Workshop Images

Friday, March 30, 2012


NEFG Exhibition 2012 at LARAC
Show and Tell at Northeast Fiber Arts Center
I belong to a guild, The Northeast Feltmaker's Guild (NEFG for short).  This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Guild.  When I first joined, (which seems like a million years ago) things were very different.  For me, and for the guild.  Felters were few and far between then, and I was a part time feltmaker with a full time job working at an art museum as a Collection's Manager.  I had become good friends with the museum Director's new assistant.  She had sheep, she was confident enough to wear corduroys and a turtleneck to work, and she was a transplant from Manhattan in Washington County.  She used to sneak off to meditate under the stairs in this little secret alcove during her lunch break.  She created fantastic needle felted figures with a lot of personality and wit.  Just like her.  She knew I was a felter too, and she invited me to go with her to a meeting of her felting guild.  We drove a long way to an old church that housed an arts center, it was West Sand Lake.  It was almost all women, and they had brought their projects to felt on in the big room.  We brought bag lunches, and there was a show and tell period at the end of the afternoon.  Those felters were making some amazingly creative and well executed things.  It was not a big group, maybe 15 or fewer, but there weren't a lot of feltmakers around then, not in the northeast of the US anyway.  It was a pretty cool thing to see.

Chris White, Woodstock VT, dyeing program by Dianne Stott
Carol and Marianne dyed a bit of silk
Roz Spier in her Cyclone Coat, show and tell
I didn't go to all of the early meetings- it seemed like a long way to me, to travel just to felt with a group.  Not long after that, the guild really started to evolve.  There have been a number of dedicated people involved in the guild's success.  Today we meet three times a year for a weekend, every meeting has a very well organized program specific to felt making on day one, followed by a business meeting on day two.  Members take seriously their commitment to attending the business meeting, not just bailing after the fun stuff.  I think we realize that the group can't function or flourish without the effort of the membership.  This year we presented our second successful NEFG Exhibition at the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Center, and we have organize five member exhibitions so far.  We boast a membership of 116, stretching out all over the Northeastern US.  This weekend we expect 41 members for the program, which is a good turn out. 

Guild workshop with Australian Myfanwy Stirling, Glens Falls, NY
Linda Van Alstyne with her felt at show and tell, VT
sqeezed into my studio for the business meeting

I think if it were not for the inspiration, knowledge, and professionalism of the NEFG, I may not have Luckystone Feltworks Studio today.  I certainly wouldn't know as many artistic women, and I wouldn't be part of such a warm, funny, creative, sharing, supportive network of feltmakers.  And I would have had far fewer gourmet meals, philosophical discussions and pajama parties.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I finally made my first trip to Australia to visit my sister Polly!

Sulpher Crested Cockatoos on Linda's deck, Russell Island, QLD
from Polly's deck

I admit, I did not expect to fall in love with Australia.  But I did.  I fell in love with the sounds of the rain forest chorus in the morning, possums thumping on the tin roof, the deafening din of cicadas that would stop as abruptly as it began, the squawking of wild turkeys and the quarreling of galahs.  

How it All Began
Robin & Polly, Coolangatta Airport
Pretty-faced Wallaby from the kitchen
I did a stint at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California in 1972 while Polly and Geoff Stirling were living in San Francisco.  They recently moved there from London, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to spend nearly every weekend with them.  I'd hang out with Geoff and the other street artists at Union Square as he sold Polly's leather bags and earthy hand dyed dresses while she moonlighted as a cocktail waitress at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, saving up for their move to Australia. When she'd left home for college I was seven, so there was little opportunity for over familiarity to erode my idolatry of her.  Polly and Geoff moved to Australia that Spring.  She eventually left leather work behind for a new love, feltmaking, and never looked back.  She raised her family in Australia, and it became her homeland.

The rest of our family cultivated a sort of love-hate relationship with Australia.  We proudly learned the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda and Click Go The Shears from our Aussie in-law GeoffFamiliarity with Australian animals and culture became part of our collective knowledge, thanks the children's books Polly sent.  My favorites were Wombat Stew, Possum Magic, Koala Lou and The Magic Firesticks.  
the Carpet Snake I never saw

deceased Huntsman in the studio (before clean up!)
There was no shortage of shocking tales shared about Australia's exotic side.  Geoff's Mum spotted a carpet snake dangling from the rafters over their wedding table.  A python shed its skin in the toy box.  The undomesticated “kitchen lizard” pawed at the door to go out.  A guest tried to captured a spider on the bedroom wall but couldn't fit its legs under the the drinking glass.  If I had been able to afford the trip when my kids were growing up, I'm not sure my motivation was keen.  For all those years we saw Polly and  her family way too infrequently (at six year intervals for ages), and when she did come home- our mother got fiercely patriotic.  Australia had stolen her first born.
guess who and where?

I Booked It
Inspired by Polly's felting workshops, I gradually became a felt maker myself.  Not exactly following in her foot steps, but dancing close behind.  Finally my own kids were on their own, and I started to get serious about making the trip down under.  I screwed up my courage and booked my ticket, along with our sister Susan, and we rendezvoused with Polly in Sydney on October 20.

Polly's Kitchen Lizard (actually a Skink)
Fruit Bats (Grey-Headed Flying Foxes)
This trip far exceeded any expectations I ever had.   It took a few days before I was relaxed enough to meet the kitchen lizard, and I never stopped being watchful for snakes, but I was proud that the big Huntsman Spider on the ceiling didn't rattle me, and the colony of huge, chattering fruit bats dangling from a fig tree in the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens were adorable!  I was delighted to see the mark of a snake track (small) in the red sand in the Center.   
snake track

The whole place was one giant excitement for me.  Every sound, every sight.  Birds, bats, pods, bark, blossoms, branches, trunks and Roo Bars.
Roo Bar on Geoff's car


Wild Turkey Studio with Coleus

a naughty Wild Turkey
Teaching at Wild Turkey Studio

A week after we arrived I gave a two day Art Felts workshop at Polly's Wild Turkey Studio in Lilian Rock, NSW, Australia.  I was really nervous about teaching around Polly; fear of failure or something, but it was a wonderful experience.  Polly, Sue and I pitched in and cleaned up the studio for the event.  It was the first time I've been in a studio that can be invaded by Turkeys.  For real!  We had to cover the wool I laid out for the class, or the Wild Turkeys would get into it and make a mess over night.  
I brought USA produced wool batt to Oz, hmm....

My students were joyous at being able to spend a few days felting, and spirits were high.  Their familiar affirmation was of appreciation for the opportunity to have exclusive time to be creative.  A couple of students took off in directions that diverged from the topic.  That wasn't unusual, and I found my sense of humor to finesse the situation, and managed to cajole more experimentation with my suggestions.  I needed to feel useful!
Sachhiko laying out her felt
Sachiko's Art Felt Skirt?
Our good friend (and advanced feltmaker) Sachiko Kotaka was in my class. I organized felting workshops for Sachiko to teach in the US in the summer of 2010.  I know her well enough to expect her to do her own thing.  I could guess from the odd shape of her felt that she had an ulterior motive.  As fiber was flying beneath her fingers, she'd respectfully keep reassuring me that she was, indeed, listening!  When she wrapped her finished “art felt” around her waist, my suspicions were confirmed.  You can't keep a good felter down, nor should you! 
Carol laying out
Bronwyn laying out

My teaching suggestion are just that, but it is an interesting juggle when you find yourself cajoling a student to try it your way. Usually I tell students that I am teaching the way I make felt, and that I will be extra fussy with the details. If they are beginners, I suggest that in time they will find their own way. I joke that techniques I might cringe at may work perfectly well. If they continue to do things the same way, in spite of my corrections, I might ask if they want me to keep correcting them. I want to determine if the lesson just hasn't sunk in, or if they are choosing to do it differently.
felters going to town with their wool
My lovely niece, the fabulous felter Myfanwy Stirling dropped by!
Sachiko & Susan felting, Polly visiting

Sue and Robin wetting down
As everyone knows, I learned how to make felt from Polly.  She was my biggest supporter when I decided to rent a studio and she gave me the best advice: just keep working.  There is no short cut to learning.  I've done that, and it is interesting to see how differently we do things now, our methods have both evolved.  It is essential to find what is comfortable for your own body when you work.  I know I have a different teaching style from Polly.  She is more laid back, I'm more detailed.  Maybe more wordy.  Her approach is the opposite of compulsive.   But boy does she have energy, and endless creativity.  She is very inspired.
Polly's friend Robin stopped in during at the start of day 2

Sachiko- show and tell
Robin and Robin
embellishing and relaxing day 2
hand stitching, day 2
Carol's piece, partially done
Art Felt became a play mat for a toadstool pony house

Carol was beautifully inspired by a trip to Morocco
Sporting one of Polly's shibori dyed nuno dresses over my jeans!

Felting Moved to the Back Burner
A top priority for my visit had been to spend time felting and dying with my sisters, but it didn't work out. We did discuss technical aspects of garment making, I took notes and I tried on some of her pieces (fun!) but there just wasn't enough thinking time for me to actually felt there. 

 Sue did get Polly's help to start on a garment, and I took notes and photos, but I just can't work well under pressure.  I need lots of thinking time...

Sisters at Sunrise at Uluru

What we did instead was to pack up Polly's car for departure right after my students left, drove to Brisbane where we meet up with our dear friend Linda Fairbairn (of Journey Jottings) and the four of us flew into Yulara at the Red Center of Australia.  Then we drove a camper bus half way across Oz to Cairns near the Great Barrier Reef.  It was a spectacular spur of the moment ten day side trip.  All four of us we were in awe of the sensuous landscape, no words or photos can begin to do it justice. 
Stanley Chasm, West Mac Donnell Ranges, Northern Territory

Sue and Linda sketching in the Chasm

 sketching in the Chasm, with hand made walnut inks from Nimbin

We are HERE!
Linda with her Journey Jottings map of Central Australia

seed pod

Talk about inspiring! Wow!  I'll be writing more about this later...

my happy feet on the red sand