Introducing Petunia and Friends

I first saw the masks of Gladys Paulus 4 or 5 years ago and was instantly mesmerised, to me, the photo below is iconic of her work, stunning felt, photographed in curious and inspiring ways.

When I started to see photos of her students’ work appearing online I KNEW this was a workshop I HAD TO take. Gladys has a young family so understandably limits her teaching schedule to only a handful of events each year, she also teaches internationally, this means there are typically only 1 or 2 dates each year when she is teaching in the UK. Not surprisingly, her workshops sell out pretty quickly, having been pipped to the post on 2 previous occasions I wasted no time when she announced there would be a fantasy mask workshop at the beginning of April. Cheerfully glossing over the health warnings and assertions that it would be very hard work that came with the sign-up form, I suspect I was the first person to book a place! 🙂

In preparation for the workshop, Gladys asked us to collect photos / create drawings from different angles of what we would like to make. I knew I wanted to make something based on a leafy sea-dragon, a very flamboyant relative of the seahorse, and found lots of photos from the front, a few from the side but none from behind. I attempted to sketch what I thought it might look like but found that almost impossible.

In a moment of epiphany I remembered I had a bag of clay left over from my diploma in art and design course. Would it have dried out and be unworkable?

It was perfect! Still soft and malleable, it was a delight to work with and it was strangely cathartic to see my leafy sea-dragon evolve as I worked the clay.

Until finally, a flowery-sea-dragon was born…

And of course, the all important view from behind 🙂

I went back to sketching based on on the model, as you can see I was already brainstorming possible names; one of my instagram followers suggested with a nose so large, she should be a perfumer.

It turned out I wasn’t the only one who made a clay model before the workshop, Suzie did too, only she went a few steps further, glazing and firing her work:

Carolyn also made a super-cute needle-felted model of her gargoyle.

Gladys commented that we were the first group to make models in preparation for the class making it all the more interesting that the 3 of us had done so independently of each other. Great minds eh? 🙂

With nervous anticipation (I had waited over 3 years to take this workshop) I filled the car with as much wool and felting paraphernalia as I could cram in, carefully perching my fragile clay model on the pile in the front seat, and made the 2.5 hour drive to Felt in the Factory on the Welsh border.

There were 7 students on the course, all lovely, very experienced felt-makers. Two had flown over from Canada (they did not know each other before the workshop), now that is dedication! The first day started with introductions and how to design and plan your mask template before creating the template.

Templates made, we started laying out the wool by the end of day 1 and this continued for the next two days interspersed with making prefelts and some rubbing. I am so glad most of us were staying at Felt in the Factory or nearby as we worked until 10pm most evenings and coming in an hour or 2 before class officially started again to work on our creations. Did I mention that the sign up form included a health warning regarding the level of fitness required? I thought it was exaggerated but we really did end up spending 12+ hours each day on our feet, only stopping to eat and sleep. The ever-helpful Nina provided a constant supply of tea, coffee and cake while we worked, ensuring the meal breaks were kept to a minimum.

I think most of us went through quite an emotional journey with our masks, starting with excitement and a little trepidation at the scale of the task to despair that it would always be a twisted misshapen mess to finally the joy and fulfilment as it finally started to resemble the sketches and photos it was created from. For some of us even even the animal that we thought we were working on morphed into something else, when I bumped into Nickie at the Contemporary Textiles Fair she said she would make a dragon, by the end of the week it was a griffin, I will let you decide which it is….

At the end of our 5 days together everyone left with sore hands, a mask they could be proud of and a big smile on their face. I think all of us have continued working on our masterpieces since we departed.

I think I am the only one to name my new pet, perhaps you can help suggest some names? Introducing…..

Carolyn’s gargoyle
I’m sure gargoyles should be frightening but I think he is gorgeously huggable 🙂
Nickie’s dragoniffin
Suzie’s Ram’s Head – Work in Progress
Finished!
Suzie Gutteridge

www.suziegutteridge.com
Petunia – my Flowery Sea-Dragon

If you are interested in taking this workshop I recommend signing up to Gladys’ newsletter on her webpage so you are notified as soon as the next class dates are released.

Happy felting!

Felting for Embroidery – Part 2

Several people have requested an update following this post that I wrote following a felt-making session I led for the Farnborough Embroiderer’s Guild. We met the following month with the intention of adding some stitching to the pieces we had made and these are the results. They are all work in progress so please don’t judge them too harshly (not that you would, I know 🙂 ).

What do you think? Do you have a favourite?

Biophilia and Felting Friendships

It is almost a year to the day that I gave up my day job of setting up clinical trials of new drugs for hospital patients to pursue my dream of making felt full-time.

Related image

A post on FB this week, prompted me to reflect on why I made that choice. One year in to my new adventure and the start of a new year, this seems like a good place to pause and take stock.

The post on FB asked us to choose the 3 main reasons why we chose to use our creative talents to go self-employed because lets face it, most of us don’t do it for the financial rewards, if economic security is top of your agenda, going self-employed in the creative arts is likely to be low on your list of employment choices.

This is the list of values to choose from but you are welcome to add your own, they came from Shannah Kennedy’s book: Simplify, Structure, Succeed.

No photo description available.

Which 3 did you choose?

Mine were:

Freedom and Health: being self-employed means I can go for a 2 hour run or a long walk in the middle of the day if I want to, being able to down tools and go outside when the sun is shining has made me far more physically active and the psychological benefits of spending more time outside, in our beautiful British countryside, means I am far less stressed. This also relates to biophilia (see below) which is also supported by working with wool.

I also love that I don’t have to get up a silly o’clock in the morning to sit in traffic jams with thousands of other equally miserable people trying to get to the office before 9 am. There’s a lot to be said for home-working!

Order/stability : I found working in the corporate world could be incredibly stressful, every 2-3 years we would have a new VP, none of them could ever accept that the systems installed by their predecessor worked just fine and so felt they needed to restructure the entire company in an effort to leave their mark, like dogs peeing on a lamppost. We were constantly working in a state of flux, trying to navigate new processes but never being allowed to do the same thing long enough to get good at it before a new VP would come along and change everything again!

I wouldn’t describe my life as particularly ordered; Einstein summed it up well, “If a messy desk reflects a messy mind, of what does and empty desk reflect?”. I am messy and proud! 🙂 But compared to the corporate world my current work-life does feel a lot more stable, my processes only change when I need them to, not because someone else is peeing on my lamppost!

Of course, one downside to being a self-employed maker is that many of us feel we have to take the work when it comes, this can lead to working 18 hour days but that is my decision to work long hours (not due to some arbitrary deadline set by a faceless manager) and if I don’t want to work that many hours, I can always refuse a commission or only accept it with an extended delivery deadline. There’s nothing to say you have to take on every piece of work that is offered to you, in fact I think there are some things you should always say no to, but that is a whole other post!

Biophilia: Not on the list I know, but I think it is very relevant for most of us. Those of you who make felt on a regular basis will understand the deep connection with nature and the past that it brings, taking natural fibres and thousands-year-old techniques to create beautiful works guided only by your imagination and what the materials want to do.

I recently discovered this connection with nature and the desire to surround ourselves with natural materials has a name; biophilia. It seems to be something of a trend in textile studies at the moment but of course felt-makers have been familiar with the concept (if not the name) for centuries 🙂

Felting Friendships

One of the respondents on the FB page also talked about how isolating it can be to be a creative working from home, she described how she has changed from an assertive, confident woman to feeling like a timid mouse. I felt so sad reading that but I can easily relate to where she is coming from. Working on your own, 7 days a week can be tough, even for introverts who are comfortable with their own company, I can only imagine it must be an impossible challenge for extroverts.

For me, while designing and making are where I find the most fulfilment in my work, I realise that attending fairs and teaching are what keeps me sane. I need that social interaction, while Pickle (my cat) is very chatty, his conversation is hardly what anyone would think of as intelligent.

If you mostly work alone, how do you find it? Do you have strategies for coping with the isolation?

I think we are social animals (even the introverts!), we need to connect with other humans and for me, I am finding I need to collaborate and share with others, Open Studio events and craft fairs are great ways to connect but are quite sporadic so I was chuffed to bits to spend a day with Janine and Nancy making winged vessels in Janine’s studio (she has a studio to die for!). I am already looking forward to our next play-date and hope this will become a regular event in our diaries. I have long admired Ruth’s creative textile gatherings and hope we can develop something similar.

These are what we made on the day:

Janine – green vase, Teri – cloche hat with rosette, Nancy – large winged pod

My hat after it was dyed:

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a relaxing holiday spent with loved ones and 2019 has got off to a great start?

After a very busy December with almost too many commissions I allowed myself a well-earned week off between Christmas and New Year but yesterday was a fun reintroduction to the world of work; I was teaching 10, ten-year-olds at a birthday party for twins, Niamh and Hester. They were a very lively group of young ladies and they all did incredibly well (8 had never made felt before), these were the wonderful wool paintings they made:

Hester made great use of the nepps, I know some experienced feltmakers who struggle to get these to stay where you put them!
Can you see the sequins Niamh added to her tabby cat’s whiskers?
lovely use of dyed wool locks to create textured pebbles on a beach

Didn’t they all do fantastically well?

Sketchbook Challenge 2019

I was a little late getting started with this, but Magenta Sky started a new, 30-day sketchbook challenge on Jan 1st. I took part in one of these last year and it was a lot of fun and a good incentive to make me doodle in my sketchbook every day. It’s free and you can sign up at any time (the daily email prompts start whenever you sign up), if you would like to play along you can sign up here: http://www.magenta-sky.com/online-courses/30-day-sketchbook-challenge/

These are my interpretations of the first 3 prompts but there is also a FB page for those who have signed up to join in where you can see literally thousands of other images….

Day 1 – Something small
Day 2- Shells
Day 3 – Bags (I went a little obscure and chose some folded paper bags)