Community Feltmaking

I’ve had a wonderful time lately making felt with various community groups around south London.  Feltmaking is  such an ideal communal activity because it enables just about anyone to take part in a productive, creative session and go home with something colourful and beautiful made with their own hands.  No particular artistic ability is required for success, and it’s great fun watching everyone around you produce such different creations, starting off with the same tactile materials at their disposal.  Conversation and laughter flow freely as people experiment with skills they didn’t know they had!  In some cases SONG too …

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I made my way to Plumstead in south London last week to make felt balls and cords for necklaces and bracelets with a group of women from Nepal and Brazil as part of the Cultivating Communities project run by Groundwork London.  This project forms part of Groundwork’s Women in Migration Oral Histories initiative aimed at improving social cohesion, with the workshops providing participation in a communal activity of making whilst singing traditional songs as we worked.  Pretty much all cultures have a bank of historical songs associated with textile activity, from the Ikat weavers of India to the wool spinners of Yorkshire and Lancashire.  Before reading and writing became widespread abilities, knitting and weaving patterns were conveyed through rythmic songs which helped the counting process so that traditional patterns could be reproduced accurately, and people just generally sang songs as they worked.  Keeping these traditions alive is important to our cultural heritage, and we had a great afternoon of spontaneous singing and feltmaking together in Plumstead.  Next workshop will incorporate knitting & crochet too.

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At the London Wildlife Trust’s Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham I have had the pleasure of offering feltmaking workshops to visitors at their spring Open Day, as well as working with Alzheimers sufferers as part of the centre’s Potted History project which makes use of reminiscence and horticultural therapy to improve the self-confidence and wellbeing of socially isolated older people in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.  My morning of feltmaking with the group, who attend weekly sessions, was a great success as everyone was enticed by the tactile materials and all were able to focus on a pleasurable, creative activity using colours inspired by the wildlife garden.  Everyone produced a beautiful, complete piece of felt – one man incorporated some deceased beetles in his piece to remind him of where he had made the felt.  He had to be discouraged from felting around his glasses and his bus pass, he got so carried away!

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At Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses in Lambeth I spent a day in the school holidays sloshing about with soap and water making sheeps’ fleece into felt with a range of families as part of their education programme which provides seasonally-themed sessions designed to broaden understanding of the natural world through play. What fun we had playing with colour in the beautiful setting of the greenhouse and its gardens, with food and flowers growing all around us.  It was a hot, sunny day and being in the greenhouse might be better for the plants than we humans after a few hours …

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Lambeth’s Lady Margaret Settlement charity hosts the All Sewn Up Project which provides local women with marketable skills in textile techniques through City & Guilds accredited courses, which rely on the ongoing fundraising initiatives of the wonderful Project Manager Pascaline Lambert for support.  I have run two feltmaking workshops at the project now and what a range of enthusiastic motivated women I’ve had the pleasure of working with!  We started by making flat pieces of felt to use as table mats, or to be sewn into useful items such as spectacle or phone cases, then in the afternoons we made decorative bowls or felt beads & cords.  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and were keen to learn more techniques.

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Next stop will be Southmead Primary School in the London borough of Wandsworth, where I’ll be joining art teacher Lucy Ruxton for a day of textile activity – felting, weaving, dyeing, stitching, glueing – with kids working around a medieval theme,  then back to Brockwell Park Greenhouses for some needlefelting of snails, ladybirds, beetles and other bugs, outside in the garden if the weather allows us.  If not, in the hothouse conditions of the greenhouse!! Fans at the ready …

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4 responses to “Community Feltmaking

  1. Hi Virginia,
    No I hadn’t heard that song – how interesting. I will forward the link to a feltmaking friend who is from the Isle of Harris. I will have a listen to the whole thing, and thank you for sharing another textile song. My last post was also on that theme – Yan Tan Tethera, (one, two, three) about knitting songs, celebrated recently through an event at Cecil Sharp House. Happy stitching!

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