Online talk on Monday 11th December 2023
Hannah Dodd - Working with Wool
Hannah Dodd’s obvious love and affection for her hometown of Buxton and the surrounding countryside of the High Peaks came through strongly in her talk. It’s obvious that sense of place both rural and urban, and its wildlife have given a real inspiration for her work. It has also perhaps helped to inspire her very individual, quirky and humorous style. The townscapes and buildings seemed almost Lowry’esque; as well as her really quirky and off beat cats, dogs and spiders, not forgetting Fred the Frog and some unusual takes on felted and silver jewellery.
I’ve written my own title for her talk: ‘Layers, Haircuts, Vision, Attention to Detail and Talent’ which can only give a hint to her creative self-admitted obsession, and the journey she has been on to make herself a full-time artist, who is frequently approached to make commission work as well as producing stock for a gallery showroom.
Both Hannah’s Grandfather and Mother were artists, so creativity is in her genes, and she did a degree in metalwork and surface design before, perhaps surprisingly, taking up a career in nursing. Later, after four children in quick succession; the last two of which were unexpected twins; she found herself at home with a house full of young children, not much space, not much time, but a huge desire to create.
So, she went back to her continued fascination with structure, form and surface layering and started creating handbags on the kitchen table using patchwork, felt, textile, layering techniques and reverse applique. These she sold at markets and craft fairs and, as the children grew and started school, she was able to find the time to experiment and develop.
In 2006 she joined the High Peaks Artists, who at the time were using The Pump Room as a gallery space. The group is now 44 strong and collectively run ‘The Gallery in the Gardens’ in Buxton. Hannah, like the others, takes her turn in looking after the gallery, engaging with the public and demonstrating as she creates.
By then she was experimenting with felt, fleece, textile, stitch and wire and had started to work building both 3D sculptures – her hares and birds are so full of individual character – and building layers over a curated background of wet felt. She realised that for her, the possibilities seemed endless, and she relished the experiments that showed just what could be achieved. As she talked, she showed us images of taking scissors to pieces of work, both for what she described as haircuts to remove the fuzzy strays and for the precision scissoring for small details such as creating the indentations for tiny windows or markings on animals.
It became clear that well made felt work need not be fragile. She talked of pieces going through the washing machine and showed an image of a wedding panel commission that was quite happy to be hoovered. She described how needle felted wool was like glue in the way it held together and got stronger, and confessed that although she loved commissions and also did her best to create what the market seemed to desire, (trees and birds are always popular), she really relished the freedom to create as her imagination dictated.
She’s not a fan of block colour and has an obvious talent for colour blending with an innate sense of style, character and composition that shows her artist’s eye. She’s now using other fibres in her work, even those that do not easily felt without the extensive use of needles. These include silks, linens and even Angelina fibres which give a lovely sparkle and texture particularly during the wet felting of background pieces, which she always hot presses before starting on the foregrounds - although she may also use needles to pull out elements of the background for use in building up the foreground later in the creation.
This can become very organic as she has realised that ‘bouncing around the piece’ instead of doggedly working on one section can offer possibilities that would not otherwise have become apparent. I personally found it impossible to understand how she could visualise, not only the finished piece from such a flat and primitive start but was also able to determine the ever-changing possibilities as a piece developed.
More recently she’s been experimenting with bases of cotton or other open weave fabrics and an embellishing machine to create backgrounds, particularly for smaller pieces, destined for the gallery. Not only is she enjoying the process of new development, but it is also a potential aid to time management and cost effectiveness, both elements of which she has learnt to take very seriously too.
I'm grateful for her generosity and honesty in sharing her journey to becoming a full-time artist and appreciate the hard work, practice and determination she has put in.
See more of Hannah’s work on her website at: www.hannahdoddtextileartist.co.uk
Words © Towse Harrison/CETG 2023
Photos © Hannah Dodd