It took a long time to finish my studio, after we bought the 150+ year old Ottoman-era property in the ancient port city of Jaffa, Israel; we had to design the space and then rehab it with the help of ancient architecture specialists (architects, engineers, builders and carpenters) because the building is historic and required many special details in its restoration. The building has been many things over the years but it’s original purpose was as a barn. The building is located in Shuk Ha Pish Pishim (the flea market); in ancient times herders kept their livestock in the area below our apartment and slept in the rooms that are now our house. The herders sold their livestock in the market that still exists today albeit with a very different look and feel! The flea market today is a very hip and gritty place with many bars, restaurants and boutiques.
There are 2 outdoor spaces in our house now but years ago the rooms were built around an indoor courtyard, a very common feature of Arabic architecture. The rooms are designated by the vaulted ceilings, one of the most striking features of the house.
It took us a little more than 3 years to rehab our home in which my studio is located. My art studio has a mid-century modern look; it contains 8 large storage cabinets with transparent backs so you can see the stones behind, a card catalog for storing tiny supplies like threads, tape, felting supplies, knick-knacks etc., two mid-century style tables, my aquarium of turtles and a little sofa. There were two niches in my studio (we don’t know what they were for); I now use one as a storage area and one as a bathroom.
I have a mid-century style handmade, walnut sewing table and a matching taller table with my computer on it; this is where I felt because all my wool is in the cabinets behind me. As I sit and work I can watch my turtles in the aquarium that separates my studio space from the rest of the house. Louie and Shmoopy (my dogs) often visit me in my studio, Shmoopy is currently banned from the studio because she has eaten too many of my felted pieces; she jumps up on the table and cabinets and steals them.
I’ve added many family heirlooms in my studio; they give me inspiration and they are reminders of quality, old-world craftsmanship. My fiber-art is needle felted, many times with embroidery, beads or textiles incorporated into the work.
At one point in my needle felting I began to wonder how I could make the surface more interesting, so I began to experiment. I needle felted a mask using a large felted ball as a mold to help me obtain the curved shape of the mask. I felted the mask face as I’d felt any doll face but as I started to apply the colors of the face I became bored with the felted outcome. I decided to start the long, arduous process of embroidering the mask.
It took me several years to finish this project because many other projects became more important and I put the mask away, time and time again. Because of the tediousness of the embroidery I wasn’t excited to finish it.
As I progressed with the mask embroidery, the shape of the mask changed and I had to keep reshaping it. Getting the needle through the center part of the face was very difficult. By this point (above) I was anticipating adding color so the process became more exciting!
The mask came to life with the addition of each different color that I added. The more colors applied to the surface, the faster I worked!
I compare the many colorful thread stitches of my mask to brush strokes; the outcome reminds me of an impressionistic painting.
I sewed/glued a chop stick to the side of the mask for a handle; I felted a handle, embroidered it black and inserted the thread-wrapped chop stick into the handle. I sewed black beads around the mask to compliment the handle.
The feel that the messy, inside of the mask is as interesting as the outside! I’m looking forward to my next needle felted-embroidered mask and I’m sure I will finish it in record time!
I do a lot of different commission work in needle felting, it’s usually a doll or a mask or a beloved pet. I’ve made puppets for educational aides in the past but recently I was asked to do a bust of a multi-ethnic young girl; the customer wanted the doll’s mouth to be able to open and close and her tongue to be movable. The customer is a speech therapist who thinks that demonstrating how to move and place your tongue will help her young patients to better follow her instructions. I tried to stay away from the ventriloquist-look as much as possible because I think ventriloquist dolls are scary looking. The very unique thing about this therapy doll is that you can place the tongue in different areas in the mouth to show children more easily how to make specific sounds:)
From the commentary I’ve received concerning this bust, the speech therapist is onto something!
Bęc Smith I’m a speech pathologist and think this is so cool!