I recently took part in an excellent course on feltmaking with Jeanette Appleton at West Dean College. We were learning how to use very fine layers of ‘pre-felt,’ (two fine layers of wool tops lightly felted.) This technique has the benefit of allowing the felt to be cut and recombined in crisp designs. Silk chiffon or synthetic organza ‘bubbles’ can be added to the pre-felt to create ‘Nuno felt’.
The day started with a paper exercise building up layers of rubbings in tonal shades of white, grey and black. Sections of the paper were cut and passed on to the next student. Examining these papers up on the wall in a series helped us distinguish areas of heavy and light tone, and also the relationship of pieces of art with their surroundings – discovering how they interact with the piece of work next to it. Appleton encouraged us to think of work on different planes and from varying perspectives. She explained that for exhibition displays she considers placement on floors as well as the wall space.
The tonal drawings were used as ‘food’ to inspire mark-making with interesting fibres, pulling and distorting yarns by teasing them out. We experimented rolling yarns around our fingers, tearing light sections and letting them float down onto the base and streaking them across the surface in specific directions. Two very fine layers of Merino wool were then placed onto these fibres, at right angles to each other.
Handy hints – laying wool fibres onto a bubble wrap base and using the insulation lagging for pipework (instead of the traditional rolling pin) encourages the felting process.
Jeanette Appleton Background information:
Appleton is part of the 62 Group of textile artists, a very pro-active collection of artisans.
Appleton has travelled extensively and this nomadic nature clearly feeds into her work. Early pieces, such as WalkSwimAbout have areas where the top layer has been snipped away - this came about because Appleton had no access to a sewing machine so she chose to add the top layers of mark making using this technique. She uses photographs, often of aerial views of landscapes, as inspiration, cutting and tearing them to explore proportion. Sometimes language or an expression can be enough to inspire a series of work.
One of Appletons major breakthroughs came when she was asked to take part in the group exhibition called ‘Through The Surface’ which took place in the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham. She explained that she was delighted to be invited to take part, but couldn’t believe it when she found herself in Kyoto giving a talk about her felted artwork! Appleton said other people often have almost more faith in her abilities than she does herself and this gives her the encouragement to push a project on.
The final piece for this exhibition was 28 ½ metres long, suspended from an extendable rail, which took 12 people to hold in position when installing! Appleton explained that both the environment that you create the work in, and the final exhibition space have a great bearing on the work you produce as an artist.