We recently had an opportunity for a little Q&A interview with fiber artist, feltmaker and felt fashion designer , Barbara Poole. Barbara began her felting adventures with a simple kit: “One Christmas my wonderful children gave me a felting kit for making a scarf. I fell in love with the process of making felt and the textures and colors I could create. To me, the process seems like magic: you take little tufts of fluffed wool, rub it with water and soap, and it turns into a beautiful piece of wearable art.”
I have always loved fashion. My mother was an accomplished seamstress. She could make a pattern from just seeing a dress in Vogue. Now I can make fabrics as well as create my own one of a kind garments and fashion accessories. I feel like I am carrying on a tradition.”
What do you most enjoy about making felt? I work in felt because of its plastic nature, historic ties to the body, and its metaphorical similarities and connections to skin. Felt is the most primitive fabric. It has always provided insulation from the natural elements. Nomads used it for warmth and shelter, it can be seen in Mongolian yurts and elegant, shaped coats from the Middle East. When I felt, I start with very basic materials: fiber, water, soap and physical activity. From there, I can create objects, which are both functional and beautiful. I love the malleability of felt; the way it moves between your fingers, and almost seems alive as you work it. These ancient techniques can be used to create extraordinary fashions. I am a person who makes things, I love the process of making: the discovery, the happy accidents, the unknown, and the seemingly impossible. I find the problem solving fun and I get a kick out of coming up with something that surprises, delights and educates me. Felting is a perfect medium for me!
Tell us a bit more about your felted creations and why you make them or what your inspirations are. I grew up by the ocean and I find that I use the shapes and marks that I would find on the beach in my felting work: barnacles, snails, seashells, seaweed, beach grass and even the ridges in the sand from the movement of the tides. I incorporate a lot of organic shapes in my work: wavy lines, circles, and the softness of the material expands to the shapes I am using. I am equally inspired by the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. I also love science, all those stories of 18th century explorers who made up stories about the things that they found in order to explain them. My son, Ian (a wonderful writer), and I worked together on an installation piece titled Invasive Species/Unintended Consequences that incorporated my felt work and my drawings. Like my paintings, the installation was a narrative piece about scientists confronting an unexplainable foreign species. The experience really made me feel more like a fiber artist. I like the fact that I can make exquisite fashion apparel and accessories and can incorporate it into my artwork and show it in an art gallery. As I’ve grown as a fiber artist, I experiment more and more with bringing in other influences from the art world.
What other mediums do you create in? Until I discovered felting I was a painter. You can see my paintings and drawings at barbarapooleartist.net. I like inventing worlds and creating narratives. I wanted to tell a story, even if the story wasn’t finished or didn’t quite make sense. For a while I worked both in paint and felt, but then my felted garments started to sell and I became more interested in this new incredible medium. In 2007, I decided to reinvent myself as a fiber artist. Now, I focus entirely on making garments and accessories. My training as a painter enables me to compose my garments and accessories in a holistic fashion. I work from drawings as I did when painting, but there is also a different kind of discovery process that occurs when you make felt. You need to be concerned with three dimensions, so I look for the balance of light to dark, large to small and how the eye moves across the piece. It ends up that my work in felt is much more abstract than my painting work.
What has been your most challenging project and what was challenging about it? Currently, I am working on a project of creating coats that are inspired by painters that I admire. I really like making coats because they involve saving the complex problems of creating seamless garments that can protect us from the outside world. The first coat I created was an homage to Frida Kahlo. It was based on an old Life Magazine cover photo that showed Frida encircled with flowers. The flowers had faded and the colors were washed out. That’s what inspired me. The second coat in the series is currently my favorite piece. It was inspired by Gustav Klimt and his shimmering backgrounds of gold. The third coat was inspired by Andy Warhol. I’ll do Salvador Dali next. I have so many ideas that excite me. When I am making a coat, I am already thinking ahead and popping with ideas for the next one.
What is your “next big challenge”…or the project you are dreaming to do? I have an immediate challenge for this year and long range challenge. My immediate challenge is to create a coordinating coat and dress for the Fashion Museum at Kent State University in Ohio. This show is tentatively titled Fused Fibers Felt, and will run from May through October 2014. Then my next big challenge is to create a garment worth of competing in the World of Wearable Art Show in New Zealand. Garments are judged on originality, creativity, innovation and construction. I consider my work wearable art and I believe I have the inspiration, creativity and skills to participate. I am looking forward to that challenge!
What encouraging words do you have for others just getting started? I began with a scarf kit, but what really helped me was when I took a workshop with Christine White. She taught me what good felt was, and gave me a great base to start from. After that, it’s all about the experimentations, and learning what excites you about the medium. I recommend starting with a good teacher who will inspire you and give you a solid base of techniques you can build upon.
You can see Barbara’s garments and accessories and class and show information at http://www.bfelt.com.
Her facebook page is www.facebook.com/b.felting.
You can also visit the website that contains images of her paintings at http://barbarapooleartist.net.