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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.