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Accreditation as a feltmaker

I have long pondered the concept of proper credentials regarding feltmaking. The topic recently came up on Pat Sparks feltlist .

I work in a variety of media, and have seen this issue come up many times, each craft having its own levels of quality and skill requirements. As an example, the latest arena to come up with a plan on accreditation, is the metal clay world. Metalsmiths have been taken aback by the growth, first scoffing at the idea of comparing their work as metalsmiths to claywork. But over time, even recognized metalsmiths have delved into metal clay due to its ability to create pieces that would be unattainable or laborious using traditional techniques. It grew faster than one could dream and work of every quality has hit the market. They needed to take the time to come up with an accreditation program (they call it the Masters Registry). I think they have done a good job. It is much more complex than the felting world would ever need. The overall concept of requiring applicants to send in pieces to be judged on quality, while also covering a breadth of techniques is a good start. Theirs is a brand new system, that has yet only registered a handful of Masters – time will tell if it is successful, but I have heard a lot of rumblings of people working on applying.

I think the felting world could use something in the same fashion to establish a quality minimum for someone to mark their credentials as an accredited Feltmaker. We have all seen felt sold that is below standard. I must be honest and say that when I first started selling pieces, they were not nearly as well felted as the pieces I make now. I shudder to think about how they have fared. Only time and experience can really teach you what makes good felt. It is in this light that I think we must look at what we hope for from accreditation. A Master class – is, in my opinion not the right way to go. Not everyone can travel to a given location, those who can , may take the class, and still not make good felt. It is not a viable solution, nor available to all.

A system that anyone can apply to is important, regardless of their location, or association affiliations. This should also be an anonymous application such that no biases are formed prior to judging. That is easily done, and exceptionally important. There should be a fee associated with applying. The work of managing the accreditation process is not an easy one, and there needs to be a solid structure behind this behemoth of a task. Once accreditation is issued, there should be an ability to acquire certain items that would be of use to a qualified feltmaker – ie.. labels for your work, information leaflets that talk about felt and your accreditation in the field, logos and website links, discounts at supporting fiber suppliers who could potentially provide financial support to the accreditation system in exchange for advertising etc. My head is absolutely spinning with ideas. 

A jury of recognized leaders in the field is needed to establish a groundwork for what constitutes good felt, as well as what techniques are needed to be mastered before one can receive accreditation.  This jury would ideally not be judging the style of the pieces submitted, but the quality of the work and knowledge of the craft.

– Is it made with the correct fiber for its purposed use?  such as fine wool for shawls, coarse wool for rugs etc..) is it evenly laid out? etc..

Should a series of categories be set out, with applicants having the option of sending in pieces for say 3 out of 5 potential categories? Does this cover enough breadth to establish a skill in the craft? How many pieces are needed? what categories?.. some examples..

– flat pieces with exposed edges – must be even and uniform, no cut edges

– hollow forms (resist project) 3D without sewing (clothing or vessels, purses etc)

– needlefelting – how does this fit in?

Is creativity a requirement?

Does ones own design carry more weight?

Who can judge the beauty of a piece?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Skill?!?.. well ..felt that looks good is not always good felt.

Is this a job for the IFA? good question.. maybe a topic for the AGM in Italy next year? The fact that there is an annual gathering of some of the world best felters could make for an excellent venue to do a once a year selection to a FeltMaster Registry. My only concern being that one does not need to be a member of the IFA in order to apply for accreditation. 

I would very much like to hear people thoughts on this topic. Thank you for taking the time to read mine.

*** an excerpt from my comments on the list regarding this topic added June 17, 2009 ***

Do I consider myself a qualified feltmaker? Would I make the grade being judged by a panel of experts in the field, potentially not… I do not know, it is not for me to say. Quite honestly it would be very intimidating to send my work in. It is in taking these steps that one grows as an artist. One must try in order to succeed (failure? always an option!). But what I would hope for in the experience of applying for the credentials, would be some specific constructive criticism of the work sent in that would allow me to focus on my weaknesses and grow in order to apply again once my skills have evolved.

9 Comments

  1. Cynthia, you have come up with some excellent ideas. I believe accreditation would be a great help to both the artist and the customer, giving the artist the satisfaction of going through the accreditation process and knowing that they meet a standard of high quality, while assuring the consumer that the piece that they purchase not only looks great, but is well made.

    Accreditation would also be a wonderful asset as a marketing tool to potential clients, galleries, shows, etc.

    Most importantly, accreditation would help to raise feltmaking, from what is viewed in the eyes of some, a craft, to the true art form that it rightfully is.

    Love the idea of benefits ranging from labels, logos, etc., which is again a benefit for both the artist and the consumer.

    Thank you for all of the thought that you have already put into this venture. Looking forward to follow-ups on this topic. I believe it’s important.

    Take care,
    Dawn

  2. I agree this is an important step in the evolution of the medium. Clearly you have given this a lot of thought. Thank you for beginning the discussion.

  3. a few points go through my head about this.
    I really would like to see this thought come up in Italy. It would give me more reason to think about attending.
    Questions though;
    Would it not mean that a lot of people will not be seen as ´true´felters and be dissapointed or will they just accept?
    Will it not create an unwanted form of hierarchy?
    It will indeed create a ‘standard’, but not sure if it will make others vieuw felt differently.

    There are so many vieuws on this subject Cynthia.
    your question is true brain candy.:)
    Alexander pillin said once the feltmaker is boss in artistic vieuw. as you say, some good artpieces are not made with good felt.
    A felter from finland said, the word felt means the wel felted strong material, otherwise call it something else.

    looking forward to read good vieuws about this and talk to you.
    súnday!!
    elis
    http://www.elisv.nl

    • “good art pieces” this brings to point another issue that needs to be addressed when assessing the quality of a piece of felt.

      – Is it well enough felted for its intended use? If so, it should qualify as good felt.

      for example: a rug, a pair of shoes or a bag: they all need to be well felted; hard, strong felt. A shawl can be somewhat softer, but still needs to be able to withstand the wear over time. That is a judgement call that many people misjudge (just my opinion for what it is worth). Whereas a sculptural piece or wall art, will not be required to withstand a lot of wear. It is here that a panel of experts needs to establish standards for what good felt is?
      I believe that quality felt is something that has been felted well enough to withstand the wear for its intended purpose.

      Cyn

  4. ahh Elis,
    You are one of my best sounding boards. You always make me see things from a broader perspective and you challenge my thoughts. I love that! Excellent points. I too look forward to where this conversation will lead.
    Cyn

  5. although I agree that a standard is good who gets to pick those that get to decide what the standard is. writing out what the standards are for different forms of felt will be a long process I think. A worth while one but it will take a lot of time and effort to cover all aspects of felting. I am not sure it will make any difference to the vast majority of felt makers. Perhaps those in the art side or at the very high end would benefit from having credentials to help market themselves. What happens to people who only work in one type of felt? Do they need to make all types of felt to be accredited. Most of the needle felters I know have no interest in wet felting, and visa versa. I am enjoying this discussion very much and hope people from all levels who do all types of felting will feel they can join in.

    • I agree Ann. A very long process. Simply establishing who would be on the panel of experts that would be making those decisions is a lengthy process in itself. I am sure that the vast majority of felters have absolutely no interest in whether or not they have “credentials”, but it is definitely a topic that is of interest to many.
      The current work being undertaken regarding felt definitions/dictionary is also of great interest, and it is one more step toward solidifying Felt at a proper medium in the art world. I look forward to seeing where this leads.

  6. I think you would end up dumbing down the artistic potential of felt by trying to make something conform to a set of standards. In fact I think you relegate it forever to simply a craft with only the attainment of certain skills. It is that extra “Quality” we each bring to the piece that shows it as art. I find people already recognise good felt or at least notice that it is different. Do painters need an accreditation? There is only the unspoken accreditation of many people admiring. I would hate to not try something new because it did not fit into a prescribed set of skills.

    • Hi Pam, sorry for the late response, summer vacation has meant a hiatus from blogging 🙂
      The debate of art vs. craft. One that has been discussed so many times in the past, and will undoubtedly be discussed many times in the future.
      I think the artistic potential of felt is and always will be there. Establishing an accreditation in the felting world, would not detract from it, but could potentially reinforce the art, by focusing on the craft. As discussed in other comments in this thread, felt needs to be made to suit the purposed use of an item. By requiring feltmakers to meet a certain set of standards as well as show an understanding of the craft in their application for accreditation, we can assure that they have the ability to produce quality work. Nothing is stopping those same people from expressing themselves in any way they wish. BUT for artists to use fibre in their art and call themselves feltmakers, while not having the ability to produce a well fulled square piece of felt – and then using the term “artist” to get around the fact that they do not need to have a set of skills is something I do not care for.
      Thanks for taking the time to share your input
      Cynthia

      ps.. Pam.. I am in awe of your work 🙂

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