(Fabric art by Tricia Biesmann)
The pandemic may have shut down the world but fabric artist Tricia Biesmann found a whole new world in her art. Biesmann employs the nuno felting technique to fashion garments such as scarves, a skill she learned about a dozen years ago in a class. In the last several months, she has connected with other similar artists around the world through Facebook groups. These “wet felt makers,” as they are called, share ideas and photos of their work that have enabled her to improve and refine her craft. Her diaphanous scarves and toppers will be showcased at the Red Chair Gallery in August.
Nuno felting was developed in the 1990s by an Australian artist. The name is derived from the Japanese word “nuno” meaning cloth. It uses only natural materials, such as silk, cotton, bamboo and wool. Pieces of fabric are layered and joined together using a blend of silk and wool roving. Then they are dampened with water and soap to begin the bonding process. The fabric and the roving are rubbed by hand until they are fused.
Through Facebook, Biesmann took a video class from an artist in England, Lena Archbold, to learn some new techniques. One was making what is called “pre felts,” which are small wool felted pieces that can be cut into shapes such as geometrics or flowers, embellished with silk roving and then felted again onto the garment. You can see an example of one of her garments with geometric color shapes here.
Biesmann also began experimenting with new materials, such as Margilan silk from the ancient city of Margilan in Uzbekistan, which dyes beautifully; and also vintage sari silk imported from India. The class also taught her to design a striking color scheme for each garment and to plan more than she did before. “I’m a little bit more thoughtful about how I put things together now,” she says. In addition, she learned new methods to do the felting. Previously, she had been throwing each piece several hundred times into the sink to get the wool fibers to fuse into the silk material. Now she sometimes kneads it like bread to achieve the final felting.
While Biesmann’s creations were always beautiful, there is a new energy in her latest creations. Sharing ideas with other artists around the world has “taken me out of my box,” she comments. She has evolved dramatically as an artist and undoubtedly will continue this progress in the future.