NATURAL BASE customers who love our hand felted scarves and cushions know that blended wool fibres of alpaca, merino, angora and Kashmir (from Kashmir mountain goats in Northern India) each create the valuable textural and aesthetic qualities to our products. Catch a rare moment with Kim Shipton, the artist behind the Heirloom Fibrecraft brand who talks to Natural Base about her hand felting technique.
NB: How did you come to create these pieces with such a special and unique process?
KIM: I stumbled across a wool supplier many years ago, who had a treasure trove of wool tops (unspun fibres), which she used for spinning. Her collection of wools simply moved me and I wasn’t sure how I wanted to apply a craft to wool tops but I just knew I wanted to collate a natural range, combine them together and present them in their glory. I’ve never liked synthetically dyed wool so I researched the many un-dyed fibres from different animals with coloured fleece such as sheep, goat, alpaca, llama, yak etc. After a little spinning, weaving and knitting, I then started felting, which resonated for me. When felting, the structure of the fibres bind together to create cloth. The history behind felting among different cultures originates before Christianity. I feel inspired when customers are drawn to an ancient product in a contemporary context. There is something innate within us which attracts us to its tactile nature. It’s a beautiful thing when I watch people lose themselves for a few moments when they stroke my felted cushions.
NB: Why is this craft important to you?
KIM: Ultimately I wanted to apply a craft that satisfied my desire for sustainable resources. I also enjoy the physical side of the craft, using my hands and the sensual side to handling wool fibres. It’s highly tactile for me and the finished product is a must-have-contact. Hand felting can be time consuming. It requires labour; the layout of the pattern and the multiple layering of fine wool fibres, the wetting and removal of air bubbles, the constant rolling and more rolling.…but it’s a labour of love. Craft is a lifelong passion for me with eternal creative opportunities. Finding people who love the product is simply rewarding and I like to bring joy to people.
NB: Who is most receptive to your pieces?
KIM: I would say a majority are women, however, when the product is displayed outside of a retail environment I've been pleasantly surprised how men respond to the product too. I had a male customer walk up to a cushion and face-dive into it. He apologised afterwards but that is exactly the result I’m looking for!
NB: How are your skills changing and developing?
KIM: I suppose I’m becoming more brave. Once I am comfortable with a craft technique I then want to apply a more abstract element to the finished product. Creative development is infectious. I feel excited about that. I wonder what would happen if I was left in a room with finite time and resources for a few years. That thought scares me a little.
NB: Are there any particular methods or techniques that you haven't worked with that you would like to?
KIM: I'd like to experiment more with nuno felting and blend this technique into the scarf range next year. Nuno would work beautifully with the silks I use and woven wools to create a multiple layering effect with some exposed layers.
NB: How do you feel when a customer experiences or purchases your pieces?
KIM: Originally I used to feel very nervous. In time people's reactions, responses, return visits and thank you notes helped me to recognise that I produce quality. Most of the time people purchase my scarves as gifts (one lady said she wouldn’t dare buy herself something as nice for herself!). This seems to be a gesture of buying something special for loved ones, which makes me feel grateful. I like it when very rarely a customer tries almost every scarf on in the studio. Firstly they are relaxed enough to do that at the same time as being swept up in the freedom of choice and excitement of design. There's great satisfaction for me when someone understands the art, the processes and loves the end result. A couple purchased two large cushions, which were one-off designs. They said they had been looking a long time for the right cushions for their lounge suite. It was a long decision making process for them and once they took them home and sent me photos in situ, well, I was very flattered.