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Why is this piece driving me crazy?

detail, "Collision"

detail, "Collision"

This is the question I asked myself over and over again for over a week. For a month, I had gotten along quite well with this work until the point where I decided I was finished with it....then came the nagging feeling that in fact it was not finished. So what do you do when you've fulfilled your plans, you are out of ideas, but something remains "undone"?

In my case, I sat and stared at it...a lot, changed something, undid it, stared again, and so on, over and over. Though, allow me to start from the beginning.

Below: I've started laying out the wool for felting then I stitched the "back side" of the crystal as the first layer.

The wet felting process creates the strongest limitation of the dimensions of the work. Each piece begins at a 1.5 ratio, meaning that if I want a piece with a width of 30 inches, it begins at 45 inches. It is kind of back breaking work, as I have to work on the floor for hours. But I hope that over time I'll improve my strategy. Up to now, I've mainly felted smaller items, puppets, hats, etc. so I'm unused to the amount of labor such a large piece of felt requires.

Here's a stage where I'm about 75% finished but realize that the initial proportions in my sketch were not followed. So I made the man and the shadow taller. They are both needle felted - the man is black wool and the shadow is a mix of viscose and silk fibers. I understood that the crystal shape was also not in the correct proportion between height and width, but I wasn't able to successfully shrink the height in the felting process and I didn't want to cut the wool, as it would leave a different edge than the rest of the piece. I would later come to regret this!

After some back and forth with myself, I decided to use a silk gauze over the top of the piece. This was my plan all along, but in the end, it makes me a little sad to lose so much detail that is visible without it. But the softening effect also has its advantage. Here, I am closing up the piece with the gauze, kidding myself that the project was almost complete!

On the right, you can see how any stitched cloth will curl up from varying degrees of pull from many directions.

Shea Wilkinson artwork
Shea Wilkinson artwork

Well.....the process was not complete, I was to find out. There was something seriously lacking, which I couldn't account for. The piece didn't have the dimensional quality I had anticipated. But I didn't know what to do. I mostly feared that my mistakes were in the very beginning, in the foundation of the piece and too late to be changed. I tried doing things to the foreground, but none of them resulted in any improvement. I thought maybe I simply need to accept defeat this time around. But at the same time, if I simply forgot about this piece and threw it in a closet, how would that help me with future work? I'm realizing that not all the skills and perception I acquired with quilts translates to felted and embroidered work, so I decided that I needed to stick with this one and try to get to the bottom of my problem with it, to avoid repeating this situation later.

For starters, I decided that I wanted to fix the H x W proportion, so I removed part of the silk layer and trimmed the top point. With the silk overlay, the variation between the natural and cut edge is not so noticeable and I tried to make a wavier cut to mimic the original edges. I had to undo parts of the stitching, cut, and restitch to the new edge.

Back view of the work.

Then I needed to enhance the contrast for a better focal point. I added grey silk gauze to the man's outline. The fact that it's on the surface implies, I suppose, that he's somehow exited this system and is no longer trapped inside of the crystal. This change helped, but now it seemed more than ever like he was floating there. So I tried various things, adding gold around his feet like a platform, adding shadows, among other attempts. But this is really where I felt like adding to the surface was not the answer and this is an issue that really should have been planned out from the very beginning, lying underneath other layers of material.

I decided to move to the computer and digitally play around with the image in the hope of saving time. Digitally, I can try out a lot of ideas, undo them and compare them in a short period of time, compared to hand work. I had ideas for adding shadow "engraved" lines like a real crystal, which reflects light on only a few surfaces. This failed when I tried it with thread, and continued to fail when I tried it digitally. I just hadn't planned for it properly so it fit into the scheme of things awkwardly. At this point, of course, the composition was already basically frozen and no radical changes were possible.

I was trying out one last ditch effort to make an effective change, by adding another layer of white silk gauze behind some of the planes of the crystal (underneath the silk overlay). While trying this, the silk bunched up in such a way that it gave me the idea of using it to create a sort of "gateway" around the man. This was just the ticket, I think, because the piece was lacking a highlight. I felt myself finally satisfied, to an extent. In the end, I decided to tone down the contrast with the external lines of the crystal, and that was that. I called it good.

These pieces have definitely provided lessons for me which are different from lessons learned for quilting. I hope that in the future the process will generally be less fraught with confusion and go more smoothly.

Close up of the "gateway" around the figure.

"Collision", 2021, 20.75" x 16", wool, silk, silk thread, cotton and metallic threads, viscose, silk fiber

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