Felt puppets mark end of Kitchener's 2016 artist in residence term

Though the City of Kitchener has a long history of felting, it's fallen out of fashion in modern times. But not for 2016 artist in residence Sarah Granskou, whose work is now on display at the Berlin Tower Artspace.
Sarah Granskou, Kitchener's 2016 artist in residence, spent the past year putting together puppets and performances inspired by the city's natural areas. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Felting's long history in the city of Kitchener is being celebrated at city hall with a six-foot tall felted tree, from the city's 2016 artist in residence Sarah Granskou. 

The Rumpel Felt Company produced felt out of its downtown Kitchener factory until 2007, and while felting has fallen out of fashion in modern North America, hundreds of residents have had a chance to try their hand at the craft, and contribute to the felted tree puppet n display at the Berlin Tower Artspace at city hall. 

Granskou said 500 people pitched in to felt the leaves on this tree puppet, which was based on a willow she saw in Lakeside Park, near St. Mary's Hospital. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

"This puppet was inspired by a gnarly willow tree at Lakeside Park, with almost more roots than branches," Granskou wrote on a sign for the exhibit.

"It was so hollowed out, one could climb in it and peer out a hole in the trunk."

"The leaves were all created using naturally-dyed wool, either naturally foraged or grown in a garden I had at Hymner Park," Granskou told CBC KW.

The leaves were both wet and dry felted, but the majority of the figures, especially the detail work, was dry felted with a barbed needle.

Countless layers of raw wool are felted on top of one another to form contours on Granskou's puppets. Each is embedded onto the puppet's face using a barbed needle. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)
Getting wool to the point where it can be felted takes many steps, says Granskou. First, it gets washed in hot water, then carded. The bristled wheels pull the wool through the handcrank machine which detangles and cleans the wool so it can be used in felting. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)
Felting can be done in two ways: wet and needle. In wet felting, soap, water and agitation combined create a type of fabric. This red felt will become a canoe, an accessory for Granskou's grandfather Grand River puppet. It takes at least an hour to create a piece of felt this size, using this method. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

The puppets and figures Granskou created over the past year for Our Fibres Our Forest are on display until the end of January.

In the audio below, she explains the work that goes into producing these puppets.

About the Author

Jackie Sharkey

Associate Producer, CBC KW

Jackie Sharkey has worked all over the country with the CBC over the past decade, including Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU. She frequently reports on the arts and is particularly interested in stories where consumer and environmental issues intersect.