Meet the Maker: Felting Artist Gina Dunford

Felting Artist Gina Dunford #felting #artist

Gina Dunford may be a name you’ve already heard if you’re a follower of our blog – she’s done some fantastic felting projects for us all to follow at home. Now you can find out more about this wonderful maker herself, who is not only a fibre artist and textile designer, but also the owner of her very own business, Chica Chimu…

How did you get into felting?

My background is in fine art painting and printmaking. In 2008 I took an A level textiles evening course at a nearby college. I enjoyed the freedom that working with fabric, dyes, printmaking and embroidery gave me. I’ve always loved using mixed media within my work and textiles offered me a way to really express myself. I was searching for a new way of working that would allow for my love of colour, texture and pattern, in a manner more versatile than a canvas or print would allow.

In 2011 I was asked by a charitable organisation to provide a workshop for adults with learning difficulties. I trawled the internet for ideas, knowing I would need to provide an activity that would be relatively easy, non messy and that would give immediate results. This is how I discovered needle felting. The ‘needle felted landscapes’ workshop I ran was a huge success and my fascination with wool and felting (both dry and wet) was sparked. Funnily enough my first sojourn into felting on my textiles course was a complete disaster! I think I even swore to myself I’d never touch felt ever again…. now I can’t live without it.

I even swore to myself I’d never touch felt ever again…. now I can’t live without it.

What do you love about working with felt?

Wool is such an exciting material to work with and I find the possibilities are endless. It’s the versatility of felt that keeps me hooked. There’s endless scope for experimentation and so it really appeals to my adventurous side. I can sculpt with it, combine merino fibres with a vast selection of other fibres and create a whole new textile with its own particular qualities. I love that I can paint with wool and silks to create luxurious surface textures and create dramatic patterns into the textiles very make-up, but this is still to simplify my love of felt. Every aspect of this fibre fascinates me and I’m intrigued by the science of my craft. Felt is water resistant, stain resistant, insulating, and all without the use of nasty chemicals! It’s a completely organic material, and this is really important to me.

Felting Artist Gina Dunford #felting

What is your design process? Where do you start?

I approach felting much as I would do with a painting. Once I have an idea in my head, I’ll lay out all my beautiful coloured wools and start to make decisions about colour combinations. I have a huge variety of dyed wool yarns, silks and various other fibres so the decision can be a hard one to make. The design process can take hours and include labour intensive needle felting in parts to ensure no shifting whilst I’m working. For my recent collection, I drew out the design using pencil roving as a starting point and then continued to build upon it using the wools to paint with. Once I’m happy with how it all looks the felting process begins.

I enjoy the process and the stages of my craft; I like to lose myself in the creativity it affords. Give felt the time and patience it deserves and the outcomes will be rewarding.

What inspires you?

I’m very much drawn to traditional textile techniques, which is why I think felt appeals to me. In 2005 I travelled to Peru, where I learnt traditional Inca weaving using Pre-Columbian motifs and traditional methods of cochineal dyeing. I’m always inspired by my travels whether it’s ethnic textiles, ancient architecture or exotic flora and fauna. Everything is new! I’m also fascinated by anthropology and psychology. This particularly comes across in my recent nuno-felted collection inspired by Palaeolithic cave art. Stories and folktales capture my imagination. I’m an avid reader and love the escapism this provides. This is echoed in my work, which often has nuances of archetypal storylines and reoccurring symbolic motifs.

Felting Artist Gina Dunford #felting

What made you want to start up your own business Chica Chimu?

I’d spent over four years working full time in secondary schools as an art technician and art instructor. At the same time, I was running evening classes for other organisations, teaching week-long workshops during my holidays and studying for a textile design qualification.

I soon realised that I got the most satisfaction from delivering my own workshops and creating my own work. I knew I had to make a change and an opportunity arose to become a workshop instructor. Unfortunately the job fell through before it had even started.

Luckily I was invited to attend a free business start-up programme delivered by Outset Business Development, and I simply jumped at the opportunity. Running my own business had always been something that I’d considered. Two years later and my business idea has turned into a reality.

What’s the one piece of advice you wish you’d known when starting up your own business?

Don’t be afraid to make changes because nothing’s set in concrete, and that should be seen as positive rather than daunting. Be prepared for absolutely anything and keep an open mind with a willingness to take on new ideas. You never know where an opportunity may lead you. When I look at my business plan from two years ago, it differs so much from where I am today! Opportunities I never expected have opened their doors to me and as a consequence both my business and I are continuously evolving.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I’m a bit unorthodox in my regime. When I’m in full swing I may stay up 24hrs straight, sleep for 6 hours and then work another 24 hours straight. Making felt is a long process and takes time even without lavish surface work and illustration. If I’m not working on something ‘big’ then I’m experimenting, making samples, and trying new things out.

Felting Artist Gina Dunford #felting

Do you have any felting top tips that you can share with us?

Felt takes time to make, that part is unavoidable. There are plenty of techniques out there and tools recommended to speed up the felting process…I intend to invest in a couple. But I think it’s important to take stock and not get carried away with producing things as quickly as possible. Sometimes it seems that in today’s fast food culture everything is available yesterday. Not so with felt. I enjoy the process and the stages of my craft; I like to lose myself in the creativity it affords. Give felt the time and patience it deserves and the outcomes will be rewarding.

I think we’re going to see wool being used more and more in fashion and interiors

What are the five pieces of equipment you couldn’t be without?

This is a hard one! 1: Needle felting tools and foam pad are a must. I use needle felting techniques in my initial drawing process and it also means I can work on more complex designs as the act of needle felting prevents my design from shifting as I work. 2: A pool noodle, given to me by a friend, has been revolutionary! It makes the rolling process so much less backbreaking. 3: Bubble wrap for rolling my felt is a pretty standard essential, though I’m hoping to get a piece of pool covering which will hopefully prove to be a bit more robust.

A lot of my felting equipment is actually repurposed kitchen equipment, for example I use 4: a clean dishwashing brush for fluffing up my pre-felt. The bristles are perfect for the job. 5: A wire cooling rack can have all manner of invaluable uses from draining to airing.

On my wish list are a hand sander and a needle-felting machine. Hopefully these two pieces of equipment will mean I can work on much larger projects.

Felting Artist Gina Dunford #felting

And for the future, what’s next on your to do list?

I feel like I’m at the beginning of a beautiful long journey and there’s so much to do and so much to try out. 2015 is going to be busy and very exciting for me.

I have a few projects lined up for this year and I’m planning a trip to an exciting region that has a long history of felt-making and fibre arts. I’m looking forward to exploring these cultures and delving into the history of a fibre that I’m passionate about. I’m also looking forward to learning traditional and age-old techniques that I can use to inspire my own contemporary practise.

I believe it’s crucial as a designer to have an awareness of the impact clothing and textiles has on our environment. More and more I find myself intrigued and enthused by the idea of using pure, natural pigments and environmentally responsible directions in textiles. I intend to spend some time experimenting with natural dyes and producing some exciting pieces as a result.

Are there any emerging trends for 2016?

Now more than ever, in an age of massive population growth, over development and strained resources, we’re focusing more intently on sustainability with regards to the resources we use and the energy we consume. Quite rightly so.

When it comes to environmentally sound, I’ve never ‘felt’ better about wool!

I think we’re going to see wool being used more and more in fashion and interiors as well as its many beneficial properties being harnessed within science and textile technology. Science has long been developing ways of working with all manner of fibres, natural and man-made alike, with some amazing break-throughs.

Nuno felting, a relatively new technique, is becoming ever more popular as people realise the potential for combining the thermal qualities of wool with a fabric such as silk in order to make a very lightweight textile. All in all, I believe this makes wool a really exciting material to take through to 2015.

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