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Debbie Katz :: Notes on 2017 Shetland trip with Fiona Duthie

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

As part of our ongoing series on overseas felt workshops, we asked felt :: feutre canada member, Debbie Katz, to share her thoughts on her 2017 trip to Lerwick, Shetland’s capital city, to study with felt artist, Fiona Duthie. 

Debbie writes: Shetland is a magical place, located 600 miles (960km) north of London and made up of more than a hundred islands. Lerwick is Shetland’s only town, about half of the islands’ 22,000 people live within 10 miles of the burgh. Shetland is famed for its rich textile history and gifted knitters known for their Fair Isle knitting patterns and gorgeous lace work. Shetland Wool Week is famed throughout the world.

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About Debbie: Fibre artist Debbie Katz lives and works on Pender Island, BC. She has been creating felted art for the past ten years. Her work blurs the boundaries between art, fashion, and home decor in a colourful and sometimes humourous way. She sells her work at galleries in Victoria and Whistler as well as at Pender Island’s Farmers’ Market. She was awarded a Juror’s Choice Award, for her piece Concealment, in the Sidney Final Arts Show.

Would you recommend an overseas workshop?

In a heartbeat! My decision to travel to the Shetland Islands to study feltmaking for 10 days with Fiona Duthie was one of the easiest and best decisions ever made. Combining my interest and love of felting with an exciting and unknown destination made the trip more than travel, it became an adventure. The anticipation was enormous and the actual time spent in the Shetlands was magical.

I loved the discipline of the days spent in the studio with my felting colleagues, and then the incredible forays into the field with our teacher/leader. We travelled to so many wonderful locations in our time on Shetland, places we might never have ventured to ourselves without the planning and knowledge of the Shetlands that Fiona and Lesley shared with us.

How did being overseas change your work?

I did have a sense that everything I was learning and doing was more important and relevant to feltmaking as I was surrounded by the history of wool, sheep, and fibre arts. I was able to draw inspiration from the bleak and beautiful Shetland landscape and walk about the beaches, the fields, the towns with fresh eyes. It was all new to me and yet having Scottish ancestry, it seemed like home. Being far away from Canada made me feel that my time on the Shetlands was significant, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back soon, so I purposefully soaked in as much of the atmosphere as possible.

What were the workshop highlights?

Every day was physically demanding yet wonderfully rich. Fiona’s expectations were made very clear and they were high. I learned so many important steps in creating a good piece of felt, always my classmates and my teacher were there to guide me. I loved working with my ten classmates, we encouraged and supported each other in so many ways. When we began our final piece I challenged myself, went way outside the box and learned, through the doing, the multiple-resist technique and created a 24-flap vessel. It is a great discussion piece at my Market table.

Did you learn a new technique or creative insight that you feel will impact your work in the future?

Oh yes, learning to do the multiple-resist technique has really impacted my current work in the making of vessels, sculptures, and 3-D pieces. I also loved learning how to use Sumi-ink as a surface design technique and I also use this in vessels and other 3-D pieces.

Fiona began our workshop by sharing some of the pieces that she had created at her artist- in-residence in Shetland the month before our workshop began. She spoke of the immediate connection that her work and the surrounding seascape and landscape had on the work she had created.

She taught us to REALLY look at our surroundings and integrate them into our work, and a certain integrity and honesty that was never really in my work before began to emerge. I have taken that learning home with me as well as many bags of Shetland wool and roving. And yes, I will return in a minute given the opportunity and wherewithal!

A special thank-you to both Debbie and Herb for their fabulous photos. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Debbie.

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