Stuck On Rutt

An Australian model-on-the-rise with a knitwear line in her rearview, a wooly Yeti in her closet and refreshingly chill relationship to craft? Yeah, we’re pretty damn smitten with Rachel Rutt.

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY AKILA BERJAOUI
STYLED BY LETICIA DARE

“Is this thing working?”

Visually, not so much. “I don’t think it’s working!” Rachel Rutt giggles on the other end. I can hear her perfectly, but her face is twisted and frozen on my computer screen. It’s still early morning in Sydney, but she sounds wide awake. It’s easy to imagine that she’s the kind of person whose eyes automatically pop open, excited for the day ahead.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Japan, Rachel has lived in Australia for the past nine years. Sydney, she says, is her favorite place in the entire world. Now 22, she has been modeling since she was seventeen, appearing in numerous Urban Outfitters catalogs, magazines like Oyster and i-D, and walking the runway for the likes of Doo.Ri, Wayne and 3.1 Phillip Lim. Her unpretentious, grunge-informed personal style—not to mention an adorable smattering of freckles and the occasional nose ring—have made her a Tumblr favorite. One of the first photos of Rachel that caught me eye was just a snapshot, in which she was wearing a boxy, open-weave orange sweater with the word ‘Beirut’ woven in large block letters across the front. It turned out that the sweater was one of her own designs, and in fact one of the tamer ones.

Fashion and imagination come together in her creations, which surpass the realm of the purely whimsical, but not by much. She’s made technicolor chaps, tentacle-embellished dresses—inspired by jellyfish, naturally—and this year she released a collaboration with Wool And The Gang featuring, along other things, knitted bathing suits. The knitwear line she released in 2012 was a kaleidoscope of delightfully clashing colors: teal, orange and red sweaters and space dyed maxi dresses. The sort of thing you can pull of, you know, if you’re Rachel Rutt.

How did you start knitting?
I learned the basics when I was 15 from a friend of my mom. Where she grew up, everyone’s moms would knit them clothes and when they outgrew them, they’d undo it and make a new thing from the same yarn. I thought that was so awesome that I asked her to teach me. She was a really stern teacher, I have to say! She made me cast on for a week before she would teach me anything else. After that, I didn’t pick it up for a few years, but when I did, I didn’t need to be reminded because she’d taught me so well. Now I have a student of my own, and I’m using the same method.

How did you find a knitting student?
It’s my housemate! A lot of people will be like, ‘Please, please teach me!’ but they don’t follow up. She did and she hasn’t let me, or herself, down ever since. It’s incredible because it is making me appreciate my own skills as well. But, I think she has more self-control than me—I definitely need full rainbows or I lose concentration. She seems very good at white and blacks.

What do you think it is that makes you like knitting so much?
It’s very meditative. It’s really an amazing example of when you are in the flow and you’ve found your own rhythm, the tactile elements fell into place.

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So for you, it’s almost like a practice.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been studying weaving at the Handweaver’s Guild of New South Wales, and I’m also learning how to spin wool. What I find interesting is that the women there might seem like the most common old ladies—could be your grandmother, could be your aunty—but when you talk to them, and they start talking about this craft that they’ve practiced for 35 years or longer, they talk about it like it’s a life philosophy.

In my first class, my spinning teacher was like, ‘This is no a personal opinion, this is a rule: If you are feeling negative, don’t even both toughing the spinning wheel because anything you do in that frame of mind is going to produce bad work. You will waste your time, and you will waste the wool, so you might as well not touch it.’ That made a lot of sense to me.

I discovered that when I look at the wool when it is coming out of my fingers onto the spinning wheel, I get a lot more mistakes. But when I close my eyes, or if I just enjoy it and feel the rhythm of the treadle and I’m not using my eye to analyze the fiber, I get much more consistent work. Through creating these textiles with my hands, I’m exploring my own mind.

What’s your next undertaking?
Last year, I worked on a series of Yeti costumes. I documented it all with photo and video and I am aiming to have an exhibition by the end of the year. Knitting is amazing, but it can also be pretty boring, and the thing I appreciate about knitwear [more generally] is that you can create whatever you want.

I wanted to create a costume that was like a real abominable snowman. I also knew that I might not want the costume forever, so I wanted it to be all one continuous thread. So it took me, like, five goes of doing and undoing it, but when I am ready to make a blanket I can unravel it and have no tying-on.

That sounds amazing.
It’s kind of a rebirth Yeti—you climb in through the crotch to get into this thing. My friend Jim wore it and when he was getting out of it, he was like, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m born again!’

When people ask if they can try on a costume, I’m always like, of course, but I never like to tell them how to put it on. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they put it on in a way that I have never thought of. Every time someone new puts it on, they wear it differently. They make the costume belong to them for that moment and it’s brilliant.