Felted Challenge

Fiona Gill’s wooly pictures
My name is Fiona and I like a challenge! There, I've said it! I make pictures from wool. I told you I like a challenge...Not only do I make pictures from wool but I wet felt my wool. Yes I'm a nutter! Not only do I make pictures from wet felted wool but I make realistic animal portraits! Bonkers eh?
 
I spend hours and hours, days in fact teasing out fine wisps and tufts of Merino wool fibres to build up my design. It's a bit like painting a picture, only instead of paint I use wool. There is no sketching of guidelines as these would be covered straight away by my first background layer of fibres. I have to just go for it and trust my instincts and creativity that I have everything right. I don't plan very much as I like to respond to what's happening in front of me, I feel that's the creative part...I'm creating as I go along, reacting to what I see evolving on the table. As I'm self taught... I have no rules so instinct and emotions are my guide. Does it feel right? Have I captured that essence of hare or field mouse, does it look like it has a heart beat? Is it watching me? This is what drives me, the challenge of capturing a moment in time. Ultimately I want to make something beautiful, something that captures the heart.
 
 Once I've finished laying down the many layers of wool, often incorporating snippets of interesting yarns and wisps of silk, I have to fix everything in place.
 
 I do this by lowering a piece of old net over the top of the loose fibres to help keep them in place.
 
I do this by wet felting, I soak the whole piece with hot soapy water. The soap makes the microscopic scales on the wool fibres stick out and as I agitate the wool by rolling it back and forth inside a bamboo mat, the scales catch together bonding the fibres into a strong fabric. It's during this felting process that I risk completely destroying the beautiful image I've just spent days making. The wool moves and shrinks as the fibres mesh together which can cause the image to distort. This is sometimes a good thing, especially if you're creating a landscape or floral piece as no one can tell if a flower or a hill has shrunk and is a bit distorted, in fact it often gives the piece a lovely air of fluidity and movement. On the other hand, if an animal shrinks and distorts it's very noticeable and the whole piece is ruined. After all, nobody wants a squat, dumpy hare that looks like it's been sat on! It's this challenge that I love—creating something so precise using a technique traditionally reserved for abstract or background images. You never quite know what your going to get when you unroll the soggy wool from the bamboo mat...and that's the magical part...things happen that you have little or no control over...very challenging!
 
Once rinsed and dry I'm left with a beautiful piece of wool fabric. Hopefully, depicting a realistic animal image. All that is left for me to do now is add the whiskers with a fine felting needle and maybe—if I'm up for the challenge—embellish the flowers and leaves with a lot of free-motion machine embroidery.
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