Ayala's Musings


Exerpt written for Felt Out of the Kitchen , a series of essays on the philosophy of feltmaking, edited by Ewa Kunicziak.

I want to talk with you about wool… the delectable compliant medium of WOOL, a sustainable and renewable resource produced by fashionably vegetarian animals. And it's true-- science recently discovered that wool is in electromagnetic harmony with the energy fields of the human body. We humble peasants have known that for centuries! (I cannot resist adding the fact that petroleum-based fibers like PolarFleece© are dulling to our auras, as well as to politics in the U.S. of A….)

It's become my (not-so) secret mission to get wool into studios, ateliers, art rooms all over America, even all over the planet-and not just for all the applications where it has performed so magnificently since the early dawn of mankind's association with sheep, like making felt, spinning yarn, weaving fabric, but also… also as a medium for SCULPTURE.

Yes yes, wool HAS been used for 3D sculpture already… but by traditional wet-felting techniques (cumbersome), and only with certain fleeces, since most wools will not accept more fiber after a certain point in the wet-felting process. Such inhibiting limitations! But we have now a recent event to mitigate all that: the introduction of INDUSTRIAL FELTING NEEDLES into the world of the folk artist, cottage industrialist, and fine-arts artist.

In the early 80's a girlfriend in New England gave me a handful of various styles felting needles. She had acquired a sample-sized needlepunch machine from an abandoned woolen mill there. Over the intervening years, as I delightedly needlfelted away alone in my kitchen, a question kept coming up: WHERE have these tiny versatile things BEEN for so long???

A nonwoven-fabrics factory worker clued me in: the first felting needle patents were dated 1859. Needlepunch machines were originally designed to make batting and insulation from shoddy (shredded woolen garments), from slaughterhouse fibers, even from soldiers' haircuts. AND… all this was occurring at the height of the Victorian era! Aha!! There's the hitch: Victorians were total prudes and prissies. Junky old second-hand stuff is too disgusting for words!! We could just swoon away at the thought…. A century later, however, social mores shifted and recycling is now so politically correct. Also, automobiles have proliferated, and everything that's not metal, plastic or fiberglas on a car is needlefelted. That machinery has moved into the Group Consciousness! Nowadays artists even rent afterhours time on needlepunch machines, the better to create rugs and large wall hangings.

Untold thousands of felting needle styles have been developed for industry, and with good reason-those huge machines use say 150-200,000 needles at once, a situation where a tiny difference is multiplied a thousand times over, for different fibers and different applications.

Returning to my personal journey with needlefelting: Well, one thing led to another and eventually I was drawn out of my foothills retreat in the interest of spreading the word and the techniques I'd developed for fiber artists and their lone felting needle. Wrote a couple workbooks with the hope of getting others to make some of the myriad items that needlefelting engendered in my imagination, and then maybe taking off into their own heavily populated fantasies.

Anybody with a flexible wrist who can be trusted with sharp things could be handed some wool and a felting needle, and it is such a delight to see what folks come up with! Even boys can be inveigled into the fiber arts by a felting needle! Moreover, all sorts of ghastly damage to fiber items can be repaired with a felting needle and an agile mind.
The most appealing aspect of this technique is that you CAN'T go wrong, you just keep adding wool until you get what you like. No mistakes! Only opportunities, or discoveries… a perfect way to get wool back in the public eye, don't you think? In the '70's when I first met up with sheep, wool was 11 cents a pound on the open market. Really, it hasn't gotten any better. High time to remedy that… Whatever type of wool one has at hand is the perfect kind for needlefelting. Fiber differences lend their own special characteristics to what is made from them-like dancing with different partners.

One caveat: as soon as anyone discovers felting needles, the forces of Marketing intrude: you could purchase a beautiful exotic wood stand, with gracefully turned holders for a whole range of differently designed needles allegedly necessary to be a competent needlefelter… Well, if you're a technobuff, go for it! If not, you'll be just as happy with one mid-range felting needle all by itself, or stuck through a champagne cork. Believe me, a single needle can be finessed to perform ALL techniques. See accompanying chart. After all, in order to complete my mission of getting everybody obsessing about needlefelting, it's GOT TO remain approachable-- therefore, simple and affordable, right?

For good measure, let's just have a little chat about the creative process. Sometimes it jiggles things loose to get other viewpoints. Here's from my experiences for your consideration:

Once upon a time, I was an only child-- but for just a little while, because shortly my parents produced a younger brother and sister. Everybody had to take naps, but not me! I was the oldest… So Mom taught me how to knit and sew (bless your heart for that, Mom!), and these activities kept me in my room alone for an hour every day while the rest of the family slept. I made every mistake known to garment construction, on doll clothes.

My family was fairly elliptical (really now, isn't the phrase "dysfunctional family" redundant?) but I survived well for the first couple decades of life, alone in my room making stuff. Even over meals I studied patterns, not willing to start until I had them clearly visualized every step of the way.

A few decades later there was a retrospective exhibit of my work. Good grief! It leaped out at me how everything was all frozen up into perfection, motionless and lifeless as well. What a revelation! And so started the long journey to find my heart… Now I use my mind to conjugate French verbs and compose shopping lists. The rest of me is interacting with my materials-who knows what I'll have made, until it's done? There's an element of spontaneity when the medium takes part in the outcome. And how compelling- can't WAIT to see what happens next!

Technique… I can do things really Really REALLY well. This is irrelevant most times, the point more nearly being, How much perfection is necessary to communicate what I want to convey? Unless I want to hit someone between the eyes with my competence… then it seems like Ego gets the better of Art.

I used to be put to bed 'way before sleep was near. For entertainment I'd leave my body and go flying around outer space, playing in what later I found to be called the Akashic records, where everything that ever happened in the world is stored. Trusting this statement didn't knock you into incredulity, I'll continue by remarking that thereby one could get a sense of how nothing really belongs to anybody… My best inspiration comes during simple activities that keep Body busy while inspiration pours into my head like a waterfall from goodness knows where. I wish that I were gifted enough with words to carry you from this page to that place… It is gloriously overwhelming!

So! In the interest of continuity, let us make a circle (or better, an upward spiral) back to the matter of felting needles, which I have found to be the perfect tool for translating my visions into physical realms. Not only do they allow me infinite latitude in correcting errors and engineering changes, but also I get to work with the most engaging, approachable, compliant, affordable art material I've yet to encounter. Besides, wool seems to have an inherent sense of humor… how serious can one get with this stuff?? It's lightweight, and lends itself so easily to levity.

Now my dear, may I leave you with felting needle at hand, a basket of inviting wools in magical colors beside you, and a tune playing faintly that draws you three together for a delightful dance.

Here's what Ewa explained during a fone conversation, about her intentions for her book:

The basic idea is to present a series of thought-provoking essays concerning the significance of felt in the 21st Century by depicting all aspects of Felt as fulfilling needs of society today.

By retreating into Fantasy, one could escape stress and deal with everyday problems, returning with new worlds matching one's inner self, which could be shared with others and stimulate the imagination.

Looking to fill a need previously filled by religion, which we don't really have as a guideline in our lives these days.

Answers lie in our own imaginations.

Ayala Talpai, book, workshops, folk artist, feltingFiber Fanatics, Diligence, Ayala Talpai


The Queen dwelled in an airy part of the Temple. Her bed lay on the stone floor next to three tall open arches in this highest turret, and the temperate breezes blew in form all parts of the kingdom to leave their messages of seasonal fragrance, which she recorded in her sleep.

Come sunrise, she woke by birdsong and her attendants appeared to carry her directly from bed to the temple altar. Ritual obliged her to clear the evening's dreams before setting foot to ground.
A basin of water was brought, and stepping into its coolness, she awakened fully and came to herself. Tones of the morning rose from her throat and the attendants, each a priestess, joined as they were moved. Silver bells vibrated in the lofts, and crystal glasses of water from sacred springs around the realm rang on the altar.

Ayala Talpai, book, workshops, folk artist, feltingFiber Fanatics, Diligence, Ayala Talpai

| Workshop Overview and Photos | Books | Schedule | Tips 'n' Tricks | Ayala's Bio | Ayala's Blog | Ayala's Musings | Fees & Contact Info | Links | Home |
Bring Back The Frames |

Questions about this site?

©2001 - 2007, Ayala Talpai, all text and photos. All rights reserved., all rights reserved