Spotlight: Flóra Carlile-Kovács, Felt Artist & Designer
Flóra Carlile-Kovács has found her creative calling and loves every part of the felt making process. Beginning with a plan, then working instinctively as she responds to her materials, Flóra designs felted works of art to be worn or simply admired. Her enthusiasm spans the miles as she leads two Felt Tours to Hungary each year.
Tell us a little bit about you and what you do.
I am a felt designer, instructor and tour leader living and working in Seattle, WA.
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Why textiles? Why felting? How did you get started?
I have been involved with many fiber arts from an early age. I found joy figuring out how to weave, knit, sew, bead, make lace, etc., all on my own. First I experienced felting as a teenager in a folk camp. It seemed to be an easy technique, but I didn’t have time to take a class.
I went home, and I got a box of wool from my mom. I can figure out how to felt, too, I thought. So I made a pattern for slippers, enlarged it, covered with wool, then used too much soap, too much water, and made all possible mistakes. It was an epic failure, which I wasn’t used to. I did not want to touch wool for over a decade.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I was asked to teach children how to felt. I sat down with a friend of mine and a book and learnt the basics of the craft. It was still not something to touch my heart. The fibers we had access to were quite coarse and very limited in colors. But when I met the combination of soft merino wool, fine silks and deep hand-dyed colors, I fell in love with felting, and I gave up pursuing other crafts.
How would you describe felting to someone who is new to the technique?
This is the most ancient textile technique. If you have wool, moisture, and agitation, it just happens (like dreadlocks…) We don’t need any instruments (spinning wheels, looms, hooks, etc). These days we use some soap, water and vigorous kneading, and the loose wool fibers will tangle and create a dense and strong fabric, as durable as leather. It is a zero-waste technique with renewable materials.
What does your studio look like? How does your setup make it easier for you to work?
I have two 4′ x 8′ tables on saw horses to adjust the height. I usually spread out my materials on one table and work on the other one. But I wish I had a couch so I could take some breaks from being on my feet all day…
What is your favorite storage tip for your felting supplies?
Plastic box with a lid, or a glass mason jar with a lid (to keep moths away).
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work? Are there any that might surprise us?
I call my sprinkler my best friend. It is a hand size rubber ball with a little shower head, a perfect tool to wet the felt. I also love the good old spinner (every grandma had one before the age of the washing machines). It is like a large electric salad spinner; it helps to remove the water at the end of the felting process, so the felt will dry faster.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
I play a wide variety of music, Hungarian folk music, gypsy jazz, world music, something that has a good rhythm to keep me going.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
I find my inspiration in nature, folk art, art nouveau, and the nature of my materials.
When you begin to create, do you have a finished product in mind? Or does the work evolve?
I usually have a vision of the project when I get started, but I don’t always see the path to get there. I work rather instinctively. Sometimes I dream about the project for days before I get started. I take plenty of time to make the decisions in the creative process. I don’t like to create rough-casts. When I create large pieces, I start with drawing until I get the composition I am satisfied with.
Is there an element of your art you enjoy working with most? Why?
I think I am staying with felting because the process has so many different stages, it constantly holds my interest. I love dyeing my materials and layering soft fragile fibers. And I love how the energy level increases throughout the process, and sometimes becomes a full-body workout. I also love the possibility of working both in 2 and 3 dimensions.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people must develop?
I think we are all creative by nature, but we have different talents. Creativity can be developed like talents, through practice and repetition, if we are dedicated and motivated.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I did some embroidery in elementary school. I was in middle school when I got more interested in what I can create with my hands. Then I started sewing and knitting for my dolls, did beadwork, leather work, basic weaving, etc.
When I was in high school, I got a 100-year-old peasant loom from my parents. It was a bunch of wood in a large plastic bag. I had to put it together like a puzzle without any help. Then I met a lady from the village of Szék,Transylvania (Romania). She was in her mid-forties, and she was from the last generation who had to weave her own dowry before getting married. She was a master weaver and she helped me get started on the big loom.
With my very first weavings I won a competition. The reward was a weeklong folk craft camp where I was exposed to more crafts. Back then, we did not have access to high quality materials in Eastern Europe. If I had access to quality yarn, I might have become a weaver. I wasn’t interested in felt making until I learned how to dye my materials, too.
How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre?
I am an experimenter and I am curious. As a child, I had figured out many crafts on my own. I learnt the most by playing with my materials, trying out new ideas, and making many mistakes. I have a background in sewing, and I can visualize clothing in three dimensions and understand how to construct things without using seams. And I come from a culture which values craftsmanship, so it’s very important to me that my work be durable and high quality.
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
It was the largest rug I have ever made, just finished recently. The starting size was larger than a queen-size bed. I had to finish the layout on the floor after pushing all the furniture against the wall. I used 5 thick layers of wool, and after wetting it, it was so heavy I couldn’t lift it up myself. So I needed my husband to help roll, and lift and turn it around in my studio.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes. I post my schedule on my Facebook Events page.
Do you sell your work? If so, where can people find it?
I have my wearable art in the Iparos Gallery in Prague, and in the Earthenworks galleries in Port Townsend and La Conner. I just got an order from the Real Mother Goose from the Portland Airport. In addition, I do a few art shows (will be posted on my events pages), but it is best to contact me directly through my website.
How did your Felt Tours to Hungary get started? Can you share some of the highlights and tell us how we can tag along?
In the fall of 2014 I was teaching a felted jewelry class at the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville, WA. The project was small; the 12 students and I sat around a large table, and once we constructed the jewelry, we began to full the felt, which can be a meditative part of the process. Soon the group started chatting about their favorite hobbies, traveling and felting. One student asked, why don’t I organize a felt tour to Hungary where they can learn more of this ancient craft, but they can also travel around in that country with the weird language?
The idea became very popular, and six of the students promised that if I ever organized a tour, they would join me.
Back then it felt like a daydream. I hadn’t been back in Hungary for almost 3 years and I couldn’t imagine that this trip would ever happen. Six months later, in 2015, finally I was able to go back for Mother’s Day. Then my parents volunteered to join me in a planning trip of the first felt tour. So we crammed into my father’s small Renault Clio, and in a couple of days we visited all the planned sites and venues, met with the instructors I had chosen to teach, and completed the itinerary of the East Hungary Felt Tour.
The first tour in 2016 was so well received, I decided to repeat it. Now I lead 2 tours a year, one in April, one in August, with different classes and instructors, featuring different parts of the country. For photos and testimonials visit www.felttours.com .
To learn more and browse more photos of my work, please visit www.florafelts.com.
Interview published March 2019.
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