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Working Together

Posted on April 12, 2019
by Elise Kyllo

Somewhere, not far from here, but perhaps not in Cook County, sheep have been shorn, and lambs are being born. This also means, that just around the corner is the Shepherd’s Harvest Festival in Lake Elmo Minnesota. Since I don’t have sheep, this is my chance to be around dozens of sheep farmers, wool artisans and rooms full of luscious fibers from all sorts of animals and breeds of sheep. I will be traveling there in mid-May to connect with farmers, take a class, and come home with a car full of wool, some processed and some dirty, so there will be hours of carding wool in the future, just let me know if you would like join me in processing wool!

I'm beginning this blog with a poem by David Whyte in gratitude to North House and the funders of many North House community/craft programs that have been made possible, the ADP program being just one of them.  Hope you enjoy the poem.

Working Together by David Whyte

We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again.

The visible
and the invisible

working together
in common cause,

to produce
the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way
the intangible air

traveled at speed
round a shaped wing

holds our weight.

So may we, in this life

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine,
and look for the true

shape of our own self,
by forming it well

to the great
intangibles about us.

Somehow, for most of my life, I have avoided giving slide show presentations.  It’s not something I do without a little nail biting. The visit from the organization that funds the ADP program was a worthy occasion to accept the necessity of giving a small presentation of who I am and what I “do”.  As a part of this presentation, along with the four other resident artisans, I shared the poem above. This poem was written to celebrate the inaugural flight of the new Boeing 777 plane.  In my world of craft, it’s not the plane and the invisible powers of air that allow for the miracle of flight. It is the tangible body of North House Folk School, representing the plane, in union with the invisible assistance of monetary funds, representing the lift of air, that allows for the possibility of great things to happen. As I progress in my residency, I begin to wonder, what will these great things be?  Who will be the influences in my felting trajectory?  What will I accomplish or be allowed to dream, during this gift of time, space and support.   Am I anxious? Definitely a bit!  But, like the poem, I am trusting that with the combination of energy and cooperation, mine and others, that flight will occur. The miraculous will ensue through the medium of wool, water and many forces of positive energy. 

Karin and me

One of the first signs of great intangibles around me, was the serendipitous visit of the amazing felter from Norway, Karin Flatoy Svarstad.   Just two days after I completed teaching the new Textile Traditions class, Karin arrived. I was fortunate to be in two of her classes, as an assistant and a student, learning felting techniques from a master. As a mostly self-taught felter, my long time desire for personal felting instruction was reaffirmed by my experience of working with Karin.  I began to realize that I didn’t know what I didn’t know and couldn’t see what I didn’t know without the help of someone who could show me.  I felt so fortunate to have spent many days with Karin stretching my skills as a felter and setting new standards for felting which I could work towards.  You’ll see in the photos that I was encouraged to work towards straight and even edges, consistency and strength of wool.

Potholders made in one of Karin’s classes - we spent much of a day just working on making stellar squares of the proper thickness, straight edges and corners.

One of my first solo projects after Karin left, was to replicate a series of mittens that were of consistent size and thickness, flexibility and strength.  Looking at mittens I've made in the past, you'd see they are a bit chunky and uneven.  Perhaps, due to laziness or an excuse for creative expression, I have been content with my wavering edges and wonky, handmade imperfections.  Now, I can see the value of a tighter, higher standard and can begin to see how to accomplish this. 

Mittens in process.

The finished mittens!

Karin also kindly offered a critique of my past work and gave me suggestions about how to progress. This was truly a gift and very helpful, as not everyone is willing to take time to offer constructive criticism. During Karin’s visit, I also learned a bit about teaching styles, as we have very different methods of teaching. In a nut shell, Karin teaches technique and I encourage creativity. I can’t tell you how many times, I have heard Grand Marais felters who were in one of her classes, comment about how difficult her classes were, but also how much they learned.  Her voice of encouragement and reprimand is with us all as we continue to consider felting in the “way of Karin”. As I teach in the future, I would like to incorporate improved felting techniques, setting higher expectations for the students, while including the playfulness and joy of creativity and individual expression, when appropriate.  You can see in the two photos of Karin’s class and my felting class, how different the outcomes were.  Everyone in Karin’s class made a green hat of a certain shape.  In my class, each student chose to create a different felted object using the appropriate felting skills needed.  There isn’t a right or wrong way, but there is a balance of technique and creativity that I hope to find and share with my students. 

Students from my felting course

Karin's felting course

I also taught a felting class to a 24 kindergarten students. This was certainly not about teaching technique, but playing with wool and witnessing the magical transformation of fluffy colorful fibers to a solid, beautiful felted butterfly. Each student wet-felted a butterfly inside of a ziplock bag, attempting to keep the soap and water under control. They spent nearly an hour working on felting their butterflies. As they grew weary of agitating their wooly bags, (felting is never fast) they sang a song, were invited to play the rain game on their bags, made lots of noise by slapping and clapping their projects and lastly, they exchanged butterflies around their table so they could share their felting energy while helping their neighbor felt their butterflies. Each student proudly went home with a felted butterfly. I encouraged them to bring their butterflies into their bathtub or showers with them to see how hot water and more agitation would continue to shrink and strengthen their wool. For now, all of the butterflies are hanging in the school hallway as harbingers of spring flowers and spring rain.

In my last blog I waxed about my excitement to settle into a felting routine in my studio.  Finally I feel it is possible, with a newly installed sink, three new table tops and loads of shelving, the studio is a welcoming and inspiring place to work.  

My studio coming together!

After a long stretch of taking classes and filling my well with inspiration and new techniques, I am ready to dive into studio time and push myself towards creative work, begin producing products for the summer sales and consider what some of my larger felting goals are.   Stay tuned.