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Sustainable Craft with Raine Owen: knitter, basket maker, and creative business owner

Updated: Jan 30

Raine Owen has carved out a slice of the sustainable craft business pie with her successful online store, the Unusual Pear. It's a maker's mecca for those looking for wonderful handmade tools and stunning yarns - all made with an earth-friendly ethos. She and her husband are an unusual pairing (get it?!). Raine's story is a testament to how your bottom line should never be about buying cheap and mass-produced - and how infusing the right recycled materials can actually be what makes your work your best yet.
Photo by Lee Illfield
Your labor of love, the Unusual Pear has been around for a while now. How did it begin?

The Unusual Pear was born in 2014 and I still consider it my baby. It’s something that has grown and evolved over the years and continues to do so with each new year. The business is currently an online space, where I can offer fibre art supplies and resources to people all over the world, right from my tiny little home studio in Newcastle, Australia - where I work proudly on Awabakal land.

We are currently building a new studio space in our backyard where both my husband and I can work and eventually host workshops.

Sometimes it's nice to just sit down with a needle and some raffia and be able to make something unique.

For the last 2-years, my husband Beynon has been exploring pottery as his new creative outlet and we sell his pieces in our online store too. It’s been a beautiful practice to share between us as we collaborate on some pieces - where he throws the pots and I carve designs into them. We are both really excited about the new studio and can’t wait to finally be in it. Hopefully, by winter we will be able to move in.

I’ve been weaving and stitching baskets with the help of Craft School Oz's online courses and String Harvest hand-dyed raffia for a year or two now and one of the things I love most about it is the lack of tools. Sometimes it's nice to just sit down with a needle and some raffia and be able to make something unique. My husband has a few pots that he has made which I’ll be able to add some basketry techniques too - I’m really excited about experimenting with those.

As my own craft has evolved over the years, the supplies I offer at The Unusual Pear have evolved with me. From yarns, I have hand dyed and hand spun myself, to weaving and spinning kits designed and created by my husband and I and now also our pottery. My overall aim with the Unusual Pear is to support people who want to create fibre art and provide quality, sustainable materials for their creations.

I knew I didn’t want to have a traditional occupation and dreamed of having a creative life.

Way back when, how did you become interested in craft?

I have always had a love for creating things with my hands. It started when I was around 13-years old when I started making jewellery and bespoke beaded wall hangings. By 15 I was hustling my parent's friends to purchase my creations and I love seeing them to this day wear their jewellery made by little Rainie!

Soon after got a gig making pieces for the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery which felt like quite an achievement at 16 years old. I knew I didn’t want to have a traditional occupation and dreamed of having a creative life. After high school, I studied Interior Design and Decoration at TAFE which propelled me into creating my own business, The Unusual Pear (a whole 10 years ago now). I dabbled in a bit of furniture restoration and decorating my own home which has continued to be an eclectic collection of vintage, retro, modern stylings.

I often get asked about where the name The Unusual Pear came from. When I created it during my studies, my partner (now husband) and I were both quite crafty in a few different mediums. I wanted the name to be fluid and able to morph into whatever we needed it to be in the future. So we are, an unusual pair. The Unusual Pear, which is now home to my fibre arts and my husband Beynon’s pottery.

I want to create things that I am truly proud of and I do believe that most of that pride comes from the materials we use.

Sustainability is obviously important to you. Tell us about your ethos.

Sustainability is so important in my business. The fibres I choose are mostly natural plant and animal fibres and my weaving supplies are made from FSC certified Australian timber. Packaging is equally important to me and I use only recyclable and compostable or reusable packaging - no plastic in sight (unless it's recycled bubble wrap I’ve saved from packages sent to me).

All of my weaving looms and tools are designed by me and made here in NSW, Australia, from FSC certified timber. The yarns and fibres I choose to stock are ethically sourced and manufactured in Australia and Europe. I also have my own range of hand-carded and handspun yarns made from recycled fibre waste - called New Life Yarns. Fibre artists from all over the country send me their textile waste in exchange for a discount from my online store, creating somewhat of a circular economy, where customers purchase my yarns, send me their scraps and purchase the New Life Yarn to create with once again.

To someone out there trying to be more sustainable in their practice, what would you say? How did you introduce sustainability in your own practice?

When I first began my fibre art adventures 7-years ago, I was drawn to all the colours at my local Spotlight store. It didn’t matter what it was made from, as long as it was pretty! Boy have I learnt a lot since then. It didn’t take long before my ethos did a 180-degree turn and I became much more concerned with what materials I used were made from, where they came from and the impact they had on the earth. I do worry that the popularisation of fibre crafts has become somewhat of a fast-fashion like nightmare.

I would say that I think it’s more important than ever to consider where our supplies are coming from and what we do with them. I would much rather undo and take apart a weaving that didn’t become something I love, that took me 5-hours to create, and reuse the material - rather than toss it in a cupboard and let it become part of the pile of unwanted stuff.

I want to create things that I am truly proud of and I do believe that most of that pride comes from the materials we use. If we are proud of our materials and our ethics of what we are creating, we will be more proud of the work we are putting out in the world.

Visit the Unusual Pear:

Follow: @theunusualpear

Interested in a new sustainable craft practice? Try these courses from Craft School Oz!

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