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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Yan Tan Tethera (one, two, three)

One evening last week, as part of the Museums at Night season,  I went along with some friends to Cecil Sharp House in Camden, London – home of the English Folk Dance & Song Society to see this event exploring the connection between the making of textiles and song.  Yan Tan Tethera (one, two, three) – a traditional method used by shepherds in the north of England to count sheep, as well as a method used by knitters to count stitches.

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Tables were set out around the edge of the great hall, adorned with baskets of yarn, knitting needles and crochet hooks,  so that everyone could take part in the event by knitting charms and keepsakes to be added to the Mandala made by textile collective & gallery Prick Your Finger, celebrating the communal activity of making.

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Meanwhile the floor was filled with folk singers and dancers.  One of my old schoolfriends sings with the Dulwich Folk Choir so a little group of we ‘girls’ went along to enjoy seeing her take part in the song and dance.  We had a bit of a lark with our knitted ‘charms’ one of which was a short strip of cable stitch, which one bawdy onlooker thought resembled a certain bit of the female anatomy!  Not sure I’d agree ….

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T’ sang was — “‘Sally an’ I, Sally an’ I, For a good pudding pye, Taa hoaf wheat, an’ tudder hoaf rye, Sally an’ I, for a good pudding pye.’ ” We sang this (altering t’ neams) at every needle : and when we com at t’ end cried ’ off,’ an’ began again, an’ sae we strave on o’ t’ day through.”  This extract gives a good idea of what is meant by ” a Knitting Song.”

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Here’s a glimpse of friend Alison, and all her singing buddies, getting stuck into one of a number of songs, such as the Cotton Breeches song

“Oh father, father I am married
Oh that I had longer tarried
For the women they do swear
That the breeches they will wear”
(from the song, Will the Weaver, collected from John Burton, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex), and

the Cotton Breeches dance. Danced by a woman on a table with skirts tucked in
(Dance collected by Clive Carey from Alfred Bishop, Thaxted, Essex)

Other delights of the evening were Dancing of the Bobbin, partaking of the ale, admiring the textile artworks by Freddie Robins,  Basket weaver Shane Waltener, Folk artist Stewart Easton, and the East London Textiles  McGrath Makers Group and just generally being in amongst a huge session of good-natured communal making.   Knitting along at the next table was  Julie Arkell – a well-known textile folk artist who runs her quirky creatures workshops in knitting shop Loop, in Islington, London.

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An interesting event forming part of an exhibition running in and around Cecil Sharp House until 25th September.

Next event with Women of the Cloth in Dulwich

JEANNIE AVENT GALLERY

14 North Cross Road, East Dulwich London SE22 9EU

Following on from last year’s residency at Jeannie Avent Gallery, which was a great success and a lovely place to be, we will be back there for two weeks from 3rd April 2014

As usual, we will have a variety of work on show and for sale, with various guest textile artists adding yet more choice of work and techniques to see and to buy.

We will be running workshops, a few of which are listed below, more to be added soon. Email us at womenofthecloth2012@gmail.com to book places:

Sat 5th April – 10.30 till 16.00  Feltmaking Day: make some colourful felt using sheeps’fleece, soap & water

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Sun 6th April – 11.00 till 15.00  Creative Weaving with Joan

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Mon 7th April – 10.30 till 16.00 Needlefelting: Garden birds

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Weds 9th April – 18.45 till 21.00

Felt balls for necklaces & bracelets

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Thurs 10th April 14.00-17.00 and Sunday 12th April

Lino block printing with Robyn Archer

Create your own carved lino block using traditional carving techniques. Print your design onto a tote bag and greetings cards.

Robyn lino

Sun 13th April 14.00 – 17.00 – Beginners’ Embroidery

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Mon 14th April – 11.00 till 16.00 Needlefelted Dogs

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Mon 14th April – 18.45 till 21.00 Shisha Mirrorwork Embroidery

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Full day workshops £50.00 including materials, half day or evening workshops £25.00 or £30.00