The Intersection of Plants and People
Looking for holiday gifts can be a full-time task, especially when the recipients love particular flowers throughout the seasons. GardenFelt artist Amy Green Thrasher solves this problem, making delightful floral jewelry out of silk and wool fibers that hold up to year-round wear.
Thrasher, a lifelong sculptor and jewelry-maker, has combined the two disciplines with her hand-felted, wearable art. Her resulting work has gained the attention of The Washington Post and other publications.
PlantXing recently exchanged emails with Thrasher, who shared her experiences as an artisan:
PlantXing: How did you get started working with felt?
Thrasher: I was doing a lot of small wood carvings of birds, and my sister kept sending me pictures of needle felting (a dry technique that is sculptural) thinking that I might enjoy doing soft sculpture with wool. I found a felting teacher in my area with that in mind, but she was teaching wet-felting, and when I learned that technique it all just took off as a new passion.
Wet felting is more common for clothing and flat projects, and it opened up a whole new world to me. But wool is essentially a tool, like oil paint and a great brush. Everyone comes to it with different strengths and interests, and uses it in their own way.
PlantXing: It’s interesting that you’re a veteran hard news producer and writer, who at the same time sculpts delicate flowers — how do you approach these very different disciplines?
Thrasher: Well, when I do something it’s all-consuming. When I’m working on a news broadcasting project, I think about it all the time until it is finished. Same thing with the felting.
I can’t seem to do both at the same time, so that pretty much shoots down any theories that they come from separate parts of the brain. I do think having an artistic outlet in my life has helped me keep the other parts of my life in perspective, and has helped me keep sane when the journalism/video work involves emotionally upsetting or stressful subject matter.
PlantXing: What do you find most enjoyable about making these felt flowers and jewelry?
Thrasher: First of all, I love the colors, and laying out different combinations. When colors really sing together, it’s exciting.
The process of wet felting is kind of zen, very hands-on with warm soap and water, but that part also can be physically exhausting, and I look forward to seeing how everything will come out.
Finally, the most wonderful part is when a group of finished elements come together in a necklace and it really works — and this takes a lot of trial and error. But when it’s all together, suddenly there is a grouping that will never quite be repeated, and it all works and lays nicely on your neck. The colors all set each other off, and it’s done.
PlantXing: When you see people wearing your creations, how does that make you feel?
Thrasher: It makes me feel really honored (and continually surprised) that someone else thinks it’s as interesting as I do.
PlantXing: Do you have a background in art or did you just come to it on your own?
Thrasher: I suppose I am somewhat of an outsider artist in that I didn’t go to art school in any formal way, but I’ve been making art — mostly sculpture — since I was a child, and I’ve taken sculpture classes in every city I’ve lived in. I keep taking life sculpture classes in the insane hope that some day I can sculpt an accurate human body! Do you know that there are no straight lines in nature?
PlantXing: Are there any other arts and crafts that you do?
Thrasher: I carved stone for many years. I’ve been carving wood on a very small scale for the last five years or so (whittling), I make jewelry out of beads for myself and my friends, and I’ve recently taken a metal jewelry class in the hope that I might someday have the skills (and inspiration) to combine the felt with precious metals.
PlantXing: Does it matter what kind of wool you use — do you have a preference for any particular kind?
Thrasher: First of all, it absolutely matters that the wool comes naturally from an animal and the silk from a silkworm! Man-made fibers don’t felt, and you have to make certain when felting wool to fabrics that there’s no polyester sneaking around in there.
I started out working with long-fiber Merino wool, which is wonderfully soft and drapes beautifully, especially for felted clothing. Recently I’ve been hooked on KAP wool from Germany, which has shorter fibers. The color palette isn’t as extensive as in Merino wool, but it felts more quickly, which is perfect for my impatient nature and the structural challenges of three-dimensional projects like my jewelry.
PlantXing: What about a particular technique?
Thrasher: There are many variations of the basic technique of wet felting, and I like to learn as many as I can. That said, it’s all a variation of a very basic and ancient technique of fiber, soap and water. I just like any technique that works well on my small kitchen counters with the stove and sink handy!
PlantXing: Do you have a favorite flower that you tend to recreate more than others?
Thrasher: I seem to adore an orange-red pansy, with a little lime green around the edges! In general, my favorite shape right now is a dropped bud where I put different colors inside and slice it open at the bottom so that it looks like a seed pod.
For more information, visit Amy Green Thrasher’s online shop, www.gardenfelt.com.