Monday 9 November 2009

Felting outreach at Taking Time: Craft & the Slow Revolution

During half term I ran drop-in sessions at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

This is what Lin Osborne from the gallery said,

"Thankyou to you for making the workshop such a success. It was wonderful to see even very small children really engaged and getting wonderful results that could easily have been produced by adults. I know I was thrilled with the piece I made! During the day we had both quantity and quality and that isn't always possible during drop-in sessions.”

I called the sessions Fantastic Textural Felting and they were designed to tie in with the Taking Time: Craft & the Slow Revolution exhibition.

I happen to love textures and do draw on various tactile memories from my childhood when making my own work I also really enjoy the many textures that can be achieved in the feltmaking process.

The teenager who made this experimented with almosyt all of the materials available in the session. She was excited at the prospect of using this sample as a starting point for more work towards her Art Btec Diploma.

One of the most exciting things about teaching feltmaking is seeing the delight on people’s faces when they realise that they have made something that only minutes before they would never have believed that they could do.

This is especially noticeable in adults, especially adults who have brought children along to a session, and really didn’t expect to be able to have a go themselves.

So many people have left school believing that they aren’t artistic, can’t make things and have no imagination. So I am absolutely delighted when I am able to dispel these damaging myths!

Some artists don’t enjoy workshops as we are often are asked to put together a session where the time allowed is shorter than ideal. I was very lucky at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery last week.

Although billed as a drop-in workshop we ended up having groups of up to 12 people at a time. Each session was about 1 hour long.

This was fantastic as I was able to:
  • introduce felting,
  • explain how to lay out the merino wool fibres
  • and explain a bit about the process of felting
  • and the participants had time to make their own unique pieces.

Making felt is ideal for the kinesthetic learner. It is not an exact science. But simply by making a piece, participants can experience and feel the process as it happens.

An orgy of colour and sparkle here.

At the beginning of the session I explained that we were linking into the exhibition Taking Time: Craft & the Slow Revolution.

I joked with the children in the session that we were actually going to be working fast as opposed to slow and that although none of them had made felt before we were going to start straight away with some Advanced Feltmaking.

I said that it was like going straight into year 6 at school!

So what was advanced and how did we link into the concept of Slow?

We talked about recycling and using fabrics that had already had a life: a chiffon blouse, an old piece of sequined sari fabric, old turban cloth, remnants of fabrics from dressmaking projects and even plasterer’s scrim.
We managed to recycle some pre-felt from previous projects. Pre-felt is partially made felt where the wool fibres have not completely felted and will still “accept” new added wool fibres.

We also used some interesting textiles, which although not recycled, were very unusual to incorporate into the felting process. Rubber fabric (the kind laid under rugs to stop them from moving) and also knitted metal and plastic pan scourers were cut up and incorporated with the lovely soft merino wool fibres.

Spot the knitted plastic pan scourers (blue one and a metalic one) felted into this piece

I wished that I had mentioned that waiting for the sheep to grow its fleece could be seen as a slow part of the process.

It was impossible to cover all the possible aspects of the Taking Time: Craft & the Slow Revolution.

Things like:

  • Taking Time to think about the aesthetics of what you are making.
  • Thinking about the materials that you want to use in it
  • Sourcing these materials
  • Using sustainable materials from renewable resources

Even though the sessions were only an hour long the results were spectacular and people from 3 year olds to grandparents were all surprised and delighted with their results.

I do believe that they will definitely reflect over their experiences in my AllSensesArt Textural Felting Workshop and that their unique creations will give them pleasure for a LONG time to come.

I have said it before but I know that so many of these hand-made pieces of art made in snatched creative opportunities (including drop-in workshops) are treasured for YEARS to come.

This young felter used only shapes cut from prefelt. She was interested in shape and colour rather than texture.

Excerpts from the exhibition text.
……..The exhibition’s main theme is time and making. Although making takes time it is not necessarily always done at a slow pace………… A consideration of time in the exhibition may go further than first impressions suggest and the pieces on display might ask you to slow down and rethink……….

……..David Gates’ pieces also demand a second look. The furniture at first seems familiar: there are elements we recognize and yet they are different. Consequently we are encouraged to look again and consider where they might belong and why, by slowing down and considering the meaning and life of an object that we so often take for granted………

………Makers may often have a very intense knowledge of the materials that they use. Sonya Clarke makes work which encourages us to ask why it was made. Sonya’s interest in beads goes beyond making with them. She is interested for example in their significance in ancient history and their continued use and relevance in today’s society……..

There is also a blog linked to the exhibition. Look here for artist interviews, curators thoughts and details of outreach activities.

The exhibition runs at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 4th January 2010.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Young People from Birmingham Children's Hospital exhibit their artwork at Artsfest 09

Last summer I led various feltmaking projects for young people in mental health wards in Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The workshops were received so enthusiastically by the participants that I was asked to take part in the project again this summer.

Here's a quote from a member of staff at Playtrain , “The whole atmosphere within the ward changed as soon as Kirsty arrived. There was an air of enthusiasm and very definitely a positive energy.”

I feel proud of the work that I have been able to teach and empower the young people to make. The three wards all have patients with different health issues and therefore different levels of concentration, self esteem, and desire to participate.

Finished felted wallhanging made by young people on Ward 3. The design was based on scenes from an imaginary computer game. See their plans for the design below.

Last year we made these fantastic felted football glove puppets, cushions, bangles and wall-hangings and this year we made two splendid wall-hangings, flowers and mini-beasts.

It was even more exciting for the young people as their work was exhibited as part of Artsfest (the UK’s largest free arts festival in Birmingham). It was also exhibited at BVSC: Centre for Voluntary Action, Birmingham over a 4 month period and now much of the work is on permanent display within the hospital.

I’m also really happy to say that some items have been kept by the young people; that special cushion to cuddle, those really cool puppets to play with and those beautiful flowers to embellish handbags and jackets (so in fashion at the moment!) Feedback from staff is that these items are significant in raising the young people’s sense of self-worth and achievement

Fluffy wool fibres laid out to make an underwater sea scene.
And here is the hanging framed and on display in the Council House as part of Artsfest 09.

Here's one of the felted animals made by one of the young people at Birmingham Children's Hospital last summer.

Artsfest is a fantastic weekend to chill out in Birmingham. Listen to a huge variety of music, watch dance and drama performances, try some drop in craft workshops and also buy hand made items by local artists and crafts people.

Here’s Jamie Lewis, a friend, and very talented felter. Even as a felter myself I have bought some of Jamie’s mega cute felted animals. I would never attempt to replicate Jamie’s animals as we all have different felting styles no two feltmakers can make identical work.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Woolfest Make a trip to the Lake District for a festival all about wool

Four years ago I went to Woolfest with my children Bryony & Dominic. That was summer 2005 and it was the first year of this now famous festival devoted, to wool. It was (and still is) held in Cockermouth sheep market. Stall holders each had a pitch with was in fact an empty sheep pen within the market. My dad and brother are farmers so I’m comfortable with that sort of setting. We met up with my friend Liz Brown and some other Scottish felters and had a wild time. I remember the frenzy of activity in the restaurant after the evening meal. Suddenly there were spinning wheels and fleeces everywhere! Liz and Co slept in her own cosy Yurt and we were sleeping in a little tent. The only thing was that there was barely any grass so we were pitched on a very narrow grass verge at the edge of the sheep market car park!

These are photos from 2005

Bryony experimenting with a really unusual weaving frame. Warp and weft are all one thread.

Bangles and scarves made by various talented Scottish Feltmakers

Jeanette Sendler's fantastic sculptural hats. Many with animal sculls and weathered bones incorporated.

Next weekend, Friday 26th and Saturday 27th June, we are off up to Cockermouth for the 5th Woolfest. I’m looking forward to seeing how the festival has developed. Now there are classes and demonstrations and you can bring your own fleeces to sell too. It will be very tempting for me as there will be lots of lovely fibres on sale for felting but meeting up with other felters, sharing ideas and being constantly amazed and inspired by what can be made from wool will be the best.

How about Yuli Somme and Anne Belgrave’s
“Bellacouche Leafshrouds” (felted burial shrouds)?

Friday 12 June 2009

In the beginning …there was a little girl who liked to sew.

I came across this photo of me at Forrest Mill Primary school in Clackmannanshire. (I'm on the back row, second from the right.)This was quite an unusual school; firstly it was a country school so a lot of children, like me, lived on surrounding farms and travelled to school by “taxi” every day. While I was there we had just 16 pupils in total ranging in age from 5 to 10 year olds. There was one teacher, Miss Cowan, and two classrooms (although we usually just used the one classroom). So imagine I was in a class of two; me and Kathleen Jackson. But all the children sat in the one room so we were quite close together and could see and be involved in each other’s work. I was good a helping, but I do feel that when I moved up to my next school I had some huge holes in my education.
BUT the positives! We did a lot of creative stuff; including baking scones and shortbread at the teacher’s house (it was actually adjoining) and we also did a lot of sewing and other handicrafts. Here we are in the classroom, sewing our first collages: mine is the orange one. I was eight when this picture was taken. We had a lot of freedom; we could choose our own colours, make our own design and were encouraged to try out stitches… no matter how complicated. When we needed help Miss Cowan was there or if she was too busy the dinner lady Mrs Downie (who lived across the road) was good at sewing too.
On the subject of dinner; one of the first projects for any new children at our school was to design and sew their own cross stitch table mat.
Yes I still have mine!

I have noticed that items which have been made by children on my workshops are usually treasured. In a day and age when there is less time available in the school curriculum craft and sewing projects are mostly made at holiday and after-school clubs. There are fewer opportunities to experiment with materials and to make. I have met children just a few years after a workshop, and they have proudly told me how they still have that special felted snake in their bedroom or how it lives on the mantle piece at their granny’s house. These little things that we have made while growing up are so important: they are the foundations of our creative lives.