I started felting today. I haven’t tried it alone before. I think I used to drive Andrea crazy by repeatedly forgetting what comes next. I couldn’t remember the order. Felting has a lot of steps involved. It isn’t like crochet or embroidery which is accomplished with a lot of repetitive motion. In felting, you have to follow the prescribed order to a tee, one step at a time, or the wool won’t keep the shape you’re trying to mess it up into. It’s kind of like life. There are all these steps you have to take to get to your goals. Only there are so many ways to forget where you’re going, what the steps are, or how to take them. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the goal is even yours or not. If you mess up your life, it doesn’t take the shape you want it to. Wool fibers can turn in to one giant knotted mat if you screw up the felting process. There’s no way to fix it. There’s no un-doing, or re-cutting or anything. You have to do it right.
Or you could just leave it alone. Maybe it doesn’t need to be messed up at all. Maybe felting isn’t as good an idea as spinning.
But I was encouraged by my own definition of art specifically embracing experimentation with materials, so I went at that raw wool full throttle.
And yes, I’ve gone at my life with the same intensity. Here’s the wool in action:
How difficult could it be? You take some dirty wool that’s been sheared straight off the sheep, rip it apart, lay it down, then soak it, soap it and encourage the fibers to interlock with each other in exactly the way you want them to. Yes, there’s sheep muck involved, and sticks and prickles and knots to get through. Yes, you are trying to take perfectly ordered sheep hairs and agitate them into such incredible tangles that they can’t be unraveled. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Even while I was working on it I saw the irony of the process. The fibers come from nature connected to one another in perfect harmony, I take them apart, and then I try to force them back together my way. I question myself, is this really handmade? I’m thinking this is leaning heavily in the direction of manmade;
At first I thought it was all coming back to me. I’ve done this many times before and this time the finished shape is just a simple rectangle. But sheep don’t grow wool in rectangles, and as I’ve found from this project, a rectangle is anything but simple. Nothing in nature is a rectangle. Nothing in nature is straight, or even, or follows the rules without exception.
But I was following the process. I was felting in order. Consequently, I was creating a lopsided rectangle, filled with holes and bumps and barely solid enough to rinse.
This all frustrated me. I wanted to try everything I knew and make it work. I threw it in a pot and boiled it. Then I rolled it with a pin. Finally I gave up hand-felting and put it in the washing machine. I wanted to see what would happen to it. I let it get covered in suds. Then I panicked that it would be ruined and without rinsing it, I threw it in the dryer.
I’d read that detergent destroys wool’s delicate fibers. But I ignored the warnings.
When it came out of the dryer it was a disaster. It had spun and burned and been shredded. There were large masses of bulbs hanging off of it and it was twisted like a broken body. Worse than that, the fibers had been shredded. Disintegrated. Destroyed. It was awful.
I put it on my neck. It looked like I was wearing a dead animal. And it was shedding. Tiny flakes of once-soft wool fibers were littering my neck.
So I started over. I had to accept that it didn’t work out. I needed to throw it away. The very integrity of the source had been lost in my over-enthusiastic panic-stricken un-thought-out felting frenzy. There was nothing worth saving. There was nothing to do but start over.
So I did. This time I followed the rules, as I had before. This time I took it a little slower. I experimented less and it wasn’t as fun. I successfully created a recognizable felt rectangle.
Here it is folded up:
La de da. A felted rectangle. Not too exciting. I wasn’t too impressed.
So I continued with other felting possibilities and made some felted beads. They won’t work for GFKAS but I reminded myself, I’m just experimenting:
It all reminded me of the line of poetry I read in english class in 7th grade that resonated so powerfully with me that I have repeated it every year since. It was:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
A whole generation identified with those words, of course, but still I feel like they’re mine somehow. When I really think I’m crazy, or worse, lost, I just remember those lines and figure that somehow exactly where I am is where I’m supposed to be to make all the difference.
I wonder what that difference is?
In that lost felting moment of desperately trying to mess those fibers into the shape I have been assigned, repeating Frost to myself, I was reminded of another special poem I’d memorized as a child. I think I must’ve been in the 3rd grade, and I didn’t know what most of the words meant, or the poem itself, but I was determined to memorize Kipling’s “If”. I remembered a few floating words and wanted to look it up. After reading it through just now, I wonder how spending so much time learning and embracing what amounted to only syllables in my mind may have influenced me all these years. Somewhere, I’m still weaving the words from this poem into the folds of my mind. I hope they will do the same for you.
If you can keep your head when all about you
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,