Elynn Bernstein of Amano Studios shares her collection of felted clothing, and her process.
ABI: How does your art background affect your clothing design?
EB: Having been a painter and full time studio artist for over 25 years my art background has prepared me to be comfortable with the process of discovery. I love the process of exploring and experimenting with my medium, embracing the unexpected.
The freedom to play allows me to go beyond simply making a piece of clothing to creating a piece of art that happens to be wearable. My paintings tend to be colorful abstract expressions of whimsy and playfulness and I bring the same components to my clothing.
ABI: Can you describe your process?
EB: My process involves the technique of wet felting, more specifically nuno felting, which is felting through a loosely woven piece of cloth. My pieces usually start with a sketch. I am always sketching out new ideas. When I get to the studio, I fully immerse myself in the process of creating the palette, dyes and surface designs.
I stamp, print, use a variety of resist techniques and paint the yards of silk that serve as my canvas. I love filling the fabric with luscious color, pattern and texture. When the cloth is finished, I steam the fabrics and fibers making the dyes permanent. I use this time to make my template or pattern.
This template has to be twice as big as the actual finished garment because the wool can shrink up to 50% (see photo). After steaming, critical design decisions on how to lay out the fabrics and fibers are made. The template gets fully covered on both sides with fabric and hundreds of fine wisps of fine fiber. The really fun part comes next- deciding how I want to embellish the piece. I may choose to use specialty fibers, yarns, ribbon, 3 dimensional effects, whatever I feel will bring the piece to the next level from merely being nice to something special.
Finally the actual felting process can begin. Water, soap and manipulation is what it takes to make felt. Through a series of progressively aggressive hands-on steps, you get the fibers to migrate through the fabric, entangle with each other, mat and shrink.
Every felter has their own techniques for accomplishing this. Rolling, kneading, tossing, throwing, and rubbing are all ways to get those fibers to do what you need them to do. The final shaping involves more specific directional rubbing and shrinking. This last phase of shaping determines how the garment will look and if it will fit correctly.
Felting can be done by a child in a couple of hours, but making well-crafted felt is quite time consuming. Laying out and felting a hat or a scarf takes about 10 -12 hours not counting the time for dyeing the fabrics or fibers. A garment may take about 40 hours, depending on its size and complexity. So while felting remains a labor of love, it keeps me intrigued with its endless possibilities.
ABI: What designs do you have in your collection?
EB: My collection consists of only one-of-a-kind garments and accessories. I am not into production work, because if I know how the piece is going to turn out, there is no need to make it. My accessories include scarves, hats, and shawls that often double as throws. The garments are dresses, jumpers, jackets, coats, tunics, vests and ponchos.
ABI: What did you find most valuable at the ABI workshop you attended?
EB: Among many things I found valuable at the workshop, the networking opportunities stood out for me. I met some really nice women who were not only wonderful artists but people I could easily see as future friends. I have already gotten together with one woman and corresponded with several others that I would like to develop an ongoing friendship with. I left the conference with a sense of direction and resolve.