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ORIGINS OF FELTWEST by Judith Shaw. Our story belongs with the contemporary practice of hand felting in New Zealand and Australia before formal Feltmaking associations were formed.
By the time feltmaking took hold in Australia, Mary Burkett in England and Beth Bede in the USA were researching traditional feltmaking around the world ,experimenting with complex techniques and encouraging others to share the excitement. Beverly Gordon’s book, Traditions, Techniques, and Contemporary Explorations FELTMAKING, 1980 N.Y gives comprehensive information about the craft and the feltmakers in the USA at that time. Although materials and equipment have made the work easier it might surprise new feltmakers to discover the level of expertise achieved before 1980.
In a letter to the Felt West editor in 1996 Marion Valentine in New Zealand refers to the increasing interest and expansion of feltmaking since 1990. Val Gilmour of Bunbury, now an Hon.Life Member of Felt West, travelled back and forward to New Zealand and saw what was happening there, influencing the creation of the first WA felting group in Bunbury. Earlier still, Peggy Buckingham co-ordinated TAFTA’s only WA Convention at Muresk Agricultural College near Northam in 1978.
Two feltmaking enthusiasts from Queensland’s Toowoomba Spinners and Weavers calling themselves the “ Gundawindi Greys”, demonstrated hand feltmaking taught to them by “a migrant lady”. Their technique was passed on by participant Ellie Eaton (Royal Agricultural Society & Melanian Society) and others, when they met with woolcraft practitioners. Ellie recalls that the felt was very thick, which was usual in countries with colder winter climates. All of this occurred in the midst of the hand spinning craze which resulted in an increased use of natural fleece and increased understanding of the properties of different types of wool for knitting and weaving.
So, felt making began as demonstrations showed the way for a further and exciting use of wool already on hand. At this time wool crafters washed and carded raw fleece. Demonstrations often included advice on washing wool. Some country people had their own sheep, others bought from emerging seller breeders or from Elder Smith’s wool stores where fleeces for hand spinners were put to one side and sold by a helpful character in the back of the shed! Wool was also imported from NZ.
West Australians who went to NZ for the National Woolcrafts Festival, Manawatu, in 1990 saw prepared, dyed wool on sale for the first time. New Zealand had many wool processing outlets and feltmakers there could choose the type of wool batt they wanted for specific felt works or purchase sheets of machine made natural wool felt. Wool batts were even available in broadloom widths which allowed for commercially viable production of felt coats etc. In a demonstration, well made felt sufficient for a large car coat was made from a large wool batt in around 20 minutes using a cane blind, soapy water and woman power.
During the Woolcrafts Festival a group of leading N.Z feltmakers posted a notice inviting anyone interested in becoming part of a Southern Hemisphere Feltmakers register to come to a meeting. Elaine Hutchinson and Judith Shaw attended that meeting of a group which went on to host two NZ Conventions followed by the Third Convention and first in Australia organised by Val Gilmour and Bunbury Feltmakers, at the Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School in 1994. It drew an incredible group of talented feltmakers nation wide plus representatives from NZ. Registrations from other States included Polly Stirling, Molly Littlejohn, Clare Carolan, Jan Clements, Christine Sloan, Jenni Farrel, Liz.Evans and others who went home to form felting associations and undertake teaching. Bunbury inspired the formation of groups in Canberra and Victoria and the recognition of felting by existing woolcraft organizations in other States.
Undaunted by the huge joint effort required for that first Australia wide Convention, Bunbury hosted a second live-in retreat for WA feltmakers which offered a programme of demonstrations and exhibition of work by all participants. All shared their experience on an honorary basis.
The first Felt West newsletter was issued to approx. 50 members in July 1996 after the three day retreat in Bunbury at which participants agreed to work towards a formally constituted felters’ network. It was agreed that this should now be based in the Perth Metro.area with Judith Shaw as co-ordinator. The first newsletter was paid for with funds carried over from the Bunbury retreat. Our stated aims were
i) to send out two or more Newsletters annually
ii) Plan a felters’retreat once or twice a year at a suitable live-in venue
The Bunbury Feltmakers with Val Gilmour at the helm and Hon.Treasurer Gloria Truman had done a marvellous job of providing for felters’ interests over the last few years and thanks from all concerned were gratefully recorded.
The first Newsletter invited all members to attend felting days at Craft House on Friday 15th November and Saturday 16th 1996 to give them an opportunity to meet and share. Arrangements were made to billet out of town members. Thus began Felting days & teaching sessions in Craft House, Menora. Seven current members have been part of Felt West from that beginning.
The early newsletters contain felting hints and ideas which remain relevant. Copies could be available at Craft House for reference on Felting days. When Felt West was formed (later to be incorporated) we had already began to take advantage of tutors with world wide experience. Lene Neilsen from Denmark was the first international tutor. Most of us had learned from each other and from demonstrations at Felt happenings. Lene went on to produce FELT FILT, available in English as well as Danish, setting high standards for hand felting and undoubtedly influencing many subsequent tutors.
E & O.E ( errors and omissions excepted!), many names deserve inclusion. In WA however, we cannot but remember the influence of Susan Seaman, Holly Nutley, Jenny House, Eileen Cresswell, Teresa Lawrence, Val Gilmour and others who set high standards and were inspirational by example and thus contributed individually and collectively to encourage feltmaking in WA.
I had the pleasure of teaching/working with 12 lovely ladies today.
We looked at different types & gauges of felting needles available & their uses, along with other tools such as multi needle holders, both mine & the students, including a home-made champagne cork version!
We first tried our needles out on making a simple needled doll/fairy/angel/mermaid.
In the course of the day, once sufficiently fuelled by Tim Tam’s many projects were worked on including successful repairs to Kelly’s beautiful textural rug (Used as backdrop in the photos), Kerry Berttucci added needled details to her previously wet felted dog to bring his little face to life. Some made tiny tightly needled creatures, others inspired by Bonte’s charming Danish troll made a larger more soft/ loosely felted creature. Several also experimented with adding needled detail to previously flat wet felted pieces. Between us we used a variety of different sheep wools, alpaca & llama.
Thankyou ladies, I hope you all continue to experiment with needle felting, I feel I have learnt something valuable of each of you.
Amazing colours greeted us as the silk shimmered on a table covered with scarves. Every scarf had a label with instructions on what silks were used, what length was required, how much wool was needed and other details how the scarves were felted. This gave felters great guidance for their own scarf making. Each scarf featured different materials from silks to lace and the all important silk hankies.
After a warm welcome Nancy took us through a mind boggling journey of the many different applications of the silk hankies. As each scarf was unique and there were countless ways to shape and apply the hankies and other materials. Nancy explained how to felt the scarves with simple easy to understand words and accompanied not only with samples, but demonstrations on how the silk hankies were best felted. All participants sat wrapped in awe, longing to follow in Nancy’s foot steps. Nancy brought what seemed her entire supply of hankies in all imaginable colours and offered to bring whatever wool was needed by the participants for the next day a great additional service.
Saturday after a short recap all felter’s enthusiastically went about designing their scarfs I felt that everyone had, by now, a very good understanding on how to apply the silk hankies. Nancy constantly visited each and everyone, gave advise and a helping hand were needed.
Fabulous designs took shape over the course of the day. Everyone had a great time laying out and felting the scarfs and they were all rolled in the afternoon. To finish off Nancy showed us how to felt the scarfs using a glass washboard. I felt it was a wonderful workshop which was very well prepared, instructions were easy to understand and follow we all enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot.
Sue Espie gave us a wonderful demo on how to make delightful angels out of roving. Great for gifts or Chrissy tree decorations.
Toss n Tell
- Thanks Jeanette for covering for the library.
- Helpers are needed to assist the tutor at each workshop and expressions of interest should be provided to the Workshop Coordinator, Sue Eslick. In return for being at the workshop, the helper will be expected to assist with setting up tables, organise tea/coffee, write a summary of the techniques taught and take photos.
- The Felting Frenzy is from 30 October to 1 November. We need some volunteers to unlock and lock the hall. Please bring a plate of food to share and come along and felt to your heart’s content.
- The Fremantle Arts Centre Bazaar is on from 4 to 6 Get your felted items together for sale and submit them at the November Toss n Tell to the sub-committee.
- The November Toss n Tell is the last one for the year and will be the Christmas party. Bring a plate and a hand-made gift for Santa surprise (optional).
- Soosie talked about ‘Inspiration’ in relation to next year’s Feltwest exhibition at Gallery Central. Have a look at the articles on the website.
- Artisans open day with Elizabeth Morley and friends at 136 Deeble Rd, Coolup on Sunday 22nd Nov 10-4pm. Entry with a gold coin donation.
- Louise advised that Contemporary Art Spaces Mandurah (CASM) rent out gallery at a reasonable cost and have occasional exhibitions worth seeing.
- Sue Eslick mentioned that Barrack Street Jetty Market is having a 6 week trial starting today; stalls include craft stalls.
- Soosie Jobson showed her macro pollen sculpture.
- Sara Quail modelled her magnificent shawl and wrap made during the Fiona Duthie workshop at the recent Fibres West.
- Judy Barkla showed beads made at Nancy’s recent workshop.
- Katrina Virgona modelled her bangle.
- Pat Kendall showed us her colourful pieces made to wear at the Feltmakers Convergence held in Auckland.
- Sue Eslick has completed yet another fabulous bag and explained how she completed the decoration.
- Kerry Bertucci presented her beautiful hummingbird from the Complex 3D workshop.
- Nancy Ballesteros gave us an overview of the very successful Bali Retreat.
- Louise Nidorf showed her encased objects made at Judi Barkla’s workshop. Lovely.
- Marion Wolter showed us her white and grey sculptured 3D piece.
- Jeanette Humphries displayed her white wool and muslin top, decorated with colourful wool threads.
- Alison Gomes modelled her red jacket made at the Fiona Duthie workshop.
- Sue Harrington presented her sculptured tomato.
Looking forward to everyone attending the Christmas party. Its always lots of fun (and good food).
Sue Eslick & Louise Nidorf
Katrina Virgona & Judy Barkla