Making felt is one of the oldest forms of fabric known to humankind–a process more than 6,000 years old. Felt happens when sheep wool is moistened, heated and agitated.
For our Felted Fashion Workshop with Jessica de Haas in Oaxaca this week, we used merino wool dyed with natural plant materials — pericone and indigo, and the cochineal insect. At the end of the week, we had collectively created shawls, scarves, rebozos, wall hangings, pillow covers and enough ideas to feed our creative energy for some time to come.
We gathered in the pomegranate tree-shaded courtyard, first to see examples of great garments, including published examples of Jessica’s. Then, we jumped into two days of preparing sample fabric swatches to experiment with the colors and materials we brought. Jessica warned us: always make samples first to see how the fabric will look before you make a larger piece.
On day three, we jumped into tuk-tuks to have lunch at Tierra Antigua Restaurant. (Can you see five of us packed into that little electric go-cart?)
Afterward, I commandeered a pick-up truck to take us up the hill to see examples of indigenous clothing made by Arte y Seda. We were ready to delve into the process of making felted yardage that could become a garment.
Here in Teotitlan del Valle, people weave with wool every day, but using roving (wool that is not spun) for making felt is not familiar. Zapotec women who came into our workspace during the week were fascinated with the process. I am hoping to give a demonstration of the process to local women later this spring.
Some who participated were accomplished artists, like Linda Jacque, who paints guitars for famous rock musicians. Her colorful vision was immediately evident in the pieces she created.
Most of us were novices or beginners to the felt making process, so the experience was both instructive and fun.
Working with bubble wrap, soap, water, plastic baggies, and lots of elbow (and sometimes foot) grease, we rolled, pressed, and agitated the wool until it began to felt. The fibers of the wool move together and interlock. Our instructor, felt fashion designer Jessica checked, demonstrated, and encouraged us every step of the way.
By the end of each day we were ready for a TMM. Some of us chose to keep going even after dark.
The local color inspired us! Oaxaca’s great food gave us sustenance. The camaraderie kept us motivated. We learned from and supported each other. It was a fantastic experience.
We hope you will join us next time!