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A Felted Farewell

In her final North House Blog Post, Elise Kyllo reflects on what she has learned in her time in the Artisan Development Program. 

Posted on July 22, 2021
by Elise Kyllo

In my farewell blog post, I’d like to begin by sharing a few surprising things I learned about felting in the last year! I will follow this with a summary of my final project, the Felted Mural Project and how I am gushing with gratitude for this incredible opportunity of the Artisan Development Program!

 

A felted rug may be pulled behind a horse (or a car) for 20 miles before it is felted! This moss like rug will live under the swing set at NHFS once it is felted enough! 

 

Wool can be shaved to control the haze effect of “wild wool”. 

 

This vest isn’t for a grizzly bear, it just hasn’t been felted and shrunk yet. 

 

A great way to rinse a large mural is to put it under the stream of a Minneapolis fire hydrant. 

 

Who knew a parking lot would be an excellent place for a community workshop! 

 

I never know how a creature will evolve, but it usually begins with lots of old wool socks. 

 

Wool is a fine medium for winter Plein Air painting. 

 

During Covid my Abominable Mr T dolls were always good company. 

When I wrote my application for the two year Artisan Development Program at North House in October of 2018, I was full of grand ideas and idealism for what seemed like all the time in the world. A dream of two years to focus on working with wool and felting. I knew I wanted to improve my felting skills so I could be a better teacher and I wanted to become more proficient at working with a wide variety of sheep breeds so I could use more local wool. Sustainability and simplicity is a foundational reason why I love felting. Unfortunately, the most common wool used for felting comes from across the globe. Not very sustainable, but like many things we purchase, wool from far away is cheaper and more convenient than wool from the neighbors. For a long time I have had a sleeping dream of raising sheep and using my own wool. 

I must laugh when I revisit my application and be reminded of my intention and desire to spend time with sheep farmers, investigating raising sheep and processing my own wool. Which of course leads to dying my own wool and growing a garden of dye plants to naturally dye the wool. These notions of raising sheep and dying wool, rapidly evaporated when I realized how quickly time passes while working in the studio “just felting”. The lists of things to do beyond felting were always overwhelmingly long and took up more time than I ever imagined. If you are a craftsperson or artist, you likely have experienced the reality that at least 30% of your work time is the necessity of doing things other than your craft. It’s true and it was a harsh reality that I begrudgingly accepted. I quickly realized that it was enough to focus on felting, instead of the hope of raising sheep and dying my wool! It became clear that someone else will have the pleasure of raising sheep while I enjoy the creative possibilities of wool. 

My residency was full of many things I expected and hoped for. Covid isolation wasn’t one of them, but I was in the luxury of working in the studio with very few distractions from the outside world, a rare gift for any artist. During this time, not only did I focus on fetling, but also a business name and a website were created (worksinwool.com), I took a number of challenging online classes, I found out I enjoyed teaching online and I worked with Mette Ostman, my wonderful felting mentor in Denmark, via zoom. 

I am so very thankful for a 6 month extension to my residency due to Covid, but like most people, I was weary of being with myself and I was anxious to be bigger than my solitary studio. I wanted to do something completely different during the last months of my residency. I was hungry for interactions with others and wished to create a way to bring myself back into community and social situations. After two years of quiet felting, I wanted to invite everyone I knew to come play with wool. Here was born the Felted Mural Project.   

I needed a project bigger than I could do alone that required creative input from many people. I wanted to provide a space for people to reflect upon the past year, combine their thoughts and emotions, synthesizing all of this into something that was a lasting memorial of the challenging previous year. I really wanted an excuse to bring people of Minneapolis and Grand Marais into my felting sphere and share the magical transformation of felting wool. I wanted to share the analogy that through patient agitation and community effort, transformation was inevitable. Working with wool, this is beautifully clear. 
    

I can look back at the last 6 months, with my residency nearly over and the Felted Mural Project near completion and proclaim that it’s all been just as I hoped! Thankfully I got a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council to fund the mural project which also motivated me to carry it through to completion. My hope of people making symbols of hearts-healing, birds-dreaming and bees-building for the mural, was an incredibly joyful, bittersweet process. I can’t even begin to guess how many people have been involved in the making of these murals, but there are more than 150 felted symbols made by people in Minneapolis and Grand Marais. It would be safe to say that more than 500 people, through 9 community workshops have put their intentions, their creative energy, their patient agitation and their blessings into this project! I am so thankful there were some amazingly generous volunteers who made this project possible and fun. 

  

A project this size - three, 4’X6’ felted murals - was a bit frightening since I have never made anything larger than a table top. I had facilitated many community mural projects (paint on walls) in South Minneapolis and discovered that I loved the creative chaos of a community project, but this was completely new territory, blending murals and wool. The felted mural of symbols was inspired by a mural we painted on Lake Street a few weeks after the civil unrest and riots in the Twin Cities. It was an act of desperation and not knowing what else to do in a horrible situation only blocks from my childhood home. Different from the murals on plywood, the felted murals would be made up of symbols made by individuals from Grand Marais and Minneapolis. Each one would have a word of meaning chosen by the maker. The mural would become a sort of story about the past year as all the symbols were combined. 

As I write this, there are two of three completed murals that will be celebrated at my Fully Felted Finale at North House Folk School, July 27th, 7-9. The third mural will be made by a group of students in a class at North Hosue on July 30 and 31. There is still room in the class if you are interested in being a part of this fascinating process from beginning to end. If you are in the area, I hope you will visit opening night or stop in sometime before August 3rd. If I am not there, a key can be obtained from the North House folk school yellow house from 10-4 pm. 

At my Fully Felted Finale, there will be a number of items that will show the progression of my work, from a clunky nuno scarf to an elegant wrap, a neanderthal wool jacket that is thick enough to stop an arrow, to the most recent summer weight dresses and vests that I love wearing. You will see that I have done a lot of experimentation during my residency and have been influenced by some wonderful felters and mentors. True to my nature and perhaps antithesis to craft, I resist making anything exactly the same twice. I have discovered that I am a crafty artist and I will continue to juggle a variety of interests as a way of life and a way of making a living. Hopefully there will be many community felting projects in my future.

Psst. by the way, these murals are looking for homes in an accessible public space, inside or outside, in a clinic, a library, an empty street window in South Minneapolis and Grand Marais. If you have any ideas please contact me! 

I can’t thank the North House Folk School Staff and Community enough for providing this life changing opportunity and for being so supportive, solid and always a pleasure.  What a gift! 

Worksinwool.com

elisemkyllo@gmail.com