The thought process: I started thinking about creating “Into the Forest” some years ago when I created a miniature felted work. Into the Field captured my imagination and desire to offer an “experience” to the viewer. In this work I hope to invite you into the forest at Centralia (actually located on Thunder Bay Road) on the edge of Lake Erie between Ridgeway and Fort Erie. Fall offers the perfect time to experience a living forest. Aside from the forest itself, this pathway runs right through a natural beaver dam which can be seen once the foliage has died back for the winter.
Going through my resources recently, I pulled out work that I had woven many years ago and decided to repurpose rather than store. A handspun, dark brown woven piece with macrame textures seemed a likely candidate. I had in mind what I could do with the twisted macrame itself. All was disassembled, washed and dried outside while the summer lingered into early October.
Preparing the base: As I normally do, the foundation layer and composition is worked first with fleece/wool. I had recently bought new supplies from the Fibre Garden in Jordan Village, ready to go. I always card my fibres to enable a control over the way I lay them in. The term “attenuating” comes from my spinning vocabulary, which basically means “drawing out the fibres from the supply using your hands/fingers. The dark brown area which needed to become “sky” had to be covered to enable the illusion of blue sky. It took 3 layers of white, then the mixed and graduated blue mix with silk to create this portion of the work.
The first fibres are “tacked” down using the single felting needle, then worked in using a 5-in-one tool made by the Ashford spinning company. It’s a lethal tool that has to be used with utmost concentration and care; but was the one needed to penetrate not only the laid in fibres, and the cotton warp of the underlying weaving.
Now comes the fun part: My macramed cut-offs would serve nicely as trees and branches, but the colours were not exactly in keeping with the lighter bark of the maples and poplars. I prepared some dark and light grey fleece to wrap the cordage, trying a couple of methods before finding that attenuating the carded roving, wrapping and rolling by hand was almost sufficient to cause the fleece to cling. In some spots I used the felting needle for extra “hold.” (The final stage will be hand stitched to hold all fibres in place.)
Next the cordage would go to the sink where hot water and soap and more vigorous rolling between the palms help it cling even more – not 100% but that, I thought, would give the trunks and branches a more natural look and create shadows as well. They were very wet and the inner core was a sisal that soaked up water. I tried the salad spinner and it worked! Lots of excess water came away and they the cords were left out in the sun to dry – nothing like a hot early October when you need it. This session ended by roughly laying out where the trees would go.
Hand stitching all in place: Now a lot of needling to secure the trunks and branches, and to start adding background trees and undergrowth. Textures of the undergrowth and the dappled sunlight through branches is now a challenge. I’m working with images taken during the summer, but am envisioning a fall canopy of colour – very carefully muted – I don’t want a garish fall scene.
I am going back to the woodland walk from time to time to update my photographs. Colours are slowly turning. This has been a prolonged and dry fall with no real cold snaps overnight to turn the colours, as yet.
I am reading a fascinating book by German researcher Peter Wohlleben titled “The Power of Trees.” Did you know that yellow leaves are the result of chlorophyl being withdrawn by the plant to store for winter? Red colour is produced by the trees and pumped into the leaves. It’s not exactly known why, but one hypothesis is that the red acts as “camouflage” against insects that lay their eggs in the bark of trees, only to result in damage during the next season. Insects do not have receptors to see the colour red, which may cause the tree to become camouflaged and protected against these insects. Early brown leaf fall is either a result of stress from a dry summer and early fall or the abundance of sugar and no need to carry leaves into the late fall. Prolonged green foliage gives the tree more time to produce and store sugar for winter hibernation/dormancy.
Preparing the fall colours: This is a good time to prepare some felted swatches to use for the fall canopy. Wool is blended in the carding process and laid out on the sponge felting block. A blended silk layer is overlayed and lightly needle felted. From there is goes to the kitchen sink where the swatch is placed on a dish cloth. Boiling water and dish soap are combined then agitated in the rolled cloth. I am not trying to produce an even felt, but rather something that will be distressed through pulling and separating to give the appearance of foliage.
November 6: I have been busy working on the project adding foliage, adjusting and bringing the sensory aspects of the walk in the woods to life. It’s not until the work is viewed in a vertical orientation that it’s possible to get a real assessment of how it’s working.
Looking at the work critically I can see that the pathway is too narrow in the foreground. Leaves have been roughly placed to get a feel for their dynamic. Too much yellow and too much of the same size at the moment. I have also placed a temporary bough across the path at “head height” to see if it’s going to work. Perhaps? I’m thinking that this branch will be a more vibrant colour to set foreground apart from background.
Hours of stitching gives me time to reflect and think more about what the feltwork needs to bring components into the correct perspective and the deeper significance of the work. Peter Wohlleben’s “The Power of Trees” is truly an eye-opening revelation in its natural and political research, but so too is David Suzuki’s “Nature of Things” documentary on logging practices of Old Growth forests of the west coast (Canada). Forests have the remarkable power to help heal our climate crisis, and us as humans if we’d just give them a chance. Fall is the perfect time to embrace what we have of these living organisms. I have inserted a photo of the place that has inspired this work in progress.
November 14: During the last week I have been thinking more about the foreground and widening the pathway. As I’ve spent many hours stitching down the mid and background areas, I left the foreground so that I could pull out the fibres if I so decided. Out they came and were turned into more pathway to lead the eye into the image. I think however, that even more of the foreground could become pathway. The shadows on the pathway tend to give the illusion of “mounding” on the left now that I’ve added more shadow. I’m going to correct this visually.
My main branch feature was laid in and stitched down. Some branches and finer stems were added to hold the leaves. I had collected some small maple leaves from our own front lawn tree to press and use as “patterns.” A good idea, but in time the crispy points began to break away. I resorted to replicating with study paper before they were completely broken. Looking at photographs that I had previously taken of red, fall maples, I see that the brighter colours recess to pink-orange and yellow into the background. Diminishing size will also create this illusion of perspective. What I don’t want however, is a pattern-like effect. Some leaves will be overlaid and even partial forms will be used. I’ll also distress and roll the edges to give a more natural effect.
Last images taken today that will give me more guidance in my fine tuning. I think I will pull the pathway even wider in the foreground and help “level” the shadows so as not to give the illusion of the steeped left edge. Some of the very close leaves on the path will be larger and more obvious in shape as well. I have lots of prefelt swatches to work with.
Fine leaf stems have yet to be added, then all needs to be stitched down on this branch, as well as the foreground area. Once the image is fairly complete, I will begin work on the backing. There will be an interfacing to correct and pull the work into a right-angled shape and give consistency to the vertical and horizontal dimensions. The final backing comes once all is complete.