Fabric, Inspirational Source Material, Projects

Factory to felt sheets

Part of a series of posts about a residency at Hlaðan in Iceland. Kristin and I visited the spinning and dyeing mill of Istex to source all the wool that I am using for this installation. I was totally mesmerized by all the equipment, the machinery that was spinning and rolling and folding. The contrast between the scale of this place and the hand spinning and carding that I have experience with was dizzying.

I brought home three bags of unspun wool, which filled the car with a rich smell of sheep. It was like having a clean animal in the back seat.

I spread a pile of wool evenly onto a sheet and hosed the whole thing down with water and soap. I rolled the whole thing up into a tight column and agitated it by rolling it along my forearms, from fingers to elbows, pushing down into the ground. After about 15 minutes, the wool was totally bound together into a soft sopping sheet. From there I could lift the whole piece gently and drop it back to the ground. I repeated this for another five minutes. Each time I lifted the felt, I brought it a little higher, and threw it down with a little more force. With each toss, the sheet would became more tightly intertwined and shrink just a bit, until the fibers became so locked together that I was throwing it down with as much strength as I had.

I then rinsed the sheets and hung them out on my line to dry.

As I began to gather these sheets, I laid them into a pile that was eventually as thick as a mattress. On rainy days, I laid on it and read the Laxdœla saga and experimented with embroidery and cutting shapes and costume from the felt.