Sheila Thompson :: A Review of Jorie Johnson’s 2019 Toronto Workshop
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
Sheila Thompson, felt :: feutre canada’s Chair of the Exhibition Committee recently attended Jorie Johnson’s Toronto workshop and was generous enough to review it for us.
The well-known felt artist, Jorie Johnson studied textile design at RISD (USA) and KOTO (Finland). She moved to Japan in 1987, after deciding a three-month tour simply was not long enough. Today she still lives there. It was in Kyoto, Japan, that she re-established her textile studio and trademarked the name Joi Rae. Jorie is celebrated for her innovative felting style.
Jorie exhibits her contemporary feltworks in galleries, shops, and museums around the world. She holds a part-time lecturing post in the Textile Design Department of the Kyoto University of Art and Design. Jorie frequently travels on research expeditions to learn more about traditional felting from different cultures and also attends international felt symposiums and gives workshops about contemporary surface- and design-technique developments in feltmaking.
Sheila writes: I attended a workshop entitled The Potential of Lamination in Contemporary Feltmaking at the Contemporary Textile Studio in downtown Toronto in late July. Great academic sounding title! I have been a huge fan of Jorie’s work for a couple of decades and jumped at the chance to meet her and hear her thoughts and advice.
This workshop was unlike many others in that we did not produce a finished garment or product at the end. Nor did we learn a radical new technique that incorporates other textile techniques. Rather we explored, sketched, experimented, played, rolled (a lot), to better appreciate the almost magical properties of felt and the power of the felting process itself. I gained an appreciation of the process of transformation, innumerable tips about consistency, efficiency, factors affecting felting success and how to avoid having to sew to fix your problems.
Jorie reminded us frequently that you don’t need to sew if you can felt a problem away. It’s all about getting a feel for the stage that your felt is in and how you can influence attachment or shrinkage or shaping. Learning when to apply various methods and fixes takes practice.
In the first couple of days of the class, we watched, learned and practiced a range of surface design and lamination techniques. This was the time to work on sketches and to reintroduce ourselves to the felting process and all it could be without worrying about being overly creative and original.
When Jorie says you’re going to make sketches, she doesn’t mean you to get out your paper and pencils. She means make felt samples that you document and save for future reference. We practiced how to create a good contact, how to make flaps and tunnels and spiky bits, loops and flowers or any other surface design of a three dimensional nature as well as incorporation of textiles and joining textiles with felt.
Her advice was to put aside our creativity for the moment and just concentrate on refining the process. Plan and document what you are doing by considering your spacing, layout, consistency, efficiency and professional looking finishing. A great tip if I might share, is to make all motifs first before doing all the layout. Wrapping them in plastic wrap to keep the visible parts out of the way works wonders in being able to control your design.
Our group critique sessions were also very helpful in refining our next sketch. For example, in my own attempts, another layer of prefelt would have made the flap stronger, more layers under the flower motif would strengthen the petals, rubbing the corners would give a more rounded look.
On the second day when we focused on joining pieces of fabric with felting, we learned about consistency, how different fabrics work better than others, how we can create a certain look with cheaper fabric e.g. cheese cloth etc. We discussed soaps, tools, rolling techniques, measuring and when to keep going (pretty much just keep going – we all wanted to stop too soon).
On the third day, we were free to be more creative in applying our lessons and to bring in more creative ideas about our designs. Most of us still did a lot of experimentation versus product creation but felt more emboldened.
Jorie is pretty unstoppable and impressive to watch. On the last day, over a few hours, she gradually coaxed various kinds of washi paper and fine wool into a cohesive material. The show and tell sessions and critiques on our ideas and their execution were very helpful and fun.
I was inspired to then apply this slower, more considered process of felting to produce a couple of pieces based on some unique textile of magnified leaf hairs. I came home and made three or four sketches and tried out different assembly line techniques to make motifs.
Sheila’s next show is Wax and Wool – an exhibition with Sue McNenly in Common Craft pop up Elbow Room – 140 Metcalfe St, Elora; Sept 23 to Oct 6. Find her from Wednesday to Sunday each week. Look for her at the Arts on the Credit Artwear show: October 25-27, 2019, Waterside Inn, Port Credit.
Many thanks to Sheila for her marvellous review. Photo credits: Carroll Bonello