Updated: Oct 30, 2021
The Gentle Roller or the wet felt rolling machine is described by its creator, Philip Coates as “a new device for an ancient craft, a felting machine invented for ﬁbre artists of the 21st Century.” It’s designed to take the physical labour out of the felting process so artists can focus on the creative process. It fits easily into a studio and is compact and quiet.
Philip Coates created the machine when his partner Joni, a fibre artist was struck by sciatica. It wasn’t an easy task. Joni told him it wasn’t possible even refusing to try some of the early prototypes because they were too industrial and out of place in her studio. Eventually he created a design that worked like hand rolling, was safe and not industrial.
The roller is available in two sizes. The smaller roller comes with a roller width of 1100mm (43 inch) allowing artists to comfortably handle 36 inch wide fabric. The larger roller width of 1400mm (55 inch) will easily cope with 48 inch wide fabric. Both machines can also be used for multiple items at once if used with narrower pieces plus they come with an optional Gentle Roller Fulling Drum. In 2018, the machines are priced between $1,645.00 CAD and $2,440.00 CAD.
Recently we spoke to felt :: feutre canada’s Sandra Barrett about her decision to buy a roller. Sandra will be demonstrating them at the 2018 Canadian Felt Symposium.
Why did you decide to buy a roller?
I’m getting older and my back aches rolling wet felt by hand with a pool noodle. There was an advertisement in the International Feltmakers Association magazine “Felt Matters” for the Gentle Roller and it appealed to me. The large size roller is 55” – wide enough to accommodate a full width of habotai silk or wool etamine gauze, which I use in nuno felted garments. I only started making clothes last year and was daunted by the initial resist size, but thought if the rolling was done using a different method with a machine it would become more manageable.
Then my Dad died. My family in England were fine with me not attending his cremation service, but my children seemed horrified that I didn’t want to return. I explained that I’d said my goodbyes last year and instead of spending the money on airfare I’d like to buy the Gentle Roller to remember him by. It arrived on the day of his funeral and felt like instead of coming from China it had come straight from heaven! And I was able to watch the live crematorium webcast which included a piano piece I’d previously recorded, so that was a comfort. I was taking an online felt garment class with Fiona Duthie at the time and immediately started using the machine. I enjoyed sharing my progress with 100 others in the virtual classroom.
Has it been difficult learning to use the roller?
I had one of the first 50 machines in the world, shipped directly to my studio in Fernie, BC. Philip Coates, the Australian inventor has made a helpful series of videos available to all owners, so beginners shouldn’t feel intimidated. There is also a closed Facebook Group so users can exchange tips and tricks, ask advice, share finished work, answer questions and generally feel supported in the learning process.
It’s straightforward to use and hasn’t really changed my felting process at all, except for sometimes using painter’s thin plastic now instead of thicker bubblewrap. I unroll and check the work after every 500 or 1000 rolls, exactly as if I’d been rolling by hand. The machine doesn’t speed up the process but enables me to layout another piece or relax with a cup of tea, leaving the Gentle Roller to do its job quietly and efficiently. The only thing I don’t like is that I don’t have latest version with a softer drive roller! There is an optional fulling drum, so instead of throwing the felt by hand the machine takes care of it.
Where can Canadian felters find them?
Philip asked me to become the Canadian Agent, so I’ll be demonstrating the Gentle Roller at the felt :: feutre canada Symposium 2018 in Nova Scotia after classes finish each day. I hope to sell the new model to someone with transport to take it home. Could that be you? It costs $2,425 including shipping and taxes for the largest size GR 1400 mm with fulling drum, $1,635 for the smaller 1100 mm size without a fulling drum. I’m looking forward to showing examples of what I’ve been able to make and give delegates the opportunity to see it in action for themselves. There will be a special promotional offer, only available until the end of October 2018 for all Symposium attendees! If you can’t attend but would like to order one anyway, go to www.gentleroller.com.au and add my initials (SB) after your first name to get a free set of Velcro straps.