Skip to content
June 9, 2022 / weavingschool

Weaving for Felt

This is an article for Felt Matters, the International Feltmakers Association

Weaving for Felt

Whenever I think I’ve made one of everything, felting continues to prove me wrong. Combining color and texture is painting with wool and cloth. Shaping garments and vessels by selective shrinking or utilizing differential shrinkage is sculpture.

Felting came as a natural progression in my love affair with all things fiber. Like many of us, my grandmother taught me to knit, crochet, and sew. In elementary school, we would have a day off to attend the county fair. My mother would take us directly to the petting zoo where we would pet sheep.  “This is where your blanket comes from.” I never forgot her telling us that. I couldn’t imagine how that rough smelly wool would turn into the blanket on my bed and never imagined how the properties of wool would inform many years of fascination with wool and everything it can do.

More years ago than I’d like to admit, I did a collaboration piece with an artist friend who wanted to embed rocks into felt. After months of research and experimenting with making heavy weight felt, I finally succeeded. When the project was completed, I decided to change directions and see what was the lightest weight felt I could make. That began my exploration of nuno felting. In nuno felting, scarves can be sculpted by laying wool in different directions and garments can be shaped, without darts, by shrinking some areas more than others.

Lately, my explorations with weaving for felting have played a prominent role in my ever-expanding toolbox of techniques. I love weaving yarns in non-traditional ways and then watch the fibers attach, distorting the patterns. (image 1) The differential shrinkage between the heavier woven sections and the lighter shingled sections offers great potential for shaping vessels. As a teaching artist, I created a “Weaving for Felting” class. Even though the textures and color combinations are limitless, I’m always surprised by the creativity the process engenders.

In 2019 I was awarded a three month residency at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in the mountains of Tennessee as part of their Appalachian Craft and Culture Fellowship. I’d first taken a weaving class at Arrowmont after my freshman year at the University of Tennessee, so long ago that the school, founded in 1912, was still called by its original name, the Phi Beta Pi Phi Craft Workshop. Although I admire and respect straight selvedges and traditional patterning, weaving perfect yardage had never been my strong suit, and I hadn’t thought of myself as a traditional Appalachian artist. However, the lure of a three-month residency at a beloved craft school was worth the risk of rejection. When I was actually accepted into the program, I decided to concentrate on weaving some traditional patterns then using them as the base for nuno felting. Combining weaving and felting became the starting place for my residency.  I had just taken a natural dye workshop so armed with those yarns, an antique overshot coverlet, and merino fleece in all its glorious colors, I headed off to Arrowmont to see what would develop. The naturally dyed yarns were quite heavy so the different shrinkage of each created endless opportunities to sculpt.

Arrowmont teaches a number of traditional crafts. During my stay, I was fascinated by shapes created in the clay classes using slabs of clay to hand build vessels. I challenged myself to see if I could create vessels using heavy weight felt whose properties seemed so similar to the clay slabs. (image 2) Instead of using resists, I began by laying out flat rectangles combining heavy weaving sections with lighter shingled sections of merino wool. Once everything was stabilized, I connected the ends to make the vessel. The differential shrinkage between the sections allowed me to structure the vessels. (images 3 and 4)

During the pandemic, I took many on line felting classes. Although I’d been making vessels for many years, book resists and overlapping resists offered a new opportunity to create shapes that can’t be made with a single flat resist. Class projects ranged from lightweight to heavy pieces suitable for rugs. My knowledge base expanded and confirmed that there is no bottom to felting.

On a tour to Hungary with Flóra Carlile-Kovács, I was inspired by a visit to the Zsolnay Ceramic Museum in Pecs. I couldn’t take enough pictures of the elegant and intricately shaped vessels. Armed with all my new skills, I attempted to create vessels using the many photographs as starting points. Many of the things I do are ongoing projects and I expect to continue on this path. (image 6)

Recently, I was asked to fill in at John C. Campbell Folk School for a teacher who had to cancel at the last minute. Although I’ve been making vessels for years, I’d never taught it as a weeklong class. Making my own samples to fit the teacher’s original class description, I found yet more ways to add structure to vessels. It’s been a fascinating journey. I love passing on these hard-won skills in my classes. I gain energy from the smiles and enthusiasm students generate while working on their own creations.

Images:

  1. Scarf with mirrors detail
  2. Clay bowls with felt vessels
  3. Blue Vessel Layout
  4. Blue Vessel/ photo by Robert Batey
  5. Group of Woven Felted Vessels / photo by Robert Batey
  6. Vessels inspired by Zsolnay Museum 

December 23, 2021 / weavingschool

Workshops at Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild

November 19 – 22, 2021
Geri Forkner – “Introduction to Electronic Textiles”

By Nicki Scheurwater

When I signed up for the class, I had no idea what an “electronic textile” was, and why did I need to make one? After only a few minutes of listening to Geri, I not only became a convert, but was totally transfixed with this amazing lady.

Geri began with a detailed background of the techniques and examples of her work. Her sweet Southern accent lulled us with assurances that in fact, we could create some of the fun, unique and colorful creations we were seeing.

We started by selecting one of the colorful silk scarves, dyed merino fleece, bits of unusual fabrics and retreating to our workstations outfitted with bubble wrap, spray bottles and towels. Our instructions were to the layer the fleece and fabrics on the scarves, spray lots of water, roll them up in the bubble wrap and roll 100 times, unroll, rewrap and roll 100 again. Spray and repeat. For those of you who have done nuno felting, you can feel our pain. Next, we began to see the transformation from parts to the whole.

After our workout, Geri provided us with conductive thread, batteries, and LED lights for our scarves. Our scarves were not dry. Not wanting to mix “electricity” with wet items, we tried new electrical engineering skills sewing our lights and batteries to small felt pieces. We were careful to create a circuit, not a short circuit. I had never paid much attention to the world of electricity so this was exciting. Some students were even able to make a bracelet with lights.

I was totally blown away by the scarves that were created, with a myriad of intense colors and fabrics that worked when combined, reflecting the creative, skilled person who made it. Fun stuff that can be applied to other fiber creations!

If you have not taken a class from Geri, or just sit and talk with her, I would highly recommend it as one of those life experiences that will stay with you for quite a while.

December 2021 9
Weaving to Felt with Geri Forkner
by Donna Brown
What a great workshop. I thought I knew the plan for this workshop but it took a turn. We had so much fun. The participants brought a measured 3 yard warp and a loom ready for it. Nothing you do as a seasoned weaver applies with this technique.

Geri started the workshop by amazing us with samples of the technique and explaining how to start our weaving. We sleyed our reed with the warp front to back very loosely with wide spaces. Once warped the weaving was also outside our weaving box. No packing weft yarns in this project. We finished the weaving on day 1!

On day 2 we laid our loose weaving down and shingled roving on top in 2 directions. Then the fun began by rolling the project in plastic until the roving connected to the weaving. The magic appeared and our yardage was in one piece.

Geri was such a delight in sharing information and inspiring us for future projects. The participants all left with a creative piece.

June 14, 2021 / weavingschool

Getting Back to Normal – Gradually

At long last, I was finally able to teach felting for a full week to real live people – John C. Campbell Folk School made it happen. Everyone complied with the safety procedures without complaint. We were all just happy to be there learning and interacting with live people.

The school went to great lengths to keep us safe. Pre-recorded messages took the place of group meetings using new technology that even made it easy to share pictures between studios. And at long last, I can be two places at once! I was able to show a felting video I’d made earlier on the giant screen while helping students who weren’t watching the extra project.

I can never say enough about how wonderful the students who come to the Folk School are. They take on every challenge with enthusiasm, go away with new skills and great projects to amaze their family and friends. The staff was there to answer any questions, the food delicious and plentiful, the studios and grounds immaculate.

the Magic is back

May 7, 2021 / weavingschool

Recent Odyssey

Here is the finished project that tells the rest of the story of my recent health care odyssey, despite not having anything wrong except 70+ years of wear and tear. 

I was invited to participate in an Inspiration Collage project offered by the very talented weaving artist Anastasia Azure. She guided the participants through making a collage that would be the starting place for a future project. The previously posted shifu piece was the beginning place for my collection. I only used pictures and ephemera from years of keeping things that are “too good to throw away and will be just the thing for a project one of these days”. Years as an elementary school art teacher with little or no budget for supplies and a long time use of alternate materials destined for the global scrap heap left me with no lack of materials. Pandemic house cleaning unearthed long forgotten items.

Anastasia’s collage project asked us to reflect on several aspects of our work: design elements, emotional quality, narrative subject matter among others. I’ve never worked this way, and it was definitely an eye opener. As I manipulated the things on the collage, a solution and pathway appeared as if by magic. Each piece included tells a part of the story. The boat shuttle carries the viewer through the story just as it would carry yarn across the warp. It is balancing scientific research with the resulting medicines while the Guatemala worry dolls watch and worry. Clothing price tags ask the cost of the peace of mind that should come with a healthy outcome. Antique porcelain half dolls stand as observers, patients, health care workers.  The crowded claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in the system is evident. There are many other symbols and metaphors. I ask you to find them and add your own interpretation. 

Top view showing shift woven band as a path through the maze of health care

views from all sides of the free standing collage collection commenting on the many aspects involved in diagnosis

April 30, 2021 / weavingschool

Response to a Complex Issue

I learned about Shifu, the Japanese art of paper spinning at an HGA Convergence many years ago. From time to time some paper comes along that is just too good to pass up. A recent prescription for osteoporosis drugs (trying to keep old age at bay a while longer) came four to a box each with its own LARGE paper insert. I couldn’t pass up spinning it into yarn and creating a weaving as part of a tableau I decided to create about the mysteries involved in navigating the health care system. In the weaving, all the information is still there but, decoding it would be quite a task – just like it was before I cut it up and spun it. Does anyone actually read those inserts? If they did, would they even want to risk taking a drug with that many cautions? It even comes in many languages, a tiny Rosetta Stone. 

February 27, 2021 / weavingschool

Usually I’m somewhere else

I realized why winter seems to be going on forever this year for me Covid 19 notwithstanding. I’ve been going to Thailand in Jan or Feb for the past 20 years ever since my son moved there. This year no one is going anywhere. Then Facebook keeps reminding me of my trips, fun to remember but I’m even missing that 27-hour plane flight that gets me started adapting to culture shock and the twelve-hour time change. 
I do a workshop and gallery show for the fashion design department second year students at Rangsit University every year while I’m there. It’s been a real learning curve, how to pack for a month-long visit that includes workshop supplies, a gallery show, and enough clothes for starters. Fortunately Thai winters are hot so I leave my bulky winter coat behind. I’ve been stuck without it in Knoxville a couple of times but that’s another story. These days, I am taking half of what I “needed” in the beginning. (I love the part in the movie Up in the Air where the George Clooney character makes Anna Kendrick throw out her pillow.) 
For the first several years, I just took what I’d made during the year for the gallery show in conjunction with the workshop. One year, I thought my pieces would fill the gallery, but they were overwhelmed by the huge space. Then, slowly I connected the dots realizing what a unique experience I was gifted. I started to think in terms of instillations. Now my shows require participation by the students who otherwise circle the gallery in thirty seconds, migrate to the student section and disappear. I know their teachers require them to come but still……
So for old times’ sake and to make me feel warmer, here are a few random photos of Thailand travels and shows I’ve done. Cheers and be warm.

Pictures are from shows at Rangsit University in Bangkok and around Thailand: KoYo cotton weaving village, Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan, Puppet Show in Bangkok, High School parade in eastern Thailand, Duck street food in Chinatown in Bangkok, mat nee silk weaving in Chonnabot
You can check out some films on Thailand here:
http://samforkner.org/linecolor.html
http://samforkner.org/nakhonsawan.html

February 21, 2021 / weavingschool

What I’ve been doing during the pandemic

I’m one of the lucky ones who has had both vaccines for Covid 19. Yes, I feel guilty, but at least I can take care of any family who (hopefully never) becomes ill. They are all science believers so are following CDC guidelines. My children grew up in Atlanta within walking distance of the CDC and were all fortunate to have an excellent science program at their high school. 
So what have I been doing during the pandemic? Some days I’m still caught by Michelle Obama’s comments when she talked about low level pandemic depression. My productivity level still comes and goes. I’ve had to change paths like so many others. Two things have helped. Being freed from commitments has allowed me make just for the sake of learning instead of continuing to make samples for teaching.
Taking on line classes is the second thing that is keeping me going. My felting techniques dictionary has greatly expanded during this time. I’ve been able to make things I’ve been trying to figure out how to do for a number of years. Now I’m in the middle of my first formal color class for weavers. I’m learning how to be more intentional in my color choices instead of pulling things from my stash just because they “look good” together. It’s definitely harder to work this way, but in the long run it will be well worth the effort. I’m already solving puzzles and understanding why some things come out less than spectacular.
Here are a few of my favorites from the many classes:

January 25, 2021 / weavingschool

What Part Does Process Play?

I’m spending multiple hours watching Zoom talks these days: by inspiring artists, for teaching, with friends, with family, for classes. I need something to do with my hands while I’m watching.

Like lots of us with all this time on our hands, I was cleaning out a closet the other day and came across a sweater I’d spun and knitted in the 1980s when I was just learning to spin. It weighed a ton and I rarely wore it, but the fleece was all hand dyed with natural dyes and gifted to me by a dear friend. Besides I never throw anything away.

So I eventually connected the dots deciding to unravel the sweater and re-spin the yarn. Untwisting the badly spun yarn brought to mind the Native Americans who unraveled blankets to use as weft in their rugs. I feel like I am honoring this tradition in my own way. It is also a challenge both the un-spinning and the time involved. I’m using a drop spindle for the un-spinning and an antique great wheel for the re-spinning. Another link to “simpler” times. My hands are once again touching every fiber multiple times.

Young children aren’t interested in the finished product of their art work, they just like making it. As a teacher and mother of four I’ve observed this many times. Will I ever finish making a new sweater from the old? I’m not sure it even matters, somehow this busy work is all about the process.

Sleeves with yarn balls and knitting sample with new yarn
Sweater before taking apart

January 19, 2021 / weavingschool

On Grandmother Influence

Another Arrowmont Craft Conversations zoom meeting got me thinking again. The instructor presenters were asked what their ah ha moment was when teaching beginners. Whenever I’ve taught beginning weaving classes, whether it is adults or the high school kids at John Campbell Folk School’s Little/Middle Folk School , there is a point where everyone is at long last weaving and the only sound in the room is the clacking of the treadles and beaters. At that point, I just sit back and listen to the peace of the moment free to contemplate how the chain of weaving is still alive and well after thousands of years. But how we learn this skill has changed. We once learned from each other. I’ve listened to many stories of women who learned their hand skills from their grandmothers. I am one of those women as well. My grandmother would visit us every summer with a new project, knitting one year, crochet door knob covers the next. She had taken tailoring lessons and would sit in the yard on summer nights and meticulously hand sew padding stitches in the underlining pieces. While I was in college, she passed on some of her finer garment sewing skills to me. My granddaughter sat on my lap at the sewing machine first sewing on paper until her legs were long enough to reach the treadle.
I took my first weaving class at Arrowmont, so long ago that it was still called the Pi Beta Phi Craft Workshop. This weekend I watched young women present their art at the Art&&Code: Homemade conference. The world has moved on. So many jobs my granddaughter can choose from that weren’t even a twinkling in someone’s eyes when I was her age. Traditional skills combined with new technologies, whole new ways of thinking about craft and making. I can’t begin to imagine what skills these presenters will pass on to their grandchildren. I suspect they will find the grandmother chain remains unbroken.

December 26, 2020 / weavingschool

Daily Weavings 2005 -2020

From 1921 to 1954, Simon Rodia built the Watts Towers using reclaimed materials. It was just what he did. Legend claims that one day he said, “I’m finished” and walked away and never returned. I think about him as each year draws to an end. I’ve been making daily weavings since 2005 for no particular reason. Originally, I decided to see if I could make a 3” square weaving every day for a year, but here we are all these years later. I have entered some in shows and am surprised whenever a viewer relates to my daily living scraps. Mostly though, it is just what I do a few minutes every day.

I imagine the day will come when I’m “finished” and lately, I do feel like it is coming to an end. One thing keeping me going though is that I’ve never been able to answer the question, “what will I do instead?” The scrap materials that come into my house over the years have changed; so much is virtual these days. The search for something I’ve encountered each day has had to change. The focus has been a bit different each year. For the last couple of years, I’ve been layering either directly onto last year’s day or just a group on top of the year before. Three hundred sixty-five of anything takes up a lot of space and my house is full. When the pandemic started I began making smaller daily weavings. I’ve felt diminished by staying home, losing all my teaching jobs and trips many never to return, too much free time to be the most productive. So, for now at least, out of curiosity to see what all these months will look like, I will finish out the year and continue during the pandemic isolation time. 

2020 Daily Weavings