The Heart Felt Mandala – with Martien van Zuilen, July 2016
Feltwest members were fortunate to learn the involved process of creating a felt mandala rug or wall hanging from Martien van Zuilen, a national and international felt making tutor, but also a member of Feltwest. There was an evening introductory presentation, followed by three full days of felting.
‘Mandala’ is a word from the Sanskrit language meaning circle, with a symbolism reflected in many different cultures of the world.
Martien explained how mandala designs could be inspired by completely unrelated things… a wine label, postcard or even an ornate plaster ceiling!
She talked about her experiences in Mongolia and the importance of the community working together on felt making for their yurts, as for every aspect of their lives, in order to survive the harsh conditions. Functional possessions are made beautiful with decoration as there is not the luxury to own additional items that are purely decorative, as there is in our settled culture. The decorations often include imperfect, repaired or misaligned features, which add to the beauty.
Martien brought along a variety of well-catalogued samples (both raw fibre, and its corresponding felted sample). This gave us an insight into the different animal fibres available to felt with, including Polwarth, Corriedale, Cashmere, Camel and Merino, to name some. It was very useful to see how different fibres yielded different textures of felt.
The desirability of creating a calm, uncluttered work space for making the mandala was emphasised. Organise a colour pallet of only the wool tops, pre-felts, threads etc to be used for the project and remove other competing materials that will deflect the eye and the creative mind.
As prefelts played a big role in the creation of these mandalas, Martien spoke of the advantage we have as felters, in being able to create our own ‘fabric’ – prefelt – something not common among textile arts. It would therefore be a good idea to customise our handmade prefelts, both in colour and by adding decorative bits of our choice.
It was empowering to learn how to correct ‘mistakes’ or to change parts of the design that we didn’t like anymore, even after they had been partly felted in. Martien spoke of felt-making as a forgiving process, if built up gradually, and not rushed through.
There are many approaches to decorating the mandala. Wool top colours can be mixed to create particular effects in the pre-felts. Fluffy yarns can be stitched on, extra wool or felted cord can be added to raise the surface. Stitching with threads applied in the pre-felt stage should be far apart to allow for shrinkage. There were plenty of very useful tips that Martien shared throughout the workshop, on everything from laying out wool tops, to getting an even edge around the mandala, at the end.
Participants applied themselves to the process of laying out wool, stitching, rolling and completing the all-important finishing and edging. The result was 9 individually stunning mandalas.
All in all, it was a fantastic learning experience for our mandala-makers. Not to mention a very satisfying workshop, as everyone went home with a beautiful, unique mandala they were happy with.