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New Friends
Studio Visit:
New Friends

Using a handmade frame loom and wooden comb, Kelly Rakowski and Alex Segreti of New Friends design studio craft weavings, textiles and housewares that combine historical tradition with contemporary visual culture. We visited them at their space in downtown Brooklyn to see where they weave their magic.

Photographs by Jody Rogac

Hi Alex and Kelly! How did the two of you meet?

Kelly: We met on the Internet. In October 2009 I emailed Alex introducing myself and gushing over her Tumblr (full of textiles, odd objects and dogs). It turned out she read my blog, too. We started a correspondence and eventually met IRL in late winter 2010.

Alex: Then we met in person at the [Urban Outfitters] Navy Yard! I was working there as a designer and Kelly was visiting a friend. She came up to my desk and then we went out and got drinks and Mexican food.

K: Then I hung out with Alex in her yurt.

What prompted you to start New Friends?

K: I studied graphic design and worked as an art book designer at the time we met, but I was always working on some sort of textile side project. My obsession with images of weavings (which we were both documenting on our sites)—looking at Navajo rugs, Sheila Hicks, Bauhaus and Moroccan textiles—started in 2009. My 2010 New Year’s resolution was to learn how to weave. Around this time, before we met in person, Alex and I concepted a weaving project together. We sent each other yarn so we shared a palette, then set off individually weaving small pieces. The first time we met is when we shared our work and were really shocked by how similar it looked. We were visually in sync, and we loved how all our little weavings worked together as a group.

A: I was a textiles major at RISD. I took a lot of weaving courses, but they were different from the tapestry-style weaving we do for New Friends. We started making weavings together and we would take turns going to NY and Philly to have meetings and plan projects.

How would you describe the work you do today?

K: We use traditional weaving techniques as a starting point, but play with color and texture in a way that feels uniquely ours. We’re interested in what happens visually when various factors change. Tension shifts and the tightness or looseness of the horizontal yarn passing through the vertical threads can affect the composition and shape of a weaving. We love the unexpected irregularities.

What makes you two better together?

K: It’s a wonderful relief to be able to talk out ideas and problems with a partner. I love banter; the back-and-forth brainstorming that eventually arrives at the best choice. We have a nice balance of background skills, too. And it's nice to celebrate successes with someone who’s been with you the whole way.

A: Yeah, it really is good to be able to solve design problems together. Plus weaving takes a long time. Four hands are better than two.

Which other creative duos do you admire?

The Rodarte sisters. Bless­ Ines in Berlin, Desiree in Paris and Chen Chen and Kai Wiliams.

A: Eckhaus Latta, Ren and Stimpy, the two bad girls in the movie Daisies, Johnny Fritz and Joshua Hedley.

Tell us about some projects you've felt most excited about!

K: Last May, we made our first large-scale piece at Matter during Design Week. It showed us how scale can really change our work, and made us realize there’s so many more options for us. It was also a test of time management: we wove the piece in four days. It was an accomplishment. And it sold, yay!

A: One of my favorite projects was a series of really small weavings we made for our friend Lauren Manoogian's pop-up shop at Beautiful Dreamers. We used a lot of really special materials: Japanese paper yarn, linen, really nice wool.

What are you really into right now?

K: Reading and watching a genre I call ‘loners in nature.’ I love seeing people experience life alone and in nature. Cotton twine. Snowy walks. Street cats.

A: This show on Netflix called Dual Survival; dogs, Indian food, learning how to use an airbrush.

What are some of your consistent influences?

K: Navajo art, Sheila Hicks, Gunta Stöltz, Saturday gallery visits in NYC, mountains.

A: West African textiles, cave weavings, Ron Nagle ceramics and my friends.

How would you describe your studio atmosphere?

K: We’re working on making it a living room—an at home studio type feel. It’s light, white and airy with high ceilings. Alex got a hot plate for Christmas so we plan to start cooking here too.

A: It’s beautiful. I wish I could live in it.

What makes your studio feel like home?

K: Painting the floor white has been my white whale: It’s been painted maybe ten times and I finally got it right. So I’d say the floors, couch, yarn shelves and incense. Also having our inspiration pictures and color palette for our next collection posted on the wall. It’s nice to have things off the computer and into the world to really absorb it.

A: The space is really quiet so it’s easy to focus and concentrate on different projects.

What's coming up next for you?

K: We have a show in April at Matter. A collection of large­-scale pieces…totally weird layered painted ladies!

A: Weirder weavings, yes!