the faerie milliner
article from Felt Matters, June 2018
Creating has always been my passion, my calling. My husband teasingly says i have “art brain” when he finds me lost in a felting project, unaware of time and space in my often chaotic, but somewhat organized home studio. I’ve never really had any other aspirations for a career other than creating, and honestly counted that as a personal deficiency when i watched my friends becoming teachers, engineers and accountants - stable and respectable careers… artist? well… not so much. At least that is what my inner critic told me for years. Recently, however, I made the leap into full time felt hat making, quit my respectable day job and entered into the world of entrepreneurial artists. And it is good, soul-filling work… that even pays the bills.
I discovered my love for fibre early on when i found myself choosing clothes based on how they felt - running my fingers over fabrics at the department store to find the perfect garment. Sewing, knitting and leather working satisfied my tactile needs along side bouts of painting and photography until one day my friend showed me the art of tangling wool fibres together to form a flat piece of fabric. Everything else dropped away and felting became my obsession. I was filled with wonder for the magical process and an insatiable curiosity to experiment with sculpting the wool fibres three dimensionally. My daughter had just been born and she became the perfect test subject for my investigations. Armed with lambs wool I had dyed with koolaid, a bar of soap and a cardboard resist, I created my first sculpted piece - a little elf hood. Each project after that held it’s own surprises as I discovered what the wool liked to do, how it moved, how much pressure it needed at certain stages, how much soap it liked and so on. Mistakes became a source of inspiration or a puzzle to contemplate instead of an inner tantrum, as was my common response (think Tinker Bell). I began to see wool as my teacher, not just a material, but that it was somehow imbued with a spirit that i could partner with and learn from if I was aware and present enough to listen. And it was together that we discovered my love of hats.
I started by making children’s hats, encouraged by some successful elven hoods i created for my girls, who actually enjoyed wearing them once i switched to a 19 micron merino instead of lambs wool. With kids i felt free to create more fantastical and quirky hats, drawing from my love of folklore and nature. However, once i started posting my creations for sale, I was surprised by the volume of adults from all around the world requesting the same designs in grown-up sizes. I had happily stumbled upon a world of lovely people who maintain a sense of joy and wonder that often fades with responsibility of adulthood, people who embrace the magic of the natural and mythical world, and who delight in the unique character of handmade creations. They are the most amazing clients! It is through their influence and encouragement that i started to rediscover my own sense of wonder.
Many of my hat designs are the result of slowing down, paying attention to the details of the natural world around me, tapping into an endless source of inspiration. The texture of bark, the colour of a turning leaf, the form of a seed pod, the miraculous perfection and interconnection of each detail. Wool lends itself so well to creating these natural forms, being of nature itself, and exhibits so many useful properties to harness in a hat - light and soft, temperature regulating, moisture wicking, UV protecting, to name a few. It is the perfect union. I have enjoyed working with many other mediums, but nothing has captured my imagination like wet felting. I step into my home studio each morning with a child-like anticipation of what will felt itself into existence and feel very blessed that it is not just play-time, but also my career. While many of my custom orders tend to be variations of hats i have created in the past, I give special preference for those that challenge me with something new, like a recent request for a tree textured witch’s hat or something more mythical like a rainbow dragon inspired hat. I also reserve a portion of time to just explore my own inclinations and curiosity, sometimes leading me into new territory outside the realm of head wear. Even so, wet felting merino wool hats is my passion and will undoubtably remain my key focus as a fibre artist as i continue to explore both the mysteries of the world around me and of the process of felting itself.