Fiona Leech is a member of Felt makers Ireland. You may recognise the piece above as it was chosen by Filtti Finland to represent the Irish submissions for the “Something Red” exhibition brochure and flyers during the summer of 2019.
I started following Fiona on Instagram last year as we both undertook the #100daysproject. This is a free project that anyone can enter with the hashtag 100days. Creatives of all disciplines commit to undertake (as the name implies) 100 days of doing something, it might be painting, poetry, photography or journaling and the Instagram community supports you; Through sharing posts and following.
Fiona works under the name @feltathome and I know that I am looking forward to seeing more of her work in 2020.
Tell us a little about you as a person?
I am a sixties child, born in Dublin and a mother of three. I finished school and went to college in the mid-eighties – and yes, I had the dubious hairstyles too! I studied design at what is now D.I.T. specialising in theatre set and costume design. I worked as a freelance theatre designer, occasionally dabbling in scenic art from the early nineties until around 2009.
I’ve always had a passion for textiles; knitting, crocheting and sewing from a very young age. I was taught by both my grandmothers and was loved by the nuns for my enthusiasm! My father was an architect and came from a family of amateur artists. My parents were singers too, but I definitely did not inherit that particular talent! A weird fact about me is that I get tingly sensations when I see colour and texture and can’t visit a wool shop without touching all the yarns! (Probably too much information!!)
How and when did you start Felting… tell us a little about your journey with felt?
During my time as a design tutor at Ballyfermot College of Further Education, I was constantly drawn to the textile studio and was very envious of the students. So, a couple of years after my third child was born, I stopped working in theatre and began exploring other options that would allow me to create work while being at home. I had experience of working with many different materials during my years in theatre; from timber, metal, clay, fibreglass, plaster to name but a few. I even did a bit of brick laying on set once, but it was always the textiles that I loved working with, and I tried to incorporate textiles into my designs as often as I could. I harboured an ambitious dream to knit a theatre set one day but never found the right director to indulge me! I started to doodle in notebooks, collage, paint and stitch but it wasn’t until I took myself off on a basic felt making course, given to me as a mother’s day treat, that I became really excited about so many new possibilities opening up to me. I could now make my own textured blank canvases. That was about 10 years ago and have been slowly finding my feet since with this versatile new medium.
Tell us about your process from conception to creation
Coming from a disciplined design background, my work is mostly abstract. Quite measured. Simple with clean lines, using stitching as a drawing tool, rather like my ink pen that I used to do technical drawings with. I premake the felt that I use in batches and then chop it up, layer and stitch. Hand stitching is an integral part of my work as I like the control that I can achieve by slow stitching. The varying nature of the handmade felt background determines the unique look of each piece. I mostly make wall hangings and framed pieces.
Photography plays a large part in my creative process; I draw inspiration from the thousands of photos that I take. I love the details, the minutiae of everything from the mundane to the miracles of nature. Colour is also hugely important to me.
I recently took part in an online 100-day challenge to create a piece of art every day for 100 days. I’m no stranger to working within parameters, such as working with scripts, spaces and budgets so I set myself a strict brief. With the theme ‘circles and lines’ I could only use felt and threads on 10 x 10 cm felt squares. The objective was to help with intuitive creativity and force me to focus. I found the speed with which I had to work exhilarating and created something different every day. Some I love, some not so much but that’s part of the process. The project evolved in a way that I never expected. It was restrictive and challenging but hugely constructive. I’ve ended up with 100 small abstract pieces that stand alone but also work as a large tapestry of felt mosaic tiles. I now have the task of joining them all together.
Perhaps the most thrilling event of last year for me was being invited to be part of the
Felt makers ‘Something Red’ exhibition in Finland. It was exciting as I’d never exhibited anything before, and I felt honoured to have been included. Being part of the Felt makers Ireland community has opened my eyes to the amazingly talented women working with felt in such diverse ways. It’s truly inspiring and I’m looking forward to being more involved in the future.
What currently inspires you?
I am a fan of textile installation art. The work of Sheila Hicks and Shiota Chiharu really inspires me. I see it as the perfect union of texture and theatre. I love the drama of large scale works that take your breath away. I would jump at the chance to work on such a large scale if an opportunity ever arose. But for the moment I’ll concentrate on my next venture. A simpler brief I think…..
Felt makers Ireland would like to thank Fiona for taking the time to answer our interview questions and supplying the wonderful images of her work.
You can follow Fiona’s work on Instagram
@feltathome, she often also sells at @dublin8craftmarket and in Stoney Batter