Felt artist Megan Barbour enjoys crafts with small repetitive elements that build into something larger. “One of my favorite projects from art school was making a four-foot goldfish out of individually cut triangles,” she recalls. Barbour also likes crafts that make her laugh, which is how she started sewing plushies.
She recently worked with The Serious Theatre Collective as a prop and costume maker. “Any day that you get to write down ‘Make giant felt pizza costume for big song and dance number’ on your to-do list is a great day.”
Here she discusses the inspiration behind her abstract felt work “Blue.”
How did you begin making felt art?
Hand stitching is my favorite part of any sewing-related project. Felt is a magical delight. It’s soft, not too flimsy, not too stiff, and does not fray. A couple of years ago after a few challenging sewing projects, I wanted to do something simple. So as a “treat” to myself I made my first felt hoop. No hems and seems, just basic hand stitches, and huzzah! Done! However, I have since gone on to make many more. Per my nature, making each one more tedious and time consuming than the last.
What reactions do you hear when you tell people your medium is felt?
It’s mainly confusion unless I’m able to show the person a photo of my work. In which case their reaction is still one of mild confusion as to why I do this for hours on end, but tend to be very positive of the end result. I think people enjoy seeing a piece of art in a non-traditional medium, I certainly do. It’s great when the first step of a viewing experience is “Wait … what is this?”
Which artists and designers inspire you?
Artists that inspire me are across a variety of mediums, but looking at their work makes me want to stop what I’m doing and make something immediately. While there are many more, those who came to mind immediately are: Jen Stark, Jee Young Lee, Meagan Cignoli, Dianne Koss and Chris Sickles.
Does the type of felt you’re working with make a difference in the finished project?
Absolutely. Different types of felt have different color tones, and fabric densities. I use natural wool felt for 2D projects, but acrylic felt is a little easier to stitch for more 3D pieces. My larger works that have layers upon layers of sculpted felt are stitched through, very gently, using a long doll needle. If I have to work too hard to get the needle through it will warp the other layers beneath. The end result being more of a colorful lump rather than the many distinctive textures and patterns I had in mind.
Would you consider what you do with felt closer to painting, sewing or sculpting, or is it distinct process?
It’s a distinct process, but I definitely feel that I’m pulling techniques/processes that I learned from other mediums. My painting style had a lot of layered colors with very little negative space. The most fun has been trying to come up with new techniques for constructing, and trying to solve structural problems. I’ve had a few pieces that looked great pinned together … as long as you didn’t move too much around them, or take the pins out, they were just fine. But if I didn’t want them to completely collapse at any second, I had to come up with some new solutions for added support.
You also make plushies. How does your process differ for making a doll than abstract work?
The process to making a plush creature is much more about planning what result will look like. I have a very clear picture in my head of what the creatures should look like, so the challenge is trying to make that happen in reality. I normally start with a few sketches, make a full pattern prototype out of paper, select my color pallet, then actually start cutting and assembling. With my abstract work, I usually only know what I want the overall feeling to be when it’s complete. Much less planning – I can dive right in and keep working until I declare it a finished.
Can you describe your process for creating a new piece?
The most planning goes into selecting my color pallet. Once I have that, I either go into a piece with no plan, or maybe one new technique I want to try out. Then I keep adding color and texture until it looks/feels complete. What’s fantastic and extremely frustrating about working like this is I have no idea how long a single piece will take, or what it will be when it’s done. Some of the pieces take the length of a movie playing in the background to complete, others don’t feel done until I’ve realized I’ve binged-listened to all of “Murder She Wrote,” and there are far too many Chinese food takeout containers around me.