The Evolution Of An Artwork…

Grab a cup of coffee, it’s going to be a long one…

I wouldn’t usually do this to you dear readers, but I’ve been working on something for awhile, and it was important to me to put all the strings in one place, and my blog made the most sense. And it is a good way for me to follow my creative process, so you can scroll through the pretty pictures and wait for a shorter post at another time, or bear with me while I tell the story.  You’ve been warned.

This all started when I got a fleece a couple of years ago, from a farmer friend, at a guild meeting.  The fleece was free, but because of a particularly rainy spring, the window of time to shear was narrow, and even after postponing a date to shear, my friend ended up with a bunch of slightly damp fleeces and was giving them away at a guild meeting.  Anyone who has sheep knows you can’t store damp fleeces, they mold quickly.  It was too big to freeze, so after learning to dye wool in a crockpot, each morning I grabbed whatever would fit in the crockpot of the very dirty damp fleece, and tossed in some vinegar and Cushing powdered dye, whatever color I grabbed, and I cleaned/dyed the fleece in batches over the course of a week or two.

I had obtained by this point, a well used Pat Green electric drum carder and proceeded to card up some of the fleece I had cleaned/dyed and used some of that fleece for a couple of felted art pieces.  The rest of the batts floated around the studio as I moved crap from surface to surface and one day I got tired of moving the batts around and stacked them up, wrapped them around one of my trash cans, threw a stocking over the whole mess, and proceeded to felt it up.



The end result wasn’t a particularly pleasing vessel, it was sort of thick and lumpy, but it did serve its purpose, to get rid of all the batts, and to create additional storage, indeed you can puts lots of things into a vessel this size.


So I moved the vessel and its contents around the studio trying to get crap out of the way, obviously this didn’t help the situation at all. In a bit of frustration, and because I got curious, I started to cut up the vessel, into thin strips, mostly to flatten it out, but what was inside was magic.  And each cut produced a set of strips that were mirror images of each other.


I began to blog last fall, about playing each morning, as a design exercise, arranging the strips.


I had a critique from some respected fiber artists who thought packing all the strips together seemed to be altogether way too much, and that maybe leaving space, playing on negative space, or adding additional elements might give the eye some relief.


I played some more with defining space.



Then I went into the city last December with my lovely friend Carol Westfall who is coincidentally my former college textile professor from the 70’s, and we did an exhausting round of exhibits and galleries.  She takes me to places I don’t normally think to check out, indeed I also took her down to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Gaultier exhibit which completely wowed her, but I digress…  Carol had me stop, more for lunch at their fabulous cafe than anything else, at the Asia Society where they were having an exhibit called Iran Modern, a look back over the evolution of modern art in Iran from the 60’s onward.  I was blown away by many of the pieces, but what really struck me was the part in the exhibit called Calligraphy and Modernism.  Especially the part circled below. Click on the photo to get a larger image.


I loved the idea of using marks that make words, in languages other than my own, purely as tools for visual expression but non- textual meaning.  I came home and picked up one of the strips and trimmed it down so it was pretty flat, and started laying pieces on a small square of linen.


Attaching them was going to be interesting, and since we are working with wool here, why not try to needle felt them into the cloth.  I have a needle felting embellisher machine from Janome, purchased at the Michigan Convergence back in 2006, because that was the tool to have back in 2006.  I’m sure you can pick one up used on eBay really cheap!  I dug it out, and played around with how the short cut pieces of wool would adhere and what they would adhere to.  Linen didn’t work well, but wool crepe, scraps from a skirt I was making last Fall, seemed to do the job.


I was even torn which side I liked more.


I cut up a couple more strips, this time longer ones, to see where I could go with this, and when I laid the mirrored pair of strips on the cloth, they fell into what, if my high school biology class class memories serve me, looked suspiciously like a pair of chromosomes.  This was pretty awesome.  I Googled “Chromosome Images” and got all sorts of really cool stuff.  And unlike marks from languages I have no relationship to, I have lots to say about chromosomes and their combinations especially having a daughter in college studying pre-Vet/animal science and taking such delights as micro-biology and organic chemistry.  And one of her passions is of course genetics and reproduction.  I am fascinated by the whole science of chromosomes and the X and Y of the whole thing and I began to run amok.


First though, I had to try out my technique on the larger piece. I used a hand needle felting tool to anchor the longer strips in place…


Then I switched over to the embellisher to carefully needle felt the strips into the wool crepe.  I did try adding a backing and seeing if I could punch through both layers but I didn’t get the effect I was going for.


I needed an additional element, mostly the felted strips looked like 2006 craft projects coming from the early days of embellisher hoopla.  Even though they were pretty, they lacked definition and as I looked through some of the Google images of chromosomes, I found that in fact, they aren’t little pairs of sticks lined up side by side, they are really very squiggly things, and so I slipped over to my sewing machine, put in the free form embroidery foot,  dropped the feed dogs and away I went.


My first attempts (second image pair on the left) were over the top, I embroidered just to embroider and didn’t pay attention to what was actually happening with the stacked layers of felt, shaved and turned sideways.  So I carefully tried to mimic what I saw, and the effect was beautiful.



What I loved about this whole thing was the process, I never set out to end up here, but just mulled over and thought of what if, and then acted on it over the course of a couple years.  I love this idea, and I have lots of pairs to work with, and I took a deep breath and pulled out one of the four small black 5mm felt rectangles I bought last December when I was in Germany at a very high end felt store.


I loved the look of this on black felt, though I could have gotten away with 3mm, the 5mm was just a little too thick, it is what I bought, however, the felt, though completely compatible with the needle felted chromosomes, got full of lint quickly and the surface doesn’t look clean.  I’ll have to play with that…

I grabbed the remaining scrap of dark brown wool crepe, to try a pair of X Chromosomes, as a gift for my daughter who inspired this direction, and really really liked the effect.  I have some black wool crepe, thanks Nancy W. and three remaining rectangles of 5mm black felt and am anxious to play some more.  (Any of you out there know a good source in the US for 3 or 5 mm sheets of black merino?)


I will be, weather permitting, since it is snowing a bunch here in Post Super Bowl NJ, heading out tomorrow for another critique session with a group of fiber artists.  I am curious what they have to say, but regardless, I’m feeling really solid about this direction and loving the results and can see building a complete body of work for my days when I’m not Daryl the garment maker but Daryl the fiber artist…

Stay tuned…

Comments (6)

JennyFebruary 3rd, 2014 at 1:49 pm

For anything feltwise contact Chris White’s New England Felting Supply in Easthampton, MA. It’s the felter’s equivalent of Webb’s….and they aren’t far apart.

She’s a founding member of Northeast Feltmakers Guild.

Gisela McDonaldFebruary 3rd, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Try They have different qualities, craft and designer felt in sheets, by the yard, ribbon, felt balls and their info says that their felt is wool, some merino. I have not ordered from them yet. The chromosomes look very interesting!

Good Luck,

JudyFebruary 3rd, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Very interesting. I like that you had time in between the vessel and discovering the inner felting. All ideas don’t come at once and when they do….then watch out.

Nancy WeberFebruary 3rd, 2014 at 4:43 pm

This direction is pretty exciting. Can’t wait to see what lies down the road! You can combine garment maker and the fiber artist when you decide what you want to do when you grow up — Nah, don’t grow up! Stay in your explatory mode. Hugs,

Jenny SethmanFebruary 3rd, 2014 at 11:04 pm

A “needle felting embellisher machine.” I have no idea what this is, yet somehow I want one. This plus an electric drum carder. Daryl, you got all the toys.

treahFebruary 4th, 2014 at 9:12 am

This posting is a beautiful illustration of art process. I try to tell people about this when they say they can’t “do” art, that they’re not “artists”. You’ve shown how art really happens…..step by step, evolving into a finished piece that is truly yours. And is ART!

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