Sophie Sellu’s wood carvings straddle the line between utility and sculpture. Based in London, the Manchester School of Art graduate took a summer course in wilderness survival skills, and came away with a passion for wielding axes and whittling spoons. In her parents’ garage, she continued working with wood and interest in her shapely creations led to the founding of Grain & Knot, her one-woman business.
An uncle who renovated period houses supplied her a while back with enough scrap timber to supply her for years. She was also helped by a loan, classes, and a business mentor from Prince Charles’s youth charity, The Prince’s Trust. Sophie gave herself six months to make a go of it; that was several years ago, and she now has such an avid following @grainandknot that every month or so, when she restocks her online shop, everything tends to sell out overnight.
Above: Just before London’s lockdown, Sophie had a pop-up shop in Islington Square.
Above: Sophie’s now lives and works in her own home in South East London’s Crystal Palace. Thanks to tree surgeon friends, some of her wood comes from storm-fallen trees that require air drying followed by time in her wood kiln.
Above: Try this at home: in a bedroom converted into her office, Sophie artfully displays her designs on a wall. (For more ideas, see 10 Ways to Display Wooden Spoons, Artisan Edition.)
Each item is cut on a bandsaw, then hand-carved and finished. Sophie often finds herself in the position of having to ask buyers to be patient: “I can only carve for a few hours each day; it’s very tough on my body and I need to make sure I rest.”
Above: When sawdust became a part of her daily life, Sophie started carving brushes with bristles of plant-based fibers. “I wanted to make brushes that are nice to look at—and that can happily sit among art but also be functional,” she tells us. “It took a year of research and trial and error: there is very little information about brush-making, so I had to practice a lot before I was happy.”
Above: Scraps don’t go to waste: finding herself with “piles of random, seemingly useless piece of wood,” Sophie started transforming these off-cuts into vases for dried flowers and stems.
Above: A collection of Sophie Sellu brushes. See more in the Grain & Knot shop—everything is currently sold out but new pieces will be offered at the end of the month: watch for the alert @grainandknot. To appreciate her process, watch Sophie making a wooden spoon here.
Above: Hand-carved vases made of ebonized wood: a sampling of what’s coming next.
All of Sophie’s wood carvings are finished with food-safe organic flax seed oil. Over time, she advises retreating them with a food-safe wood wax or oil, such as walnut, flax, and coconut (but not olive oil: “it can go rancid”).
Above: Sophie and her whippet, Stanley, at her recentl Islington pop-up. Photograph by Mariell Lind Hansen.
More display-worth household tools: