Designer Aurelie Tu hitches the world together with artworks in felt.
When concert cellist Aurelie Tu developed tendonitis from her first profession, she got crafty in her second set. The musician who once toured with the opening act for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and played with Portland’s Pink Martini, channeled her training in industrial design. In 2010, she founded CraftedSystems, a startup through which she designs art from woolen felt.
“My goal is to make something structural without a framework—a design challenge,” says Tu, 34. “I like experimenting with different geometric shapes in that process.” The design of her Southwest Portland home is itself a portrait of style—a chair shaped like a giant vertebra, a low-slung commode, interlocking felt pieces sparingly throughout.
Tu grew up in Calgary, her father a mathematical economics professor, and her mother blazing trails in the oil and gas industry. She began playing cello at age 8, eventually sitting in with the Santa Monica Symphony. After working with a top design firm in Los Angeles, she was hired by Nike to help develop surfing watches in Amsterdam and, later, to help create female sports technology.
Naturalist and writer John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Tu began devising this universe with interlocking shapes of high quality felt. These shapes were pieces of larger puzzles. Leaves on a branch and cells of a beehive that once fit together became beautiful vessels, rugs and wall hangings—crafted systems.
As part of her own forged civic systems, Tu contracts with Portland-based organizations for homeless kids and women to assemble her pieces. “This process leads to knitting circles among women—it’s a form of therapy,” says Tu. “For the kids, they start to form a real connection between the money they make and being able to maybe get their bikes fixed or buy a new one.”
Now, when global shoppers at retailers such as Room & Board, Ligne Roset and Branch buy an Aurelie Tucrafted piece, it might just be hitched to a child’s bike in Portland, Oregon.