Joni Cornell first discovered felting in the year 2000 while studying at the Steiner School Seminar in Melbourne to become a Steiner teacher. It was a two year course, and year one involved self-development through arts. Joni shares that Steiner saw art as spiritual activity, and her introduction to the craft came about like this, “…one sunny warm afternoon Jillian Somerville-Finch came in and got us to make a felt ball, using fleece, yarn and stuffing it all into a stocking to ‘felt’ using warm water and soap. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing but it was a great excuse to be outside. I finished the exercise and found that my ball had a major crack in it like the fault line that runs under California.”
While the teacher’s course did not include any more felting in that year, Joni was able take more classes with Jillian over the next few years. Rather than continuing on the path of becoming a Steiner teacher, Joni decided to retrain in the use of arts in the applications of education, research and therapy.
What Joni enjoys most about felting she summed up in one word, “Colour.”
“I like being in the fields of colour and just playing with the roving and silk fibres. So when working on a big piece the laying out is the most fun for me. But also in the early years, when I was studying to be a therapist, I found comfort in felting on the few occasions when I did a workshop with Jillian, to make a wrap, a pair of slippers, a skirt. Joseph Beuys (the ‘social sculptor’, who incidentally was influenced by Rudolf Steiner) used industrial felt in his happenings and installations and he suggested that there was an element about felt that was ‘warmth’ and this warmth is spiritual or evolutionary. I tend to agree. Beuys used felt as a magical and symbolic substance.”
Joni is particularly fond of Nuno Felting, she calls her nuno felt
“a strong yet fine laminated fabric using superfine merino and silk fibres.”
She also feels the finer felt suits the more temperate climate in her home of Australia.
Joni does not resort to the use of powered equipment such as an electric sander, washing machine or clothes dryer because she does not believe in highly distressing the felt. She also does not thump, or shock her fibers during the felting process. As a result, her process of making nuno felt is all work by hand, rolling and rubbing – quite a labor intensive process.
After exploring eco-dyeing with the abundance of eucalyptus leaves on her property – she has concluded that she prefers the bright colors she gets from acid dyes and this year will return to producing more colourful felts again.
“In making the ‘Battlecoat’ in 2010 when I called on 5 other artists to send in a depiction of a ‘scar’ or wound that I would felt into a coat, I was drawn to making something with meaning and with the participation of others. Working with felt for me is more than about ‘fashion’, or beauty, or churning out fast ‘little’ pieces as though in your own personal sweatshop to stock an Etsy store…the work can be therapeutic (even when the intention is not therapy) and it can be done as a participatory inquiry, where we come to know certain things about ourselves and the life world of others.”
Joni suffered an injury in 2013 that not only made it virtually impossible to sit or stand for several weeks, she was also unable to felt for over four months and the road to recovery has been slow. As a result, she is pacing herself and now making smaller pieces. She shares, “I’ve also resolved to restrict my output this year and make work which will make me happy.”
Joni’s first creative passion as a young person was print-making, she shares that she has always drawn and loves using pastels.
She also creates in collage and water color.
For those just getting started with felting, Joni offers,
“Enjoy the process, even though sometimes it may feel that you’re a launderer ;-). When I first started to make felt and even now I treat it like playing with colours and textures, and it’s always a thrill when it all comes together. Find those artists who inspire you and look at what it is you like about their work. One always needs somewhere to start and art begets other art. You may think you’re copying but there’s always an aspect of your work that becomes entirely ‘yours’ – your signature, because your touch will be different. Take a workshop, even from a maker who is not your idol as a felt maker. Take your time to learn, experiment and explore.”
Sound guidance, indeed.
Joni is part of the Open Artists’ studio program in the Dandenongs where she lives, about 40 km outside of Melbourne. This involves opening her studio to the public for one weekend in April/May. In 2013, 35 studios participated in the event which also includes a group exhibition held at Burrinja Cultural Centre which sponsors the event.
For the 2013 event, Joni decided to videotape the making Semi Circular Nuno Felt Shawl that
she was creating for the exhibition; the piece was eventually entitled “Ten Fabrics Gathering”.
She posted the series of videos to Youtube, “as a kind of peek-a-boo” into her studio before the big event , and to share with others the process of this very labor intensive art form. This is a multi-part video that is a treat to watch. It will especially be interesting for those new to felting to see the size variation from start to finish to accommodate for shrinkage as a result of the felting process.
YOU CAN WATCH THE ENTIRE NUNO FELTING PROCESS VIDEO HERE:
Joni has also shown at the Victorian Feltmakers Inc., and she participated in the Felted United virtual show in 2010,
when she made the collaborative piece entitled Battlecoat.
You can see lots more from Joni….but grab a cup to tea and get cozy.
….oh, and maybe grab your journal…and prepare to be INSPIRED and ENTICED!