Foundations in Felt

how it all started...

Laura was introduced to fiber arts when she learned to knit Norwegian style at the age of five while living in South Africa with her family.

about the artist

Laura McWhorter takes her background in the traditional textile arts of knitting, weaving, spinning, and felting in a new direction by combining these techniques, along with embroidery, beading and stitching to craft one-of-a-kind bags, wearables, and artwork. Merino wool is the primary material, with the frequent addition of silk fibers and beads of glass and natural materials. Other types of wool, as well as llama, alpaca, mohair, angora, are often incorporated into the work.

The multi-step process of creating each piece starts with selecting the fibers and colors for the project. Natural colored or dyed fibers are selected and combined to produce the desired surface design or texture effects. If the project requires details using handspun yarn, a portion of the fiber is set aside to become yarn at this time.

The creation of the base textile uses a process involving hot water, soap, and agitation referred to as “wet felting”. One of the most versatile traits of hand felting is that pieces can be created in three dimensions by using various patterns or forms on which to create the felt. Many of my pieces are created using inflatable balls of various sizes as the base. The fibers are built up in layers evenly around the outside of the ball, and soap and hot water are carefully added to start the formation of the felt. The layers are compressed and rubbed against the surface of the ball and a textured surface until the fibers lock together and shrink tightly around the ball. Then the felt is carefully cut open to allow the ball to be deflated and removed before the final hardening and shaping is completed.

The same process is used to make flat sheets of felt, by laying the wool and other fibers out in layers on a flat surface. The wetted fibers can then be agitated by hand and the felting can be accomplished by compressing and rubbing. Often bubble wrap (yes, bubble wrap) is used between layers of wool to make a roll that can be compressed and worked to create the felt.

Laura creates her woven felt artwork by partially felting flat pieces of felt using her signature surface design techniques, and then cutting the flat felt into strips and weaving the strips in various patterns.  The woven strips are then re-wetted and the felting and fulling process is completed, creating unique effects for 2-dimensional textiles.

For most of Laura’s work, the felt is just the foundation for the piece, with additional details and embellishments added using handspun yarn made from the same fibers as the felt. Laura does most of her spinning wherever she happens to be, which means using a drop-spindle, which is small enough to travel in a handbag or pocket. The handspun yarn is plied to provide additional color effects, as well as strength and abrasion-resistance for embroidering and sewing onto the felt. Laura has developed her own technique for picking up stitches onto a knitting needle, which allows her to add knitted edgings, embellishments, and structural elements to her work. She also uses the handspun yarn to add embroidered elements.

Hand-beading adds the final touches to the work.  Laura uses a variety of glass and natural material beads to complement the felt.  When complete, the felt may be reinforced using the traditional method of impregnating the felt with shellac.  This adds stiffness and water-repellency to the felt, if desired.

photos copyright ©2007 Rex Boggs Photography