This month, I am thrilled to present an interview with Arounna Khounnoraj, the Toronto based artist and maker behind the brand (and shop) Bookhou! Arounna is credited with sparking the recent resurgence of punch needle after sharing her work through Instagram, and helped to popularize the Oxford Punch Needle with a wider audience. I saw Arounna’s playful botanical designs a few years ago and they caught my attention, showing me that punch needle can be modern, fun and colorful — not what I originally associated with the more traditional form of rug hooking. It was a treat to connect with Arounna to learn more about her background in design and the evolution of her work over time — read on to learn more!
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. How did you come to do the work you do today?
My background is in fine arts. I went to art school and have an MFA. Originally, I made sculptures out of clay, wood and metal but when I went to grad school, I moved toward more fiber-based work. A few years after I graduated, I was accepted into an artist in residences program in Toronto where I focused on more traditional textiles like screen printing and weaving and soon after I started my business Bookhou, with my husband John.
How did you get started with Punch Needle? What about this technique appealed to you?
At the time I was screen printing my drawings onto fabric and also doing a lot of embroidery work. I think I was attracted to punch needle because the flat side reminded me of embroidery, but it allowed me to work on a larger scale, and it was a technique that I could also use to show my drawings - patterns and botanical images - in a way that really suited the way I draw. I also liked how the technique was very forgiving and didn't have a big learning curve. I could just move into it and it seemed a natural fit.
We'd love to hear about your creative process. How do you come up with new ideas? What are your sources of inspiration?
Before I start on a design, I do a lot of sketches and paintings using pretty traditional media, always by hand. I found out early that if I did that first there would be less frustration on figuring out the colour palette and aspects of composition later on. My designs are a combination of abstract and botanical imagery, it's mostly made-up plants and shapes. I'm also drawn to natural dye colours and muted tones that I find work well with my imagery.
How has your work evolved over time?
I think my work has moved into a more comfortable space; I feel more assured of the designs and the way that I draw because of what I've learned from previous pieces. When I was much younger, I would be content to work on more art pieces but that changed for a number of years as I designed specifically for products, bags and home goods, that incorporated a lot of sewing, but I find I'm now returning to my interest in larger scale single pieces and artistic work.
What is your favorite part about the work that you do?
I really enjoy the process; I find the concept of needlework, which ever kind it is, to be very meditative and also calming hearing the plucking of the needle, seeing something evolve with its own sense of time.
What do you hope others see / take away from your work?
I hope that others will see in my work in how I use composition in the design and also how thread work and surface design can be transformed into wonderful objects.
Do you have a favorite piece, or one that has a lot of meaning to you?
I think the pieces that I most love and happen to be some of the most recent ones, are the upholstered stools because they are made in collaboration with my husband John.
What punch needle materials and tools do you use? Do you have any favorite supplier recommendations for tools, material or yarn?
I like to use the no.10 regular and the no. 14 and 13 mini from Amy Oxford. I tend to use the regular for more abstract designs that don't have a lot of details and the minis are good for when I want to add more details. I am fond of yarn from Custom Woollen Mills, based in Alberta, which are naturally dyed. I also like yarn from Daruma, a Japanese company, which come in smaller skeins so you can have an array of colours.
What advice do you have for other artists or creatives looking to try punch needle?
I think it's one of those techniques that can easily let you translate the work that you may already be doing into a new material. If you're interested, try out a kit first as they usually will have everything you will need to get started and it's not a very expensive craft so if you want to do more you won't have to invest in too much more equipment or supplies. If you plan to continue, I would definitely get a gripper frame from Amy Oxford - it opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of size and you will be happy to not have to staple any more fabric. It's worth what you pay.
Where do you see your work going in the future?
I hope to work larger, I'm always nervous to go bigger because I sometimes question the direction of a work halfway through. But larger wall pieces would be one direction I would like to explore.
How can the punch needle community support you and your work?
I think the punch needle community is very supportive - there are plenty of resources in books and social media. And it's great to see how everyone is using the technique in their own way and sharing info that gets more people interested in the craft.
What is something that you are excited or curious about these days?
I'm currently working with Harrisville Designs on creating two punch needle kits and I am really excited for its launch, because it will be great to be able to offer kits in a larger quantity and I won't have to ball endless amounts of yarn.
What are 3 other fun facts about yourself that you would like to share with the Punch Needle Community?
In my studio I have quite a large collection of pileas that I somehow managed to spawn from one single plant
I have a fascination with tiny homes and vanlife
My twelve-year-old daughter is a better cook than I am