Interview with Barbara Poole, Local Painter and Felter, Owner of B.Felt

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The Inventiveness of Felted Wool


How did you get into felting?

I’ve been felting full time for two years and started five years ago. I had been given a scarf making kit by my children and really liked it.

I have discovered that I am a person who likes to make things. I am a painter by training. Every time after a show, it was like giving birth– you don’t know what to do afterwards. A few years ago, painting started slowing down, and my scarves were still selling. I think it doesn’t matter what I’m making, as long as I’m making something, I am happy.

And I don’t want a warehouse full of Barbara Pooles! I want to share my creations with the world.

You can create whole worlds – wool is such a versatile medium. I love the tactile quality. While I’m felting, I can be thinking as I’m creating. And I love working with the color and texture.

Felting is the closest medium to painting in terms of process. Using soap, water, and raw fiber, it’s like the animal hairs brushing oil and pigment across the animal skin.

Barbara Poole, "Wrapped In Her Cloak Of Invisibility She Bravely Set Forth In The Jungle," oil on wood, 3 panels, 48" x 70" each

How is it different to approach a felt piece rather than a painting?

A lot of my paintings are on view at Barbarapooleartist.net. My paintings are very cerebral. They are more about narratives and are very figurative. They are not very gestural, but are very tight renderings of things. The difference with felt is that with the wool, I am experimenting with abstract forms. I couldn’t allow myself to paint abstractly as I got caught up in the rendering. In felt, without the historical parameters, I am freed. With felt, my scarves, my shawls– everything I approach is like an abstract painting. I look for movement. I balance light and darks. It’s all done with markmaking.

Do you conceptualize an entire piece, such as a hat, or do you start making a texture as a rectangle and then let that guide the inspiration for the construction and sew it together?

Nothing is sewn. I start with a shape., and figure out how to make the shape. I love problems. To make a 3D object it is created by using a plastic resist between the layers of felt to prevent them from felting together. The fabric goes over a form and then thin layers of wool over the fabric. If I’m making a hat, I have an idea for a shape of a hat, 90% of the type of felting I do is popularly know as “Nuno”– combination of a substrate and wool. A laminate process. The fabrics and colors start to inform the design that’s going to happen. It starts to become a collage.

How do you choose which fibers to embed together in a piece?

A lot of fabrics are recycled fabrics. Designers will have a line of clothing, and they will have just a few odds and ends and scraps that they can’t use. I will try to use every little piece. I will have a fabulous piece of fabric that will suggest something, or other non-silks will work with silks and wools to create a piece.

All the time, I want it to be functional. What I make is wearable art. It’s not the same as fashion– fashion has lines. Fashion designers create a line, but each of my pieces are unique. They are sometimes outrageous but always wearable.. It takes a very confident person to wear my pieces.

Once a piece is felted and dries, is there any change in the color or appearance? Will the fabrics change size drastically from the felting process?

Size is predetermined based on the form I’m using. I try to make hats a size medium. There is an unpredictability. There is always an element of surprise. And then how do you work it in? How do you account for it?

Like painting, I start with an idea, but as I’m working, I determine, no, it wants to be something else. Then I ask, “what do I need to do or add to it?” Each one is its own world.

What kind of facilities do you need to create a large piece such as a coat?

My studio is in the basement of the old Armory building in Somerville, MA and I have two huge 9′ by 6′ tables for working.

What is the most special aspect of working with wool and silk?

I really like the tactile quality. I like the fact that I can go 2-D and 3-D. What I like most is its malleability and its unpredictability.

 

One of a kind pieces from B.Felt are available at Fire Opal, 320 Harvard St., Brookline, MA.

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