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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Too Much Inspiration!

sisters, last day
Wow!  This summer sped by.  Initially, I had nothing special planned for this summer.  I was feeling a let down after saying goodbye to my sister Polly (returning to Australia) last fall.  2010 was SO full of special felty experiences, and I had nothing special to organize.  Boy, did that change...  I'll try to summarize highlights in order.

In mid January, I received a lovely email from Liz Clay asking if I would be interested in sponsoring her Elemental Rhythms workshop in August.  I said yes, I was thrilled!  We had met at the Felter's Fling in 2009, and I was awed by her work and happy smile (even at the crack of dawn, when I was stumbling to the shower).  Liz is an accomplished woman in many arenas.  She created monumental patterned felt yardage on commission for Stella McCartney, and intricately detailed felt as embellishment for Givenchy- both published in Vogue.  She teaches frequently at West Dean College in the UK (a place I lusted after in the '70s to study embroidery) and abroad.  Liz has dedicated herself to the International Feltmaker's Association as volunteer chair, and is working closely with Mary E. Burkett, author of the out of print The Art of the Felt Maker, to ensure Mary's primary research documents are preserved.  For more on the workshop, scroll down.

As summer rolled closer, I planned a one day course in July, Interpreting the Landscape in Nuno Collage at Wiawaka Holiday House on Lake George, one of my favorite summer places on earth.  I invited my felting friend Sherry Horn to join me there, before her private workshop at my studio in Complex Collage.

I decided to stay  the night prior to the workshop, to meet other women who might be interested in joining in.  Workshops are free to guests at Wiawaka, but there is so much to do (like float in the lake) that in past years I've had very small classes.  Not this time! With Sherry's enthusiasm at breakfast, we convinced our table mates to abandon their hiking plans and learn to felt.  I had 13 new students!  Every one was really into it and we had a great time.  It was impossible to miss, surrounded by all that beauty.
My Wiawaka Felting Students at the House of Trix

Sherry laying out her Complex Collage Bag in my studio

The following week, we (meaning my husband Harry, while I pointed) hung my first solo show, organized by Art in The Public Eye (APE) at the Orange Cat Cafe in town.  Harry got out of work early to help me, and we arrived to hang my work, as scheduled.  Unfortunately, there was a mix up and there was still a show on view.  Thanks to understanding parties, we returned a few days later and carried on.  It is an interesting venue.  The cafe has a corner where they sell recycled clothing and jewelery.  What was formerly the scone case is now filled with the latter.  My show shares the same corner.  At first I was panicked about hanging my felt work next to old sweaters, but in the end decided it was humorous if nothing else, and we managed to group my things apart from the "shop".  The opening reception was part of the Third Thursday Art Walk, organized by APE, on the last day of the workshop I was hosting with Liz Clay.  Lucky for me, Harry came to my rescue (oh how I love him) and picked up the wine and cheese, cups, napkins and met me at the opening.  We left Liz at the house to rest and faced throngs of visitors.  Well, a few people showed up and we had a nice little chat with each of them while we shared a glass of wine on the settee.  It was actually quite relaxed and fun- the visitors that came did so because they were truly interested in my work.  Bless them.

a student's photo with felt samples
Meanwhile, Liz and I had a fabulous week together, once we recovered from our trip to pick her up at JFK.  I was grateful yet again to Harry, who drove round trip to the City in the pouring rain.

Liz examines her student's work  outside Luckystone Studio in the Shirt Factory, Glens Falls, NY
Drying Pleated Felt Samples in the studio window
Liz Clay's Elemental Rhythyms Worskhop was very enthusiastically received after people saw the work from this workshop at the Fling in 2009.  We focused on learning a variety of felting techniques, sampling with an array of materials. Then we employed this knowledge to capture the essence of a photograph, interpreting it in felt and juxtaposing the photo and felt in a window matted mount.  Working on a small scale like this was perfect for me- not a physical struggle in sight!  Everyone took off in a different direction, and the samples and finished works were beautiful.  Liz's students will find her totally dedicated and encouraging.

poor image of my finished piece, a boulder at Wiawaka

Following Liz's workshop, we both drove to the Felter's Fling at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, Mass.  More about this later.  I'll just tantalize with a few images from the week, you might begin to get the idea of what I mean by too much inspiration!

I have to get to the studio to work on pieces for the Functional Art Show I've been invited to participate in on Columbus Day weekend at Maria Wulf's Pig Barn Gallery at Bedlam Farm in Salem, NY.  Some of you may be familiar with the books of her partner, Jon Katz.  Maria makes fabulous stitched vignettes of interiors and other inspirations she calls pot holders, and lovely graphic quilts.  Please check out her work on her gallery page, Full Moon Fiber Art.

I am SO excited about this event, please visit and stay tuned!!!