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Felt in the USA

It’s amazing, the places that a shared interest can lead you to: Aug 20th saw me flying out on my first ever, and much anticipated, visit to the States.

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.

Packing my suitcase
Packing my suitcase…

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.

Train ride along the Hudson
Beautiful train ride along the Hudson, from New York City to Albany, NY

Upstate NY view from the car
Driving around Glenns Falls, NY

Robin's studio 1
Robin’s spacious and well equipped Luckystone Feltworks Studio, GLenn Falls, NY

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

Georgia O'Keeffe lodge
Wakonda Lodge at Wiawaka Center for Women, Lake George, NY. Painter Georgia O’Keeffe used to stay here

Porch at Wiawaka
Porch at Wakonda Lodge, Wiawaka Center for Women, Lake George, NY

Lake George
View of Lake George, NY

Georgia O'Keeffe Lake George painting
One of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of Lake George, NY

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.

On the road
Watching the world go by

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…

Snow Farm entrance
Entrance to Snow Farm, Williamsburg, Massachusetts

Snow Farm delivery note
The busy bees at Snow Farm were already anticipating the arrival of the Fedex van

Snow Farm impressions 2
Impressions of Snow Farm, Williamsburg, MA – Metal sculpture by Pat Bennett, resident metal work tutor

Snow Farm dorms
Impressions of Snow Farm, Williamsburg, MA – One of the dorm buildings dotted around site

Welcome to Snow Farrm
A treat awaits in each tutor’s room

Snow Farm
Impressions of Snow Farm, Williamsburg, MA – View of the central lawn and dining hall

Ding Hall in Snow Farm
Impressions of Snow Farm, Williamsburg, MA – Some of the workshop rooms underneath the dining hall

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.

delicious pudding every day
pudding served after every delicious meal. Cheesecake in this case

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.

Felters Fling tutors
International team of Felters Fling organisors, tutors and volunteers

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.

Bird ws in progress Snow Farm
Bird Mask workshop in progress, Felters Fling

Bird mask ws in progress
Bird Mask workshop in progress, Felters Fling

Organisor Linda van Alstyne gives a helping hand
Organisor Linda van Alstyne (R) gives a helping hand, Felters Fling

Late night work
Classrooms lit up late into the night… Felters Fling 2015

Bird mask ws with Gladys Paulus participant with her mask
Bird Mask workshop – participant with her wonderful white raven mask, Felters Fling 2015

Pam MacGregor with her rooster mask
Fellow tutor Pam MacGregor with the spectacular rooster mask she made in my workshop, Felters Fling 2015

Parrot
Almost finished macaw, Felters Fling 2015

Bird mask in progress
Bird Mask workshop – Diane modelling her mask, based on photos of her late chicken Marge

Renate's finished mask
Volunteer workshop assistant Renate managed to make this beauty in between running around helping me

Bird Mask ws with Gladys Paulus participants finished mask
Nicki’s finished mask. Simply stunning Felters Fling 2015

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.

Fungus 3
In between worksops we had a day off. A small group of us went to explore the local woods. We were warned against black bears, but only came across these fantastic fungi

Fungus 1
Unidentified fungi

Fungus 2
Coral fungi

Newt
We don’t get newts this colour in England!

Lake Massachussets
Just the place to cool off on a hot and sticky day

After a relaxing and refreshing day off, the second lot of workshops got off to a flying start.

Cat mask in progress
Cat Mask workshop. An almost finished mask (some more shrinking to do). Felters Fling 2015

Cat in progress
Sharon’s mask in progress

Cat needs shrinking
Yup. They really do start out big! Felters Fling 2015

Cat mask 2
Cat Mask workshop. Tired but happy participant. Felters Fling 2015

Cat mask workshop USA  with Gladys Paulus finished masks 2
Some the finished line up

Cat mask ws with Gladys Paulus participants mask
Such character!

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…

In Media with Heather
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

Felt compost bins
Heather’s compost bins made out of chicken wire and… felt!

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.

Coming into Detroit
Approaching Detroit, for a quick stopover on the way to FeltSoRight in Plainwell, MI.

On arriving at Dawns
Treats waiting for me on arrival in my room at Dawn’s.

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.

Michigan clapboard houses
I fell in love with these beautiful clapboard houses. Now I have porch envy

Plainwell Ice cream
Plainwell Icecream Company, the best ice cream in the world according to Dawn. I’m not going to argue…

Street scene Plainwell Michigan
Street scene in Plainwell, MI

Sunset Michigan restaurant
Sunet and billboard, view from restuarant terrace, MI

Cooper Congregational Hall, Plainwell
This atmospheric church hall was the venue for Fantasy Masks workshop MI

Zenith and dawn s
Dawn and student Zenith hanging out with my samples

Fantasy ws in progress 2
Sue cutting out her resist template

Fantasy ws in progress 3
Heather still has time to smile!

Fantasy ws in progress
Lisa’s mask taking shape…

Spin dryer
Next time we need a bigger spin dryer…

Strange things happening 3 s
Fun in the woods at break time

Strange things happening 2 s
I knew my samples would come in useful for something

Strange things happening 1 s
Fun in the woods at break time

Fantasy masks with Gladys Paulus participants mask
Students trying on the mask, always a good moment

Mireille's finished mask
Mireille’s finished mask ‘Zoltan’

Fantasy masks 1Made in 3 days! Incredible work

Yogi finished
Dawn’s mask modelled on her dog Yogi. Not sure how she had time to make this as well as being the hostess

Sue Hale's finished mask
Sue’s dino mask, after being finished at home. Impressive amount of detail!

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.

Heather and Yogi s
Heather’s turn to feed the dog!

Heather's mask
And my turn the have fun with Heather’s mask…

Last night dinner
A final meal for the Three Musketeers before Heather heads back home

Gladys Paulus and Paul Mergen s
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

Threads of colours
A small selection of Brenda’s beautiful array of coloured threads used for her intricate weaving

Tools of the trade
Some of the tools of Paul’s trade

Gladys and Paul and Brenda Mergen s
I was moved by Paul’s surprise gift and meeting such an inspiring artist couple

Shipshewana Amish town
A visit to Shipshewana, Indiana – an Amish town

Kalamazoo river
A view of the Kalamazoo river, nr Saugatuck, MI

Kalamazoo river coming out into Lake michigan
Kalamazoo meets Lake Michigan, the second largest lake of the great lakes (by volume)

with Dawn on Lake Michigan
Enjoying the final day in Dawn’s company

With Shirley Topp s
In the great company of feltmaker Shirley, on her own little slice of lakeside shore

Sunset over Lake Michigan s
A glorious sunset over Lake Michigan for my final present

Swim in Lake Michigan s
And the best is saved for last: in lake Michigan for my most memorable skinny dip under a beautiful sky

Stop over in Boston
A long layover in Boston on the way home

Beautiful sunrise on Dublin-Bristol flight
Treated to a spectacular sunrise over the UK on leaving Dublin airport

Flying back into England
Flying back into England

With immense gratitude to all my wonderful workshop hosts, participants and new friends for making this such a memorable trip. I will be back..!

  1. Oh, I adore this post….Brings back such great memories. Thank you again so very much for coming to Plainwell, Gladys. I had wanted to meet you for the longest time and can’t wait until we see one another again. Well, I’d better get off the computer and start my swimming stretches so that I can stay limber 🙂

    Reply

    • So good to hear from you Dawn, and happy new year! I have such fond memories of this trip and staying with you, it was a joy to go through all the photos again. It truly made me break out into a big smile. Keep up the practice, I fully expect you to be good swimming shape for when we next meet Dawn! xx

      Reply

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