I have always been drawn to needle arts. I learned to sew at a young age and have always loved textiles and colors. Knitting, embroidery, crocheting, I have enjoyed them all, but felting was a new frontier.
Technically, felting is a form of fiber processing where two materials are made into one either through needle felting in which a barbed needle pushes wool through another fabric, the wool fibers mingle and thus, are felted. The other method is wet felting involving water, of course, soap and lots of rolling. I practice needle felting.
And of course, I say practice because I am still learning. I taught myself the basics of needle felting by buying a punch with five barbed needles and a felting mat that looks like a scrub brush. I started with a silk scarf and a small amount of wool roving and locks. I was quite pleased with my first attempt and I was hooked. I felt I had found a voice I could sing with.
The process is arduous. You must use the punch to go over all the roving multiple times in order to bond the wool to the silk or whatever your base material is, whether it is cotton or wool. It requires that you “punch” the complete work multiple times. You know you are finished when you pinch the wool and it does not come up in your fingers. I was working so hard that I developed tendonitis in my arm in the matter of a few weeks! But I couldn’t stop. I found there is world of sheep farmers who hand dye all manner of wool roving- corriedale, merino, blue faced leister, alpaca in the most gorgeous hues imaginable. I couldn’t stop felting, or buying roving for that matter. I feel like I have assembled a palette worthy of any painter. I also taught myself how to dye silk, so I could control the entire creative process. I was thrilled with the incredible color combinations I could come up with. The colors and textures were seductive!
Developing the designs and techniques was a process of experimentation. When I first began felting, I used larger amounts of the roving, creating a multi-dimensional look to my creations, which by the way are scarves. As my work progressed I used wispier pieces of roving almost as one might use paint on a paintbrush. I layered them, moved them around. I also integrated silk ribbons and crystals into the work.
The designs came in an intuitive, almost organic way. I am trained as a painter, so I look at the world with a painter’s eye. I naturally seek out patterns, composition and color. Peacock feathers inspired my first works, a motif I love and have throughout my home. It was fascinating to me that where I saw stylized peacock feathers many people were reminded of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. This delighted me as I saw it as sign that my work was touching people, and triggering a response.
I loved working with the rounded shapes of the pseudo-feathers. From there I went into dots. I decided to try tonal designs, and the result was a scarf with matching roving in similar hues. I also tried complementary colors, such as blue on a grey background. As I worked a million ideas kept percolating in my head. I experimented with different amounts of the wool, sometimes using thick layers, other times thin. I found that I could texturize the silk with the needle punch which added yet another dimension to the work. In some cases the result reminded me a bit of nuno felting, a wet felting technique, as it altered the flow of the silk, creating a puckered look or depending on placement, a ruffle-like effect. Then there were the patterns that were the result of dying the scarves themselves- the wool, the silk, the texture all became important parts of the design.
I have started combining silk hankies, or mawatas with the wool for added depth, sheen and color. Mawatas, silk Bombyx mori cocoons, are stretched onto a large square frame, and in this case dyed. One hankie contains multiples of extremely thin layers. One lesson I learned early is that silk alone cannot be felted, the fibers do not have the barbs necessary to intermingle.
Designs are popping into my head constantly. I recently completed a leopard design, which I am crazy about. I find I am inspired by the colors of the wool and the silk. Inspirations abound, everywhere I look from nature to fine art to fashion. I love to see what others are creating.
My design starts when I pick a dyed silk blank and wool roving. Most of the designs are abstract, so the composition is built on how the colors look against each other. I lay down the wool as I work, giving the roving the first round of needle punches. Depending on the texture that I want, I may finish the scarf by hand, or I may run it through my newly purchased felting machine. The design is always laid down by hand first as I have better control over wool placement.
What I try to achieve through my work is a creation that is both beautiful and appealing, and speaks to the person wearing it, hopefully in a joyous way. It is meant to communicate the larger beauty that is found in nature, art and music.
For more information about Debrah and her work, please visit www.dbkdesignarts.com.