Tarcan / Exploring Craft-Design Relationship through Felting

Exploring Craft-Design Relationship through Felting A Process of Making-with Elements of Traditional and Contemporary Culture

Author: Berilsu Tarcan, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Supervisor: Ida Nilstad Pettersen, Associate Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology; Ferne Leigh Edwards, Postdoc Fellow Dr., Norwegian University of Science and Technology; Trond Are Øritsland, Associate Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Research stage: intermediate doctoral stage

Category: Artefact

Comparison of felting processes through making felt.

Figure 1: Comparison of felting processes through making felt.

This artefact consists of a comparison of a felting practice in different stages of making, and demonstrates felt production examples. To explore the connections between craft and design through a posthumanist perspective, a specific craft named felting is employed in various geographies. In this case the study is explored through felting, a traditional and contemporary way of making with fibres, usually wool, using alkaline and hot water. By using wool, the transformation of this material is observed through different processes of felting. First example is through hand making and making textiles with motifs. Second example is through hand making and a rolling machine. First preparing the wool and motifs by hand, the surface is rolled into a sheet and put in the rolling machine, where the fibres are mixed and entangled together.

Felting can be referred to as a traditional and contemporary craft, which was an important practice in the geography of Anatolia. Felt, or “kece” in Turkish, is a textile material obtained by the process of felting. Felting has been continued in Turkish culture, as sheep wool is obtained from animal husbandry over livestock and for easy transportation of felt materials for nomadic culture. It is a known fact that felt was produced by many ancient civilizations, and before Turkish nomads migrated to Anatolia. Since the felt production is affected by contemporary lifestyles, the number of construction equipment and felt masters have decreased (Kucukkurt 2018). Today, although industrialisation and globalisation have affected the practice of felting (Ovacik and Gumusler 2016), and mechanisation reduces the labour in felting, the craft of felting and craftspeople are still needed.

While some artists such as “Belkıs Balpınar, Filiz Otyam and Selçuk Gürışık worked together with felt craftsmen, others learned felt making from masters and made artistic felt production” (Gür, 2012). Aside from the artists who use the felt together with different techniques, many artists refer to the traditional usage area with new designs.

In Norway, wool is known as a significant source and material. Wool can be found as a resource, the society has a culture and knowledge related to wool, in addition, it is valued both as a resource and a product. Norwegian wool was studied (Klepp et al., 2011; Røsvik & Boks, 2012), and is identified as useful for contributing to a more environmentally sustainable production and consumption. Wool products have been a part of material culture in Norway for a long time, for instance dressing children with wool underwear to traditional sweaters and folk costumes (Hebrok & Klepp, 2013, 2014). It is a material that protects from the cold weather and there is a tradition of using wool yarns and textiles for clothing. However, industrialisation and contemporary lifestyles have affected usage of local wool in Norway. Recently, projects that aim to bring value to Norwegian wool from different perspectives such as product design, fashion design or consumption studies, and the wool industry in Norway have emerged. Felted products such as plant pots, slippers, decorational items and clothing are also known and sold in markets in Norway and other Nordic geographies. However, knitting and weaving are still more commonly known as practices and crafts in Norway. The study proposes that felting could be used further in Norway, situating it together with recent studies on wool.

Contemporary Approaches to Design and Craft Relations

Craft, described as an act and “process of making” (Adamson, 2009: 2), “way of doing things” (ibid: 4); relates to design in many ways. According to Pfeiffer, craft is about discovering what materials (and tools) will do, despite our will (Dougan, 2009: 34). He states that craft/design does not necessarily lie in the product, “it is rather the time invested in the process that reveals the product” (ibid: 35). Similarly, the study proposes craft as a discovery of what materials and the process together will do, by showing the steps and the final artefact.

According to Forlano (2017), approaches in design can be based on posthumanist theories, as this could shift practice and theories of design (which are human-centred) with non-anthropocentric perspectives (ibid). New materialism falls under posthumanist approaches that emphasise the matter, avoids dual conceptions of the mind-body, and human-non-human (Leanord 2020). It is a domain that explores points of views that sees humans and nonhumans as equals; essentially about political emancipation, more sustainable becomings, and traditions that look at human-nonhuman continuity” (Cruickshank & Trivedi 2017, p. 570). Posthuman and new materialist concepts are not new, as there is already a way of thinking that breaks from the distinction of human-nonhuman in “indigenous epistemologies and cosmologies” (Nakata 2007). Acknowledging this, in this project, craft and design relationship is investigated through a new materialist lens to signify the aspects of human-nonhuman equality and the political aspects, by creating artefacts with reference to ancient cultures. These artefacts are felted textiles, produced in different workshops.

Producing Felt with Wool Fibres

Traditional felt production consists of three phases (Çeliker, 2011; Gumus Ciftci & Walker, 2017): First, the felt maker places the wool on the ground and prepares the pattern above the laid wool. Then the wool is spread, the pattern is laid on it and soapy water is poured over the wool before it is rolled out. The rolling process consists of rolling and putting pressure on the rolled surface. Finally, the felt is washed and left to dry. Similarly, for machine production, these three phases mostly remain the same. However the second phase takes place with a machine that rolls (in Norway) or kicks (in Turkey) the rolled surface.

Felted artefact

Figure 2: Felted artefact

Fibres on the felted artefact

Figure 3: Fibres on the felted artefact

Fibres on the felted artefact

Figure 4: Fibres on the felted artefact

The proposed artefacts signify a relationship with the environment, but also refer to traditional symbols and propose to make meanings of these symbols through the act of making. For instance, the symbols laid down in the beginning refer to the process itself. WIth time the fibres laid down come together and the motifs/symbols start to entangle with the textile created from wool fibres. The reference given to the process is clarified through the laying of the fibres in the beginning. Through the process, their movements and changes in the fibres are observed. In the end, textiles with several symbols appear that give reference to traditional culture symbols such as birds.

Elements of the PhD project.

Figure 5: Elements of the PhD project.

The PhD project focuses on human-material connections in design and making, based on experimental trials and processes, to find ways to develop materials and artefacts that are suited for living together with the world. For the next phases, a comparative analysis between Norway and Turkey is planned to find out how felting practices differ, and how wool as a material is perceived. The project consists of a collaboration between new materialistic approaches and traditional knowledge in design; exploration of craft-design relationship through felting and making-with the environment.

This submission consists of comparisons between many components: While the PhD project consists of a comparison between geographies of making, the project refers to different elements and their relationship to each other for comparison. This includes a comparison between theory and practice; between past and current meaning of felting, and between humans and nonhumans. In the end, all these comparisons lead to an entanglement and collaboration of these elements: The history of felt facilitates in combining the practice of making together with traditional and contemporary ingredients. Theory and practice emerge together, meaning that practice of making helps the author understand theoretical perspectives of making together with the material and through acknowledging the environment.


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