Updated: Oct 30, 2021
Leiko Uchiyama never pictured herself as a fibre artist or a clothing designer. In fact one could say felting found her. Leiko studied Animal Science at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Hokkaido Japan and it was her fascination with our first domesticated animal, the sheep that first sparked her interest. After all what creature gives us so much. Think about it. From the sheep we get food, clothing and shelter. Amazing.
Humans have kept sheep for thousands of years and yet there still a vital part of the modern world. Leiko was particularly intrigued by the many varieties of sheep and their wool. The material offered so much: waterproofing, soundproofing, insulating. She liked its versatility. It could be spun, knitted and, most impressively, felted.
She moved to New Zealand where she worked on a sheep farm and studied sheep shearing with the New Zealand Wool Board. Later she found out she was the first Japanese person to do this. Her interest in sheep led her to Australia where it wasn’t customary to let women shear sheep —still she convinced some shearers to let her try. They were impressed with her skill.
In 1990 she enrolled in Otsuka Textile Design School in Tokyo and took workshops in printing, weaving and knitting. The program wasn’t really for her.
So she began felting in 1992, creating a new technique and a style that was distinctly her own. Her unique approach encompasses a rare sensitivity to the materials used and an intimate appreciation of form and function.
Along with with her gorgeous felted creations, Leiko has her own line of hand-dyed rovings. The colours are marvellous. Imagine sapphire blue, crimson, spun gold.
Leiko has studied traditional felt rug making in Turkey and worked with felt makers in: Ireland, Hungary, Australia and even Mongolia. After her trip to Mongolia she became very intrigued by the concept of what we carry and what we leave —both physically and spiritually. The fleece baskets inspired by this notion are the first image on her website.
These days Leiko is a highly sought after felting tutor who travels to teach across the globe. Over the years she has taught in: Australia, Japan, Ireland, Switzerland, the United States and Canada.
At the symposium, she taught two workshops: Pine Needle Wrap and Bags with Depth. Her workshops won rave reviews from her students. Everyone was thrilled with her teaching practices and the outcome of their work.
The Japanese concept of the red thread of fate has, in recent years, been an important element of Leiko’s work. The idea is that the gods tie an invisible red string around the pinkie fingers —think pinkie swear— of those that are preordained to meet one-another or help each other. These are people you are bound to in a very special way. The work she has created inspired by this concept is evocative and poetic. It reminds the viewer to think about who they are tied to.
Over the years Leiko has lived in many different countries including France and Indonesia. These days she calls Ireland home. Though some may argue her physical home isn’t really of importance, as her real or spiritual home is definitely her craft.