Creativity curses through Rachel Rutt’s veins. The former model turned maker, mender and artist has a considered and thoughtful approach to life, which shows up in all her artistic output. Having knitted since age 15, her debut knitwear brand, RUTT Australia, promises to be a slow-paced salve in a world that champions hyper-consumption. The pieces are as snugly as they are snazzy, and there’s every chance that once you toss them on, you’ll never want to take them off again.
We spoke to Rachel recently about unlearning the “Work. Consume. Repeat.” mantra that’s drilled into us from an early age, her journey towards self-discovery and self-pleasure, and the thrill of slowing down and taking stock of life and all the wonderful people who fill it.
Maddy Woon: Hi! Can you give us the Rachel Rutt elevator pitch? (i.e. Who are you and what do you do?)
Rachel Rutt: I’m a maker, mender, artist, and a champion of slow, thoughtful impact and making.
How long have you been knitting? When did you take it from hobby to serious creative pursuit?
I’ve been knitting since I was 15. I think with any creative pursuit, it branches out from being a hobby when you start collaborating with others and sharing your work in the world beyond your family and friends. Because I’ve been working in fashion for so many years, and sharing and showcasing is such an innate part of the industry, this happened pretty early on, probably before I even realised it was. Over the years I’ve taken many opportunities to collaborate and release small collections, but at the same time, it’s a practice that is very personal, and very much a way that I choose to communicate my feelings just for myself.
What do you love about the physical practices of knitting and weaving? What effects do they have on you?
I love that knitting can be unravelled. The woman who taught me how to knit said that as a child, when she outgrew her jumper, her mother unravelled it and then used the same yarn to knit her a bigger one. An incredibly practical and beautiful process. It’s even a bit wabi-sabi. Then there’s that thought about mistakes in life... and how we can get so bogged down with “ruining” something that we hit a wall and can’t turn around... Knitting reminds me that you can always change your direction, your perspective. You can go back and fix things or you can start again, it isn’t the end of the world. Maybe it’s an exercise in forgiving yourself, too.
Weaving is pretty different from knitting, but I do think it’s amazing how both of these methods for making cloth have been discovered and developed by cultures the world over. Now that I use both of these practices in my work, I have found weaving to be fairly rigid structurally (you really have to work within its set boundaries) while knitting has the capacity to be highly freeform. My relationship with each shifts constantly; I often adopt one when I need a definitive break from the other.
Tell us about RUTT Australia. What are you hoping to achieve with the brand?
RUTT Australia is for fun and happiness. The designs are uncomplicated and bold with colour. They are made with people in mind who I adore and whose style I admire, but always real people that I actually know, because real life is infinitely more interesting than a fantasy in a photograph. Because it’s mostly made to order, it’s a simple way also to observe what people really want, without trends, and make the experience individual, which is what handmade is all about. Local, organic, gentle, really liveable pieces that are also exciting and genuine is my goal. A reliable boost for any outfit or mood that adds to your quality of life.
The world has been in lockdown for a few months now, forcing a slower, more mindful existence for many people. How have you been spending your time? And do you see any potential for positive change because of the changes we’ve had to adapt to?
I have used this time to develop my ideas, experiment with my creations, and actively relinquish worrying about the typical concerns and stresses of society to pursue wealth, possessions, status, to compete, etc. I am loving that everyone is allowed more time to eat well, take care of themselves, and remember how wonderful friends and family are. We are being given an opportunity to dislodge from the ingrained “Work. Consume. Repeat.” cycle and perhaps getting away from this will allow us to creatively expand other facets of existence. For example, it challenges the need for the typical 9 to 5 work day, when perhaps people work optimally within less hours, being inspired by the thought that other pursuits could be also added to the same time frame.
Par Femme is all about pleasure, sensuality and empowerment. How has your relationship with these things changed over time? Why do you think these things have been taboo subjects, for women especially?
Right now I feel like I’m only just really discovering my body in terms of knowing what I want and need—listening and investigating. I wasn’t really conscious that I could even do that until recently, and I’ve since been consistently surprised, and also comforted by it. I realise that I can never fully know everything, and that every day, month or year might present something new and that’s OK. A big part of the journey has been learning to talk about it. I think I shied away from that for a while because I felt like a lot of female and feminine conversation has in the past been based on criticism and sexuality as an outward reflection rather than inner. I never felt comfortable because I haven’t agreed with the idea of presenting myself to please others, and as I have gotten older I’ve welcomed the conversation that has been opening up on self-love and appreciation nourishing stronger relationships and happiness.
For me, looking at the domestic roles of women in almost every culture, for the known history of the world, I think a lot of the taboo has risen from the impositions of tribalistic survival mechanisms and religious dogma remaining within our social consciousness today even though times have and are changing.
Why is self-pleasure important?
Knowing what pleasures me is part of meeting myself, getting to know who I find, and growing more comfortable and in touch with it. For me this is important because I think that all of our outer relationships stem from our inner, most personal one with ourselves. If we can’t be happy within ourselves, and self pleasure is a big part of that, then we can’t bring happiness to others.
What do you wish you’d learned in sex education at school?
That your pubescent body changes are not the only physical changes that you will experience throughout your life, especially as a woman. That from one day to the next your desires will fluctuate. That you are not ruled by your body, that you can actively contribute to its wellness. Basically that our psychological relationship with our bodies is the same as our physical relationship, that it’s all connected and getting to know the vastness of these connections is one of the most important factors in our lives.
How do you keep your mind stimulated?
I read a lot of science fiction and poetry. I subscribe to daily poem emails from the Paris Review and buy physical copies of their periodical when I can. With poetry I find it has the ability to recall for a heartbeat some intangible and fleeting memory, even ones that I didn’t know I had or that perhaps don’t belong to me. It allows me to feel for a tiny moment some proof of the sadness of being alive, that in turn brings a calm sense of peace and a sense of connectivity to all things, which is an important stimulant for me.
I like science fiction because a good story will always challenge the same problems and ideals of the non fiction worlds but provide an alternate scenario in which to do so. I like to provoke my reflexes of conditioning by reflecting myself within an alternate universe. My favourite authors are Ursula Le Guin and Frank Herbert. I have been deep into The Incal, a graphic novel series from Alejandro Jodorowsky for the past few years, too.
What do you appreciate most about your body?
Most recently that my body is a mystery that I will spend my whole life investigating, that will no doubt keep me guessing and surprised.