The Kyrgyz do it, so do the Australians, the British, the Swedes, the Dutch, and the Americans. What's the fascination with . . . felt? For textile artists Elis Vermeulen and Cynthia Reynolds felt is natural, surreal, and magical. Enamored with the endless possibilities that craftspeople can make with felt, Vermeulen and Reynolds came up with the notion of connecting feltmakers across the globe. Thus, FeltUnited was born.
About the same time that FeltUnited was formed, and perhaps a little serendipitously, the United Nations had established 2009 as the Year of Natural Fibers. Seizing that timely opportunity, Vermeulen and Reynolds knew they had a chance to create a unique and extraordinary event. And they did! FeltUnited was listed as one of the official activities occurring worldwide, encouraging the use of natural fibers.
What's the alluring draw of felt? Reynolds explains, "There is simplicity to felt, both in what it's composed of, as well as how it's made. It was this simplicity that initially attracted me to it. To take loose fibers and, with a technique that is truly basic, create a fabric that is strong, warm, soft, and so very versatile. I still find myself amazed at what can be created. Nobody ever makes just one piece of felt - because felting once you've tried it, just begs for you to do more."
For Vermeulen, felt has a storytelling element that entwines the fabric's characteristics with its maker's character. "It can be soft as a summer wind and hard as wood and either made with the brightest of colors or not dyed at all, and the same goes for the process. Some felters can be working on a hat for days, constantly felting and getting the felt stronger and the shape sharper. Others make a scarf in no time, soft to the skin, fragile subtle felt."
The two artists believed forming FeltUnited would be a simple way to connect felters and their craft, and the Internet has been pivotal in sharing work, experiences, and passion. "All over the world, from Japan to England, and Australia to Iceland there are felters, some of whom are from countries where felt was established as a traditional craft, and others from countries such as Argentina where there is little or no history of felt, let alone a network of craftspeople with which to collaborate. FeltUnited brings us all together."
Once the FeltUnited website was launched in May 2009, the pair were bombarded with emails from feltmakers from 25 countries on five continents, requesting information on how they could participate and show their designs and artwork in what the pair deemed as International Day of Felt (October 2, 2009). Felters of all skill levels could participate as long as they followed a specific palette theme: yellow through red—a slice from the color wheel. As a result of this massive "felt-in" a wide variety of events took place that ranged from open artist studios to workshops to decorated statues in cities around the world.
While both artists work on a volunteer basis at FeltUnited, they have other projects in the works. Vermeulen has an exhibit in the Drukkery (Middleburg, Netherlands) in keeping with the FeltUnited theme. This August, she'll be teaching and working with textile artist Chad Alice Hagen and mixed media artist Jone Rakoski along with a group of students on a FeltUnited theme at the Creative Felt Gathering hosted by Rakoski in Michigan. Reynolds is working out the details as an Artist in Residence at a children's school for the coming fall, with hopes of putting together an exhibit/installation which will be displayed for the month of October. She says, "Working with children and introducing them the magic of wool is something that is very fulfilling, both for myself as well as for the children."
The second annual International Day of Felt is scheduled this year for October 2nd. The color theme is yellow, blue, and green. Vermeulen's and Reynolds' ambition is that eventually they'll complete the color wheel with each yearly event. Activities for the day are still in the planning stage.
And even though they work on their own personal felt projects, Vermuelen's and Reynolds' primary goal is always "to connect felters around the planet—to feel as one, part of a whole." Or as Vermeulen simply says, "Rock the world with felt."
To learn more about the second International Day of Felt, please visit www.feltunited.com. To be part of this growing community, FeltUnited invites everyone to join their facebook group ( http://tinyurl.com/feltunitedonfacebook ) to connect with other felters, and be part of this exciting event. To learn more about Elis Vermeulen and Cynthia Reeynokds, please visit, www.elisv.nl or www.elisvermeulen.wordpress.com; www.cynthiareynolds.wordpress.com www.mindesign.no.