Using beautiful beads, fabrics, and Swarovski crystals, Rachel Gooden embroiders insects that don’t bug anybody.
Rachel Gooden has been making art since childhood, but the Australian artist learned embroidery and stumpwork only recently. During an especially challenging time in her life when she didn’t know if she’d ever be able to make art again, she picked up an embroidery hoop, fabric, thread, and needle for the first time and started stitching. When she discovered stumpwork, or raised embroidery work that results in a three-dimensional effect, her interest in the art form only grew.
With a fascination for insects, she has made the tiny, underappreciated creatures of nature the subjects of beautiful works of art. In fact, her embroidered insects are quickly gaining admirers on Instagram, and her hobby is becoming something more. Rachel shared her inspiring discovery of a new and growing passion.
How did you get started as an artist?
Art has always been a massive component in my life. For as long as I can remember, I have always been creating something! As a child, I was constantly drawing—nature was always a huge theme. I would find books in my grandparents’ house with illustrations of flora and fauna and attempt to create an exact copy of that image. As a result, my drawings back then were much more realistic, and it was only when I got to my late teens I started to experiment—stepping away from strict realism by adding a bit of imaginative context to my drawings. My first major body of work was during my final year at school for my visual arts class—that is when I started to grow in confidence and began to consider art as more than just a hobby. After I graduated high school, I went to university and dabbled in both the fine arts and graphic design.
When did you first try embroidery/stumpwork?
It was actually my sister who introduced me to embroidery about a year ago. At the time I had been pretty unwell for a good couple of years before being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, 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.
What drew you to insects as the subject for your work?
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 colors—essentially embodying our modern ideals of form, construction, and finish when it comes to the shapely, colorful, 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 “Get those creepy crawlies away from me!” A couple of years ago my parents gifted me with my first framed taxidermy insect for my birthday, and since then I continue to receive more every birthday and Christmas that comes around. I love them and they inspired me to attempt my own version—I have this image in my head of some of my own framed stumpwork beetles hanging in their own frames next to the real bugs! The critters I create are not realistic replications but rather fantastical representations—in a way I am exaggerating them into a “dressed-up” version. I keep the insect shape and embellish it—making it less bug-like by adorning it with beautiful beads, fabrics and Swarovski crystals. The funny thing is that I have had so many people who recoil from all insects and insect-related things say that they love my pieces because “they don’t have the creepy insect element”!
What’s the hardest part of your process?
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 color 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”! It always comes together in the end—perhaps not exactly the way I planned, but more often than not it is better, and through things not going exactly to plan I usually pick up new skills and techniques that aid future creations. I often have a strong visual idea of what I want to create, and it can be hard to bring that idea to life completely—what I end up with quite often is so far from that original idea! Sometimes the way I plan to construct an insect just does not work, and it is heartbreaking to realize that all the work you did is for nothing! Choosing the materials that make up each insect can be difficult—I am easily swayed by beautiful fabrics and shiny beads and crystals! I can see in my head an overall vision of what I would like to create, but when I see a beautiful fabric or cluster of colored threads I never even considered, the whole vision can be thrown into chaos! Once I commit, it is not a problem, but I just have to get there first!
What’s the most rewarding part?
So many things about this endeavor have been rewarding. The fact that there has been such a positive response to these little critters has been absolutely wonderful and completely unexpected, and I am so incredibly grateful. Stitch and Bone has been such a beautiful creative outlet for me and has added a sense of enrichment to my life. For a while I had lost all motivation to really create anything—I had virtually given up art because I couldn’t use many art materials as I had developed sensitivities and allergies from my illness and subsequent medications—and to find that spark again through attempting something I had never done before is amazing and, quite frankly, a reward in itself!
What embroidery/stumpwork pieces are you proudest of?
Every single one of my pieces evokes a sense of pride for me—trying to choose just one is impossible! As absolutely everything is done by hand on these pieces (not a machine in sight), they are very time-consuming, but I love the slight “imperfections” on them—I feel it adds a beautiful element to these insects with no two being the exact same. I am proud of all my little critters for different reasons—it is incredibly satisfying to have a finished piece despite any challenges that occurred during the creation process. And let me tell you, there has not been a single bug that has not presented a challenge during its manifestation! Some pieces, though, did require more work in terms of problem-solving, time, and tinkering—in particular any works featuring multiple bugs—so it is very rewarding when they work out. I also do have a soft spot for some pieces, though. I am quite fond of the wings of the cicada-inspired bug [above], and I love the color palettes of the green, red, and blue/grey little critters. I am also really feeling the two most recent pieces I have been working on [next two images]—I find the colors so rich and opulent!
What’s next for Stitch and Bone?
Continuing to create these little critters is at the top of the agenda—now that I have started, I am not sure I can stop! I am hoping to carve out more time to devote to this venture— currently I am fitting this around my full-time job, but I would like to make it more of a priority! Due to the wonderful response, I am also in the process of getting everything up and running—I am slowly but surely creating a website and getting everything ready to open up an online shop. Attempting to figure out how I would like to present these little critters to display them in the best way possible is also high on the to-do list, and I am currently playing around with making custom frames for them. Not once did I contemplate that I would be attempting such an endeavor, but here we are and it is very exciting!
Yes, it is! Can’t wait to see what you create next! Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I am so grateful for the positive response that this little hobby of mine has received! I absolutely love making these pieces, and the fact that there are people out there enjoying them is so incredibly amazing!
Keep up with Rachel Gooden’s beautiful embroidery and stumpwork on Instagram, and be on the lookout for her website and shop coming soon!