Meet the maker: Thelma Russell
Thelma Russell, of Handmade Felt, has been a shop member at the Allendale Forge Studios since it opened. We decided we'd like to find out more about her and we just love her studio companion Poppy...
Tell us a little bit about your background:
I worked in IT for 30 years, but I’ve been making and selling things since I was a teenager - basically any excuse to buy fabric and/or beads! My mother knitted and sewed and the craft partwork ‘Golden Hands’ introduced me to macrame and lots of other crafts. I’ve been concentrating on making felt since about 2006, when I first started selling in Allendale.
What inspires your work?
Although I was brought up in an industrial area (Teesside), my childhood memories are mostly of picking flowers, fishing for tadpoles and being out in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, so plant images are very much part of my range. On the other hand, I make costumes and have a keen interest in traditional dress, so bright colours, stitching and embellishment are also part of the mix.
How do you develop your ideas?
Organically! I’m not much of a planner, and luckily with felt you can just start and see what develops. Nothing’s ever abandoned; often finding a way to rescue a mediocre piece sparks a new idea (making a silk purse from a sow’s ear is one of my talents).
What is it about your creative practice you enjoy the most?
Wool is a magical material to work with, and making felt with it is a very low-tech process - just hands, soap and water. It’s satisfying to do essentially what people were doing thousands of years ago, before textile construction methods such as weaving were ever thought of (though maybe they didn’t use bubblewrap). There’s a very active felt-making community in the northeast, and meeting and working with other felters is a great pleasure.
Do you face any challenges in producing your art?
Making felt is quite hard work physically, particular if you make large pieces - imagine trying to squeeze the water out of a sodden carpet. It’s also time consuming, as the fibre has its own ideas and has to be coaxed to do what I want.
Do you have anything new and exciting planned for your work?
The most exciting thing that’s happened so far this year is that I’ve reorganised my house to make the largest bedroom into a studio ! It’s now a beautiful light space where everything has a place and I’m no longer stepping over heaps on the floor, so I have more scope to make some larger wall-hangings. I’m also hoping to put together some simple kits, and to develop some great ideas I’ve gained from an online course with a felter in Canada.