each boasting its distinct charm and allure.

While rooted in the tradition of stumpwork embroidery, Stitch and Bone exude a modern flair, infusing this time-honoured craft with contemporary elements. Rachel’s hope is that these whimsical critters not only find a place in someone’s collection but also serve as a muse, sparking inspiration and forging connections that endure a lifetime.

We caught up with Rachel Gooden to discuss her career to date and uncover more about her inspiration and creative processes. 

Rachel Gooden

Artists behind Stitch and Bone Embroidered creations, Rachel Gooden

“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 pieces, antiques and collectables.”

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I am gearing up to start work on several pieces for some of my upcoming group exhibitions so I have quite a few pieces scattered around my work desk in varying stages of completion – something that is not my usual style of working I must admit! Usually I like to work on one piece at a time but I have so many ideas in my head at the moment it is like I have this urge to just get them all out! 

So currently I have pieces that are nothing more than a scribble on a piece of paper, piles of beads, crystals and fabrics grouped into colour palettes, four sets of individual wings with no insect body to attach to, two half completed insect bodies with no wings and a few properly completed insect sketches with the chosen materials for construction. Oh, and three half completed Bee inspired insects. So my work desk is a bit of a chaotic mess currently but things are underway! 

Embroidered insect by Embroidery artists Rachel Gooden.
Embroidered insect by Embroidery artists Rachel Gooden.
Stumpwork bug by Australian embroidery artist, Rachel Gooden

How did you get into embroidery?

The first time I picked up an embroidery needle was when I was 28. It was my sister who introduced me (and quite frankly herself!) to it! She does like to claim that she taught me everything that I know when it comes to embroidery but we both know that the internet was our embroidery teacher! 

At the time I had been pretty unwell for a good couple of years before being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, Systemic Lupus and Myositis (among other things). As a result I was spending a lot of time at home and was on the lookout for things I could do that did not require much energy that I could do at home. One of my sisters decided on a whim 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 piece.

Finished embroidered insect, hand crafted by Rachel Gooden

I’m guessing that you find lots of inspiration in your surroundings for the gorgeous insects you create? Can you talk us through the process of creating them from inspiration to completion?

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 pieces, 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.

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 on what catches my eye first – form or materials. I usually 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! However I must admit I have been making myself do this more over the last few months! Usually though I tend to get a really strong visual in my mind and 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 tend to work on the wings first before moving on to the body, then the legs, the beading and all the little finishing touches but at the moment with my current pieces I seem to have thrown this process out the window! 

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 a piece there is always a point during the process 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 workaround or work with the ‘problem’!

The stumpwork-type pieces you create are 3D, so there must be quite a bit of work that goes into taking a drawing into a number of pattern pieces and creating the basic support structure – how do you go about this?

Figuring out the construction of these insects was quite the journey! The world of embroidery and stitching – let alone stumpwork! – was completely foreign to me so my knowledge of all the stitches and techniques is not that extensive. When it comes to textiles I am completely self taught – 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 my 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.

When it comes to the construction of the three dimensional elements I do it all by eye and gut-feel – freehand with no patterns or anything like that. For the wings I use a very thin wire to create a bit of support and for the body of the insect I like to use felt for the layering and let me tell you there are many, many layers and they are quite compact! When I get it to the shape and height I am after I hand stitch on the beads, crystals, velvet, leatherette and metal threads. So it is all very time consuming but in the end I think it is worth it! 

As someone whose background is in Graphic Design, Photography and Fine Art, how much of that has carried over into your textiles career? How much did it add to the artist you are today?

One of the things I have learnt about myself over the years is that I appear to be one of those people who is always trying new creative fields and as a result I seem to be able to do a little bit of everything creative-wise but not a lot of one thing! Art has been a constant component in my life – I have dabbled in any art form I could get my hands on! From exploring on my own to tinkering around with Graphic Design, Photography and Fine Arts at university I cannot help but be drawn to anything creative and yes, my background in all of these has definitely influenced my art today in how I go about creating it and how I present it.

I think my background with other art forms allows me to be more hands on with this creative venture as a whole. In my mind I have a very clear visual of how I want to present Stitch and Bone and my work – the colour palette, photography, graphics and feel. I have been told that when it comes to these little critters and Stitch and Bone, I can get quite persnickety! I think that this clear vision I have and my experience with other art mediums is why I am so hands on with all aspects and have been able to create something that I feel is very much me. This is something I feel is quite important as what I create is very much an extension of me, something that makes me happy, and I want that feeling to be conveyed through Stitch and Bone as a whole. That being said, this creative venture has been a learning experience from the get go – equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking – and when I was really stuck on something Google was always there to help! 

Are there times when you get stuck for inspiration? What is it that gets you motivated again?

I feel like it is in no way too dramatic to say that getting stuck in a creative rut is the pits! I would have to say that this year has been the hardest year I have had in regard to getting stuck for inspiration. It has been a year of interruptions. When I felt like I was just getting back into it something would happen and would disrupt the creative flow and throw me off course! Luckily I seem to be coming out of it. I think this could in part be due to the enormous workload I seem to have accumulated for the coming year. The excitement for these opportunities has sparked it all again. Who knows?!

I find that when I am lacking creative inspiration the worst thing I can do is try to force it (something I totally tried this year!) as it just makes it worse. You feel guilty for not being able to do something you usually can’t wait to do and you just think ‘what is going on?!’ Eventually I just stopped thinking about creating at all and just waited. In the end I would go to my workspace and tidy it up – re-organise my materials and tools and the space in general. I find that re-organising is what gets my creative juices flowing. Physically touching and moving all my materials and tools allows my brain to get a broader scope. More often than not, I will chance upon colour palettes and textile groupings by accident and I will think ‘a little beetle would look snazzy in those colours’. Or I will see a vintage illustration in one of my books and think ‘that is an interesting shape’ and before you know it the brain will start ticking and I usually get back on track. But yes, getting stuck for inspiration is an artist’s worst nightmare!

How do you go about selling and marketing your work? 

Oh my – the selling and marketing of my work is without a doubt what I find to be the most challenging part of being an artist! And I am yet to find the sweet spot with that! 

I am quite the introvert so the scariest and most nerve-wracking part of Stitch and Bone was not only putting my work out there but attaching myself to my work! I am very much someone who likes to stay in the shadows and let my work do the talking. But I have come to realise that a very important part of selling and marketing is showing the face and hands behind the art as people like to know who makes what they are buying. I know myself that I love seeing and meeting the person behind the work I buy and follow on Instagram but when it comes to doing it myself I am terrible! But I am getting a bit better at it I hope! 

In all honesty it is just trial and error and finding what you feel comfortable doing. It is also something that takes up a lot more time than you think it will – especially when you are trying to figure it all out at the start! For me finding time was something I found hard. I had to be quite disciplined with this because everything to do with this creative venture was done in the hours outside of my full-time job, family and other commitments. As an artist all I want to do is create – my mind is focussed on that – so I seriously underestimated the amount of work that goes into everything else! But I found that when I had managed to set up the ‘big’ stuff – Instagram, website, the admin/business things – it became something that is a bit more manageable because you are no longer looking at everything you have to do but rather all the little bits and pieces. That being said I still have so much to learn and in turn, implement into Stitch and Bone but compared to when I first started it is coming along! 

Any advice for our students on how to set up a textile business selling hand created items?

My advice is to break it all down – don’t think about everything you have to do to start a business for your art because it will seem way too much and incredibly overwhelming! 

Outsourcing is good for things that are way outside your skill set. However, if there is a skill you can learn to help you do something and keep costs down then go for it! I found that I really enjoyed learning all these new skills. It also helped to build up a bit of confidence too. Google has been my best teacher. Through it I’ve learned how to build a website, frame my artworks myself and use programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create my own graphics. Also, don’t be afraid to ask people for advice! I spoke to other artists, people who owned their own business (not just art-related business), accountants, professional framers and photographers – anyone and everyone! – so I could be more hands on with my overall vision for Stitch and Bone.

What do you have coming up that we should look out for?     

I have so many ideas for this creative venture floating around in my head. The real trouble with it all is figuring out and deciding which ideas are the ones to chase! 2024 is shaping up to be a bit of a busy one for Stitch and Bone which is quite exciting! I have a few group exhibitions littered throughout the year (in Australia and overseas) which is lovely so that will take up a large chunk of my attention with the planning and creating of those pieces. I do have all these little ideas that I have half planned scribbled in notebooks around my workspace. Maybe this year will be the time that I follow through with some of them – who knows?!

Follow Rachel Gooden by visiting her website or follow her on Instagram.

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