Thursday, April 14, 2016

Today in art: The felted finger labyrinth.

Today I'm getting ready to teach an upcoming workshop (Windsor Art Center, Saturday April 16, 2016, 10 am to 12 noon) for the construction of a felted finger labyrinth.  

The finger labyrinth is a tool for meditation, both in the act of its construction and in the practice of its use.

To use one, a person traces her finger along a defined path, in much the same way as a user of a traditional labyrinth traces a path with her feet.

The construction of a felted finger labyrinth involves using soft merino wool like this, in a variety of colors, of which this is just a small sample. This type of wool is called wool roving.  That name makes me imagine a roving bible preacher in the American old west, or an itinerant lawyer in the same setting.  Something or someone who roves. Those associations provide a dash of daring to a material  which is, otherwise, literally soft and fuzzy.

Can your eyes tell you how soft this material feels on your fingers?

You use a special barbed needle to poke that wool into a background printed with a labyrinth pattern like this:


The labyrinth pattern is traced onto a paperlike material called gossamer, a product made for party table coverings.   The gossamer, with the pattern on it, is sewn to a piece of commercial felt.   The whole is mounted on a piece of thick foam and provided with a special barbed needle.

And look at the points on those needles! There are barbs, too, which  you can feel more than see.

I have to tell you there's something therapeutic, in a tactile sense, about using those needles to apply soft wool roving to a soft substrate.

This young woman is a good example of the therapeutic power of needle felting.  In this photo, she's actually felting for the first time.  

Until the day when she decided to try needle felting, however, this young person reacted so viscerally against those needles that she wouldn't even cross the room to take a closer look at the other needle felters.  This was  at the Chrysalis Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

A couple of visits later, though, she changed her mind.  I traced a Cape Cod sunset on a piece of commercial felt for her.  With much help and encouragement from me, she chose her colors of soft wool roving and began applying it to the felt to create this scene.  After spending about 15 minutes at it, she opened up enough to chat with energy and joy about her pets.  Such  is the transformative power of the experience of needle felting. 

In fact, I have to say that guys in particular like the process.  My theory is that they like to, you know, poke things. 

Which reminds me: the concept of the labyrinth is, according to one school of thought, a correlative of the female genitalia.  

In the case of the felted labryinth, the finished product looks like the one on the right below.  On the left is a labyrinth in process.  And how do you like the box where I keep my needle felting tools? It's a gift from my daughter Leah, and a visual pun:  a spam box.

 Today I'm getting all my materials together for the workshop.  The patterns have been traced onto gossamer and mounted onto felt.  Now I have to measure and cut the pieces of foam.  

Of course the following thought is antithetical to the spiritual nourishment implied by the concept of the labryinth, and the practice of tracing one, but here it is:  There's a certain satisfaction in the act of repeatedly and forcefully stabbing a piece of foam like this.

In fact, I think this is why God invented the serrated kitchen knife.

Would you like to--uh, take a stab at making a felted finger labryinth?  If so, contact the Windsor Art Center at 860-688-2528 or  There's a fee of $30 for the class and $10 for materials.

Here's a link; the information about the workshop is near the bottom.  Please scroll down.
Here's a link with more information; please scroll down:  

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