Making Conversation with Arounna Khounnoraj
Arounna's story tells of her deeply personal connection to making that began in the home during childhood and continues in the creative spirit shared by her children. From inspiration to finished product, Arounna's passions for material, form, process and experimentation are key to her personal and creative growth.
Together with her husband John Booth, Arounna co-founded Bookhou–a multidisciplinary studio showcasing their individual and collaborative work from textiles to woodwork–including patterns, tools, and finished goods for makers.
Arounna is the author of Visible Mending: A Modern Guide to Darning, Stitching and Patching the Clothes You Love and Punch Needle: Master the Art of Punch Needling Accessories for You and Your Home available now, and the upcoming book Embroidery: A Modern Guide to Botanical Embroidery coming soon. View the shop at bookhou.com and follow on Instagram @bookhou.
/ listen /
/ notes & resources /
- Arounna Khounnoraj / bookhou.com
- Bojagi Patchwork with Arounna / Making app class
- Arounna's upcoming book / Embroidery: A Modern Guide to Botanical Embroidery
/ giveaway: harrisville designs /
The perfect introduction to the punch needle process–each kit provides everything you need to create a unique wall hanging inspired by the colors and shapes of Autumn foliage and flora, including 5 balls of Harrisville Designs' Turbine yarn, punch needle template, monk's cloth, and an 8x10 inch frame.
To enter this giveaway, download our new app, Making, and leave a comment on today's podcast episode post. Find us in the Apple App Store with a search for "Making." And if you don't have an iPhone–not to worry. We'll be releasing the Android app in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can enter by commenting on the episode blog post at makingzine.com.
The biggest of thanks to everyone involved in this weeks episode, Arounna, Harrisville Designs, the Making team and our producer Alice Anderson. I hope you'll join me each week as we talk and learn from more fascinating makers. For podcast notes and transcription, visit makingzine.com. Have a wonderful week!
Click to show transcript.
Ashley [00:00:05] Welcome to Making Conversation, a podcast for makers where we share with you some incredible people within this community we love so much. Here's where you get to listen to a little part of their making journey. I'm your host Ashley Yousling. Today, I'm talking with Arounna Khounnoraj of Bookhou. It's no secret that Arounna is a powerhouse in the creative world. Whether working as an artist, designer, maker, instructor and even as a student, Arounna's passion for one of a kind creations has followed her throughout her life's journey. Arounna's story tells of her deeply personal connection to making that began in the home during childhood and continues in the creative spirit shared by her children. From inspiration to finished product arounna's passions for material, form, process and experimentation are key to her personal and creative growth. Together with her husband, John Booth, Arounna co-founded Bookhou, a multidisciplinary studio showcasing their individual and collaborative work from textiles to woodwork, including patterns, tools and finished goods for makers. Arounna is the author of Visible Mending: A Modern Guide to Darning, Stitching and Patching the Clothes You Love and Punch Needle: Master the Art of Punch Needling Accessories for You and Your Home. Both are available now, and she has an upcoming book Embroidery: A Modern Guide to Botanical Embroidery coming soon. View the shop at bookhou.com and follow on Instagram @Bookhou. And with that, here's Arounna.
Arounna Khounnoraj[00:01:43] You know, we came to Canada when I was four years old and we didn't have a lot of money. And so my parents would pretty much make everything that we needed like my mom would make my clothes. She wouldn't buy anything like pre-made, food wise she'd make everything from scratch. And my dad worked for Knoll so he would bring home sort of like discarded furniture pieces or broken things and would you know build me a shelf, build me a chair, and all these different things that I needed. And so it was that kind of mentality that kind of stuck with me throughout my youth and then as an adult and I, I really like that idea of wanting to make things, you know, just for basic necessities. And then I think always working on things kind of gave me room for creativity. And I think that that's how it kind of came about was sort of like making things at home and then deciding that the best sort of direction for me was going to art school because I enjoyed working with my hands. And so I think that that sort of was the beginning of it. And I think that's sort of where the seed was planted and having this sort of life where I'm I'm making things and I think it's, I think it's great. I can't see myself doing anything else. I remember for a while when I was in school I was interested in architecture. But for me, architecture just seems like it was more structured than just doing like art. Yeah. And so I applied to art school, and when I was in school, I kind of pursued art in a more formal way. So I studied fine arts and I did sculptural work, and I used a lot of sort of hard materials like bronze and clay and cement. And then when I went to grad school, they were asking me, you know, they felt like the work that I was doing didn't feel like it was really authentically me. They felt like it was sort of like I was going through the motions of creating this work. And so one of my professors was asking me, you know, try to think back to kind of what you feel that brings you like the most comfort. And so my earliest memory of comfort is hand sewing and working beside my mother while she was making my clothes. And I started kind of switching the work a little bit, and so I started creating pieces where I was hands stitching fabric together and I was dipping them in wax to kind of give it a little bit more structure. And I was crocheting these little organic forms and then dipping them in in salt, because salt was this material that was also connected to my childhood. Because my mother, when she would be making sausages, she'd be using like casings and then they would be, you know, in a kind of salt brine. And so I just remember sitting there as a kid with like salt crystals on my nails and thinking how I wanted to lick them, but then realized that they were like, you know, kind of intestines and you just kind of like, grossed out. But I remember doing that in university and grad school, kind of sitting there, dipping it and having all this crustation on my fingers and building up the layers. And there was just something about the process of making these pieces that were taking a long time that made me kind of almost slow down. I guess what I'm trying to say is the work was very much based on the process of making rather than the end result. So what it look like in the end wasn't necessarily what the piece was about. It was about the sort of meditative quality of sitting there, doing the same thing over and over again and then feeling like a connection to the piece in that way.
Ashley[00:05:27] The idea of comfort and making takes on a lot of different forms for different people. Sometimes it's a refuge. Sometimes it's this kind of mode of healing. And when you think about the role of comfort and progress, how has that played out in your work over time?
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:05:45] I think for me, comfort is definitely the feeling that you get from the calmness of doing something that's really repetitive. And I think that it's kind of like the reason why people meditate as well, that slowing down and really kind of absorbing what your body is doing and your hand gestures and that sort of repetition. I think that that's how the comfort comes in because it becomes almost something familiar, something that you're used to, something you understand. And I think that that sort of memory of those actions is sort of what brings the comfort. I think that that's what was really interesting about doing textile work for me and moving away from more of the harder materials because the harder materials became a different way of thinking because a lot of it was very technically based and a lot of it had to do with fast movements and fast action, like if you're working with bronze, you know you're you're pouring really hot metal and everything is like on a quicker sort of way of thinking. But the moment I had slowed down to kind of do things that were more, you know, purposeful, it really changed sort of my mindsets. And a lot of the times, you know, like when I'm working, it's it's almost like you're thinking about the work so much that it almost calms your head down a bit. It's like I remember somebody talking about how sometimes they have trouble going to sleep because their mind is always racing. And I find like the kind of work that I do, it stops my mind from racing because it's like I'm concentrating on this really particular action. I find so much comfort just sitting on the couch with like a big piece of tapestry on my lap and just stitching like I find like, that's the most, you know, the sitting there with the podcast and just sort of listening. And there's something so kind of almost magical doing that. And I'm sure other people who do sort of similar activities understand what that feeling is and how it is. You know, production is really difficult work because it's it is really boring because I mean, it's like it's you're sitting there cutting hundreds and hundreds of pieces of fabric. And there's no real kind of joy in that because it's just work. It just becomes work. And so I need to have a balance of other activities that even though it still looks like I'm I'm doing the same thing like I'm still crafting, but it's like a different technique or it's a different sort of thought process. I feel that I need that in order to kind of balance the production work, and that's why I'm always sort of interested in different techniques, different ways of working, because I never know if something that I'm doing, how that's going to inform future work. I feel like I like having that sort of openness to different things just to kind of try and see how, how it happens and how like, one of the things that I really enjoy about about my work is seeing how things change, like when I was doing the punch needle work, like taking my paintings and then translating that painting into a template for the punch, you know, and then adding the colored yard and just seeing how the design changed through the different processes. And I really like seeing that. And then also making adjustments and changes as you go along because I don't feel like it's always, you know, a plus B equals C like, I feel like there's always back and forth. And so that's what I like about doing different things while I'm doing the production work.
Ashley [00:09:11] Mhmm. Taking a step back, one of the things that you mentioned was that your dad worked at Knoll and he brought home pieces and would make furniture. Do you feel like the style or the influence, or even your dad in some way imparted something on you through that kind of experience through the years?
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:09:34] Yeah, I mean, I definitely feel that that's sort of the aesthetic that I'm really drawn to and growing up in a northern climate like Canada. You know, other places like in Scandinavia and also in Japan, they have that sort of similar aesthetic and all the grays and the and all the different sort of earth tones. There's a real kind of almost simplicity to the work, and I feel that that has really carried through into what I do and also to understand the purity of a material. So if you're working with, you know, a piece of wood or a piece of fabric to kind of keep the integrity of that material and not like take wood and like paint it or something like that to kind of change, change the quality of it. And I think that that purity of materials is something that has really stuck with me and that you could see in my work. And that's why the work has that kind of earthy, natural quality. And I always try to keep my palette really sort of of the colors of of the Earth and not be so kind of overly saturated. And I think that that sort of minimalism has kind of carried through in the way we live and the way we make our work. I mean, our home is really minimal and the reason why it's that way is because I just feel like I work with so much texture and color and pattern all day long that I need sort of like that come in my sort of living space. And so everything is very kind of neutral and, you know, devoid of all of the unnecessary things. And that's how we've been trying to live. And especially with our move this recently to Montreal, we've been really kind of trying to think about having things in our home that is very purposeful. Like I, we always think if we're going to get something, even if it's like something like a bowl or a plate or cup is like, are we going to use it? Will we use it? Because I don't want to be sort of collecting things and gathering things if they're not going to get used and loved and if they're just going to be sort of there on display or something, I feel like everything in our home needs to have a purpose. And I feel like that sort of philosophy comes through in for that sort of minimalist aesthetic, and maybe some people would think it's too devoid of things. But I just find that like even the artwork, it's mostly our own artwork and it's our drawings or our friend's work. And we don't have like a lot of decoration. And I think that's what that esthetic is about. It's about the purity of the materials and the forms and not having so much. It's not about accumulation, it's about having a few things, special things, and they're going to be well used and well-loved rather than this idea of accumulation. And, you know, things that are not well made, things that are like mass produced and then filling your place with all these items, you know? I think that that's what's kind of carried through with my thinking and my thought process is to have things that are really well-made around you and sort of to hang on to and keep.
Ashley [00:12:36] Mhmm. When you approach, you know, your physical world in that way or the things that you have in your home and you're making in that way, each piece holds like a memory or a story. Does your your work over the years tell a story?
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:12:53] I definitely think that my work through the years has a story to it, and it's also the work becomes a catalog of my sort of journey in making, and I even look at how I take pictures because I do a lot of photography for, like our website and for social media and even just looking at how I take photographs and how I see things and how I'm looking at things, that progression is really wonderful to see and sometimes embarrassing. When you look at old stuff, you're like, Oh my gosh, I can't believe I did that. So I definitely see that. And what I what I notice now, like I would say in the past five years, I'm using color a lot more, which is really kind of nice because I'm not a colorful person. Like, I don't wear a lot of color. We don't live with a lot of color and sort of kind of bring the color into the work has been kind of enjoyable, and I think it all kind of started with during the punch needle work because I'm working with all these colorful yarn and then, you know, more of the paintings that I do and then as well as with like the patchwork that I'm doing that I'm really enjoying adding a lot of like the naturally dyed fabrics that go with my prints because I did do that patchwork a long time ago, like, you know, 20 years ago. But it was mostly just my prints and there was no color. And then the moment I added the color, it's just like a whole different thing in itself. So I definitely feel that there the story behind it is very much connected to my journey as a maker, as an artist, just trying to, you know, try different things and my tastes has changed a bit and just trying to add a little bit of different things. And I feel that adding that bit of color has really almost kind of revitalized what I was doing, like, I felt like I was kind of going through like a very comfortable path and I think that adding the different techniques and adding the different elements has really kind of revitalized me as a maker to it's like it's really got me excited about the things that I'm going to make in the future and things that I'm making now. So it's really kind of nice to to have that. And that's why I think it's so important as makers that we always kind of embrace change because I used to teach at university and a lot of the students would be really stuck on feeling like they have to be really good at something. And then that's like their niche and they can't go outside of that niche. So if they were working on jewelry, it's like, Oh no, I would never think of incorporating anything else. It's just metal work. And, you know, I mean, everybody has different comfort levels for that. But I think it's so important to experience different things, try different things, even if you're not going to use it in your work, even if you're not going to have anything to do it, it's always great to try it and to just see how it would really change your work. And so, you know, trying a different technique for me has really kind of opened the door to seeing my work in a different way and then adding different elements to other aspects of my work. And that journey is sort of what I enjoy about making because I don't think your journey of making should always be about just working. It should be about exploring. It should be about creativity. It should be about collaboration. It should be about just all these different things like it's more than just us in our studio.
Ashley [00:16:10] Mhmm. Are there any particular pieces over the years or projects that hold particularly special memories for you?
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:16:19] Well, right now, I mean, I definitely enjoy working with my husband John, he makes furniture. And so I've been doing like these sort of cushion tops with punch needle on top of his stools. And I've really enjoyed that collaboration because textiles and would always have a great marriage like they're always so lovely together. And so it's really nice to see those two materials together. So I definitely enjoy doing that and we've done other sort of collaborative pieces, you know, with textiles. But this one is by far my favorite, and we'll probably end up doing more and maybe bigger pieces. And then the other kind of work that I've really enjoyed doing is the patchwork, and I have this fantasy of being a quilter, but I don't have the patience to make like such a huge quilt because I just I'm so anxious to go on to the next piece. And so I end up making sort of like small wall hangings, and I feel like that sort of satisfies me. So what I like to do is I collect all the tiniest little scraps that I have, and then I really enjoy kind of arranging them together. I think it's the same sort of satisfaction as like putting a puzzle together. And I think that that's what the patch work is for me. It's like that problem solving and then just seeing how colors work together and patterns work together. I find it's such an enjoyable process, and it also combines the other things that I enjoy, like handwork. So when all the pieces are put together, you know, hand stitching all the layers together. So it kind of brings together all the techniques that I enjoy working. But yeah, I definitely will be doing more of that. And when I retire from production work, that's probably where I would be doing my work is. That's our goal is to kind of try in the next five years to return to doing more art related things. So like John with his paintings and even doing bigger furniture projects, and then for me, going back to more of creating one of a kind pieces, you know, and I don't want to say sculpture, because sculpture is kind of like, there's so many things that could be included in that. So for me, it would be more just one of a kind pieces, whether being sculpture or textile, wall hangings or just anything. I want to kind of work towards making those kind of pieces because that's the part where I enjoy the most. And that was probably one of the problems with, you know, when you start a business and you're doing everything yourself, and then when it comes time to bringing more people in, you know, it's it's always hard to kind of relinquish that control. And so that would probably be one of my biggest mistakes and in our business is not having more people help. And then, of course, that puts a lot of pressure on you to kind of do so much. And then it takes a lot of your energy away from doing other sort of creative work instead of just kind of running the business.
Ashley [00:19:07] So taking a step back and one of the things you mentioned was collecting these things that are used and loved, right? And how have you found over the years that you've been able to or maybe not successfully been able to pass that onto your kids?
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:19:24] Yeah, I just I've always kept like what they wear and what they use to a bare minimum. They don't have a lot of different things. And I think that as they grew up with that they kind of understand the value of things, so when they get something, they try to find the best of that thing and they only have like one of that thing. Piper had these stripey pants that she just loved, and she would only wear those pants and I was constantly mending them. And yeah, they definitely are drawn towards certain things, and I try to keep that sort of idea of minimalism down. I remember her going to school one day and says, you know, I have this friend who has a different pair of shoes for every outfit she wears, you know, and Piper literally just wears the same sneakers all day long and that's the only pair of shoes she has and she's just she couldn't understand that. For her, it was more of the, you know, she just wants to get up, get dressed and go just the whole idea of slowing down and thinking about what shoes go with whatever she's wearing. Like, she just thought that whole process was just too much for her to think about in the morning. And I think it's good for them to think that way because I also want them to think about, you know, the value of money, like how you spend your money and consumerism. I don't want them to have so many of these things. One of the things that I'm really happy about, which I didn't really push onto Piper, but she loves buying secondhand clothes. She goes to the secondhand stores and she goes with her friends and they they pick up things and she loves it. She loves that these things have a history. And I never once said to her, Okay, well, if you want to buy clothes, go to a second hand store or go there. She just automatically had that sort of thought in her head, and I I think it's just from the way she was brought up. So it's kind of nice to see that kind of coming through. And like, even when they were little, we had a lot of friends who had older children. Both my kids had hand-me-downs. And it's just we never really kind of pushed this idea of fashion and they had to have these particular items. And I and I love that they were able to kind of see that in how they're doing things. Sometimes when I do like a video on mending I always get a handful of people saying, oh why bother just buy another pair of socks or whatever. And it's just, I'm trying to explain to them that it's not about, you know, I know it's the time and energy to fixing it. But the idea is not to add so much to the world. Like, even though I make things, I'm very conscious of how the things are used in the studio. Like, I use every piece of fabric, every piece of remnant. It goes into something else and try to kind of really cut down on the waste. Because even though I enjoy making and doing things, I want to not add so much to the world. And so I sometimes get asked why I don't make more of something because the demand is so high. I just don't want to. This is what it is, and I'm not going to make hundreds of something just because I know it's going to sell. That's not really how I want to kind of leave my imprint on the world. And so I want to make things, make them very purposeful. Make sure that, you know, I put my all into it, and it's not about just pumping things out, you know? And so that's what I'm trying to explain to them.
Ashley [00:22:42] It's all about a balance. Yes, the materials that we use matter. But what matters more is consuming less.
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:22:51] I think that's sort of what led me to to write my Visible Mending book. Like, the idea behind the book was it had like a theme of repair, renew, and reuse, and that was basically the three words that was part of it. So the book wasn't just about darning and repairing holes and sweaters, it was also about trying to be creative and like taking what you had in your studio. So one of the pieces that I really like was an indigo dyed quilt, and it was all made from, you know, old bed sheets. So those were dyed and the old bed sheets dye the best because they've been washed so many times that they absorb the colors so well. And so making it into something new. And then like, I also had some projects where I was block printing on like a sweatshirt, you know, something that maybe you don't really want to wear anymore, but then adding that or embroidery to the piece to kind of bring new life into it because especially with clothing, clothing is probably one of the most consumed items and the most harmful to the environment. And so I wanted to kind of create more of a dialog with what we wear and to kind of extend the life of their use. And so by trying to reinvent and sort of see it in a different light so that we can kind of put those pieces of clothing back into rotation and still keep them and use them. And I think also when you're spending that time stamping on it or stitching on it or any kind of work to it, I think that it really makes us appreciate that piece more too, because we kind of develop the relationship with them. And that's like the same relationship as like a knitter would if they're creating a sweater, it's like that sweater becomes, you know, something that they've spent months on, and that's the problem right now is that we don't have that relationship with our clothing because things are made so cheaply that the amount of time it takes for you to repair something, it's too much time. It's almost like a luxury to kind of do that rather than just buy something new. And it's interesting how how it has evolved in the past 20 years so quickly because I remember growing up and our time wasn't as valuable as the money that we would have to go and buy something. So my mom would repair things or make things because her time wasn't as valuable as having to go and purchase something like to purchase something new, a new dress or something, like that amount of money would just be like way too much to spend, but for her to spend a few hours to make something was a better sort of solution, whereas nowadays we're so busy with things that. And so what I was trying to kind of get people to understand too with mending is that it was also a way for you to slow down and to kind of reflect on what it is that you're doing. It's going back to kind of trying to get people to think more purposefully. And I think that the reason why it's become popular and taking off mending is that there's something about it that when you repair a hole, it becomes, and I think also it has to do with just the past couple of years, with all of us going through so much with the pandemic. I feel that it also becomes an emotional thing. It's like when you're repairing something, you're kind of mending yourself as well, like because of that time that you've taken to slow down to kind of block out all the external noises. I think that helps people in a very emotional way, too. And there's something quite gratifying to kind of fix a hole. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a wound or something. It makes it feel better. I think that it all comes through when you're when you're working on something, and I think that's what people are starting to really see. And I think that's that's why they enjoy taking the time to repair something rather than discarding it. And then also the the feeling of not having to, you know, throw something out. I think that's a great feeling that you can keep something from the landfill. So there's so many different things that are coming through when you're when you're mending something. And so I think that that's why it's become popular and I'm happy that it's become popular. One of the things that that we make as a product is like this darning mushroom, and we've sold like thousands of them. And my thought process with it was not that, oh wow, we've sold so many in my thought process was like, wow, how many things that those things repaired that has kept it out of the landfill? That's amazing. That's amazing that people are buying this and using it to fix things, and those things are not getting tossed out. So it's an interesting thing, but I've really enjoyed it. And what was great about it was how I've included as well the patchwork and what to do with remnants and things like that and I think that people want those ideas because I think people have things all around them, like extra yarn, extra materials, and a lot of people don't know what to do with them.
Ashley [00:27:39] So, going back to grad school, take me back to that art show and describe a little bit of the experience.
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:27:47] So there's this art show in Toronto. It's called the Toronto Outdoor Art Show, and it's out in front of our city hall. And it's a really popular show. It's it's been around for 60 years and it's a really good show for artists because the entry fee isn't very expensive, but it's a very well visited show. And what's really great about it being in downtown Toronto is that you get a lot of tourists that come visit the show as well. And there's like a, you know, a well-known hotel across the street. So you have all these people who are staying at this hotel looking down in front and seeing this big art show. So this was my first time doing this show. And what I wanted to do was like a lot of the people would have like sort of tents set up, and I wanted my space to be like a gallery space. So John built me these sort of like hard walls. And a lot of the work that I was doing at the time was installation based. So they were like really large sculptures that would fill up a room or fill up a wall. And so I knew that that wouldn't really work for consumers. So what I did was I created these little like shadow boxes where I made these little arrangements in the shadow boxes because people are always wondering how to keep the items safe, how to hang the piece. And so having it in a shadow box kind of satisfied those questions that they had. And it was a really well-received show, and I received two awards. I received best of sculpture and best of show. And the other great thing was that all the pieces sold. And one of the people that I met at the show was this woman who was head of the harbourfront craft studios. And there's this amazing craft studio there that has jewelry, ceramics, glass and textiles. And so she told me that I should apply for the studio. And at the time I didn't have a studio, and so I applied and I got in. And when I was there, the studio was very much traditional textiles. Sothere was like weaving, printing and I thought, well, I should really try to learn these different things. And so one of the other studio members taught me how to do like screen printing, how to do like a repeat pattern. And I was completely hooked because what I really liked about screen printing was that I could take my drawings and I could translate them onto the screen and they could be printed on any surface, could be printed on wood, textiles, paper or anything. And so I really like the possibility of that. And so then I started making like little bags and I was selling them to my two other studio mates. And then somebody suggested that I do like a craft show, and one of a kind was the well still is like the biggest craft show in Canada, and they've been around for like 40 years or so. And so I applied to do that show, and that was really kind of the beginning of Bookhou and the business, and we had done that show for 17 years. And I guess just before the pandemic, we stopped doing it because we were getting more busy online. And so we didn't really need to do a physical craft show, which was great for us because the craft shows are so much work. I just, I'm just thinking about it now and because they're doing the winter one is going ahead in a few months, and I'm just thinking of all my friends that do that show and the amount of work it is because you essentially just build your own store for 11 days and then you have to, then the show runs from 10 till 9 every day so it's like really long days, and you know, a lot of the times you're by yourself, you're at the booth, you can't, you know, somebody has to watch your booth for a minute while you run to the bathroom, and a lot of times you're eating at your booth because you can't really leave to go eat. So it's it's hard work and a lot of the times it's kind of boring because, you know, a lot of people think the craft show it's like constantly busy, but it's only got peaks. And then a lot of the times it's kind of dead. And so I'm usually like doing some type of work or embroidering or something because I just can't sit there and just stare out the distance. But yes, so that's sort of the beginning of how we started our business was just that's really where the change went from doing the sculptural work to the more production work, you know, and that changed happen because it's definitely easier to sell hundreds of a $20 thing than to sell an installation that's, you know, 10, 20 thousand dollars. So that's sort of where a change was the necessity of having to kind of make a living. And I was OK with that because I felt that it was still I was still doing the same things I was doing in my mind when I was working with my sculptures, but it was just like a different thing that I was working on. And so, yeah, it's it's definitely kept us busy for the past 20 years, and now we feel like we've had a really good run. That's why we want to go back to doing those other pieces and seeing where that's going to take us because it's had taken a backseat for so long. But yeah.
Ashley [00:32:42] I would love to hear a little bit about yours and John's story of you two, and how Bookhou came to be.
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:32:48] So yeah, John and I met at the Art Gallery of Ontario, we both worked there and we were friends first and you know, what I really liked about him was hearing him talk about his work and seeing his creativity, and I was really drawn to to the things that he was making and his sort of drive to to make his work. And I felt like that was such an inspiration. And and he's definitely inspired me in everything that I do because he's one of these people that never kind of said no to anything, even if it was like something that was really it was going to cost us a lot of money. Or if it seemed like a pipe dream, he was always for it. And so I think that that really gives a person a lot of confidence in what they're doing because you're not feeling like everything that you're you want to try is there's somebody putting kind of like a a stop to it. And so I think that that kind of relationship really helped me grow as a maker and help us sort of build in our business. So Bookhou is basically a combination of both our last names. So his last name is Booth and mine's Khounnoraj, because when we first started, we weren't really sure what we were going to make and we wanted to kind of choose a name that was sort of almost vague. And I would say he's kind of like the heart of the business because he's the one who's kind of a big cheerleader. And, you know, he's he's a little shyer than me, so he kind of doesn't really like to push his work as much as I do. And so he only just recently started an Instagram this year, and he was just like, I am not, you know, doing social media. And and then I said, you should just have your own vision in your own direction. And so and he's enjoying it now, I mean when people leave him comments, he likes it. So, you know, he's sort of is kind of enjoying the process now. But yeah, I feel that the way we work is there's always this cross-pollination. So like he'll be inspired by sort of the shapes and the things that I'm doing. And then that sort of shows up in his work. Or, you know, we both share the love of plants and he'll like, incorporate that into some of the designs that he does. I remember there was this one piece that he did that was basically like his wood pieces that were kind of in this sort of spiral. And then he made that into a felt trivet. And I'm not quite sure if he would have made the felt trivet if he wasn't around so much textiles at the time. And so it's kind of nice to see how our designs sort of come through just being around each other. And one of the things that he always says that he's jealous of with me is how quickly I can make things, because if he has an idea about something, it takes so long to realize that, like I would say, months, even sometimes years, whereas I can, you know, I like, I have this idea that it's like it's done because textiles are so different and it's not as time consuming. And so he's always so jealous of how quickly it comes together. So, yeah, I really like that kind of relationship that we have and how we have similar interests and we have similar ways of working and thinking.
Ashley [00:35:42] So let's talk a little bit about Montreal and maybe how it shifted from where you are now.
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:35:49] Well, the building that we're in now is on a major street in Toronto, and it's a storefront. So when you walk in, you have the shop and then behind the shop you have the sewing area. That's where I usually find my mother and my mother works for us full time, so she's helping with the sewing. And then you go further back, you have like the shipping area and then the area that I print and then way in the back of the studio is a big cutting table where I do all like my fabric cutting and and where John works as well and then we live upstairs. And when we got the building, I was pregnant with Piper and so it was like 13 years ago that we got the building. And what was great about the building was the fact that the living and the working was interconnected. So when the kids were sleeping, we could be downstairs working and then it was nice to have a storefront because then people would come and visit you, you know, in between craft shows and just to have a space that was like a showroom. But then during the pandemic, we realized what we had to have our shop close. And we realized that we don't really need the shop, that most of our business comes from online, so we don't need that space anymore. And as the kids are getting older and, you know, in high school, we just thought we want to live in a space where the two spaces aren't interconnected anymore because it doesn't really surface that way anymore. And what we found that with having the space together is that you can't separate work and life and that it's kind of always around you. And so, you know, our whole family loves Montreal, we visited there often, and I actually used to live in Montreal for a while and we just thought that's probably where we could see ourselves living, like we're not country livers. And so we really wanted to be in a place where you could still kind of step out and go for a coffee or go for a walk around shops and things like that. And so we found this place in Montreal that's like a loft space and our idea is that when we move there, the kids will be in university and we'll have a separate studio to do our work. That way, we can still do the things that we're doing but we have like a separation between life and home. And we also wanted to travel more. And so having a kind of an apartment is a lot less maintenance than having like a building because you're worried about, you know, flooding, you're worried about somebody breaking in and all these things because you're just on the ground floor. And so that's kind of where our thought process for the next five years is to kind of do that. And right now, we we go back and forth from the two places and we always love going there because it always feels like it just kind of have a different vibe. So it's it just sort of reinvigorates us. And yeah, and we love the city and we'll have to start learning French because neither of us speak French. My mom speaks fluent French because she used to live in France. But yeah, but I mean, Montreal is like a very easy city to live in, like everybody speaks English, so it's not like you're going to run into issues. And even if I try to speak French, they just kind of roll their eyes and go, OK, what is it that you want? Let's just talk to you in English because they just think it's easier for you. So it's really hard to kind of try and speak. But we we really love it, and we're really happy with this move, and we just want to focus on doing as much work as we can here and then transition to be there full time. So we will eventually be there full time, and some people will be like, oh, you know, why are you moving from Toronto? And it's like, you know, I had a good go with Toronto. I mean, I've been here for over 40 years. I mean, it's not like, you know, it's like I was just here for a few years. It's like it's always going to be my hometown. But I think that life is too short and you got to kind of try different places, live different places. And I think that with the kids being much older things will be much easier for us because they'll be doing their own thing and being independent. Like, definitely, I would never do a move like this if they were younger because, you know, they're settled and they have their friends here and things like that, and it'll be a good place for like family to come visit us, you know.
Ashley [00:39:47] A new chapter, for sure. And so as you kind of make that shift, what are some of the things that you and John want to explore personally in your making?Arounna Khounnoraj [00:40:00] That's really one of them, is to move towards redesigning the things that I make so that it can be made by other people. And also, I'm interested in making work with people in other countries. You know, like I was supposed to take a trip last year to India to teach a block printing class, and I was really interested in and how they're doing their block printing in in Jaipur. So that would be something I'd like to explore too. And I would say about maybe five years ago, I did a textile collection with this weaving studio in Laos, and that's where I'm from. So it was really interesting to kind of see how my sort of background and my tradition, how that comes through in my designs. And so I did that with them, and I would be interested in doing that. So that's sort of where I'm interested in is as working with other people that are really skilled in their trade because I mean, I would definitely not be sitting here weaving my own fabric collection, like, that's just not possible. Like, you have to get somebody else to do that. And I'm doing like a lot of licensing right now, too, which is something that I would like to do more of. And another reason why the move to Montreal is that Montreal is like a port city, and so they still have a lot of the traditional manufacturing that Toronto doesn't really have much of. So there's a company that still does screen printed textiles so that you yardage printing and they're the only ones left in Canada. And so they're based in Montreal. And so I want to look into getting some of my fabric printed and maybe coming up with my own fabric collection that people can buy and use. And then having other people sew the work, because that was the other reason to change, too, is that my mom, she's in her sixties and she wants to kind of retire from working for me and doing some more traveling. And she has a lot of family in France and Laos, and she wants to go back and forth to those places. And that was the other reason why we wanted to make some changes too, because she wants to kind of go do her own thing. So I have to look into having things sewn and made by other people. So like when I say that there will be changes in production, it's not like we're going to stop doing what we've been doing. We're just going to change the way we're doing it. You're doing so many aspects of the business and your time is so valuable that you shouldn't be sitting at a sewing machine doing sewing that someone else can do because in the end, it's like no one's going to care if I sewed it or if my mom's sewed it or somebody else sewed it. They're interested in the thing itself. It's not about who it is that's making it right. So that's my thinking behind it is that we just want to step away from that production role. And I think that that sort of move is probably going to make us even more busy because we're going to be adding things like the licensing work and all that other stuff kind of together, you know? And also, I'd like to do more teaching. I'm really excited because I just got approached by a haystack. It's like a artists' retreat kind of place. So I'm going to be teaching there next summer. There's just so much going on, and it's just we need to kind of move away from the responsibility of running this building. But anyways, yeah, that's that's where we're going, and I'm really excited about it. So it's not like things are going to slow down. It's just things are going to just be done a little differently.
Ashley [00:43:12] You made a comment earlier on about that. You've always really separated your personal work from your production work, and you've talked about wanting to explore quilting more and John wanting to explore painting. What are the things that you would love to explore more? You know, as the shift happens and you are doing less production.
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:43:35] I think handwork pieces that are going to take longer and try not to think that everything that I make has to be sold, like I feel like that's a huge pressure. There's always the sort of end goal of having it be like a product or a thing. And I think it's just a shift of the mindset of of making it more for myself and not to sell necessarily. You know, eventually it might be for sale, but at the time a moment, I want to take away that pressure of having to sell. And then that way, you kind of have more freedom to think and to explore and not question things because you're wondering, Well, is that sellable or if it's not sellable? I want all those because I still remember, like when I was making my installation work, my sculptural pieces, I never really thought about them selling because a lot of the ways I was making money was applying for grants or teaching. And so it wasn't I wasn't relying on my artwork to sell as as an income. And I just want that freedom back, you know, and I don't think it really matters, really, particularly what it is that I'm doing. Like what technique or what item? It's more of, just that freedom to be able to think without having that pressure that it will sell. And it goes back to that whole idea of your time is valuable. So if your time is valuable and you're spending hours on this piece of work, then your valuable time should be monetized. It's that kind of idea, and I just want to take that thinking away that your time doesn't always have to be monetized. And I think that that will really help. And I mean, we wouldn't have that freedom if we didn't spend 20 years building this business. We're able to kind of save and put things away in order to have that freedom to do this because we wouldn't have been able to do this back then because we wouldn't be able to afford to, you know, especially when you have a family. So I think it's the right path. I don't think I would have done anything differently. I think we were on the right path in how we're doing things. And I'm glad we're making that change. And I don't know if we would have made this change if the pandemic didn't happen, to be quite honest. I think the pandemic kind of caused us to rethink everything. I think everybody was in the same boat. And you know, you're thinking about your health, you're thinking about your family and friends, and you're thinking about how your business is running. And because one of the things that actually kind of saved us during the pandemic was that we had supplies in our shop and we had kits, and that was the thing that was selling like we sold so many kits and things. And I think that that was it was really good timing for the Visible Mending book to come out, too, because people were spending more time at home and they were trying to be more creative and, you know, get off their computers. And so yeah, and I heard that from a lot of other friends who also make kits and other types of things, and they were saying that they were doing so well, selling those and people who made puzzles.
Ashley [00:46:20] Yeah. Puzzles are huge.
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:46:22] Yeah. So it was it was actually kind of good that we had that in our business because I mean, nobody was buying bags. Nobody was going out. Nobody was gifting. So we sold a lot of supplies. A lot of punch needle tools and kits and stuff. And so, yeah, so that was interesting to see that shift that people were really much into spending more time. And so I think it's just, yeah, I think it's just the past couple of years has really changed our thought process. And also, I think it made me less fearful, you know, with all this stuff is happening and realizing our time here so short that it just made me feel like it's now or never. You know, like why or why am I afraid? Like what is there to be afraid of? And then also, it's not. It's not the kind of thing that is set in stone like, OK, what if we do move out there and we are not happy? We can always move back. It's like not a big deal, you know, sell the place and move to another place. So it's just I don't want to be afraid. I like the idea of change, too. I think change is good because change, I think brings new ideas and new ventures. And I feel that it only gets better. And also, I think it's how you accept it. If you're open arms about it, then it's going to be great. But if you're resistant, then yes, that might not be a good journey. It's like all those things, right?
Ashley [00:47:33] Yeah. So you have a new book coming out. Do you want to share a little bit about that?
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:47:38] Sure. Yeah. So the book is on embroidery and the publishers and I thought that it was a really nice transition from the Visible Mending book with all that hand stitching and so in designing the book, I wanted to kind of create projects and ideas that were just sort of a little bit different from the norm. You know, some of it might be a little bit difficult to do, but I wanted it to be challenging. I want it to be something that somebody who was like a seasoned embroiderer can pick up as well, because a lot of how to books are always geared towards beginners. And so there's definitely some beginner projects, but I wanted it to be a really good variety, and I'm really proud of it. And there's a lot of projects in there that I really like. One of them that I really enjoyed making was it was I took a photograph of a flat layer that I did with plants and I had that digitally printed via spoonflower and then I stitched on top of that. And there was something really interesting about the photographic element and the stitch work on top of it that kind of created a lot of depth. And it was it just had a really interesting feel like you could just add a few lines of stitch work. And then the photograph coming through really kind of made the piece pull together. The book has a has a very strong botanical sort of reference. And so I created this sort of fabric book that all the pages were embroidered with different plant life. And I like that it kind of is like a little bit of a sampler. It kind of reminded me of one of my favorite places that I've ever been to was like the V&A in London, and they have this one room. And I for the longest time I didn't know that you can go into it, and I think that it's not open to the public anymore, which is a real shame. But it's a room that you go into and it has all the archives and you can pull like drawers open and like, look at drawings and prints that are hundreds and hundreds of years old, and they're just so beautiful. And I just I love looking at all those different things. And so I was thinking about that when I was doing this, and I was also thinking about the Botanical Glass Museum in Boston at Harvard University. I was thinking about that too. Just that idea of having all of these sort of botanical images and then it being in a little book becomes kind of almost like this reference thing that you can look back at. So those are a few of the projects and it comes out. I think next year, you know, it was really nice to have that project. I worked on that since the beginning of the year, so pretty much six or seven months it took and it was really hard because embroidery is way more time consuming than any of the other things I've done. And some of the projects took like two or three months to do. And so once that was done, it was such a relief because then I can go back to, you know, doing my production work again without all that extra pressure. Sometimes I'm kind of standing around going, Wow, I feel like I've so much time on my hands because I was my time was so tight. Like, every moment that I had was, OK, work on the book. It was crazy. So it's nice to have that kind of be gone now. And I think I'm done for writing books for a little bit, at least for a few years, because those two were written back to back the Visible Mending and the Embroidery one, and that was just too much to do it that close together.
Ashley [00:50:50] Yeah, that is a lot of work. What are a thought or two that you would love to leave listeners with?
Arounna Khounnoraj [00:50:58] One of the first things that I always think about is support handmade. Not just, you know, buying handmade from somebody, but I think as makers we should try to kind of support the traditional crafts and make sure that it continues and that it's alive, because I feel that a lot of what's happening these days is that the digital technology is taking over and I feel that we lose that connection with our self and with making with our hands. And so that's what I want people to to think about is that we should try to kind of continue those crafts. And I think that that's with that idea of visible mending because I remember every time I post something, people would have this memory of their father sitting in the dining room table mending socks with a light bulb. And I just want that kind of memory of these actions to kind of continue. And so, yeah, that's that's one of them. And the other one that I hear a lot from John, he always used to say this to me, and it's an old one where it's, this too shall pass. I think that whatever we're going through, especially in difficult times, that things can change, things can move and that we are really fluid and it applies to us as makers that we don't have to be a certain way that things, things can move forward and we'll learn and grow from those ideas.
Ashley [00:52:26] This week's giveaway is sponsored by Harrisville Designs, and we're giving away one of their amazing punch needle kits designed in collaboration with Arounna Khounnoraj of Bookhou. The perfect introduction to the punch needle process, each kit provides everything you need to create a unique while hanging inspired by the colors and shapes of autumn foliage and flora, including five balls of Harrisville Designs' Turbine yarn, punch needle template, monk's cloth and an 8 by 10 inch frame. To enter this giveaway, download our new app, Making, and leave a comment on today's podcast episode post. Find us in the Apple App Store with a search for "Making." And if you don't have an iPhone, don't worry, we'll be releasing the Android app very soon. In the meantime, you can enter by commenting on the episode blog post at makingzine.com. The biggest of thanks to everyone involved in this week's episode, Arounna Harrisville Designs, the Making Team and our producer, Alice Anderson. I hope you'll join me each week as we talk and learn from more fascinating makers. For podcast notes and transcription visit makingzine.com. Have a wonderful week.