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some of my earlier experiments

One of the benefits of teaching to fully engaged students is the challenges that they present to you. I am teaching a weekly course on felt-making; the first class for this new group was last week. All of the students were keen to learn, to do, to make. Outside of the enthusiasm that they brought to the class, they had all done research beforehand on the craft of wet-felt-making.

When we started the class, I gave them a brief run-down on how felting works, what the science is behind it, the basic stuff. Then we talked a little about what we would do over the next twelve weeks. Some of the students were very keen to try out some specific techniques; techniques that I’d seen others do but, admittedly, haven’t done myself. When the internet offers such a wide array of videos, blogs, and instruction manuals, it was a pre-educated group of crafting students who entered my classroom the other day!

a student in the beginning stages of making a hat

This presented a challenge and an opportunity for me to grow. While the class is on, I am “on”. I am engaged fully with the students, I guide and help and demonstrate. Sometimes I must step back and allow them to discover things on their own. During this work-time, they are concentrating and I am quietly watching what they do, or I am preparing for the next step. While this is happening, I think about what we will do in the future, what would serve my clients/students best.

Much of art-making and maintaining a practice in it is about editing. Editing specific works, editing time so that the media of choice fit into one’s life, and editing things that might not seem to fit together until they do. I have, classically, fancied myself to be a bit of a trail-blazer type whenever I’ve started something new. I would quickly learn all I could about it, see what appealed to me, then go off on my tangent to experiment with what I chose. This is normal, I think. However, when I have students who want to try out all the different things that one can do in a chosen medium, I need to be ready to teach them these things I’d seen, not tried, and had previously discarded from my own milieu of work. Because of this, over this weekend I performed some experiments with feltmaking.

there are many ways to make felt, and many potential things to teach

There is a funny thing about this situation. By prescribing myself time to experiment in things that I’d not really been personally interested in before, I have been actively pushed to make use of my new knowledge. An example: felted soap. I make and sell felted soap, now, because I needed a little something to fill in about an hour’s worth of class. Felted soap seemed interesting, sort of cool, and something easily portable for students to make and take home in one day. Now I sell my little bubbly creations in many shops around town, and on my Etsy page. Benefit!

fabric-enriched scarf - the successful experiment

A second example of a recent experiment is building fabric into the layers of wool. A student last week was keen to try this, so I agreed to teach it. I took some time to try it out, and last night I made a very beautiful scarf using this technique. A little back-story is due; as I’ve mentioned before, I once had a job in the fashion industry. While working in a sample-making room I saved scrap pieces of fabric. I prevented good, small bits of fabric from stuffing the landfill. I have many little squares of printed cotton, and I’d been trying to force myself to sew out patchwork bags and skirts out of them. I like sewing from time to time, but not sewing boring things like grid squares. Last night I took two of these squares, and ripped them into strips. I added the fabric into the scarf, and presto! It was a success. I will be making more of them, and adding another aspect to my scarf-making business!

I am looking forward to the next couple of experiments I’m planning… a large vase, and sushi jewelry in felt. Who knows what will be after that! I’ll certainly keep the dialogue open with my students, that’s for sure.

Natasha Henderson is a painter and fibre artist based in Montreal. She teaches art and felt to adults and kids. You can check out her Etsy page and personal website if you’d like to see some of her work.

Luck! It was with me recently. I had been to a talk with some friends the other eve, a talk by Barbara Ehrenreich about enforced “optimism” and the negative impact that has on society. It was a good presentation, based on the research she did for her book Bright-sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. I would like to read that book, and others that she has written.

While walking along the street an hour or so after the rich and vibrant presentation, one of my friends spotted something unusual… a cookbook. Yes. A cookbook was lying outside, in November, in Montreal. This cookbook was one she recognised, and she and another friend commented on it being a good one, or at least one that they “knew”. I looked over, and with my friends’ encouragement, did what the yellow sticky note on it told me to.

"I am a free Book Take me home"

Looking into the book, I found cartoons, lots of recipes that are cute and easy-to-follow-looking… one section on vegetarian cooking, too. Phew! I will look through and try some of the recipes. I do like cartoons mixed in with my reading…

One especially interesting and odd thing about this “find” is that it has a sticker inside the front page. The sticker says that the book is registered with… an organisation that encourages people to share books, and for those books to travel. This cookbook is assigned an ID number. I went to the site, typed in the book’s ID number, and added this to the journal for that book:

“It was a delight when my friends pointed out this book on a bench near McGill… I picked it up, looked at it, realised the little stick-it-note told me it was “ok” to take it… and then discovered the sticker inside! I am looking forward, especially, to trying the vegetarian dishes. I am in the middle of entering something on a blog about “luck”, and this book and experience is the centrepiece. Thank you… will review later when I’ve used it! (The blog is NH”

Luck, circumstance… considering the negative aspects of “positive thinking”… anonymously shared cookbooks. What a day may bring. You never do know.

Natasha Henderson in Montreal

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