Many of the members of Feltmakers Ireland fall somewhere between “beginner” and “experienced” and just love the process of felting as a hobby (Ahem, obsession)… I am one of those… I also recently volunteered to join the committee of Feltmakers Ireland. What is it they say about volunteering?… it often gives you back as much as you give it!… So here is a little about me…
Tell us a little about you as a person? E.g. upbringing/ work other than felt etc.
I am originally from Belfast, N.Ireland. I was already in the middle of my Degree in Fashion, having gone to study in Manchester, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Happily my immediate family were not directly affected by violence; however I remember many security checks, bomb scares and actual bombings as well as the 3 day ceasefires at Christmas and the constant threat of disruption.
My secondary school was the first integrated, comprehensive, co-educational school in N.Ireland and I feel very thankful for this opportunity in my formative years.
I went from my degree in Manchester University to my first job as a Childrenswear designer for a very large retail company at their headquarters in Brussels. After a few years I moved closer to home, to the knitwear department of Penney’s/ Primark in Dublin, where I worked for a further five years as the buyer for women’s flat knit.
This was a very pressure driven environment, with performance rated according to sales results “you are only as good as your last range”… However it was also incredibly driven and exciting.
I enjoyed extensive travel several times a year to the Far East as well as regular trips across to New York and around Europe. This lifestyle suited while I was young and without a family but as soon as my first child was born I knew it wasn’t for me.
12 years ago after the birth of my first child I started working freelance on design packs for contacts I had made along the way. Very conscious of the environmental and ethical responsibilities of the fashion industry I only work with one trusted factory in Bangladesh. I have visited them many times over the years and have an established relationship. I still travel to various retailers across Europe or to attend trend fairs, but these days the travel is on my terms.
Photo: Me on travels in the Far East.
I now have three children and split my time between being a freelance knitwear designer in the mornings and looking after them. I work in my little studio at home, communicating with the factory via Skype and Whatsapp. One day I will be working on colour predictions for the coming year, the next I will be sketching out designs. I might be competition shopping or visiting a client somewhere in Europe to help them plan their range. Then in the afternoon I collect the kids and am mother to free range children.
How and when did you start Felting… what is your experience, tell us a little about your journey?
I started felting approximately 3years ago. Having seen a demonstration at the knit & Stitch show. Remarkably even with a fashion degree and working with textiles for 20years, the process of felting was a completely new medium to me.
That in itself was exciting. I was struck by the immediacy of the textile. In many ways the medium seemed unrestrictive, allowing the creative freedoms of paint while being suitable for both 2d and 3d applications.
I use colour every day and am designing every day too, but after many years doing this and now using a computer rather than sketchpads and markers, my paid work feels sterile. I’m striving to be closer to the product again. I think this is why I love this hobby and why I try to find time to volunteer in primary school to teach kids art. What was it that Picasso is meant to have said “Every child is an artist it is trying to stay one…thats hard”.
Photo: A Giant Collaborative Project- dream catchers with local primary school
I am impatient by nature, and creative. However I am also a planner and have always been organised. I think this is why the medium of felt appealed to me, it seemed that this textile, might satisfy these parts of my personality.
I’ve also found that it is a craft that allows family life to continue… it can be done at the kitchen table, I don’t have to worry about paint drying while I tend to one of the kids… felt is very forgiving and I need that versatility in my life.
I have been lucky in my short time with felt makers Ireland to be able to attend the inspiring workshops of Gladys Paulus and Wendy Bailye. As well as this I have learnt the basics of hat making and jewellery from some of our own members. Together with my own textile background and in order to satisfy my creative spirit I find myself experimenting mostly in sample form but occasionally working on a larger piece. I know that I am only at the start of my journey with felt but I do feel like I have found my medium.
Tell us about your process from conception to creation and what is your motivation?
Felting is my hobby. We hear a lot of talk these days about mindfulness. I remember working in sketchbooks and on projects when I was younger and really finding a flow, this is mindfulness or being present in the moment. Time seemed to work in a different way, when I was really in that creative zone, I could lose days.
This is what I love about felting the combination of the cerebral planning (I still rough plan in my sketchbooks) and the physicality of process. This is as close as I’ve managed to get to that complete absorption that I remember as a child.
After twenty years working in the fashion world it is easy to become cynical too. Trends come and go (and I’ve seen many twice at this stage). Do we buy what we want or what we are told? Fast fashion V Slow made. The Normcore trend (a reaction to fashion oversaturation resulting from ever faster-changing fashion trends, Normcore wearers are people who do not wish to distinguish themselves from others by their clothing, and yet buy into the trend by buying certain brands). I think felting helps me feel creatively authentic. Close to the end product and sometimes just doing something creative for the pure indulgent sake of it.
What currently inspires you?
The challenge of seeing what other felters are capable of making inspires me. I now have the position of secretary of Feltmakers Ireland. The contact I have with ( often longtime) members is very inspiring.
I discovered nuno felting in the Wendy Bailye class, up to this point I had never added other textiles to my wool. Now I find myself cutting up scraps of Donegal tweed or bits of yarns and seeing what happens when they felt together. I’m just in awe of the possibilities at the moment.
Of course sometimes I get stuck and months pass and I do no felting. Life is busy. I live with migraines and the battle to manage these each month is ongoing. The kids have their activities, I volunteer at their school and family life is very full. Never mind being self-employed! Sometimes it’s not always possible to do as much felting as I’d like but each time I manage to come back to it I find myself unconsciously smiling and getting lost again.
At the moment I’m just allowing the act of felting to teach me rather than imposing myself on it.