Studio Visit
New Friends, weavers

Back in 2009, Kelly Rakowski was a graphic designer at Todd Oldham in New York, and Alex Segreti was living in Philadelphia, working in the textiles department at Urban Outfitters. In her free time, Rakowski ran a blog called Nothing is New, for which she scoured image archives on the web, unearthing old exhibition catalogs, classic spreads from magazines like Domus, and vintage ceramics and textiles. Segreti had a blog as well, called Weird Friends, where she documented similar obsessions: craft, pattern, art, ceramics, textiles, and dogs. The two had never met, but when Rakowski emailed Segreti on a whim one day to tell her how much she liked her site, they began to bond; when both expressed a desire to learn how to weave by hand, they decided to embark on an experiment. They shipped each other yarn, so they’d have the same palette to work from, and a few months later Rakowski made the trip to Philly. They had dinner, retired to Segreti’s apartment, and showed each other their weavings. “They kind of looked the same,” Rakowski remembers. “It was crazy. Now we always come up with the idea together but work separately, and when we meet, we forget who did what because everything magically works.” The two eventually made their design partnership official, merging the names of their online identities into a fitting moniker: New Friends.

When we visited their Brooklyn studio (i.e. the front room of Rakowski’s former apartment) one weekend this winter, the two were working on their first real collection. Called Best Woof, it incorporated small weavings, works on paper, and silkscreens of those weavings on paper and canvas. “We wanted to limit our palette a bit to make it different,” says Segreti. “Before, it was really colorful and crazy; now it’s black, white, and gray with little pops of color.” The collection has since sold out, and two are crazily busy, creating new large-scale weavings for stores like Totokaelo and creating a forthcoming book for Bodega Press in Philadelphia. They took a break to show us around the studio and to offer us a quick lesson in how to build a simple frame loom in order to cop their style at home.

A version of this story originally appeared in Paper View, Sight Unseen’s recent printed edition. For more behind-the-scenes access — plus a tutorial on how to build a frame loom and create a New Friends-style weaving yourself — pick up one of the few remaining copies of our book, available here.

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New Friends weavings are characterized by their use of geometric shapes, their embrace of imperfection, and a technique they often use that involves knotting pieces of fringe around the weft yarns. Shown here is a ball of roving, which is sheared from a sheep and comes in these large, wrapped balls. “They’re mostly for hand spinners, but they also make a really nice object,” says Segreti.

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"The roving I buy off Etsy from, like, ladies on farms in rural Pennsylvania, and they're good for big bags of alpaca as well," says Segreti of their sources.

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"Providence has mills that sell lots of yarn on cones, like bulk yarn. And then just knitting stores, which tend to have higher quality yarn, and Michaels — that's cheaper yarn, but it comes in awesome colors."

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The two also often incorporate things that aren’t quite yarn into their weavings. “Anything you can cut, anything you can shred, you can weave with,” says Segreti. “In school, I would weave with like licorice. Anything that was sort of bendy, “I'm was like, ‘Oh, I’ll put it in a weaving. There eventually was a rule that you couldn’t weave with perishable food because someone had made a weaving with bacon and it rotted.” This weaving, which ended up at Totokaelo this summer, incorporates regular wool yarn, paper yarn, alpaca fur, roving, and a stickless holographic tape Segreti picked up at an industrial supply store on the internet.

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The back of that same weaving.

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Segreti still lives in Philly, but she often spends weekends weaving at Rakowski’s apartment (which has since relocated to Clinton Hill). Shown here are their supplies, plus a sample of a weaving printed on canvas. At the bottom of the frame is a corkboard pinned with scrunchie-based bracelet tests the two were doing for Torus bangles (available in the Sight Unseen Shop!) as well as the palette they planned to use for their first real commission: a rug for a fashion-world maven in London.

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Segreti actually trained as a textiles designer; as an art student at RISD, she says, “I went through all the different phases. You start on a four-harness loom, then you graduate to an eight-harness loom, then a simple computer loom called a dobby loom, and you eventually get to jacquard, which is computer-based: You could paint a picture and code the computer program and it would basically weave itself.” But she approached the simple frame loom the two now use from the same novitiate standpoint as Rakowski.

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Rakowski no longer works for Oldham; at the end of last year, she began work as a visual researcher for Areaware, scouting trends and sourcing new talent for the Brooklyn-based brand. She now works as a freelance product researcher.

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Segreti introduced Rakowski to Areaware (she’s old art-school friends with Areaware’s creative director Laura Young) on the basis of these plant cozies. Rakowski wasn’t happy with her samples, though, and is still tinkering with the idea.

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A spread from a book about Navajo weaving. “I am really into Navajo rugs, and whenever I look to them for inspiration, it blows my mind,” says Segreti. “The way that they make them isn’t that dissimilar to our process. It’s all done by hand, and a lot of the time they don’t even graph anything out. They have such a great pattern sense.”

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Other inspirations in the book pile included Sheila Hicks's monograph and the ubiquitous Memphis book by Barbara Radice.

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A spread from Indian Knitting, Weaving, Basketry of the Northwest

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For Best Woof, the two made silkscreens from a photograph...

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... of this weaving.

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Weaving test pile.

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Samples from the Best Woof collection.

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During our visit, Segreti and Rakowski gave us a step-by-step tutorial on how to build a simple frame loom from canvas stretchers and how to cop their style at home — the above weaving is, no joke, super simple to replicate.

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To find out how, pick up a copy of Paper View, the Sight Unseen printed edition today!