Monday, August 23, 2010


Fleece Scarf With Whisper Felting
Lily Kerns

Comfort Zones
Those words give you a warm protected feeling, don't they?  Workiing within your comfort zone is also the easiest way to make quilts.  You have a pattern and the directions.  You have the right fabrics and tools-and you have it almost made, right?  For a total beginner with no established quilt-making comfort zone, this much may well be an adventure in itself.  But once you get beyond the total beginner stage what you have learned soon becomes a comfort zone.  Working in this comfort zone means that you not only know how to do it, but that you pretty much know what the final result will be.

The art quilter, however, is an adventurer and mastered tasks hold less appeal.  She welcomes the challenge of uncertainty, of doing what she has never tried before, of not knowing exactly how things will turn out.

I encountered both of these scenarios recently in a weekend "Fiber University" sponsored by an alpaca owners and breeders association.  Although I teach a felting for quilters class at Quilt University, I have never taken a felting class. Figuring I could learn something, I registered for two classes (needle felting and wet felting.)

Hand needle felting is very simple and easy to learn.  You have one or more slender barbed needles which are poked up and down into a bed of wool or other fiber.  The barbs carry strands of fiber downward to tangle with other fibers, making a felted mat.  The thickness of this felted fabric depends on how thick your layer of fiber was to start with.

We were provided with a protective mat, a set of needles and an assortment of colored fibers, including of course, wonderfully soft alpaca.  We chose a large plastic cookie cutter as a template.  Fibers placed insode the cookie cutter were needled down into an underlying fabric to create a felted shape when the cookie cutter was removed.  The basic decision making involved was choosing fiber colors.  If you had a heart shape, then red fiber was an obvious choice.  Beginning felters needed to learn how much fiber to use, how to hold the needle and avoid breaking it.

If this simple process challenges your comfort zones, then hurrah for you!  However, I've done a good bit of experimenting with felting and the process of felting into cookie cutters is pretty well buried in my accumulation of comfort zones.  So I chose to start from scratch, with no pattern, no clearn idea of what I would do.

The scarf above started by choosing small amounts of colored fibers in light value to contrast with the dark fleece.  I felted thin wisps of these in a spray pattern from the lower left corner.  An enticing bag of colorful wool curls suggested flowers, so small bits of these were felted in place.  From there on it was a matter of listening to the fiber and design and adding whatever seemed to be needed.

This intuitive approach to design is not the easiest way.  It challenges your comfort zone with every new decision.  It is the essence of creativity, of discovery, of risk-taking.  It is the hall mark of the creative art quilter.


  1. Interesting thoughts, Lily. If we don't break out of that comfort zone and try new things, I think we stagnate as artists. Thanks for reminding us!

  2. I know exactly what you mean. the classes I teach now are the techniques I was mastering 5 years ago. Working on new things stretches you and gives you new things to challenge your students down the road.