The allure of working with raw wool has consumed me since I first plunged my fingers into a bag of fleece fresh from the farm. There is something so primal about the smell and feel of wool in this state. The locks are coated in lanolin which feels a little oily and a little sticky. Burrs, bits of hay, thorns and twigs are entangled in the fibers, and if the fleece was not skirted at shearing time, the locks around the business end of the sheep may be crusty.
The biggest logistical headache was how to deal with the dirty water created in the process of felting fleece full of barnyard debris. The first time I tried felting in the grease, I spread a tarp in the backyard. There were many reasons for not repeating that experiment, the least of which was the difficulty I had adequately rinsing the finished piece.
When I moved into a studio space, I was no longer afraid of soiling my basement floors with farmyard sludge, but I still didn’t have a great solution. I placed a 4′ plastic sled under my table to catch the runoff. This sled had to be lifted very carefully up to the sink to drain it. You can imagine the precarious balancing act required to empty the full sled. The challenge led me to be very judicious in the use of water.
In November, I moved down the hall to a larger space with different possible configurations of work surfaces. Rethinking my method altered my relationship to this process entirely. Propping one end of a board on a shelf and resting the other end on the edge of my work sink allowed the dirty water to flow directly into the drain. The new system enabled me to use as much water as I needed without worrying about spilling it all over the floor.
I spent a couple of weeks creating panels using a single type of fleece for each piece. The only downfall of the new system was that I was now constrained by the width of the board, which was only as wide as my sink.
The lustre and loft between the breeds varies enormously; shiny, curly, downy, densely crimped were a few of the characteristics I saw in the wool used for these panels. It was thrilling to see the small stack of narrow panels with their contrasting textures. The variations in length are a reflection on the tendency of each wool to compact as they shrink. This juxtaposition added another interesting dimension to the process.
In a dream, I imagined the contrast between the individual panels set off by a vividly colored panel. Who knows where the inspiration originated, but I decided to explore the idea. Not sure if I was satisfied with the arrangement, I tacked them to the wall in the hallway of my studio building to let them rest. However, I couldn’t leave them there for very long as our building hosts a monthly artwalk, and these pieces were due to be hung at the Fiber Gallery the same weekend. With an approaching an exhibition deadline, I started thinking about how to properly hang these pieces in another setting.
Another vision appeared of the felt hanging from a bound bundle of branches. Coincidentally, my husband and son did a little pruning of an ancient cherry tree in our backyard just when I needed them. I plucked the branches out of the yard waste container, then sprayed them with a couple of coats of fixative to secure the lichens. The colors and textures were so inspiring as the branches sat on my worktable waiting to be put in place.
It was a little more challenging than I expected to get the branches to sit flat. I wish they protruded more from the edges of the felt, but working with the materials at hand, I’m satisfied with the overall look. These pieces are now listed in my Etsy shop.
Now that this deadline has passed, I’m working on catching up on a little writing and resting the imaginative juices. Who knows what opportunities will present themselves if I leave myself wide open?