Gathering Wool — The Felt Art of Linnea Keatts

felted wool scarf with silk highlights linnea keatts felt artist

A felted scarf with gossamer drape, by Walla Walla felt artist Linnea Keatts

Some of the most enduring technology is the oldest.

Long before the development of Kevlar vests, Roman soldiers wore felted breastplates to deflect arrows. And even longer before that in Turkey, evidence of felting — non-woven fabric created when sheep’s wool and other natural animal fibers are subjected to heat, moisture, and agitation — dates back to 6500 BC.

felted wool santa squares felt artist linnea keatts

Sweet Little Lady and Pierre, felted art squares by Walla Walla felt artist Linnea Keatts

“Felting is an old hand craft,” says Linnea Keatts, a fiber artist who, over 40 years, has explored weaving, Navaho Weaving, creative stitchery, knitting, and felting.

“The techniques are quite simple using controlled shrinkage of carded wool, soapy water, manipulation, and agitation to create a fine lightweight fabric. This technique is called Nuno-felting or wet felting.”

Some people, who have accidentally tossed Aunt Minerva’s Christmas gift of hand-knit, woolen sweater into the washing machine, have discovered — to their chagrin or relief, depending upon Aunt Minerva’s skill and taste — that wool turns into a completely different, um, animal, when it encounters hot, soapy, moving water.

Felting by Choice, Not Accident

Keatts embraces the felt process by choice and design, creating everything from lightweight, gossamer scarves out of merino fleece and silk to heavier, three-dimensional pieces shaped into purses, vases, and bowls. Recently, she has been incorporating recycled fabrics and silk embellishments into the mix, blending them with the wool to create pictures and special design elements.

textured felt layered wool square linnea keatts

A layered, textured, wool felted square by Walla Walla felt artist Linnea Keatts

“It’s fascinating to watch the colors of the fleece and fabric designs blend together,” the Walla Walla artist says. “The shrinkage that occurs during the felting process creates unique designs in the finished product.”

From the very first felting class she took in 1981, with the thought that, “Hmm . . . this would be interesting to learn,” Keatts has developed her artistry and skill through hours of practice, as well as numerous classes and workshops. Several of these took place in Norway where she lived on and off during her career as an Occupational Therapist. Instrumental in founding, and later directing an occupational therapy school in Trondheim, Norway, Keatts later hosted in Walla Walla, with her husband, 25 Norwegian students for their three-month long OT internships.

Wasting Time on Video Games, Not Felting

One of these students is the reason why her home studio, where she works prodigiously to create her art, is called The Wasting Time Room.

wearable wool felt art clothing linnea keatts

A collection and selection of wearable, wool, felted artwork by Walla Walla felt artist Linnea Keatts

“At the time the student was staying with us, from 1999 to 2000, the space was only a room with a TV, where he and his friends played X-Box and other games,” Keatts explains, adding that the student himself aptly named the space. “We have since redone the room, but the name stayed.

“The TV is still there and I do tend to watch and work at times — but I am wasting time with the watching, not the felting!”

Upon retirement in 2005, Keatts devoted more time to felting, but found that she didn’t have as much time as she wanted because she also served as Master Gardener through the Washington State University Extension program, participated in the Choral Society and Walla Walla Community Band, and volunteered as hosting coordinator for the American Field Service International Exchange Program in Walla Walla, Columbia, and Garfield counties.

“Needless to say, there was enough to do in retirement!” Keatts observes.

Too much, in fact. In 2015 Keatts scaled back,  focusing  primarily on felting. But because she wants others to know about this ancient craft, she took on another project and began teaching classes through the Quest program at Walla Walla Community College.

“My statement with my felting and especially with my teaching is for the students to learn to enjoy this amazing craft and make something that makes them happy and satisfied,” Keatts says. “In my scarf classes, I always tell them they will go home with something beautiful, and so far that has happened to the 20+ students I have had.”

Penguins, Penguins, and More Felt Wool Penguins

Always up for a personal challenge, Keatts used a trip to Antarctica as the springboard for her penguin project, in which she created 10 felted penguins, representing double the number of species she had observed on her trip. One penguin found its home in the office of a University of Washington professor involved in researching Magellanic Penguins of southern Chile.

wool felt artist linnea keatts and felted penguin

Wool felt artist Linnea Keatts with one of her felted penguins

“The professor can enjoy him without worrying about  being attacked by his very sharp beak!”

Locally, Keatts is a member of ArtWalla of Walla Walla and Arts Portal of Milton-Freewater, and on a more global note, the International Feltmakers Association in London, England. She recently participated in Art Squared at Cavu Cellars.

“My goal as a felt artist is to make beautiful things that are pleasing and also practical,” Keatts says. “And my goal as a teacher is to encourage others to try this unique activity by exploring and expanding their creativity.”

 

Wenaha Gallery

Linnea Keatts is the featured Pacific Northwest artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, October 9 through Saturday, November 11, 2017.  She will be at the gallery in person Saturday, October 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., during Wenaha Gallery’s Art Walk, part of the Dayton on Tour and Fall Festival Celebration. She will be joined by Dayton watercolor artist Jill Ingram; Walla Walla musician Roy Anderson; Winthrop basket weaver and singer Lauralee Northcott; and Richland watercolor painter Maja Shaw.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

 

 

leather billfolds shelby sneva nanna grandma inspiration Bellingham

Leather Craft — Handcrafted Beauty from Bellingham Artist Shelby Sneva

leather billfolds shelby sneva nanna grandma inspiration Bellingham

Handcrafted leather billfolds by Bellingham artist Shelby Sneva, who credits her Nanna Grandma for opening up the world of art and sewing

It doesn’t matter whether you call her Nanna, Nona, Gramma, Grams, Babushka, Abuela, or any of the thousands of  variations of “Grandmother” — if that woman makes a positive influence on your life, she makes a lasting one.

Leather designer Shelby Sneva, who creates hand-crafted wallets, clutches, cuffs, shoulder bags, and jewelry from fine and reclaimed leather, credits her artistry today to a Singer sewing machine gifted by her Nanna when Sneva was six.

colorful bracelets by bellingham leather artist shelby sneva inspired by nanna

Colorful leather bracelets by Bellingham artist Shelby Sneva. It all started with the gift of a Singer sewing machine by Shelby’s Nanna Grandma.

“I always thought it was the most fantastic hunk of metal, gears and knobs!” the Bellingham artist remembers. “I fumbled around on that machine for several years, making outfits and teaching myself to be a crafty little stitcher.”

Nanna’s Lasting Gift

From crafty little stitcher, Sneva eventually graduated to professional artist, earning her BFA from Western Washington University with a primary focus on painting and sculpture. Ironically, despite taking every studio art class available at the university — from photography to fibers and fabrics, from papermaking to welding — Sneva didn’t discover her particular niche until her mother, an interior decorator, passed on some leather samples from her furniture business.

“That’s when the passion of  leatherworking was ignited,” Sneva says. Like many passions, it had been burning underneath, but so steadily and quietly she hadn’t recognized its importance. She simply accepted its existence as normal.

Leather and Sewing Are Timeless

Though Sneva had initially fallen in love with oil painting, to the point of moving to the East Coast to apprentice with landscape oil painter Curt Hanson, she never stopped the sewing she started when she was 6, and found greatest pleasure in creating fabric wallets and gifts for friends and family.

leather wallet handcrafted shelby sneva bellingham artist inspired by nanna

Handcrafted leather wallet by Bellingham artist Shelby Sneva, whose first art forays began with a gift from her Nanna Grandma at 6

The discovery of leather, then, was a momentous one, and in 2004 Sneva opened her business, Sown Designs, which she markets through Etsy, her online website, the Bellingham Farmers Market, and her studio in downtown Bellingham at the Waterfront Artists’ Studios.

“Thanks to the online marketplace,” Sneva says, “I have sold wallets all around the world — from Switzerland, Germany, London, Norway, Canada, and all over the U.S.” Sneva’s work has been juried into and vended at shows like Urban Craft Uprising and the Fremont Fair in Seattle, and is featured at more than a dozen gift and retail shops in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, California, and Alaska.

The Aroma of Leather in Bellingham

“I love the smell of leather,” Sneva says, adding that her studio exudes the aroma. “I am always learning new things, new techniques with leather work, so I am never bored!”

leather earrings by bellingham artist shelby sneva

A collection of leather earrings by Bellingham artist Shelby Sneva

From the discontinued leather samples passed on by her mother, Sneva has added a number of local stores and leather distributors to provide the materials for her work. The combination of working with local resources as well as reclaimed materials is a benefit to suppliers and clients, as well as to the environment, Sneva believes.

“It is my priority to connect with suppliers/buyers who also appreciate the effort, quality, and uniqueness of handmade pieces,” Sneva says.

“The great thing about my accessories is that they are all one of a kind. That makes it unique for the owner to have something no one else has, and it makes it fun for me to create without feeling like a factory.

leather cases by bellingham artist shelby sneva inspired by nanna grandma

A collection of leather cases by Bellingham artist Shelby Sneva, who began her art career at age 6, sewing on a Singer machine given to her by her nanna grandma

“I really pay attention to details with each wallet, using my sewing machine like a drawing tool to draw stitch patterns and make designs with leather geometric shapes and colors.” For her wallets, Sneva chooses upholstery leather, which she describes as durable and soft, acquiring a beautiful patina over time. Hand-crafted art, Sneva believes, becomes a part of its owners’ lives, adding dimension and beauty to the day.

A Nanna Aphorism

Quite recently, Sneva enjoyed one of those rare, but memorable full-circle moments that we all treasure when they happen.

“I was a presenting artist at our Bellingham Museum for Art Career Day,” Sneva explains. “As I spoke, I remembered participating in similar workshops with Spokane (where Sneva grew up) artists when I was a high school student and young aspiring artist.”

In effect, what goes around comes around, a timeless aphorism that sounds like something one’s Nanna, or Nona,  or Abuela, Babushka, Baba, Yaya, Oma, or Gram would say. But that only makes sense, because the things that woman says and does really do make the difference of a lifetime.

Wenaha Gallery

Shelby Sneva is the Featured Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, July 17 through Saturday, August 12, 2017. 

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.