Inside the walls of Deborah Loxam-Kohl’s cottage-style home in Winlaw, rolls of wool batting line the kitchen counter, side tables and every other available surface.
The material, in its unprocessed form, has a consistency like cotton candy. Loxam-Kohl recently ordered 30-pounds of it, in every colour her supplier offered.
Most fibre artists would need months to get through all that wool. But Loxam-Kohl has invented a machine to make wet-felting much faster, not to mention easier on the body.
“I wouldn’t be working with felt in-the-round if I had to do it by hand,” Loxam-Kohl said. “I tried it once and thought, ‘there must be a better way.’”
It took Loxam-Kohl two-years to develop a working prototype of the machine, which she completed in 2003. Then she started down the long road of patenting the technology. By the end of this year she hopes to have a studio model ready to sell to other designers.
On paper her invention is called the Form Felting Machine, but at home she lovingly refers to it as the “Frankenfelter,” so named because her current model is cobbled together from parts she picked up at hardware and electronic stores.
Whatever you call it, it makes her work a lot easier.
Typically wet-felting involves rubbing or thumping material repeatedly to bind the wool fibres together.
“The machine does the thumping for me,” Loxam-Kohl explained, “rather than my back and wrists taking the pressure.”
A basic project, like making a ball, would take an experienced felter about an hour to finish. Loxam-Kohl’s machine can do the work in 10- minutes.
Last year she used it to create a massive sculptural installation at Oxygen Art Centre, where she spent two months as the artist-in-residence.
Her recent wool order is for a line of usable art, including bowls and felt-covered containers and bottles. The finished products are dense and uniform in texture – nothing like the airy batts of colour sprawling through her house.
She’ll be giving items away as incentives for people who contribute to the fundraising campaign she launched today on IndieGoGo, a website artists use to crowd-source funding for creative projects.
In the next six-weeks, she hopes to raise $10,000 to help her create more prototypes of the Form Felter and move it one step closer to being available for commercial sale.
To support Loxam-Kohl’s campaign and learn more about her invention, visit Indiegogo.com and search “Form Felt Lab.”