What is your earliest memory of a textile? An important textile from your childhood?
I grew up in a home where it wasn’t unusual to make the things you needed such as clothes, so I was aware of it from an early age. When we arrived in Canada my mother also went through training to be a seamstress and I learned many of my first skills from her. Later, at art school and afterwards, I eventually focused on fibre arts as a studio practice, working and experimenting with a number of fabric printing techniques which eventually became a business – sewing and making. So, it started early and continued with virtually everything I’ve done.
How did you become interested in textile work?
As a child I [had] always done textile work like sewing, embroidery and knitting because those were done in our home. At art school I worked with harder materials like wood, clay and metal but I recall a critique during grad studies where a professor sensed that I was struggling and she asked me “what is your first memory of making and how did it make you feel?” I immediately thought of hand sewing pieces sitting together next to my mum. I created a series of pieces that utilized sewing as a means of connecting, first with paper and then textiles and it has continued from that time.
You have a fine art background, Which artists inspire you?
When I was in art school, I was really fascinated with artists that incorporated textile work like Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, and Eva Hesse. I love the textile work by makers such as the woman of Gees Bend, their use of colour and composition is amazing.
What is your process when beginning a new project? What projects are you working on right now?
I am a planner and I like to make lists and create samples and maquettes before working on the project. I feel the planning process helps me to save a lot of time out of guesswork and helps me to problem solve. I also like to try out new techniques that I haven’t been exposed to before such as different ways of dying just to see what it’s all about. Quite often they’ll work their way into production work in ways that I would not have foreseen.
I just finished writing two books so I’m taking a bit of a break from the intense cocooning involved in book making. I am currently trying to get caught up on studio work.
What sparked your interest in botanical embroidery?
I’ve always loved drawing from nature, especially plants. I started collecting botanical fragments and using their details and structures as reference. But I like that you don’t have to be realistic with your interpretation. You can recreate them, make them up and combine them in different ways and they still reference something from nature.
What tips do you have for people just starting out in textile art?
I think textile work is very easy to get into, you don’t need a lot of specialized equipment or skills, and you can do a lot with just hand sewing. I would try as many different things as possible to find what you are most interested in since it is such a broad area of study and work. There are so many ways to take workshops, both online and in person, to explore different aspects and experiment at home.
You do a wonderful job of sharing your work on social media. How do you decide what to share, and what do you hope to impress upon your audience?
I want to share on social media the kind of things that I want to see. I like to share how I make something to take the mystery out of it and to show how accessible it is. I hope that it will inspire my audience to want to try new things or learn something new.
How would you describe your teaching practice? What do you hope to impart to students?
My teaching practice is casual, approachable and conversational and not formal. I want [students] to feel excited to explore new techniques and [empower] them to see that the possibilities are endless.
Arounna is teaching Botanical Embroidery on Saturdays June 3rd, 10th, and 17th!
Arounna Khounnoraj is a Canadian artist and maker working in Toronto where she immigrated with her family from Laos at the age of four. While her education includes a master’s degree in fine arts in sculpture and ceramics, it was through subsequent residencies that she found her current focus in fibre arts. In 2002 she started bookhou, a multi-disciplinary studio with her husband John Booth, where Arounna explores screen printing and a variety of textile techniques such as embroidery and punch needle. She creates objects such as bags, home goods and textile art.
Arounna has explored a wide range of techniques, methods, and materials that express a passion for everyday creativity and the importance of the handmade in everyone’s life. Her work emphasizes slow design, intuitive thinking, and the importance of handwork. She teaches workshops on a variety of fibre arts and crafts, both in Canada and internationally. She also collaborates with magazines, blogs, and artists in creating social media and DIY projects. Arounna has previously published Punch Needle, (2019) and Visible Mending (2020), and Embroidery (2022).