The Irish Government launched the Keep Well Campaign during 2021. Its purpose was to support people and communities to mind their physical and mental health during these uncertain times. Money was funnelled through various channels including the Design Council of Ireland whose funding programme encouraged people at home to ‘switch off, be creative and learn something new’.
Visual Artist, and Region 14 member, Dr Niki Collier took up the challenge to bring felt making to the masses through a series of on-line workshops teaching her stained glass felting technique. Niki found that the workshops were very quickly over-subscribed as there was a tremendous interest in learning how to felt. She is a really positive person who was not daunted by the numbers…a quick call to the Design Council resulted in an increase in the initial funding. The majority of this funding was used to put together felting kits which were posted out to the participants ahead of time.
The on-line workshops were held during February and March 2021 and taught by Niki and two felting artists Caoilfionn Murphy (another Region 14 member) and Liadain Butler. The workshops focused on three topics:
• How to make pre-felt – participants worked alongside the tutor and were encouraged to ask questions throughout. Everyone got to see some finished work so that they could visualize the possibilities for their pre-felts
• Felting the stained glass bird – participants were given a pattern which they used to cut out pieces of the pre-felts they had made at the first workshop. These were then wet felted onto a pre-felt background
• Finishing the bird – participants were taught needle felting which they used to finish off their pictures
All workshops lasted 1 hour and Niki and the other tutors were assisted by IFA Regional Coordinators Jane Fox and Helene Dooley who looked after the technology and fielded questions. Altogether nine on-line workshops were held and 150 individuals participated. The youngest new felter was 10 years old. The workshops were recorded and were available to all participants to watch at their leisure. In addition they were made freely available to a wider audience and can be viewed online at: https://www.nikicollier.com/nikicollierfelt/.
All the novice Feltmakers were invited to exhibit their work at two Exhibitions. The first, aptly named ‘Birds of a Feather’, took place online during August, 2021. Everyone was then given the opportunity to submit their work for a physical exhibition which was held by the Design Council in Dublin Castle last October. Their work was viewed by over 1,000 people over the four days of the exhibition. This was a super turnout, given the restrictions and challenges that were in place at the time. The works will also form part of a larger exhibition of textile art scheduled to run this year in the Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham from April to June. Further online live workshops are planned for this March – it is hoped that some new and some familiar faces will attend – sowing the seeds of this beautiful craft within more communities throughout Ireland and abroad. All from the comfort of one’s own home! To paraphrase Niki’s comment when the world closed down at the height of covid, we did the opposite – we opened ourselves and people opened their homes to us. We created a Region 14 project during lockdown where there were no boundaries between artists within the region.
Article by Helene Dooley Region 14