About 8 months ago, I created a set of wet felted nesting dolls; minimal, modern, matryoshka. I always knew I wanted to embroider faces on the dolls, but I kept avoiding the project. Embroidery requires an attention to detail and precision, and I am unpracticed in needlecraft. I was worried I’d mess up and ruin the nesting dolls. Avoidance was easier. The time has now come for me to face the uncertainty and discomfort.
Recently I’ve been giving much thought to what I do and how I do it. Unlike an artist who becomes an expert in a certain medium or method, I have always been a dabbler. Certainly, I have built up enough experience (not expertise) in using various materials and tools that I have developed a comfort in making almost anything; much like a multi-lingual person might feel comfortable learning yet another language. But this experience does not preclude me from occasional insecurities and doubts which boil down to the same basic mantra “I am not good enough.”
Which brings me back to the matryoshka. I didn’t feel I was skilled enough to add the faces. I tried to see them as finished in their minimal, faceless state. But that was just avoidance. They needed personality and detail. So I thought about those times when I feel successful working with unfamiliar materials or methods. And it occurred to me that the key is to “pay attention.” Amazing things can happen when you give all of your attention to one thing; focus in and let all else fall away. The skill you thought you lacked may blossom when you spend the time to look and act with care. So I took the blank felt dolls off the shelf and researched embroidery stitches on the internet. With a pencil, I lightly sketched the faces on each doll, and then just started stitching; slowly, carefully, trying to keep stitches as even as possible. And by simply allowing myself the time and space to pay attention to my work, I was able to create personalities for the matryoshka.
I encourage anyone who feels “I’m not creative” to think about those times when you make the time and space to pay attention. Our best creative thinking and doing occur at those times. I posit that creativity is less about the skill and more about the attention. My own making is proof of that.
Every air plant (Tillandsia) deserves a cozy felted wall pocket. This integral piece is wet felted by hand using a variety of natural brown to black alpaca roving from Flying Dutchman Alpacas here in Bend, OR. The pocket interior reveals a surprise of light cream felt, which blended with the dark roving during the felting process to make the pocket lighter than the background mat. A few of these wall pockets are available in my Etsy store
Sometimes a project you thought was finished begs for a little more attention. I wet felted and needle felted these decorative trivets a while ago, but was never completely satisfied. I then had a moment of inspiration when I decided to hand stitch one edge of each of the needle felted strips to emphasize the striped pattern as well as the handmade character of the trivets. Now they are finished, and are offered for sale on Etsy
What I love about felting is the process – which is both demanding and forgiving; repetitive (meditative) and very physical (yes, muscle.) I can be precise or loose and still create something interesting. Mistakes can be opportunities.
I received some natural alpaca roving from Benvenuti Farm and decided to make another mat with integral vase or bowl. I love this minimal, modern design and need to come up with a more fitting name than “mat vase.”
This can be made in about 2 hours depending on the size and the inclusion. I first roughly needle felted four small mats which I then joined into a larger square. Then I placed an inclusion (a large Easter egg) on the square and covered it with cream roving and then with the tan roving to create a reveal of color on the inside when the egg is removed after felting. The whole piece is carefully wet felted so the inclusion does not shift around and so the thickness of felt remains consistent. When it feels complete, I cut out the egg and then wet felt the final piece one more time to make sure the interior of the vase is also tight and smooth. I let it sit overnight to dry and then I trim three sides and leave the fourth raw. The vase is the perfect size for a small potted succulent, an air plant, or some dried herbs or twigs.
I love nesting dolls. I have several versions of them as toys, decoration, and even measuring cups. So in my experiments with felting, I decided to try to create a version of nesting dolls. I used a set of plastic ones as a form. Many attempts failed as I found it hard to keep the thickness of the wool roving consistent in the wet felting process. Needle felting a hollow shape proved challenging too. But I persisted and was able to create this set of four dolls using a combination of wet felting and needle felting. I need to add some sort of reinforcement or fabric stiffener so the top and bottom actually securely connect and close. But I am a bit burned out by the struggle to get to this point, and I am a bit afraid to screw them up. Sometimes my experiments develop into a finished product, but often they are left unfinished and placed on a high shelf or tucked away in a box marking one more moment along my creative journey.