The Wow of Felt

Stephanie Odegard's Felt Rugs

Stephanie Odegard had a simple need—she was looking for a felt source that would make little pouches for some of her products. Her conditions were straightforward: like all the items she makes and uses, the pouches had to be hand-made and high-quality. After hearing about a felt maker in India, who was making felt in the old-world, traditional manner, Odegard's curiosity was piqued, and traveled to India to see his work. The result of the trip? She was blown away by the production and knew there was a new rug collection in the making.

After watching the felt maker and his team of older men work, the "wow" factor for Odegard was discovering the numerous items that could be made and coming up with a cornucopia of ideas from determining the thickness of a carpet to coming up with new etch treatments that were different. Once a working relationship was established, Odegard introduced the group to Sara Goodman, a textile artist and colleague from the Rugmark® board, to help teach shibori techniques. Goodman would create initial samples which the men would then adapt into their own designs.

"We developed a lot of methods and ways of arriving at a design. Every time they came up with a new one based on different techniques I had been teaching or suggesting, I would have to say, 'wow' because the colors and pieces were magnificent. Sometimes they would use the scraps from what we made and fabricate a mosaic." said Odegard.

Working with a core of about fifteen men in India, the main group consists of mature men; a main goal is to interest a younger generation in the traditions and techniques of felt-making and employ them in the future. A few women participate as well, but their work consists mostly of stitching the smaller pieces and embroidering the surface designs. None are involved in any of the bulk of the felt-making process.

Like Odegard's other carpet designs, inspiration sources are varied. Many of her distinctive designs come from the cultural environment and from nature. For the Felt Collection, some of her design ideas are based on the chalk drawings—kolam— that the women painted on the sides of their houses or on the sidewalks, along with spiritual symbols and classical Indian motifs. (See HAND/EYE Online’s The Art of Fade Away.) However, she's also introduced contemporary styles that include modern stripes, and some of the smaller motifs are from the shibori world.

It's Stephanie Odegard’s eye for detail and technique that makes Odegard synonymous with top-notch quality and hand-made rugs. Apart from her expertise in design, product development, and the technical aspect of textile production, Odegard is also a marketing maven with a conscience—she has a firm policy of social responsibility when it comes to working in countries where the production of her carpets take place. She is on the board of directors of Rugmark®—a carpet industry foundation now known as GoodWeave—that maintains the only recognized certification program to insure that carpets are made free of child labor.

In 2009, Odegard was chosen as Interior Design Magazine Best of Year Product Design honoree for Carpet. Also that year, Saba, one of the carpets from the Felt Collection, was part of the Cooper-Hewitt's Fashioning Felt exhibit.

For more information about Odegard Inc., and Rugmark® please visit www.odegardinc.com and www.goodweave.org.

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