Last fall, I was invited to create a piece of felt to hang in a brand new restaurant opening in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle. Working in a small space, the owners were trying to minimize some of the challenges in the front of the bistro. The walls were painted concrete and the drop ceiling had been removed by a previous tenant, creating a perfect scenario for the sounds of a lively restaurant to become amplified.
The original commission was designed to hang from the ceiling by two chains to provide a visual screen between the dining area and a restroom corridor. Anticipating a busy holiday season, I worked to have the pieces finished for a mid-December delivery. I was given a few constraints: use a deep charcoal grey as the background, avoid any representational imagery and stick with abstract designs in order to fit in with the modern aesthetic of the restaurant.
After working a couple of samples, I decided to use four layers of merino over silk chiffon. I wanted the back to have the textural interest that nunofelt offers, as well as the sturdiness of silk. Four layers of merino seemed to offer the solidity I needed for something that would hang freely from the ceiling. This was not intended to be ethereal, rather something substantial and solid.
As the deadline approached, I had only completed one panel. Covering my entire 8′ x 4′ work surface, each piece was exponentially more difficult to work than anything I had previously attempted. The combination of four layers of wool and a layer of silk chiffon meant hours of lay-out and hours of gentle felting to ensure the full penetration of wool through silk. Once school was dismissed for the winter break, my children accompanied me to the studio, where they ably assisted with each step of the process. Once felted, I sewed three pieces of very heavy nunofelt together to create an ensemble measuring 96″ long by 52″ wide.
Unfortunately, once the hanging was installed in the restaurant, it became apparent that it wouldn’t work as we had hoped. Obstructing the quickest path between the kitchen and the tables, servers had to walk awkwardly around certain tables to serve the corner of the restaurant closest to the corridor. The panel was removed after two nights and put into storage.
A couple of months later, we had the occasion to dine at the restaurant. As I sat facing the front of the house, my eyes were drawn to the bare ceiling, the exposed ducts and a strip of concrete above the windows. Slowly, a plan formed for putting the felt panel to a new use. A panel installed near the ceiling would absorb some of the reverberating sound, soften the hard angles and would cover both the unpainted wall and the ducts. Anchoring the panel on the wall above the window would echo the slant of a chalkboard mounted on the opposite wall used to display the wine list.
The handiest high school math teacher this side of Everett was called in to help create a frame to hang from the ceiling and wall. Together, we upholstered a plywood frame, stapled a backing fabric, and then the felt panel which had to be cut and stitched for the new spot. Cut in half, with some new felt added to create extra length and then stitched together again, the felt was stapled on the frame.
Now that the piece is installed, I’m pleased with the final orientation. The long, narrow shape and recombined sections suit the apparent randomness of the original felt, though nothing is ever random. The name ‘Interstitial’ refers to the fact that this piece serves to span a space, and is composed of several pieces which required additions to fill the 14′ panel. “An interstitial space or interstice is an empty space or gap between spaces full of structure or matter.”
As the installation happened on the last day of Spring Break, my son dutifully accompanied me to the restaurant, alternating between gopher and spectator. In the last hour, he edged toward the kitchen to watch the chef and his sous begin their food prep. This was definitely the highlight of his week. A budding chef in our home kitchen, my son watched with a keen eye. He has been angling for a chance to return there for dinner where ‘he will anything Chef Charles puts in front of him’.
Should you find yourself looking for somewhere scrumptious to eat, head quickly to the Blind Pig Bistro where Chef Charles Walpole and his crew will definitely make your stomach grin, giggle and gush with delight. Check out the slideshow of photos posted by the Seattle Weekly to see just the sort of goodies waiting for you.