nil desperandum – felt sculptural form

Design source

Many causes can trigger a depressed mood, ranging from bereavement to illness, and can be rated from low to high level. The task I set myself was to produce a piece of work which would be meaningful and to which all visitors to the gallery could relate. A statement tactile piece, providing a contra message, whilst allowing for personal interpretation. The exhibition title ‘A Sense of Felt’ would bring together a variety of pieces all appealingly tactile, and thought provoking.


Willow, Alpaca, Shetland, merino and plant dyed local wools.

Process and Evaluation

Designing a wood fibre structure as the base was tricky, and in collaboration with Alison Walling, a noted willow artist, a sphere, to my specification, was the solution. This half metre rock shape would be difficult to handle, but create the desired effect. Despair and depression walk hand in hand with sensory dysfunction, and the message in this piece is that although this looks dark and dense, in reality it is very light. The piece is hollow and light but looks heavy, hence the use of black merino. Some colour is visible through the layers – nothing is as black as it seems.

Alpaca roving is woven throughout the structure to create a key for subsequent layers of wool. Shetland and roving in dark brown tones completes stage 1. Stage 2 added layers of black, grey black and lime green followed by layers of black and tonal shades to define glints of colour. The final third stage is finger felted using hot water to seal the outer layer to achieve a firmer feeling felt with a contrasting soft interior. The hard ribbed structure willow form inside can also be felt through the wool.

Hints of colour are created using plant dyed merino, carded with black merino. Dark green, red and blue, are present within rocks and represent the minerals found in nature.

The wet felting work was conducted in the garden and I spent three days wet from head to toe. I was conscious that the willow had to be dried completely to prevent the inside from becoming a smelly mass, and to retain its structure. A few hot days helped but the final few hours were spent with a hair dryer – just to make sure.

The final piece looked splendid on its white plinth, and from a distance it did indeed look like a heavy black mass. On closer inspection flashes of colour were evident. Prompting visitors to pick up the work also proved an interesting experience. Most were cautious, after all this was an art gallery, but the changing emotions, surprise and delight on their faces made all the work worthwhile. Men were the most interesting to watch, as a few took to walking around the gallery hugging it to their chests and when discussing their experience they maintained hand contact – not stroking but leaning lightly against it.

Extracted from 2010 files

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