May 28, 2011

Guest Artist Workshop: Diana Briere and FELTING!!

This week we were lucky enough to have the brilliant Diana Briere in to the workshop to introduce us to the wild and wonderful world of Felting!

I got the idea to bring in Diana two weeks ago at an exhibition of work by this year's graduating students of Sheridan College's textile program.  A young girl named Keiley Stewart built a stunning, entirely real looking Lion Head Mask, which gallery go-ers could put on and then pose for a polaroid picture.  Entranced with the complete authenticity of the Lion's mane, Diana and I started chatting about ways to create lifelike wigs for Dutch Uncle's Puppets.  She was explaining how Keiley had built the Lion using one of the earliest known forms of textile: felt.

And here we are two weeks later, getting our own workshop of how to create and use the material.

So apparently felt is basically like a big, carefully shaped dreadlock.  One starts with a bunch of raw wool or hair, adds water and some lubricant like dish soap (so that it doesn't stick to your hands), and mashes it all together! This is called Wet Felting.  The more you punch, roll, squeeze, smack, and rub, the tighter and stronger your felt will become.

The beauty about using this technique, also, is that it allows you to create or shape the material around any object, instead of just making sheets like you would buy in a fabric store.  Felting over a storyfoam ball--for example--which is cut out of the felt once it's firmly formed, gives a round felt cap that will become the base for our first puppet wig!

 Next we learned a technique called Needle Felting, which would eventually allow us to create the bulk of the wig.  Using a small barbed needle--A Felting Needle--you poke pieces of raw wool through the felt base over and over until the two bind together.  Obviously this technique is pretty labour intensive; I imagine to create really specific effects where wool is rolled or bunched specifically one could be sitting there for hours poking and poking and poking.  But hey, with some creativity, a whole lot of determination, and a little luck (you have to be careful because the Felting Needles have a tendency to break every now and then) we built our first wig!

There are so many ways to work with the raw wool and Needle Felting that it will surely be a continuing adventure of experimentation for us.  But thanks again to Diana Briere for coming in and introducing us to the basics; we've got a really fantastic idea of how to move forward and create all kinds of puppet characters!!

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