Well, it's taken me a bit (lots of things have happened this past week!) but here it is. I apologise for the quality of mostly the later pics because I dropped my pretty camera after the first day and it is kaput...dead. Yes, how could I drop a digital reflex...I know. Until next week when I buy a new one, I have no great pics of the finished thing...sorry!)
Karoliin Arvilommi is a textile artist, a weaver initially, who has been a felter for more than 20 years. As you can imagine, she has gathered a few tips in that time. Rod Welch, her partner, took up felting when they met. They both have different methods of felting and treating their designs -matching their own personalities, naturally- but both are 1-very creative, 2-very experienced, 3- very nice and most importantly, incredibly generous. Although this workshop was on hand felted tapestries and carpets; they did not mind at all talking about how they treat their finn wool, what dyes they use and why, different techniques they use for working with wool and felt in particular, machines Rod has developed, the state of the wool world these days, etc. That was for me the most important part of the workshop... the amount of tips one picks up here and there whilst talking to other felters.
The other 10 women whom joined the workshop were also a delight to have around. Many talented, creative felters whom have been working for a long time in this subject and of course that means that each person had a different way and tempo for doing things. But the results were equally stunning.
A special word goes to Annemie Koenen, who organized this workshop at her Atelier Wolwerkplaats MoerderAarde (dutch for "wool working place, Mother Earth") which is basically her home. Her warmth, laughter, advice and the general organization of the weekend was fantastic. The catering was delicious and abundant and boy... her atelier is like a candy store for wool lovers. Wool, silk, fabrics, linen... fibers hanging everywhere drying after being hand dyed or spun; a large library for inspiration and an equally large book selection for sale. Needless to say we all left with a few books and bags of fibers under our arms.
Now the workshop itself.
Karoliin and Rod working out how to deal the precious finnwool.
We started by talking about our ideas and designs for the weekend. What was feasible, what colors, etc. A word on finn wool: there are only a few thousand pure finn sheep left in Finland and their wool is...nothing like what I've worked with before. I've tried merino of different microns, camel hair, mongolian wool, Gotland, australian, new zealand, shetland, argentinean, bergschaap, etc... this wool was so soft and yet sturdy! Fantastic.
We first received a demonstration from Karoliin: how many layers (many!), working with prefelts or with lightly hand felted pieces of wool, edges...important for a neat finish, lightly spinning yarn with your hands for details, etc. The idea was that first we would make a small test to get a feel of the wool and practice what we had just received in form of theory. My "small" test wasn't that small..oops.... but I did realize that making this test, although not always necessary, is very useful... you can finish working your own design out before moving on to a much larger piece.
Karoliin en Annemie.
Armed with almost 2kl of finn wool I set up to lay layer upon layer of wool. It is -as always with felting- of crucial importance how well you lay your wool, how evenly and in which directions. I had decided that more than making a master piece, I wanted to be able to learn the technique and finish the piece. So "keeping it simple" was my motto. I then choose to -insted of working with prefelts- make the design by felting dry wool. Note that there is no use of needles or anything like that. This is all done by hand.
The first day went by working on this little test. I had to go home at 6pm (motherhood!) but many stayed at the studio working until late at night.
Next day I started on my big piece. It took some time and work to lay the background (imagine something like 1.5kl of wool...huge volume that is) . My rectangular piece ended up being 1m x50cm... that is after 2 full days of felting... initially it was not only much larger but also thick!I measured my layed wool before wetting, and it was 20cm high!
Hands rubbing until arms ached... and then some more. I think I spent all of saturday and half of sunday just working on my piece by rubbing it with my hands, nothing more. Rolling was at the very very end and it was intensive too. I came home feeling as if I had been at the gym the whole weekend! You need strong arms for this!
Rinsing was done by throwing liters upon liters of water onto the work and rolling it out with a rolling pin. I ussually do that myself because it also helps flattening your piece and in fact, you keep felting that way. But at this point in the weekend I was so tired I didn't want to roll anything else! Lucky for me, and for most of us, Rod was standing there all fresh and strong ready to take over and do it for us. Thanks for that.
So here the finished piece (sorry for the dark pic!).
I take from this weekend a whole lot of knowledge, but also warm memories of laughs, stories, faces of people with whom I learnt a lot. Not only from the fantastic Karo and Rod whom honoured us coming down here from Finland (which they don't ussually do); but also from the rest of the felters I met this weekend. Their opinnion, advice and help was invaluable.
I am most definetely signing up for another workshop at wolwerkplaats Moeder Aarde. (click on that link for some reviews of this workshop from other felters - in dutch- or a little bio from Rod and Karoliina in english).