Felt Artistry | Interview with Baa Baa Bag Chic
We sit down with incredibly talented Felt Artist, Paulene Bryant from Baa Baa Bag Chic, to talk all things felt.
Qu: First of all, Paulene, Baa Baa Bag Chic is such a great name! Can you talk us through how felt is created and what it is used for…I know it begins with a sheep?
Felt making was the first textile to be made by man, it pre-dates spinning and weaving with examples of felt hats and shoes dating back to the Bronze Age being discovered. Felt is a type of textile that is not woven but produced by matting, condensing and pressing wool fibres together. The addition of water and soap speeds up the interlocking of the barbs on the wool fibres. Heat is then applied, and the fibres are shrunk, this makes the interlocked fibres form a permanent bond that is extremely durable and hardwearing. This technique is called wet felting. Felt is also made in factories using vast beds of barbed needles that repeatedly punch the wool fibres until they knit together to form the felt you can buy by the metre. The needles can be used singly to work small pieces of work e.g. ornaments, beads and to add fine detail to a wet felted piece. Felt has many purposes, nomadic tribes use felt to make their tents and it has many uses within industry as well as the more commonly known uses of clothing and crafting.
Qu: Where did your passion for felting start, did you grow up with a felter in the family or did you have an incredible teacher?
Textiles have been part of my creative life for as long as I can remember, my earliest memories are of watching my mum sew and I quickly followed down the same path. I first came across felt as a craft when a friend shared her knowledge, I had a go and was instantly hooked. I took classes from Ann Monica, another artist under the Spacecraft roof and I haven’t looked back. I never tire of putting fibres together as each mixing offers an infinite variety of possibilities. Every project gets its own distinctive characteristics as the fibres entwine, merging the colours; by combining silks and other natural fibres with the wool I can create a range of different textures and effects making each item unique and unrepeatable.
I enjoy the whole design process of creating, you start with an idea, then work out how to make the design work without having any seams or stitching in its creation. I know of no other fabric where this can be achieved, it is this unique quality that makes felt bags and baskets so durable as there is nothing to fray or unpick.
Qu: Your Westbury White Horse bag and the Stonehenge bag were works of art. How do you create that level of detail and different colours, so it looks like a painting using felt?
It takes two different styles of felting to create this type of bag. Firstly, you create the bag with the underlying design sketched out in wool fibres on the surface, I use other fibres including silk, wool nepps and curly locks to add texture and depth to the design. This is all fused together using the wet felting technique. The detail is added using the dry felting technique of needle felting afterwards.
Qu: Out of everything you felt (jewellery, bags, baskets, pots, scarfs, wraps, mittens…) do you have a favourite?
Wet felting is by far my favourite technique, I enjoy the challenge of creating a bag, adding pockets and straps without any sewing involves laying the fibres in specific ways and the use of resists to ensure everything holds together. Nuno felting is another aspect of felt making I find rewarding; this technique joins lightweight natural fabrics and wool to form a super light yet warm material. I use this method a lot when making wraps. It creates interesting textures as the wool shrinks, but the fabric doesn’t.
Qu: For someone new to felting – what tools do you need to get started and what is your top tip for beginners?
For someone considering wet felting I would say endurance is the top tip! Felting on a large scale is not for the faint hearted, it takes time and patience and physical hard work. The great thing about wet felt making is it doesn’t require a lot of expensive kit. Bubble wrap, soap, water, towels and any wool roving will get you started. Needle felting requires the needles and a layer of foam to push the needles down into. You can purchase specialist pads, but I find the foam kneeling pads sold in garden departments work well and far cheaper.
Wet felting, start small with felting a soap or making a flower, you can then try needle felting to add decoration. Felted soap making kits that include all the equipment you require along with step-by-step instructions are available to purchase from Spacecraft.
Dry / needle felting, beads are a good place to start, once made you can practice placement of specific fibres by decorating them.
Qu: Your gorgeous new pots with driftwood handles remind me of Cornwall! But where do your ideas and inspiration come from?
Felting is such a versatile process it has endless possibilities, I belong to various felting groups where work is shared, I find this very inspirational, seeing what other people have achieved keeps the ideas fresh. I see a new technique and instantly want to try it, adding my twist as I go.
Qu: How do you record your ideas; do you use a sketchbook or save fabrics or photograph structures?
I have an actual noticeboard in my workshop that I pin pictures, fabrics, wools and anything that I like the look of too along with a virtual board on Pinterest…my favourite website ever!
QU: When we’re out of Lockdown, we’re very excited that you are going to run felt workshops at the shop. What does a felt workshop involve and will I have a pair of shoes at the end of it?
I am going to offer workshops that give the full felting experience starting with deciding on your design, then choosing the colours, cutting a resist and finally creating the piece. I intend having a range of workshops to suit all abilities and timescales including brooches, soap, tablet and journal covers, bowls and bags. I welcome ideas and feedback in the comments so I can tailor the workshops to meet the most needs.
QU: What’s next for Baa Baa Bag Chic? Are you working on any personal craft projects or exhibitions pieces?
Its an exciting time for me… I have recently altered my working hours to free up my time, time I hope to spend teaching others the skill of felting along with being able to explore new techniques and ideas in my own work.
The beautiful felt creations and felting kits made by Baa Baa Bag Chic are available to buy at Spacecraft Westbury.
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You can follow Paulene on instagram @baabaabagchic