A feeling for fibre: stepping into a livelihood in textiles

Simone Bensdorp of Wild Felt loves that she’s working with the world’s oldest known textile, and that making felt connects her to thousands of years of human history. Her beautiful and imaginative Felt clothing and accessories combine snuggly merino wool with recycled and repurposed materials where possible – for instance, the hardwearing soles of her slippers are made from upcycled wetsuits!


 

 
What do you make?
I’m a felt maker, I make felted slippers, hats, bags and jewellery. I also make sculptural art, I’m fascinated by wool as a medium and the different ways it can be worked and manipulated.

How did you get into your craft?
I went to a beginners’ felting workshop and saw so many possibilities in this craft… I went home and bought way too much wool, started watching felt hat making tutorials on YouTube and I was hooked!

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Most of my learning has been self taught, through books, online tutorials and lots of experimentation! But I also love learning from other feltmakers and attend workshops when overseas feltmakers visit New Zealand. I recently completed an online feltmaking course with one of my long time felting idols, Pam de Groot. It was an incredibly inspiring and enriching course that left me bursting with new ideas to try.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Merino wool! It felts easily and it’s soft to touch and wear, but it still holds its shape in sculptural pieces. Lately I’ve been playing with the process of incorporating objects into felt. I’m enjoying the technical challenge of designing a piece so the wool fits tightly around the object.


 

 

 
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
All my felted pieces start off as loose merino roving, which I place in layers over a plastic resist. I then add soapy water and rub this into the wool, which causes the wool fibres to bond together. There are a few different ways to make felt, I usually wrap my work inside bubble wrap and roll it back and forth. Once the piece is holding together fairly well, I throw it against a hard surface to fully felt it (this part is good for releasing anger too!). Next I rinse and shape the felt before leaving it to dry. Most of my work is seamless, so the only stitching is for the finishing materials, like slipper soles and bag clasps.

What inspires you?
Other creative people. Textures and colours in nature: stones, lichen, tree bark, rippling water. Figuring out ways to solve a problem, I love learning and inventing new techniques to manipulate wool in different ways.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I named my brand ‘Wild Felt’ to capture the philosophy behind it. I love using wild, natural materials, like wool, silk and other plant fibres. The sustainability aspect is important to me, but equally important is how these materials feel. I focus on making one of a kind pieces, that are a bit different and wild compared to what you might normally buy in a shop. I want to people to feel special when they wear these pieces, like they are honoring their wild and creative selves! Lastly, starting Wild Felt was like stepping into my own wilderness – braving the unknown, feeling uncertain about where this creative pathway would take me, but doing it anyway.


 

 
Describe your creative process:
I’m thinking about things I could make all the time! Often I’ll have an idea percolating for a while… while I’m riding my bike, doing the dishes, lying in bed… then once I can visualise it, I’m ready to start making. I don’t do a lot of planning on paper, asides from measurements. I find that each piece I make leads on organically to the next one, as it gives me inspiration for what to try next.

Describe your workspace:
I work at XCHC (The Exchange), a creative coworking space in Christchurch. I love it here because I’m part of a community of artists, designers and makers who are super supportive and fun – there’s always someone to bounce creative ideas around with. My studio space is generally a mess with piles of wool everywhere, but I’m working on keeping it tidier!


 

 

 
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
“These felt slippers are like wrapping my feet in little blue clouds… but warm!” What more could you want in a slipper?!

Recommend an album:
Mary Gauthier’s latest album Rifles and Rosary Beads. She co-wrote the songs with U.S. War veterans and their families, and every song is unique, personal and deeply moving.

What are you reading now?
I’m reading The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. It’s a detective-mystery-adventure set in alternate realities with an invisible library holding them all together… It’s a really fun read!

A favourite quote:
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Maya Angelou. So true.


 

 
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Spend time making sure you’ve got a quality, well-crafted product before selling it. Make time to play and experiment to keep the creative juices flowing. And just do it!

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I bought a set of cards from a local illustrator at the last Maker’s Market. I’m a bit old fashioned and I still send letters to my friends, so I’m always looking out for cute, locally made cards to top up my supply.

What’s in store for the rest of 2018?
I’m looking forward to teaching more – I’m running a beginners’ felt making workshop in a couple of weeks time, and I’m planning slipper and hat making workshops for later in the year. I’m also working on some larger scale felt artworks, and I’m continuing my own learning with an online course on surface design. I want to keep growing my creative practice and inspiring others to create. And making beautiful felted things to sell on felt! It’s going to be a busy year!


 

 
Simone tells us she’ll be at the awesome Arts Centre Midwinter Carnival Market on the 24 and 25 August, so pop by and say hello! She’s also running a beginners’ felting workshop on 18 August at XCHC, but that’s booked out already – so you’ll need to pester her if you’d like her to run another one. 😉

Prize draw! Special offer!

Simone has very kindly offered two sweet prizes, so that two lucky Felt readers can win felt with Felt this fortnight! Up for grabs are these gorgeous merino felt cuffs in a cute zebra stripe and a stylish black/brown stone-texture (see below). Both are made from merino wool with vintage buttons. The zebra cuff is a size small (to fit a wrist measurement of 16cm) and the stone-texture cuff is a large (wrist measurement 20cm).

If you would like to be in to win a gorgeous Wild Felt cuff, let us know in the comments section what you enjoyed reading about Simone’s story and her beautiful creations, and which cuff you’d love to wear! The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 20 August and is open to New Zealand residents only.

As if that wasn’t enough, you can also get a 15% discount in Simone’s Wild Felt shop for the next month! To get this great deal make sure you enter the code BEWILD15 in the voucher code field at step 4 of checkout. Thanks Simone!


 

3 thoughts on “A feeling for fibre: stepping into a livelihood in textiles

  1. Love the purple people eater slippers, and your amazing spiral hats! And it’s so great to see a maker who obviously loves what they do. 🙂

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