Taking felt to the next level

By Elizabeth Bate

Unconventional techniques to make and use felt was the theme of two workshops taught by artist Pam de Groot and presented by the Art Hive at the Haliburton Curling Club Aug. 17 to 21.

Working with felt for more than 10 years in her native Australia de Groot taught students how to create the material from scratch using unrefined wool some from local sheep and plant-based dyes made from local plants.

The first two-day workshop focused on creating sculpture works with the felt.

“We’re looking at the dimensional qualities of felt and how we can sort of change things from being two dimensional to three dimensional and then also incorporating foreign objects into our felt to create surfaces with interesting texture” said de Groot.

Once participants created the felt they learned how to shape and texturize it creating solid sculpture pieces through moulding techniques rather than sewing.

Following the two-day workshop a four-day workshop focused on creating wearable works of felt art by allowing participants to learn to craft dresses using alternative techniques.

“We start by making cloth from chiffon silk and wool. We make yardage which is then sort of cut and joined in a non-conventional way of dress making so it’s not your average way of making a garment it’s requiring people to think outside the box and not know exactly where they’re going which is often difficult but it’s really quite freeing and allows people to go on a path of discovery as they go” de Groot said.

Working with the wool de Groot said the students were asking the fabric to do things not traditionally required of it when making clothing.

“You’re adding soap and water and friction – everything you should never do to a jumper – is basically what we’re applying to the wool” she said. “We’re asking it to get closer together and to rub up against each other and it grabs onto itself and then it creates a cloth. And with that cloth it could be soft and filmy like we’re doing now or it could be strong and structural.”

De Groot’s work often takes her on unconventional pathways. After her tour to three Canadian cities to teach workshops her first visit to Canada the artist will be returning home to work on what she calls an ambitious project with unconventional materials.

I’m going to be using roadkill and felt together so that’s going to be interesting. I’m going to be teaching myself how to tan and how to work with hide and stuff like that which is quite a new thing for me obviously. There’s that element of the fur and the fibre so it’s still in a similar vein but I will also be incorporating that with my felt as well. It will be quite lovely” she said.

The aim of the project is to help bring awareness to the treatment of native animals.

“There’s a lot of waste in roadkill and it interests me. There’s a bit of a story there about how we look after our native animals and the respect we pay them” de Groot said. “I kind of like that people are going to come and see the exhibition because the forms are going to be quite beautiful so they’ll be quite attracted to the forms but also a little bit repulsed by where they come from so I like that kind of play with people’s minds. It’s quite fun.”

De Groot’s work can be viewed on her website www.pamdegroot.com.