Alex Castillo, originally from Chile, is a Melbourne textile designer who works out of her Fitzroy studio, handcrafting these striking floor rugs.
Crochet is a very popular craft in Chile – Castillo’s grandmother taught her to crochet when she was just five years old, teaching her only the basics, so that when Castillo’s family moved to Australia four years later, she had to teach herself more complex stitches and how to read patterns from a book. Her mother didn’t crochet, so she was on her own.
“These rugs are just an adaptation from making doilies, which is what my grandmother did.”
They’re gloriously enormous doilies, woven in the chicest shades of cream, charcoal, black, teal and mustard. The doilies work well not only as floor rugs, but as bed covers and wall hangings. When asked about her production process, Castillo says, “I use an afghan crochet hook which is longer than normal hooks. It saves my hands and arms a bit of effort. I use a size 8 or 9 hook – not as big as people might think, as the stitches need to be firm.”
Upcycle/Recycle, and Repeat.
Castillo had the idea of making the rugs long before she found a suitable fibre to make them with. Always very conscious of using natural materials, and if possible, upcycling or recycling, she was very pleased with herself when she decided to try carpet wool. “I was unsure if we still manufactured any carpet in Australia, so I consulted Google on my phone. The carpet manufacturers I called were really helpful.”
“I was able to source wool from a nearby business, purchasing the remnants of their machine-made carpet materials! I was thrilled to be able to upcycle something that they told me they would otherwise have to discard.”
Most of the wool comes from New Zealand, as Australia tends to make a different type of wool, but Castillio happily supports New Zealand too.
Classic Hues with surprise POPS of Colour.
When I contacted Alex, it was with great praise for her chosen colours. She said, “I’m limited by the remnants available from my sources. They’re usually the mass produced colours used in apartments or houses, but when I go wool shopping, there always seems to be a surprise colour in the batch! Last time it was a lovely teal colour called oceanic. The time before it was a dark mustard colour, which I also loved. There can only be a limited run of these special colours, because there isn’t much of it.”
When asked about the largest rug that she’s made. Castillo said, “a lovely Scandinavian family in Fitzroy North ordered a multi-coloured rug for their lounge. It had a 2.5 m diameter.” It took her over a week to complete, with a lot of backbreaking work.
“Once the rugs get to about 1.2 meters in diameter, I have to put them on the floor and work on my hands and knees, making my way around, as I go.”
A one-metre rug can take up to three hours of solid work, so larger rugs will take longer (and you can do the math). Castillo has to be conscious of how heavy the rugs get – her arms, hands and neck get sore working for long periods. She’ll do an hour or two, then take a break to rest (and probably stand upright… with a cup of tea, for a time, doing lunges).
More about the Designer
TGW: Where do you work from?
AC: I like to travel with my smaller crochet work, but the carpet wool comes in enormous cones, which are a bit harder to carry around. I generally work from my studio at home in Fitzroy, to make the rugs. I keep threatening to sit in a pub with them, but think they will get in the way, and attract too much attention! I won’t get anything done and just talk to people instead!
“I’ve now given up full-time work to become a designer, Maker, and do a little teaching.”
TGW: What inspires you to create?
AC: I think in years gone by, crochet was thought of as the poor, uncool cousin of knitting, but I love it, and have always tried to bring it into the present, with contemporary designs and a look that people are surprised to find is crochet. That inspires me to keep trying new designs!
TGW: Who inspires you to create?
AC: Other makers inspire me. I participate in a select group of markets around Melbourne and I never stop admiring other peoples work, good ideas and designs. I always feel very lucky in being accepted to one of these lovely markets!
“I feel at home anywhere in Fitzroy or Collingwood. I love the people and scene that make up this wonderful suburb, and have lived in the vicinity for many years.”
TGW: Have you ever been to Paris?
AC: Yes, several times. I lived in the UK for a few years and travelled a lot around Europe. Even when I returned to Australia, I continued to travel around Australia, Asia and the Middle East, and of course, back to my roots in South America. But, after about ten years of working and gallivanting around the world, I settled in Abbotsford for a while.
Care for Your alcast Floor Rug
Carpet wool is quite hard wearing and can be machine washed in a wool cycle, if you have a large machine. They can then be placed on a suitable floor to dry flat or over a verandah outside.