When you look at the animals made by Madame Craig, they look back with inquisitive eyes. We wonder if it is an expression their creator, Rachel Craig, sees a lot in her pupils at the Steiner School where she teaches. They are made with humour, imagination and a lightness of touch. We wanted to know more about Rachel and the Waldorf education which first led her to needle-felting and her creature creations…
Bonjour Madame Craig. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Bonjour! I am Rachel, and I was brought up in the French town of Annemasse which is on the French/Swiss border. I moved to the UK to study at the Chelsea College of Art and graduated with a degree in interior design. This led me into a career in architecture and from there I progressed to working in 3D modelling – developing the architects’ plans to present visualisations of how buildings would look when they were completed. At the time this was a new technique and it was very exciting. After starting a family and researching the choices of education for my children I became interested in the Waldorf education system the Steiner School offered. I was attracted by its emphasis on the arts and music and thought it would encourage and inspire my children. It also inspired me, so much so that I undertook their teacher training course and I am now a teacher at the Edinburgh Steiner School.
How did you become interested in wool felting?
It was during my teacher training course that I had my first experience of crafting with wool, and it instantly captured both my imagination and my senses. I threw myself into the technique, learning from books and videos. The Waldorf education has a strong connection to the festivals and seasons, which inspired me to make figures that followed this; angels, gnomes, shepherds and a range of animals were among my early creations. I was also very to keen to experiment with wet felting techniques, which is how I create the table mats and scarves that you can see in my shop. I love working with natural materials and the wide variety of possibilities that wool presents.
You were born in France. Do you think that influences what you make?
As I have lived in Scotland for nearly 20 years now I feel this country is a stronger influence on what I do. Wool is the fabric that I associate most strongly with and we certainly have a plentiful supply here! While it can be a little chilly at times, I love the depth and contrast of the colours in nature as the seasons change – I find that very inspiring. While I still love to spend time in France in the summer I am drawn to the more vintage side of design there. My family (especially me!) love to spend time in brocantes. My favourite one is situated in a little village called Issy Jacques in the Dordogne where we spend every summer. Every Sunday, there is a market there selling antique clothes, plates and furniture. My favourite café ‘Le Shabby Chic’ is there too.
Do you ever imagine the stories of your animals and characters as you make them?
I enjoy creating the characters and the little stories that go with them. I like to think they will capture the imagination of those who receive them and that they will develop the story. Of course, as each one is individual they all have their own little individual characteristics and I’m always a little sad to see them go.
You teach in a Waldorf school. Can you explain Waldorf ethos?
The Waldorf education is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and was established in the early 1900s. It is based on the development of the child into three main stages, each lasting around seven years. The early years when the child is in Kindergarten seek to encourage practical, hands-on activities and environments that encourage creative play and the use of imagination. As the child enters lower school at the age of seven, the emphasis turns to encouraging artistic expression and also their social capabilities. At the age of 14 the focus turns to developing a more critical understanding of both their environment and the topics they study. All of this is underpinned by the use of imagination, something which is very close to my own attitude. I am always amazed by how well-rounded the students are by the time they leave the school, and also well prepared they are for adult life.
How important do you think it is to have creativity in education and in life?
To me, this is very important. It’s something I believe has become a little lost in recent times, and it should valued and nourished.
Have you always been a maker?
Perhaps not a ‘maker’, although my previous career did give me the opportunity to be creative, which I still am although perhaps now on a slightly smaller scale! I have always had the urge to create.
Can you describe your workspace?
I craft at home. I don’t have a studio yet… maybe one day! I work in the sitting room as I like to be at the heart of the home, surrounded by my family life, my tools and materials and other bits and pieces.
Is your house a very creative space?
Yes, our home is a creative place. I like to decorate with the seasons in mind, and my figures are usually at the centre of any displays.
Finally, we’re a bit worried about where Fox is taking Chick. Can you please reassure us it’s somewhere nice and not an oven…
Don’t worry about Mr. Fox. He has a wickedness for chocolate and he’s merely taking Chick to help him finding some Easter eggs…