An invitation, two years of planning, and many, many emails back and forth, eventually finalized into a series of four workshops over a 4-week teaching tour of NE America.
Sadly though, a month before I was due to set off my father suddenly passed away and I was left feeling very much unsure if I would be able to go ahead with the trip.
Conversations with my US hosts immediately revealed their generosity of spirit, understanding and support. After much thinking I made the hard decision to cancel the first workshop scheduled at Luckystone Feltworks Studio, Glens Falls, NY but to go ahead with the remaining workshops -this would give me a bit more much needed time with my family. Hostess Robin Blakney-Carlson and all the workshop participants took this in their stride, and I thank them for their kindness and understanding at such a difficult time.
So it was with some mixed emotions that I set off on my trans-Atlantic textile trip. Upon arrival at JFK airport it soon became obvious that my suitcase (containing all my masks, workshop materials and clothes) was left behind in the UK. After some initial panic and filling out all the relevant paperwork, I was finally able to make my way out of the airport, carrying only my hand luggage. On the plus side, this made travelling so much easier and I sat back to enjoy the view on a glorious 3 hour train ride along the Hudson river to Albany, NY, where I was met by Robin and her husband Harry.
I spent the following few days acclimatising to the heat, time difference, and living without change of clothes whilst Robin very kindly showed me around the area in between my many phone calls to JFK airport. The highlight of our day trips was a visit to Wiawaka Center for Women (founded in 1903) on the shores of Lake George, and sitting in a beautifully crafted Adirondack-style rocking chair on the porch of Wakonda Lodge, where painter Georgia O’Keeffe used to stay. It was great to see the views that inspired her paintings
After a few days of relaxation, and having received the good news that my lost suitcase had found its way to NY in the mean time, and would soon be delivered to my first teaching venue, it was time to make our way to Snow Farm, Williamsburg, Massachusetts. From a car stuffed full to the rafters with wool and felt-related items, I enjoyed watching the world go by and the unfamiliar landscape unfold.
Snow Farm turned out to be a beautiful and inspiring venue for the next 8 days of Felters Fling, a biennal felt event organised for the last time by Linda van Alstyne and Carol Ingram. In the middle of our first ‘staff’ meeting, a Fedex van rolled up to deliver my suitcase. Good timing as the workshops were due to start the following morning…
The next 8 days were a glorious whirlwind of making felt, handling felt, looking at felt, meeting some fantastic people, eating and laughing. Snow Farm is easily the most beautiful environment I have ever taught in and it was a truly soul-restoring and life-affirming experience to spend time here, surrounded by nature. It was exactly what I needed.
This beautiful former farm (now a crafts venue with a year round course programme) played host to some 80 students and an international team of tutors, volunteers and staff, spread out over a range of workshop buildings, communal spaces and dorms. I am used to being a one-woman show and turning up at a venue on my own, teach on my own and leave on my own, so it was a real treat to meet my fellow tutors and hang out with them at meal times and evenings. We all got on exceptionally well.
I taught two 3-day mask making workshops at Felters Fling: birds and cats. Although both incorporate the same basic mask making approach, each animal requires very different technical solutions. It is fair to say that students in both workshops worked their socks off! Not all managed to finish their masks entirely (despite the late night hours) but everyone’s work was a wonderful interpretation of their chosen animal and great fun was had trying on the pieces.
In between the workshops we had a day off. Most opted to visit nearby-ish Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass Moca) but I preferred to go for a walk in the surrounding woodlands. In the afternoon Pat (resident metal worker) and her daughter kindly drove me and fellow tutor Dagmar Binder to a nearby lake for a refreshing swim. I adore wild swimming but don’t often have the chance to do so, and I had been excitedly looking forward to the first opportunity that presented itself. I can’t think of a better way to unwind and get to know the landscape then to go for a swim. It truly feeds my soul.
After a relaxing and refreshing day off, the second lot of workshops got off to a flying start.
All in all, I had a fantastic week at Felters Fling: The weather was gloriously hot (too hot and sticky for some, but I revelled in it), the beautiful woods surrounding us contained bears (!), the food was fantastic (special mention to the pancakes with locally produced maple syrup), the company was better than great and I was genuinely sad to leave this special place.
After a drive which passed through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, I spent a lovely few days kicking back and living like a local in Philadelphia with my friend and prolific felt blogger Heather. Not only did she teach me how to bind my own sketch book, she took me to my first diner and introduced me to pretzels. What can I say? A girl after my own heart…
With my friend Heather in Media, Pennsylvania – the USA’s first ever Fair Trade town and Pennsylvania’s first Transition town. Heather takes me to the best places. Colour co-ordinated clothes purely coincidental
Heather accompanied me on next leg of my journey to my 3rd and final workshop, hosted by the irrepressible and indefatigable spirit that is Dawn Edwards of Felt So Right, Plainwell, Michigan. Dawn made me feel incredibly welcome from the moment we met and left no stone unturned to make sure I was having a good time.
In between giggling (a lot), I just about had time to teach a bunch of felt enthusiasts. In just three days these ladies made some very ambitious and technically complex fantasy masks.
This final workshop finished, there were only a few days left before catching my flight home. Dawn kept her word and took me to meet the most wonderfully hospitable and truly inspiring people and places, which culminated in my most memorable skinny dip ever (in Lake Michigan under a most glorious sunset). A fitting end to a truly remarkable journey.
Visiting Paul & Brenda Mergen. Brenda is a multi talented textile artist and Paul is an exceptional coppersmith. Here we are in their colourful home, with Paul explaining some of his work and talking about their collection of artefacts gathered on their travels
With immense gratitude to all my wonderful workshop hosts, participants and new friends for making this such a memorable trip. I will be back..!