Spotlight: Jenny Hill, Hand Felted Wearable Artist
After a southern California life in PR, Jenny Hill wanted to feed her creative side. She discovered felting and never looked back. Jenny immersed herself in organic farming and learned every step of the felting process, from sheep to garment. She now lives in Europe, travels extensively and creates nuno felted wearable art for a world-wide audience.
How long have you been felting? How did you get started?
As a third-generation artist, I grew up spending a lot of time in the fine-art painting studios of my mom and her father. Arts, crafts, sewing projects and anything creative kept me entertained throughout my childhood.
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At 10-years-old, I started designing and creating my own costumes, dresses and various clothing items. They were unique and different from what I saw others wearing in school. I wanted to create things that were original—things that hadn’t been seen before.
I was introduced to felting in the summer of 2012, amongst the rolling green hills of Vermont. After living in Orange County, California and working a decade in Public Relations, I needed a change in my life. Uprooting myself, I embarked on a yearlong adventure as an organic farm resident and volunteer. I learned about a program called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
One of my first farm stays was with a fiber artist and shepherd named Kim Goodling on her family’s farmstead,Vermont Grand View Farm. Not only did Kim become a good friend and an inspiration, but her family’s farm was also very special to me. It had sheep, alpacas, a garden, maple trees on tap, an assortment of farm animals, and a border collie. It was also where I learned about nuno felting.
Over the summer I spent there, Kim introduced me to felting and fiber arts through her own nuno felt lessons. With no prior exposure to felting, I became mesmerized by the tactile and primitive nature of the medium. To learn it was exhilarating. The possibilities of the combinations and what I could create from this new art seemed endless for me! Hours into the night I sketched felt designs, and brainstormed what I would create next.
For the rest of 2012 I stayed at various farms from New England to Tennessee. It was there I learned how to grow my food, tend to animals, butcher, make my own clothes and more. It was an inspiring, mind-opening, and thought-provoking experience that led me to envision a new kind of future for myself.
During that year, I continued to immerse myself in all the reading material I could find about sheep breeds and the felting process. I visited sheep and wool festivals and sheep farms around the US learning all I could about fiber and felting. I would do felt projects in whatever space I could find on the farms where I stayed. So I could experiment with the different types of fiber I collected from sheep.
It was a simple and magical time in my life. And over the course of that year, my fascination with felting intensified. As I spent my days farming and my nights felting and dreaming about what I could make next, I was enchanted by this ancient craft—it became my obsession! I wasn’t sure when or how, but I knew I wanted felting to play a central role in my future.
When my WWOOFing year ended in 2013, I moved near my family in Boise, Idaho. But instead of going back into my former career of Public Relations, I decided that I needed to do the thing that literally kept me up at night: felting. It was an uncertain and risky decision but I had an uncontrollable urge to follow through.
With a weird mixture of confidence and trepidation, I marched down to Boise City Hall and registered my first ever company, J.Hill Felt. I started out small; I sold my work at the Boise Farmers Market every Saturday and at regional art and craft fairs. However, after selling everything I created that year and exceeding my sales goals, the following year I started going to bigger art and fashion trade shows. As my craft improved, so did the demand for my work
Today, I sell my work internationally to sophisticated and bold women through art and fashion trade shows, as well as through private showings. I am deeply grateful that I get to do what I love every day and am able to share my passion with others.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
I get a lot of inspiration from nature and people. Living in Europe as an American expat, I travel a lot and do a lot of people watching.
I observe how people dress in various settings, the designs that are trending in a particular region and how people carry themselves in particular clothing. Studying the makeup and meaning behind the garments worn by various people and cultures gives me insight and inspiration into my own wearable art pieces. Also, I like to borrow from past fashion and current fashion and create futuristic pieces.
I like to travel to countries with a rich fiber and textile heritage. I did a month-long artist residency in Iceland to learn more about the Icelandic sheep breed and immerse myself in a new landscape and culture. It was an incredible experience that greatly influenced my work.
In nature, I am blown away by textures, color combinations, shapes and designs. Nature is a very good teacher.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
As I began my career, I tried to define what made me happy when I created, as well as what would make others happy. I enjoy making one-of-a-kind wearable art pieces. In a fast fashion world where clothes are so disposable and temporary, people, especially my clients, crave the original, handmade works of art that they can cherish and enjoy for their whole life.
Each one of my art pieces I will only make once, for each client. What makes my work different is that I made it and no one can replicate exactly what I was feeling and the inspiration that came to me and the techniques I applied in creating that work of art. In my opinion, every art piece should be authentically the artists.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Artisan Felting: Wearable Art?
Over the past decade felting has enjoyed a marked increase in popularity all around the world. However, not everyone has access to a local felting community where they can take workshops to improve their craft. This book is my attempt to reach distant felters and to help those interested with improving their craft. I answer many questions that felters have asked me over the years; I elaborate on my own discoveries in this medium.
This is the felter’s guide book that I wished existed when I first learned how to felt! It is also a guide for experienced felt makers wanting to learn new felting techniques and to improve their skills. As a resource guide, this book uses nuno felting techniques to make beautiful and functional clothing and accessories.
Through seven tutorial guided projects, you will learn over 30 specific techniques and approaches to nuno felting. This book will ignite your creativity, inspiring your own nuno felted wearable art designs. In each project I address what makes my designs unique as a fashion designer and artist. Each garment is a wearable art piece created with thought and intention. In addition to technique, I write about color, texture, drape, fit, and the overall flow of the piece.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think every human being has creative potential. It is a matter of finding the right medium to express the creativity. I come from an artistic family. I knew in my heart I was an artist, but it took a lot of discovery to find the right medium. Oftentimes people think creative art is limited only to a paint brush. However, there are so many expressions of creativity and art from cooking, engineering, decorating, parenting, writing, etc. I think we just have to find our passion and outlet for creative expression. If we apply ourselves, the creativity will overflow!
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
What organization? I like to call it organized chaos. I also am not very good at organizing. So I hire someone to clean and organize my studio space once a month. It helps me focus on what I do best so I do not get distracted by my own clutter.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I use a felt palm washboard for agitating my fibers, bubble mat, a water dispenser and olive oil soap every day I am in my studio. I go into detail of every tool I use in my book.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Depending on the work, I match the mood of my piece and my mood with various soundtracks. I also enjoy listening to audiobooks when I am not at a place in my work that requires a lot of serious concentration.
When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?
I start each new design and collection with a sketch and a clear vision of how I want the piece(s) to start and end. I allow for discovery in the design process and flexibility in the outcome.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish, or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I work in collections and often have 3 or more pieces going at a time. This allows for cohesiveness in the whole collection. I finish most of my pieces 95% of the way in one push. Then over the weeks/months, I will finess each piece until completion. A piece is finished when it fits and looks the way I had envisioned.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
Sometimes pieces do not turn out the way I planned. In this case, I either shelve them for some time for me to get a clear mind and perspective. Then I return fresh to the piece. Sometimes I learn that a piece should not be finished for various reasons. Then I take note of what I learned from the process and what I will do differently next time. Pieces that I choose not to complete I will cut up and reuse as texture in another piece. Because I don’t like to waste materials and time.
What piece of work makes you most proud? Why?
I am still working on it. Each piece has its own unique character and personality. So it is really hard for me to like or enjoy one most of all.
Is there an element of your art you enjoy working with most? Why?
I truly love all aspects of my work from the administrative and business side to the everyday creating. They all have an important purpose and sustain my art.
Some of my collections are repetitive in the creation process; it is meditative and helps improve certain aspects of my design. But other processes can be emotionally and mentally demanding and help push me to the next level in my art. I genuinely love all of the work I do, even when it is hard.
Where can people find your work?
Interview posted January 2020
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