Whanganui fibre artist Tina Schurhammer’s interest in felting is part of a lifelong exploration of crafting and creative techniques. She was introduced to felting in her thirties and is now passionate about the ancient art of felt making – producing attractive and practical everyday objects as well as beautiful works of art in her Felt shop Fibrefusion. Crafting in sustainable materials fits both with her environmental beliefs and with the organic nature of her work.
What do you make?
I transform my creative ideas into a diverse range of objects by using mainly wool fibres as a medium. The process is called feltmaking. At the moment I focus on smaller objects that are easy to post or carry to markets like various felted vessels or jewellery made out of handcrafted wool beads, felted soaps or scarves.
I also love to work on larger pieces like bags, cushions or clothing and on art projects into which I sometimes immerse for several weeks until they’re completed.
How did you get into your craft?
I started crafting on a very frequent basis about four years ago when I had the opportunity to join an art and craft cooperative with a gallery/shop outlet in my hometown. I’ve been creative my whole life as a painter, photographer, silk painter and fibre artist.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Not exactly, I was introduced to feltmaking about 25 years ago through my involvement in Steiner education and loved it ever since. I learned beginner and intermediate techniques in parent groups while hand crafting things for Christmas markets and school open days. About ten years ago l also attended a fibre art course at UCOL Whanganui summer school. From there I have been teaching myself and developing new techniques e.g from books or other tutorials.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Natural coloured carded NZ merino wool, NZ hand dyed merino wool, NZ merino wool and silk fibre blends, other NZ sheep wool, including from my own sheep Whoopsy, and alpaca fleece from my two alpacas Tammy and Dolly.
I love the smell of the essential oil soaps that fills the whole house when I make felted soaps out of them. My favourite process is called the wet felting technique and my favourite tools for it are my hands, rainwater and olive oil soap shavings.
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
I mainly use the wet felting technique where raw or carded wool fibre is used with at least two different layers of fibre depending on the thickness of the felt that is required. I only use two layers for my so called pre-felts. That is half-processed very thin felt fabric, that I can later use to create patterns on my designs. Everything else needs three to five (or more) layers (if you prefer felt without holes).
Felt is an unwoven fabric and felt making is an ancient form of making textiles. After laying out the fibre, which often takes longer than the actual wet felting process, the fibre is made wet with soapy hot water. The soap doesn’t bind the fibres, it only helps speeding up the process a little by making the fibres softer and it is washed out thoroughly after the felting process. The actual binding together of the fibres happens through rubbing, rolling and applying pressure which can take a long time of manual labour depending on the sort of wool, thickness and form of the object. A flat piece (like a scarf for example) is rolled up between a thick cloth or bubble wrap and then needs to be rolled between 800 and 1200 times before it is properly felted.
I also use the cobweb felting technique (which is also wet felting) for scarves to produce a very lightweight fabric, or the nuno felting technique which incorporates woven fabric into the felt.
Felt can be made without water and soap as well by tangling the fibres together with a special felting needle. I am also using this technique for more sophisticated designs and small details on my pieces before the wet felting process.
What inspires you?
Living in rural New Zealand and close to the mountains, the river, and the sea, I draw my inspiration from nature and my beautiful surroundings. I love to incorporate the forms and colours of the landscape into my work.
Wool is a very obvious choice for me because it has become an important part of New Zealand and I am literally surrounded by sheep on my lifestyle block every day. I regard mother nature as the greatest artist but I am also surrounded by an inspiring artist community in my home town. Actually art in any form is an inspiration to me.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
The use of wool fibre and the alchemy of the felting process allows me to use a sustainable material which is both consistent with my beliefs and the organic nature of my work. Creating these pieces allows me to communicate some of my thoughts and feelings about the importance of cherishing the environment, and live close to the land.
Describe your creative process:
My mind produces new ideas all the time and I’ve given up trying to write them down. For simple things I just roughly imagine the design in my mind and decide on the sort of fibre, then start going through my materials and decide on colours. Complex designs need a lot of thought before I start, because my felt pieces are often made in one piece and can’t be changed when they are felted. For a bag, for example, I have to think exactly about how to construct it step by step and where to use a resist and then fabricate the resists first. For a garment or something that’s supposed to have a specific size, I have to consider the shrinkage that occurs during the felting process. Wet felting always includes shrinkage, the amount depends on the kind of fibre that is used and the way or direction it is rolled, the amount of pressure you use and a lot of things that aren’t predictable at all.
Describe your workspace:
For 9 months I’ve been working in my home after I lost my studio space in town due to a fire. My materials, mainly heaps of all different kinds of carded and uncarded wool, are stored in the wardrobe and boxes in a spare room, which we also need to use as guest bedroom.
So I haven’t got a permanent workspace at the moment. Whenever I decide to make a new batch of items I usually occupy my kitchen/dining room for a couple of days. My kitchen counter is actually the ideal work space to carry out wet felting of smaller objects, because the hot water supply and disposal of the soapy water is handy. It has a back-friendly height and I don’t need to worry about the carpet getting wet. I also set up an extra long table for wet felting scarves in my dining room. This works well for me and my husband because my children are all out of the house and we have an excuse to have dinner in town when I am at work in my kitchen, which we both love to do from time to time!
Five words that describe your mind:
Creative, flexible, optimistic, sometimes driven.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
“Absolutely thrilled with my purchases. And thank you for the Christmas decoration! Look forward to seeing more of your amazing work.”
A favourite quote:
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” – Rumi.
Tell us about your pets:
We’ve got an eleven year old Bichon dog called Benjie and two cats, Luna and Tabby, that live outside mainly because I’ve got a cat allergy. I consider the other animals who live on our lifestyle block to be my pets, too. There are two alpacas (who don’t want to be petted), Tami and Dolly, a pet sheep called Whoopsy, six milking goats: Hermine, Jaffa, Kalani, Eleanore, Laila, Leo (di Caprio), and my horse Summer Breeze.
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
The production of handmade goods uses less resources and produces less pollution than mass made in factories, and if locally made this just adds too it more. The skills involved in handmade things would eventually die out if nobody would buy them and it’s important to keep the knowledge and skills alive and not rely only on modern technologies. And last, we’re all unique and so are handcrafted pieces. With any handmade item you can emphasise that.
What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
It fills me with joy and keeps me going.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
It was handmade lavender soap from a local maker, which I am going give a felted alpaca/merino/silk coating.
What’s in store for 2020?
At the moment I’m focusing on autumn/winter – that means making things that are great for gifts and for keeping you warm. I am thinking of a variety of small animal-themed bowls, warm felted merino and alpaca fibre scarves and other items for keeping warm.
Tina has kindly offered a lovely prize set for one lucky Felt reader of three of her felted soap products (see below). This felted soap trio features two essential oil soaps of lavender and lemongrass and a shampoo bar with orange, palmarosa, and rosemary. To be in to win this luscious trio leave us a comment below telling us what you like about Tina’s story and creations.
The draw closes at 5pm Monday 11 May and is open to New Zealand residents only.
And the prize draw’s not all! Tina is also generously giving her Felt customers 20% off any of the stunning creations in her Felt shop for the duration of her feature fortnight. Just purchase before 5pm Monday 11 May, and enter the code FIBREFUSION-FELT in the voucher code field at step 4 of checkout. Thank you so much Tina!