When Sophie Sellu was made redundant for the second time in as many years, she decided to try turning her passion for woodworking into a career. A few years later, Sophie’s brand Grain & Knot has amassed a passionate client base who appreciate her soulful, artisanal approach and distinctive style. Having outgrown her first studio, Sophie recently moved to a larger space in New Cross, from which she now launches her work in hotly anticipated seasonal drops. We caught up with Sophie to talk wood grains, work clothes and that elusive concept, work/life balance…
What inspired the name Grain & Knot?
I have always wanted to celebrate wood in its purest form; its imperfections and beauty. The details of the grain and the knots that run through the wood are intriguing to me.
How did you get your start in woodworking?
I started woodworking when I was 11. We had a wood workshop at school and it became my favourite subject; building things, making something useful with my hands. It offered a kind of escape.
Later on, I was working in trend forecasting and concept design and was feeling a desire to get away from my computer screen and do something with my hands. I picked up some tools and fell in love with hand-carving. Then, when I was made redundant (again), I decided to go all in and see if I could make it into a career.
Why do you use reclaimed, storm-fallen or sustainably sourced timber?
When I came back to woodwork as an adult, I was initially just working with things that were around, like broken furniture and found logs. I would visit timber reclamation yards and started becoming friends with tree surgeons, who could salvage logs for me before they went into the chipper. I loved that I could create objects that would last a lifetime from something that had been dismissed as waste.
What is your favourite type of wood to work with?
It’s hard to pick a favourite because each type has its own distinctive properties that make it uniquely interesting. Spalted hornbeam is very visually striking, while walnut is a joy to carve. The smooth grain and the smell of Douglas fir makes it another favourite.
How do you combat loneliness as an independent craftsperson?
It can be really hard, working alone. I’ve always been a fairly solitary person so I enjoy aspects of it but it does take its toll. I have found building a creative community has been really helpful. Sharing ideas, working out problems and generally giving support to others has been really rewarding and helps me to feel less isolated.
What do you wear to work in?
Something comfortable and practical. I need to be able to move around without being restricted. Pockets help, as I am always losing things on my messy workbench. Usually a chore jacket and multiple layers for added versatility.
What inspires you?
One thing I really love is visiting other makers in their workshops. I find it incredibly inspiring to see how other people work in the spaces they have created. I love tools and seeing how things are created with raw materials. I also spend a lot of time walking in nature. I love being in the woods surrounded by trees.
Why do you sell your pieces in seasonal collections?
It’s taken me a while to find a comfortable rhythm and sense of balance between making and selling but I’ve found that working seasonally is really beneficial for me. It means that I can keep my head down and focus on the work itself and then release it in one go when I’m fully satisfied, rather than trying to do both simultaneously.
My practice is slow. It takes a long time to make each object, so I hope that the limited availability encourages people to take their time, to contemplate whether they really need it, rather than buying on impulse.
What is your relationship with social media?
Love / hate. It can be an amazing supportive space but it can also trigger feelings of self-doubt. The demand for content is pretty relentless so I try to capture moments whenever I can, and not overthink the process.
How do you balance work and personal life?
I had a home studio for a really long time but have since moved to a bigger space, which has helped massively. Now, I shut the door at the end of each day and head home. It hasn’t stopped me hoarding wood at home or bringing things back to work on, but it’s a step in the right direction!
Is there a strong crafting community in London?
Absolutely. There are so many pockets of people across London making really beautiful work. We are also incredibly fortunate to have an abundance of free galleries and craft markets to visit on weekends.
How would you describe your practice in three words?
Slow, soulful and meditative.
What’s next for Grain & Knot?
I’m currently working on objects to add to my next collection. I’ve also been working on a special writing project for a really long time now. It’s still a while away from being finished but I’m really excited about it.
Finally, we ask all of our Journal interviewees to complete the following phrase:
You Must Create… with your hands