German-born artist Margit Mederich explores the primitive art of felting, creating unique, handmade pieces that are stamped with her love for nature and her profound sensitivity towards the environment.
Working from her home in Byron Bay, Margit's practice is one of patience and love. The methodical way in which she creates her unique pieces is a process that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Using only olive soap, water, and raw wool which she carefully selects, Margit slowly brings her creations to life. As each piece takes shape it reflects not only the age-honoured tradition of felting, but the artist's own background, growing up in West Germany and relocating to the Australian countryside.
We caught up with the artist behind Byron-based Felt Indie, to discuss the evolution of her craft, her passion for using raw materials, and her inspirations.
How did you become introduced to the ancient craft of felting?
In 2012 I moved with my family to Australia. We enrolled our son in the local Steiner pre-school. One of the first craft projects they did with the children was [felting]. The parents were asked to come and help the children with this activity.
The moment I tried it was like magic to me. I was completely fascinated from the process and what happened through my hands with a little bit of wool fibre, soap and water.
The next day I went to the library and borrowed all the books I could find on felting. I started with easy projects and taught myself as much as possible. I realised that felt offered endless possibilities. I could create anything from lightweight shawls to hats and bags to lampshades. I was amazed by the diversity of what I was going to explore.
Back then I started a Facebook page called Feltwelt with the aim to bring all the different aspects of felt art together. At this stage I was still felting with dyed wool tops in the most beautiful colours until I came across a wool supplier who offered only natural coloured wool tops and fleece. Back then I did not know what fleece was with my limited English vocabulary. I ordered a whole selection of natural wool tops and fleece. As the parcel arrived and I opened up the bag I was in love with the natural colours and started playing with the shorn wool immediately. Through my research I knew that there were people in Europe who felted with raw wool and now I was given the opportunity to try it out myself.
I started with small cushions, rugs of different types of wool and the pieces naturally became bigger as I became more confident in the process. It became clear to me that working with raw wool was what ignited my passion the most. It was a soul fulfilling (sic) experience and I’m very grateful for this journey, which started so spontaneously.
How has your personal history, growing up in Germany and helping your grandparents on their farm influenced your creative practice?
I grew up in West Germany and during the summer holidays I was allowed to visit my Grandparents in East Germany. I loved being in the countryside on their farm having so many animals and nature around me. Every morning and evening my Opa and I would go to the garden where the sheep and ducks and chooks lived to feed them and to bring them into shelter for the night. I loved doing this. So after all those years when my first fleece got delivered and I unpacked the bag, the smell of the wool with its natural lanolin, brought back these memories instantly.
I feel it is the simplicity of life back then, the quietness of the countryside and the slow handmade approach to everything on that farm, that has influenced me the most.
Your rugs are so beautiful, they look and feel so organic, like sheepskin. How has your sensitivity to the environment shaped the way you select your materials and create your work?
I find it very important to create something, which has a purpose and good use in the world. I don’t want to add anything to the mass of useless, throw away, plastic goods in this world and their suffocating impact on the ecosystem.
For me it is very important to work with natural materials, which I can track back to where they come from. For example the wool I use comes from small Australian farms where most of the sheep are known by name and get treated well. The sheep get shorn once a year and I make an animal friendly sheep-rug out of their fleece. The sheep is still alive and grows new wool.
In this age of technology, there’s been a real rise in demand for objects made using traditional hands-on processes. We consider these processes important as they connect us to each other and the natural world. What do you love most about working with your hands and raw, natural materials?
I like the fact that I only use soap, water, raw wool, my hands and muscle power in the process. This is exactly how the first fabric was made thousands of years ago.
Going back to the basics slows everything down, being in contact with those materials and working with my hands and full body connects me with myself and brings me into the present moment. For me felting is like a meditation, the repetition within the process is what teaches me patience (which I hardly have) growing up in a world where you can instantly satisfy your desire.
What inspires you?
The slow ageing process in nature. the texture in an aged piece of timber, an old brick wall that begins to tell a story, a rock that shows layers of sediment. Those things have a time transcending quality to me and I love that sense of [time].
Describe to us your most treasured object.
I treasure my collection of handmade pottery the most. For me it is like an addiction. When I go somewhere, most of the time I end up buying a piece from another ceramic artist. My young kids help me so that my cupboards never overflow. These cups and plates add so much character to a table and I love the feel and look you will never have with something mass-produced. There is soul in every piece, similar to my felted fleece rugs.