What are your sources of inspiration?
Natural materials and objects as well as human made products that have a protective nature, as most have interesting texture or patterning created by repeating forms. For example, the cap of an acorn, snakeskin, the shell of a turtle, the spikes on a sea urchin, the husk of a seed pod, the thorns on a plant, the exoskeleton of a lobster or crab, skeletal or architectural armature, stone walls, fencing.
Do you use one color more than others in your work?
When I began felting I had been quite adamant about only using natural dyes. Since mordanting and dyeing fine wool fibers was often an unpleasant and timely process because of their tendency to mat in the pots, I began felting my work and then submersion dyeing it. This post dyeing tightened up the wool nicely and also encouraged my experimentation with many types of animal fibers in order to get the broadest range of natural colors to over dye. It also inspired me to begin incorporating cellulose and silk fibers/fabrics into my felt work, as they would take up the color differently. My color pallette was, therefore, always a range of hues from the same color family based on the natural dye or the combination of them that I was using to overdye all the natural undertones. I had been on a mission to show that one could create a full spectrum of colors from natural dyes, not just browns and yellows. More recently, though, I have focused on using indigo and walnut to darken and muddy those brilliant colors and in general, have restrained the impulse to dye everything, and tend to leave the work in black and white and all the natural tones in between.
The world of textile art is wide and diverse, why has wool caught your attention?
Wool first caught my attention because I was focused on using natural dyes in my undergraduate studies and wool yarns absorbed the colors so clear and bright and with such an easier mordanting process then cellulose fibers. Then I began wet felting wool fibers unrestrained by the linear twist of yarn and understanding the mechanics of the process. I was taken by the idea of these separate filaments of fiber slow dancing around one another, intertwining and then tightly entangling in this microscopic chaos but that visually appeared an organized whole. This fiber socialization as well as wool’s association with warmth, comfort and security fueled my interest to work with wool as my work tends to be about human concepts of protection and security, both physically and emotionally.
What do you express with your Soft Sculptures?
My work tends to be either making accessories for the human body and experience such as handbags that make visual commentary, based on their forms, surface patterns and imagery, on our nature to horde, collect and carry to feel more secure as well as bold jewelry in the form of neck, wrist and ear pieces. Upon occasion, I will create figurative sculpture to express the intensity of my human experience or perspective and it need not have any function besides contemplation.
Is there a time of year or of the day in which you are more creative?
Generally, I make when I am inspired to create and that impulse could be aroused by returning from a travel, a conversation, or a felt theory to explore. However, committing myself financially to an exhibition is when I really get to work. The calendar pressure and intensity of making one piece after another with each piece directly inspired by the former, results in some of my most rewarding work. The shows I tend to exhibit at are between October and March, so I am making a lot during the winter and try to spend more of the spring, summer and fall teaching, traveling and gardening in beautiful Western North Carolina.
Once your work is finished, how do you feel? Are you possessive and wish you could keep it all to yourself or are you eager to share it with others?
Once I have finished a piece of work and have it documented, I delight in passing it along to someone who values the work the same way I do. Honestly, once I have created the work the idea has moved on and I don’t feel the need to keep the object, nor the desire to make multiples of it. Every once in a while I decide to keep a piece as I really should wear my own work for advertising, but sometimes you just got to pay that mortgage instead of looking sharp!
For some people, the creative process is also an occasion for a deep self-analysis. Is this the case for you?
Yes, yes, yes....we are influenced by what we are exposed to, that which surrounds us both physically and mentally. My work offers an outlet for my perspectives on myself and the world.
Tell us about your collaboration with DHG. Which of our fibers have you chosen for your work, and why? Is there a particular message behind the works that came out of these materials?
I initially requested a selection of colors of DHG's extra fine Merino top in colors I typically would use for my stone wall and fence patterning (as I believe a good place to start is where you are and this is the aesthetic of how I had been working recently). I then proceeded to make very thin wet felted sheets of partial felt, sprinkling them with DHG’s wool nepps to offer some random surface texture that I could play off when free-motion stitching. I had been gifted a collection of beach glass from Murano, Italy by a former student and had envisioned making a fence patterned neckpiece that would have silk fabric encasements for these pieces of glass. I enjoy the conceptual contrast and hopeful inspiration of working with the constrictive and defensive aspect of fence patterning in combination with the clarity and illuminating nature of the glass that can be seen in the holes of the fence. I also requested some of DHG’s Needle Felted Batts to experiment with in this process of making the fence patterning along with those I had wet felted from the DHG Merino top. I decided to use DHG’s 3.5 mm and 6 mm chiffon for the silk pockets so that the beach glass would be visible. I especially like working with the 3.5 mm as it is more vulnerable and its weave structure shifts by the pull and power of the wool fibers. Lastly, I requested DHG’s wool gauze fabric as well to use in the glass encasements because I was curious how tightly it would full with the shrinkage of the rest of the piece. My neckpiece developed during the making process into a chest and back plate that referenced both a protective wall and a spinal column as I found myself struggling with neck issues during the time I was making it. This process of the 3.5 mm silk becoming visually distressed and less able to hold the glass presented an opportunity to engage in repairing stitches to fix and mend, which I found rather appropriate for my healing process and in regards to the piece being a donation to benefit the Ana Meyer Children Hospital. The process of my making the donation piece, Reparation, and further information regarding my artistic choices in that process can be read about on my blog at Strongfelt.
What will you take away from this collaboration?
I very rarely make work for thematic exhibitions or take on commissions directed by the ideas of another. From the start of my communication about the DHG Charity Project, I knew only that I would make jewelry with my typical protective choices in patterning. I enjoyed the journey and the introspection that came from this project and feel hope in my healing and that of the children served by the Ana Meyer Children’s Hospital. I certainly didn’t expect the depth of comparisons that would be made between my handwork, my body issues, the fiber tissues I was sent by DHG and the repairing both physically and mentally that has, is and will take place at the hospital benefitting form the sale of my piece.
What's the sentence you use more often?
Less is More.
If you had to choose one adjective to describe yourself, what would it be?
if you could turn into an animal, what animal would you be and why?
A bird, as they are so very keen eyed and observational, diligent scavengers and detailed makers of their nests, have such beautiful and refined movements and the power to rise up on their wings and see the grand picture of this existence.
If you had a time machine and could travel to the past, which period in history would you choose?
To a time when personal computers weren’t so distracting from the present moment of experience and people spent more time looking deep into one another’s humanity and their natural surroundings than at their screens. Perhaps this is why I find so much joy in traveling to the far reaches of the earth and into human cultures that have not yet been impacted by the technological age in such ways.
If you liked this article maybe you would also enjoy Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, the Queen of Textile Amusement Parks!