Felting and thinking

Felting and thinking

I wish to show you my last abstract piece: I am quite proud of having included free crocheting and free knitting bits and of having gone bigger than my usual size, all things outside of my comfort zone that were inspired by other artists’ and crafters’ works.
Neutral and white coloured felted abstract artwork with textile embellishments on a white wall
“Good girl bad girl” abstract felt painting, around 80 x 50 cm.
It was about experimenting with felt without the distraction of colour, and I decided to use undyed or white and whitish materials, so as not to distract my eye from the final purpose. This made me think about “lack of colour” and “white” in terms of emotions and morals: how you are not supposed to show a lot of true emotions if you are a “good girl”, how the colour white has been linked to “good” in certain cultures, how silence and demure behaviour (not showing your colours) had been linked to “good behaviour”  in such cultures.
So, this has made me think about what “good girl” and “bad girl” meant when I was growing up, and how problematic those concepts have become for me in time (and have been even then). This led to me choosing specific fabrics and fibers, and techniques to add to the piece. So, I guess, concepts and techniques called one to the other from the beginning of my project and I can’t say which came first, if ideas to express or techniques to try.
I thought of the piece as layered, as our life experience and identity are layered, and being a “good girl” or “bad girl” is not something straightforward either. So, firstly I made a layer of felt to go over a pre-felt background.
But how to make the surface layer? I remembered about the layout for cobweb scarves that  had been suggested in the  Felting and Fiber forum, the one that is made by tearing a long length of merino tops and then carefully teasing the whole length open: I wanted holes and different thickness on my surface layer of felt, so I went for that type of layout for it and it worked very well.
Kiki's left hand is opening up a long bit of natural white merino wool on the bubble wrapping sheet on a table. There is another bit of merino wool waiting on the side.
Laying out my natural white merino wool on for the cob-webbish upper layer
Table covered with towel, bubble wrapping and natural white merino wool in a cob web layout
How the cob web layout progressed
The surface layer was embellished with undyed locks, undyed white eri silk fibers, scraps of undyed habotari silk, white flax, and silk carrier rods. Its shape is very irregular and there are vertical holes from which one can peek at stuff underneath. I liked the fact that it’s not one single white, but many different shades of undyed natural white and of bleached or optic white. Even stretching the idea of “white” a bit to include cream and beige even.
I added a natural-fiber net that I got from my grocery shopping, and on the background strings gotten from labels of clothes and scraps from a cotton handkerchief, to remind me of all the mother-work wife-work women-work that is the “good girl” ‘s lot in life.
Cob web layout of natural white merino wool and embellishments on a table covered with towel and bubble wrap
An overview of my upper layer layout with all the embellishments before felting
Detail of a vegetable carrier net, silk carrier rods and natural wool locks on natural white merino wool
Some of the embellishments that I added on the merino wool : you can spot the vegetable carrier net, locks and a silk carrier rod.
Detail of natural white habotai silk scrap on natural white merino wool
An habotai silk scrap and some locks on another part of the upper layer merino layout before felting
Embellishments on merino wool before felting are used to bridge gaps between merino wool parts
In various areas I used the embellishments as bridges over the holes between the merino wool parts, so as to link all the parts together.
I lightly rubbed it and then used the sander to be sure that all the bits could stay firmly in place. I did not want it felted firmly, and I rolled it only a few times in two directions, horizontally and vertically. I washed it and left it to dry.
Wet prefelt of the upper layer of Kiki's artwork on a table
This wet prefelt of the upper layer does not seem too exciting, yet, but the holes seem just right for what I want to do.
In the meantime I prepared the background layer, with 3 layers of undyed merino wool in a simple horizontal-vertical lay-out. I rubbed it and rolled it a few times, leaving it at the pre-felt stage. I washed it and let it dry.
On the second day, I combined the two layers, that were mostly dry, and all the other embellishment elements.
Two irregular layer of natural white wool prefelt on a brown carpet
I laid out the two prefelt irregular layers on my carpet to have space to work on them and add all the sewing.
I wanted to explore what it used to mean to be a “good girl” and to make mistakes and be a “bad girl”, so on the background and peeking through the holes I placed different things that had been linked to women’s craft and life, including commercial lace, scraps from a child’s wool vest (mothers always used to make their kids put their vest on underneath their shirts) and different fibers and yarns, and strings (women forever tying and untying shoes clothes bags families).
Strings, lace and scraps of upcycled wool fabric on prefelt natural white merino wool, on a brown carpet
A detail of some of the embellishments that I added to the bottom part of the artwork: strings and lace and scraps of an old merino wool baby vest.
On the background, like alpha and omega at the top and bottom, I also wanted “wrong” (but free) crocheting and “wrong” (but free) knitting pieces, and the making of those was an experience in itself, as I found very hard to let go of purpose and of “perfection”, especially in the knitting. I used a cotton yarn for the crochet and a mixed wool yarn for the knitting, as those two types of yarn are most closely related to those crafts to me. I have to say that I quite enjoyed the free crocheting and I maybe will use it again soon, whereas I doubt that the freeform knitting will become a favourite of mines!
On the foreground there are Kiki's hands knitting with a beige yarn, in the background there is Kiki's artwork in progress
My “wrong” knitting at its very beginning
On the foreground there are Kiki's hands crocheting with a white cotton yarn, on the background there is Kiki's artwork in progress on a brown carpet
My foray into free form crocheting
Detail of a white crocheted embellishment in an irregular shape, on a natural merino prefelt on a brown carpet
The irregular shape of the crocheted embellishment quite pleased me.
A detail of a knitted embellishment on natural white prefelt merino wool on a brown carpet
On the top, the knitted embellishment is waiting to be sewed fast and then felted into the artwork.
After placing all the elements where I wanted them to be, I hand stitched them in place with a few hidden stitches each, starting from the top and the outer edges towards the inner parts and the bottom. It took me a bit, but it was essential, as I was much more confident that nothing was going to move when I went on with the following wetting and sanding and rolling. I hate hand sewing, but this time I felt that it was worthwhile!
I washed and dried the piece, and then waited to see if anything else was needed: I often find that I need to let the work get washed and dry out to be able to see what is not fine yet! In fact, I found that the merino wool vest scraps had not quite felted in as I wanted them to do,  so I decided to needle felt them with a bit of added merino wool top fiber. This gave me the itch to add a few needle felted 3D shapes, vaguely organic shapes that are a symbol of the “good girl” sense of her body.
A felting needle working on a merino wool sphere attached to Kiki's felted artwork
A needle felted sphere shape seemed also a good idea
A felting needle is gently stabbing at a doughnut wool shape on Kiki's felted artwork
I added some needle felted organic shapes
I really liked the journey and I think that the piece says what I wanted it to say. Moreover, I enjoyed trying new things in making it, and using those techniques in an organic way to express a world of meanings and experiences that I hope will find resonance in the viewers.
Detail of Kiki's artwork: in the center there is a tight spiral made of a scrap from a merino baby vest.
Some of the embellishments on the finished artwork upper part
Lower left detail of finished abstract artwork by Kiki
Lower left of the finished artwork
Upper right corner of the finished artwork by Kiki: the two felt layers can be seen, along with many embellishments
The upper right corner shows clearly the two layers of felt
Lace embellishment detail on Kiki's finished artwork
The laces have not really felted in, but I was not expecting them to: it’s synthetic commercial lace, so I make sure to sew them to the felt quite well.

20 thoughts on “Felting and thinking

  1. Magnificent! I hope this piece is destined for an exhibition Kiki. The good girl, bad girl concept is ingrained in so many generations of females. Compliance and rule following. Societal acceptance of what is perceived as normal behaviour. This piece is so deep and excites me to the core. I repeat magnificent . Hélène

    1. Thank you, Hélène! I am so excited that I managed to convey some of my thoughts through my piece and that we can share them. I would like to explore those themes more in my artworks in the future.

  2. Absolutely love this piece. I have been wanting to make something just like it and you have helped me create a plan.

    1. It’s fantastic to be able to give ideas! Thanks for telling me that! Please, let us know about your piece and ideas in the Forum.

  3. This is a wonderful piece Caterina. I love that you have thought about each element and what the societal standards of “good” and “bad” mean to girls/women. Many of us are still following all those rules even though they might not even apply any more and are these rules used to “keep women in their place” instead of allowing us to develop in our own right?

    The white on white is an excellent way to explore the surface texture and it’s fun to see all the different whites and how they affect each other. Love it!

    1. Thank you, Ruth! Yes, I found that all the textures just jump at you keeping the colours out of it. Maybe on the photos the effect is toned out a bit, even. I have seen a few artists on Instagram who use only white when they want to meditate on shape and structure and not be distracted by colour, and I took my inspiration from them. At the same time, I did not look for rigorous discipline, so I embranced variety in my whites.

  4. I love a piece with an interesting explanation. I like how you are challenging societal norms about women and what it means to be Good or Bad, and growing in the process (if an art piece doesn’t change us a little, what use is it?). Each layer tells a story and I enjoyed going along for the ride, and asking myself about my own expectations and behaviours. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Leonor. Exactly, making this piece helped me change and grow and was definitely part of the process.

  5. Good girls and bad girls is a big topic to tackle. It was very interesting seeing how your thinking went as you added elements to the piece. Working with only one element is a great exercise in stretching your creative thinking.

    1. Thank you, Ann. A lot of thinking went into this piece. Both on techniques and on concepts.

  6. A fascinating read as you have developed your thoughts along the way, testing not only the actual structure of the pieces but also the structure of societal norms as we all remember them.

    The white on white is a great way to explore pattern, depth, texture etc with distraction.

  7. Thank you, Antje. I am often wondering about the artist’s process, and I like reading about how a piece came to life. Abstract art in non-traditional medium in particular gets a whole different twist if you read an explanation of techniques and ideas used, I feel.

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas as you went through the process of making this beautiful piece. It really allows us to feel the depth of what you are conveying in this piece. Beautiful,

  9. Caterina, your piece and it’s meaning brought up some difficult memories for me. I had to be in the proper mindset, to take it in. I was a good girl, that was told and made to feel, a bad girl. At 63 I decided to find someone, who could help me, sort through my story. My therapist has been a Godsend. A few weeks ago I was saddened by worldly things, and Easter without family. But, I returned to your piece today, in a different place.

    What bravery you expressed in your work! I was taken with how you used “old” notions, of bad and good, and described them in different fibers and techniques. The item that struck me was your (bad) knitted piece in the pale pink. I thought of the women who were forced to end unwanted pregnancies with bad knitting needles and such crude things, before abortion rights. Now, 50 years later, after fighting so hard for equal rights and abortion, there are those that want to push us back into the dark ages. You certainly made a powerful piece, that caused reflection on the unending struggle we may be facing again.

    Definitely a piece that belongs in a fiber show!


    1. Isn’t it amazing how we each see something differently. Your view, Capi, of the pink knitted piece has made me stop and think too. I was going to say that it seems to be mainly men trying to tell us women what we can and can’t do, even with our own bodies – again; but I see that there seem to be a lot of women on both sides of the divide too. So it’s more as if each side is talking a completely different language and there is no way either side is going to understand what the other is saying, let alone their point of view. point of view.

    2. Thank you, Capi. I can’t express how meaningful it is to me to have touched you and shared thoughts about so many important ideas. Thank you for telling me about your insights into my work.

    3. Thank you, Ann, for your comment, I feel that it is very insightful. It is great to be able to communicate about all these exsistential ideas, and share different points of view. In past times different views of what it is to be a “good/bad girl” have been expressed by different people and cultures, so I am not surprised that we have men and women thinking various things about what it is “the Rule for being Good” right now. I guess there is a programmatic aspect to it when it comes to telling women in particular what is their place in society, and many women share that agenda. It’s worrying that not many have the awareness of identity as a prismatic, complex and fractured thing that changes due to pressures outside and inside us through all of our life. People expect you to be just the one monolithic being, easy to label and control.

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: