Fantastic visit to Arturo Alonzo Sandoval and watching a felt loom in action!

Many months ago I had an invitation via facebook from Arturo Alonzo Sandoval to visit him at the College of Fine Arts in the University of Kentucky (UK as those in the know call it!) to see a large felt loom working. Last Wednesday Jan had an appointment as new president of the PTA so friend and fellow fibre addict Nancy Collins and her husband Paul collected me in the morning and we met Arturo at his department in UK. The whole experience was totally mind blowing, Arturo is the most amazing artist, his weaving and art quilts just have to be seen to be believed!!! Anyway, we started the morning by heading up to the large room where the felt loom and all the other big weaving looms are located. I had never actually heard of or seen a felt loom before so do have a look at the official website and check them out, particularly interesting if you are a breeder of wool or hair producing animals and are looking for a simple way to turn your fibre into product. Stupidly I didn’t take any pictures of the loom itself in action, basically you feed your wool batt (with or without a layer of silk or other fabric) through two rollers (like an old mangle) and a series of felting needles punch the fibre as it passes through to the other side. Arturo explained that usually students would pass the batt through the rollers a total or 6 or 7 times and by the end have created a totally stable fabric ready to be used as it is or cut and stitched into couture garments. At the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival there were several booths where it was possible to see the results of this work, for me there were both advantages to using the loom and disadvantages. I really liked the fact that it was possible to ‘punch’ fibres together that otherwise might be difficult to felt and think that investing in a loom could be a really good option for a collective of Irish farmers wanting to utilize their home produced wool. Irish wool is difficult to felt into a compact fabric but using the loom would make this a possibility for blankets and rugs I think, also it’s possible to combine any fabrics with fibre, not just the natural ones and more open weaves. On the down side of things, because the rows of needles are evenly spaced across the working face of the machine it is not possible to punch fabric and fibre together without the needles pushing the fabric through to the other side creating little needle marks in the surface and I also think that it would not be possible to run thicker batts (I sometimes use 10 layers of wool as taught by wonderful felted Vanda Roberts) through, it that might be possible if you can adjust the rollers but I’m not actually sure how much play there is in that direction. Personally, if I had access to a loom and the time to experiment I would try running my fibre and fabric through twice then wet felt the resultant piece and in this way think that I would have a better chance of achieving the smoother, softer and more flexible surfaces that I like for my wearables. All is all it was a really interesting piece of equipment and one that I am going to mention to some local farmers once I get home to Clasheen. I have a dream (only a dream at the moment unfortunately!) of having the time and inclination to set up a small co-operative where sample carders, wool picking and cleaning equipment etc. could be shared and used buy the whole community and I really think that the felt loom can now be added to that list for future consideration, watch this space, but not for a couple of years yet I think!

Arturo with one of his art quilts in progress

Once we had finished in the weaving room Arturo gave Nancy and I a full tour through the Fine Arts Department and then we headed off to his studio, mind blowing and inspiring!!! We saw some beautiful finished framed pieces which were woven and stitched from a variety of materials including the sort of material that hoarding is covered in to show you how a building project in progress is going to look while finished. I’m not sure if it’s vinyl or what it’s made of but you probably know what I mean from the description! There are plenty of subtle and not so subtle political messages in Arturo’s work and these were obvious when we watched a wonderful presentation on the computer showing us how his work has evolved and changed through the years. Initially expressing himself through weaving, Arturo gradually has incorporated more and more unusual, whacky and recycled materials into his pieces. Now simple lines of zip zag stitching adds another dimension to the surface especially when he weaves with things like old archival film, strips of shiny metallic fabric and other textured fabrics, beautiful! A large commission was in progress when we visited the studio, here’s a picture of Arturo holding up a strip of film against the beginning of the background, the strips for the warp are all pinned against the wall at this stage of the process.

After we were finished at UK Arturo spontaneously invited us to spend some more time with him, both at his house and at the University of Kentucky Hospital where he is one of the art trustees, hope that’s the correct term! This is a marvelous medical facility which has just almost doubled in size recently, we saw some stunning large scale sculptures, an interesting video projection, a whole series of folk art pieces by local Kentucky artists and ended up in the surgery waiting room where one of Arturo’s wonderful art quilt hangs.

One of Arturo’s stunning art quilts in the surgery waiting room at UK Hospital

Paul met us at Artutro’s house and we all spent a great time viewing the funky and eclectic collection of art that he has gathered over the years, this is wonderfully positioned both in his stunning garden and inside in his colorful and welcoming home! I loved the bottle trees glistening in the sunlight (MUST make some with all the bottles we go through at home!) and was amazed how springy and comfortable the large woven outside rug was. Arturo made this by weaving old battery cables, check out my Keen’s Tanya, I took this photo of them against the rug ‘specially for you!!!

Outdoor rug woven from battery cables!

Arturo truly has created an awe inspiring body of work through the years and I really wished that Cathy Fitzgerald, Sheila Ahern and Eileen MacDonagh from Ireland could have been with us to watch the video presentation, see his work up close, visit the wonderful sculpture and art in the garden and get to meet Arturo in person, you would have LOVED it girls!!!

I’m going to leave you today with a close up shot from the large art quilt at UK Hospital, check out the film Sheila!

Check out the woven film Sheila!


Niki’s stunning wrap photographed in the urban landscape

I spent a wonderful time with friend Niki Collier, her husband Rem and their beautiful children Coral and Tanya in Dublin yesterday.  Niki and I had a felt filled day planned, inspiration, discussion, chat and action, it certainly lived up to and surpassed all my anticipation!

Striding out in the urban landscape

During the day we walked to collect the children from their respective pre-schools and this was an opportunity for me to wear and Niki to photograph the stunning piece she felted at the recent Dublin Pam de Groot workshop organised by Feltmakers Ireland.  Initially this softly draping nuno piece was designed to be worn as a long shift, once I tried it on and looked at myself in the mirror I asked Niki would she mind if I tried it on with the intended neck opening as an armhole, voila, this incredible wrap was born!!!  We had great fun chatting and pausing as we walked along and it was totally fitting that the wrap was photographed in the urban landscape that was its inspiration.  Congratulations Niki on a very special piece!!!

Out and about in Dublin

During the afternoon Rem took the children out for a while and Niki and I settled down to our felting.  I’m thrilled with the two new bracelets I made and promise photos tomorrow, they are the first in a new series of work I’m creating inspired by Irish dry stone walls.  In the evening our felting friend Sheila Ahern joined us right on time to watch this weeks episode of Craft Master, a current Irish television series focusing on craft in Ireland.  Sheila is involved in the production of the series and her official title is ‘Craft Advisor’, Niki and I thought the programme was excellent!!!  Alan travelled up from Bagenalstown to join us for dinner and we had a wonderful meal, the highlights included a yummy salad accompanied by a Bulgarian speciality drink (unfortunately I can’t remember the name, maybe I drank too much!), stuffed aubergines, seasonal vegetable stir fry, roasted tomatoes with garlic and a fantastic tasting fillet steak for the meat eaters, it was a meal fit for a king!

Little Tanya is making me smile!

Today I headed back to Niki’s in the morning to collect my truck and have a good cup of coffee (I stayed in Alan’s Dublin pad for the night), after that I drove to Ikea to make some final choices for my utility room/back kitchen.  This part of the house has just not been working in its current layour so over the next week I am going to dismantle all the units, drag them out to the garage and reinstall, then I get to have fun putting together and finally fitting what I hope will be the work space from heaven, I’ll update you as it progresses!  Unfortunately this does mean that I won’t be going away for a short holiday with Alan as we had planned, he just can’t get next week off but luckily we hadn’t booked to take account of this eventuality occuring.  Ah well, he did suggest he MIGHT wrangle two weeks off at the beginning of November so I’m not totally ruling out a holiday yet, for the moment I’ll live in hope!