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Meeting on Monday 8th April 2024

Clare Bullock - My Life with Felt


Clare Bullock, with her daughter Molly as demonstrator, presented her talk to us in person - a long-delayed visit that was originally set to take place before lockdown!


Clare wanted to study art at school but couldn’t draw which was considered a problem.  She was always making things: dolls clothes, clothes for her children.  She said she has only ever done things for herself and doesn’t make for the sake of making.


She studied City & Guilds at Missenden Abbey for four years; prior to this she took a handbag making course, ending up by selling her finished handbag on the last day – it was very successful.  Clare’s father paid for her City & Guilds course but unfortunately didn’t see her finish; her husband looked after her four children; she took the course just for her own enjoyment.


At the end of course exhibition, she was approached by Art Van Go who asked if she would teach for them which she eventually agreed to.  The first piece she made was a pair of bootees made of felt, no sewing involved.


Clare is very clear that her work is not about the making, it’s about her mood.  She says she has a bad memory so keeping a visual diary is very important for her.  This is what started her using stitch as a way of expressing her feelings; she feels unable to use pen and ink; stitch is her method of recording her life events.


A number of years ago, on a day out, she found a piece of felt in her pocket.  She now takes a piece of felt, a needle and some thread everywhere she goes so that she can always stitch; she finds this far more important than writing.


Clare showed us a large piece of fabric which was made up of many areas of hand-felted fabrics.  She called this her 20-year visual diary:


  • Two sections relate to her “lovely” sister-in-law who was very ill; Clare sat and sewed with her just making marks expressing her feelings;

  • A grey stitched area refers to her autistic son, now 30;

  • The rust-coloured areas are in reference to her father; he had lots of rusty old things in his garage which she used to rust the fabric;

  • Her eldest daughter has moved to Derbyshire; the green area represents the countryside she’s now living in; another area in the piece relates to her daughter’s wedding;

  • The bright, colourful fabric pieces are the workshops that Clare teaches;


The whole large piece of fabric is hand-stitched (her stitches are all made up, nothing’s from a book); some block printing is visible too: she uses stamps and stencils in her work as she doesn’t draw.


The piece will eventually be backed in calico with a description of each area’s meaning so that it can be understood in the future.  Clare believes that “if you have something precious, you need to make it and hand it on”.


Clare’s process of making hand-made felt fabric was demonstrated by her daughter, Molly:


  1. Spread a very fine layer of wool (merino was used) onto fine plastic, in one direction only;

  2. Wet it until nice and soggy;

  3. Add other fabrics, if using; Molly used silk chiffon sari ribbons – wet them thoroughly;

  4. Lay these fabrics on top of the wool, overlapping slightly, don’t leave any holes (the fabrics are the strength, not the wool);

  5. Lay plastic sheeting on top (she uses decorator’s plastic), wet the top of the plastic and rub soap into it;

  6. Turn the plastic over onto the wool and fabrics, add more soap and water on the new top side of the plastic and gently rub;

  7. Turn over the plastic again;

  8. Take the piece of wool/fabric and rub back and forwards on the plastic;

  9. Pick up the wool/fabric and rub it together against itself; this will make it a solid piece of felted fabric.  The more you keep rubbing it the smaller the piece of felted fabric will become.


Clare’s tips:

  • Any fabric you can feel your breath through you should be able to felt with.

  • Merino wool felt is not best for needle felting as the fibre is too long.

  • Wool shrinks, fabric doesn’t.

  • Velvet works well in felting.


It was a very interesting evening which showed a different way of working with textiles.  Clare’s warmth and humour shone through.

Words © Tina Leslau/CETG 2024

Photos © Liz Wilmott CETG

Clare Bullock forms - sm.jpg
Clare Bullock diary - sm.jpg

Clare's 20-year visual diary in felt & stitch

Ready to felt.jpg

Materials ready to felt

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