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Alex Keller textile artist

Meet the Maker: Rags and Tatters

by Folksy

Meet the Maker: Alex Keller from Rags and Tatters

Alexandra Keller from Rags and Tatters is a textile artist based in London who creates wonderful, whimsical heirloom creatures, soft sculptures and ‘fauxidermy’ animal heads from fabric. Originally trained in millinery at Chelsea College, Alex now uses her skills and imagination to bring her crafted characters to life and inject them with a little magic. Here she talks to fellow Folksy maker Alison from Macclesfield Bag Works about her inspiration, her deep love of nature and how, rather than stopping her, a cancer diagnosis renewed her vigour for making and creating.

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Enjoy 10% off Rags & Tatters throughout December 2023 with the code Xmas23

Heirloom primitive Nordic Santa by Rags & Tatters

Hi Alex! I’m so looking forward to seeing more of your work over the next month. It would be great if you could introduce yourself and your business.

Hi Alison, thank you. It’s lovely to meet you. I’m Alex and my business is Rags and Tatters creative textiles. I create quirky and whimsical creatures, soft sculptures and fake taxidermy using a variety of mixed media materials, creating a narrative to bring them to life.

Rags and Tatters textile art sculptures
Rabbit in a ruff and crown

I love your quirky business name. It evokes such fabulous images and I’d love to hear a little more about it and how you came up with it.

I take a lot of my influence from vintage designs and materials. The Victorian era is also something I have always circled back to. The name comes from a time when I was at a lovely vintage fair with the family looking for inspiration and textiles to experiment with. I had picked up some raggy remnants and, while sitting with the family admiring my haul, I began experimenting with names. I threw around the name “tatters”, which comes from one of my favourite stories, and my niece threw out “rags and tatters”. The rest is history and I’m delighted it evokes quirky images in those who see it.

Rags and Tatters textile art sculptures
It’s all in the details – miniature baskets in the making

Reading a bit more about you in your shop bio, it sounds like you’ve had some significant life events that have brought you to where you are now. Is your creative business an important part of your life balance?

I have loved creating things since I was young. I originally trained as a milliner but that didn’t pay so well, so I became a teaching assistant while the kids were still at school. When they grew up I began creating things for family and friends and was told so often, “Why are you not selling your creations?” That is when I decided to set up my Folksy shop. As I began making again, I was hit with a breast cancer diagnosis.

Pumpkin-picking hare by Rags and Tatters
Pumpkin-picking hare by Rags and Tatters

Although this was a huge event that could have pushed me in a certain direction, I used the creative process as an outlet. So while, on occasion, my business has taken a back seat, it has always been an important outlet for me to lean on. Now I’m able to focus on life and creating, and they have given me a wonderful balance in my life.

Rags and Tatters textile art sculptures
A mini dress form being transformed into a badger

Quick-fire question: city life or country life?

I live in the city but I’m a country girl through and through. I’m drawn to green fields and woodland, from animals and landscapes to textures and smells.

Rags and Tatters textile art sculptures
Angels in the making

Your work is so unique. Can you tell me more about your ideas and your design process?

Leading on from the last question, nature is always a starting point for my work. As a child I was incredibly drawn to fairytales and magical stories. This has never left me. The most wonderful stories and creating can come from unique and fun juxtapositions – for example, a mouse fishing for acorns or a badger picking wild strawberries.

Mouse fishing for acorns – now sold

I don’t sketch, as I find I can get bogged down trying to recreate that image exactly. So I let the fabric and my imagination take its course. What might start as a whimsical daydream can form into a narrative that takes shape as I go. Although this process may take a little longer, I have had a lot of unexpected happy accidents. I find it frees me to experiment and not worry too much.

Alex’s current favourite piece is her mouse riding a polar bear

Do you have a favourite piece? And can you tell me more about it if you do?

Yes, I do. It’s my most recent: a mouse riding the polar bear. I absolutely love that it came out exactly as I imagined it. I have such fun giving my pieces a back story and these two have a great one. But that’s a story for another time.

Rags and Tatters textile art sculptures
Fauxidermy horse head in the making

Your work has a whimsical mixed media feel. I’d love to hear about the fabrics and items you use and how you choose them.

I typically start with unbleached cotton. It has an absolute blank canvas that forces me to be brave and bold. Once that piece is constructed, I will fall on paint or stain as a starting point, often incorporating both techniques. As it then begins to develop I can add metals, paper, wood or even dried moss to fully convey my design thoughts. In short, anything goes, there is literally nothing I won’t consider using.

You make magical and mystical Christmas heirlooms and keepsakes. What would your perfect Christmas look like?

Thank you. I love this, it’s my perfect question! Christmas is my favourite time of the year. My perfect Christmas would be surrounded by family in the countryside (especially woodland). Roaring fires, walks where you don’t bump into anyone and the sound of Christmas church bells pealing.

Primitive heirloom Santa sculptures

Finally, what does craft mean to you?

Simply put, it means everything to me. There is nothing more satisfying than making or buying a beautiful handmade piece. Each one represents the time, love and energy of the person who has made it. If there is one thing I hope comes across in my work, it’s that each piece had been created with those three elements.

Rags and Tatters on Folksy

Enjoy 10% off Rags & Tatters throughout December 2023 with the code Xmas23

Shop Rags and Tatters on Folksy

Alison from Macclesfield Bag Works

Meet the interviewer

The maker asking the questions this time is Alison Thomas from Macclesfield Bag Works, who makes one-of-a-kind bags and purses using pre-loved and carefully sourced fabrics, from her attic overlooking the hills in Macclesfield.

Shop Macclesfield Bag Works on Folksy

Read Alison’s Meet the Maker interview

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