Monday, July 7, 2014

Craft Cubed - Celebrating the Art of the Handmade

Craft Cubed 2014

The Art of Handmade

1 to 31 August 2014

Craft Cubed is Craft Victoria’s annual festival of the handmade. This year Craft Cubed will have Federation Square as its home, while extending its reach across Melbourne and regional Victoria. Featuring exhibitions, installations, open studios, workshops and events, Craft Cubed is a unique umbrella for practitioners and the public to engage with contemporary craft and design.

After the fun and success of participating in the Dandenong Ranges Open Studios event for the past two years my studio at Ferny Creek will be part of Craft Cubed’s celebration of the handmade as a satellite event.

Over two days - Saturday August 23rd and Sunday August 24th between 10am and 5pm - visitors can experience the transformation of wool and silk fibres and silk fabric into beautiful garments, using an ancient skill uncompromised by our high tech world.

Watch the video experience of visiting my studio, from coming down The Lane to opening the studio door and finding me preparing for a demo.

On Saturday August 23rd at 2pm there will be demonstration of the process of Nuno felt making.

Nuno felt is also known as laminated felt and involves laying wool and silk fibres onto a carrier fabric such as silk georgette or cotton muslin, then wetting down with soap and water and agitating until the fabric and fibres are wedded together.

On Sunday August 24th at 11am, or at 2pmvisitors can get their hands wet making a small felt vessel using a potato as a form in a small workshop session.
Dandenong Ranges Open Studio 2014
Workshop participants showing their finished vessels
Children over 10 and adults welcomed for the hands on workshop activity but please book as places are limited and there is a $10 fee.

Contact by phone 0408 327 831; through Facebook wraptinfelt by Joni Cornell; or email

Otherwise, entry is free and please feel free to visit throughout the weekend to chat, view, touch, try on felted merino silk apparel or make a purchase.

You can also visit my friend, ceramic artist Lisa Hass, who will be exhibiting at Federation Square for Craft Cubed Clay Market on August 5th or at her studio home on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th August as part of the Australian Ceramics Open Studio 2014.
Lisa Hass in her studio

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Public Presentation as a Studio Artist

I look forward to sharing my studio space with the visitor and explaining how felt comes together from the raw materials to the finished item.  People are curious about how felt is made. This year I gave a demonstration of Nuno felting, and offered a small workshop experience of felting a vessel. Opening my workshop is an opportunity to step away from what is sometimes a place I hole up in, blinkered, focused on making, a solipsistic experience, albeit as an artist I can say I’m interacting with ideas and materials, as well as suppliers. 

The mini workshop was nice and cozy – six people had booked in to experience using a potato as a form to felt a small vessel.  I had in mind that it was to be a foundation they could build on if they chose to go on with felting.  I started one to show how to go about it (how to lay the merino fibres correctly).  A couple of visitors came in late (because of a flat tyre), and one of the ladies really wanted to join in, so I relinquished the one I was making and gave her the hands on experience. 

Felt seems to give people a warm and fuzzy feeling – working with it, looking at it, touching the fibres.  It was raining outside and we were snug inside, most of the group coming to terms with handling merino fibres for the first time.  A neighbour who had dropped by to have a peep and was corralled into the workshop experience, suggested that I could hold felting parties for groups of youths. It’s certainly an interesting concept.   
Open Studio 2014
Sunday workshop participants showing their finished vessels

When visitors provide feedback about my work it is also a buzz.  People have made comments like ‘you give felt a good name’ or ‘there’s a lot of felt out there but this here is the good stuff.’  I got to hear about someone’s experience visiting the group exhibition at Burrinja and trying to find my work.  Some people go to see specific works and are interested in particular artists. One visitor even indicated that she had Googled me before coming.  There are many ways to show or express encouragement and appreciation, not just through purchase.

But  I have also learned that it’s pleasant to walk away with a small memento, and so this year I had smaller gift items on offer.  I also offered a felted prize for signing the visitor’s book (which seems like a chore, particularly if the visitor has been to several studios).  My winner had purchased several of my felted cards, which she put together in a photo frame as an ‘artistic landscape’.  She told me this after I contacted her about winning my draw of names out of a hat.
I had originally made a long piece as a landscape (an experiment of sorts about how certain materials would felt) and then cut it up for cards, inserting each cut piece in a picture window card mount.  I was pleased with the effect and would have liked to put them back together again in a frame as a landscape; and it was serendipity that K had decided to do that with the cards that she bought…

Each year is a learning curve.

The learning I got this year was in relation to ‘presentation’.  When the photographer visits a few months before I’ve usually done a bit of tidying up but my studio is set up for working rather than presentation or showcasing my work.  It is certainly not clean, tidy and glamorous with all the colour of my works displayed as it appears during the open weekend.

Photographer's shot
of my not so sexy table top

The photographer has remarked that my equipment can be boring and untidy (pool bubble, noodle and foot massager and he wanted these things out of the way for a shot) and I understand –printing ink and press, or an easel and paint smeared palette are definitely sexier. 

But with the bubble wrap and noodle cleared from view what is also lost is the surprise and cleverness of felt making in the ordinary tools that have been adapted for the purpose. And of course – there are my hands too, with cracked and chipped fingernails. I make it all by hand after all.   

When the photographer visits next year I either need to glam my studio as though it’s for the open days, or make more of the fun videos/photos.  Imagine a studio shot with me holding a pool noodle!

The latter might depend on (partner) Philip, as he’s the one with the ideas when it comes to the camera.   I liked that he videotaped and shared on Facebook how the experience of visiting my studio would be, from coming down The Lane following the trail of balloons he’d tied moments before, to opening the studio door and finding me preparing for my demo. It was as though I had international visitors who all got a chance for peekaboo.  And they seemed to enjoy it – people from overseas shared and encouraged those they knew in Melbourne to visit.

The virtual experience is not entirely the same (because you haven’t got that body in space experience and you can’t touch or try on) but it whets the visual appetite.  My work is so visually tantalizing with all the colours and textures that it draws the visitor in.  First reactions are usually with regards to colour – and also touch (superfine merino and silk is unusually soft). I wanted to give the visitor a finding ‘treasure’ experience – with an explosion of colour and textures and at first I considered using an old chest for display but in the end I opted for a kaleidoscope of colour upon rods and an (accidental) clothes horse, as greeting.  It’s challenging to come up with ways to display felt scarves and wraps that doesn’t give too much of a shop feel, because you are stepping into my studio and not a shop after all. 

In 2013, the first year I opened my studio to the public I felt overwhelmed with the amount of visitors.  This year the inclement weather may have kept people away but  I enjoyed the slower pace and that I got a chance to ‘receive’ everyone who called in and chat and show and tell.  I feel dismay when people walk in and out and I haven’t had a chance to even say hello and welcome. 

I’ve been asked whether it’s worthwhile and ‘was it a success’?  I’d answer in the affirmative to both questions.  Artists don’t just need the opportunity to make an income (which is one of the objectives of the Open Studios program) but they also need the social interaction with other people.  We need to educate the public about what it is we make, how we make, and perhaps what calls us to making – only then will there be a greater appreciation of our contributions to the community. 

We’re often told to ‘get a real job’ and making is a real job, even though artists’ incomes don’t often reflect the ‘real’ or enable us to survive in the real world. Consequently, many of us continue to make, as a hobby.  I don’t know what the answer is – as consumers, some of us don’t think twice about spending a couple of hundreds of dollars to have our hair done or invest in that new tech gadget but when it comes to buying something handmade or a work of art, we fluff around about it and in the end decide to head down to wherever it is we can get a bargain rather than invest in arts and crafts.  Encountering this sort of attitude is tough and often depressing.  I would like the consumer to think of one of my felted pieces as being an investment – something they may spend several hundreds of dollars to buy but will wear for the next decade or so, and if they grow tired of it, can pass down to someone else to enjoy.  My felted garments and accessories are not made to be disposables, and if looked after properly, can endure for a long time.  As a maker I invest in research and experimenting, which enables me to make good felt and ‘give felt a good name’. 

A hearty thank you is owed to Burrinja Cultural Centre for supporting the program and enabling artists in the Dandenong Ranges to interact with and educate the community ; ‘present’ who they are and what they do; and even on occasion, earn some bucks, all without having to leave their studios.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Making a Simple Elegant Nuno Felt Scarf

After several requests for instruction on making a simple nuno felt scarf, I finally decided to allow the time and energy for the making of a video.  

Elegant Nuno Scarf
showing (wool) front
I feel quite challenged to make work that is both mainstream and commercial, so that was part of 'the brief' I set myself. With Melburnians' penchant for all things black when it comes to clothing (and like a once good friend - brown on a good day) black silk Georgette was chosen as the carrier fabric and my canvas.

Around this time last year I had purchased from First Edition Fibres in country Victoria a merino silk blend, which I thought would make an excellent complement to the black silk Georgette.  I love the silk merino blends from First Edition Fibres, in particular the 70% silk 30% merino blend, which when felted on felter's gauze can give an effect that's quite lacy and delicate. The silk merino blends tend to take longer to felt but the effort is usually well worth it.

As I finished laying the merino, I decided to keep it simple and not use the silk hankies I'd introduced at the beginning of the video. Sometimes the work can have its own momentum; and as a painting teacher used to tell me 'let it be what it wants to be'.  My surfaces tend to be painterly, achieved by laying the fibre in various directions.  But this method of laying also produces a stronger laminated fabric.  If you intend to go onto trying your hand with a felted Nuno garment, I suggest getting used to varying the direction of the way you lay the fibre, as well as, rolling the fabric from each direction, turning it at 90 degrees each time.

A couple of weeks ago when my partner Philip referred to my 'Tell Tale Venus' ensemble as 'frou-frou', I was taken aback; then, looked up its meaning and discovered that it can refer to a rustle of fabric or a swishing sound.  The idea has caught my imagination to make Nuno felt that rustles.  I know Philip didn't mean it in that sense but that's the positive that I'll take from his remark.

Hope you enjoy the video.

The Materials
  • For silk and fine merino blends see, First Edition Fibres.  The blend used in the video consists of 60% fine merino 40% tussah silk fibres that is 'randomly dyed', no 0464. 
  • For acid dyes for my silk and wool products, I use "Landscape Dyes" which are available from Kraftkolour, and they produce a wonderful guide for using the dyes. 
  • The black silk Georgette was purchased from a colleague who was getting rid of her stash because she was no longer felting.  If you haven't purchased the fabric yourself, you can never be quite sure about its quality, shrinkage, or from whence it originated.  The dye ran quite a bit, which I found unusual for commercially dyed black silk.
Every once in a while you may hear the pitter patter of doggie feet, as Maudie the Lab comes in and out of the studio, and on occasion her whining, as she wants attention or to play ball. She's turned into a terrific studio dog and no longer runs off with everything she sees.  Last but not least, I'd like to acknowledge and thank Philip for the many hats that he wears - filming, directing, as well as piecing together the hours of footage. His advice, input and understanding are always invaluable.

close-up front
Elegant Nuno Scarf
reverse (silk fabric) side
close-up reverse

Buy the Downloadable DVD

I love making my Nuno pieces and I have invested heavily in buying books, trying different processes and learning tips and techniques along the way. My downloadable DVD tutorial short cuts much of this process for you and guides you step-by-step in a way that wasn't available for me when I began to learn to felt.

It takes some time to plan, create and produce a DVD for your enjoyment and information.  Your $5 US investment is a nominal fee to cover my time and expertise, buy my film crew (of one) a cup of coffee so he'll help me with the next one, and I also donate 20% of the income to Project Kolkata.  It represents a fraction of the cost of participating in a workshop or purchasing an instructional book.  In addition, if you purchase the downloadable DVD, I will respond to any query where you might require assistance when you begin to make your own simple yet elegant Nuno felted scarf.

DVD Trailer:  Watch the trailer of the making of the scarf (this blog trailer is lower quality than the DVD).

DVD Tutorial:  To watch the full DVD tutorial please make a $5 US payment to my hotmail email address - - through the PayPal link below.

(Note:  You don't need a PayPal account)

Remember to use my hotmail address -
and add in the comments section the words "Simple Nuno Felt Scarf"

Please allow up to 36 hours for me to respond - especially if you are overseas.  I will email you the download link with the subject line, "Joni Cornell Simple Nuno Felt Scarf", and instructions for downloading the file.

Please make sure you check your junk mail if you are using an email filter.

Happy viewing, Joni

***An update
Please note that this DVD is no longer available.  There is free viewing available at YouTube (link following)

After a back injury my partner Philip invented a wet felt rolling machine to enable me to continue felt making.  I was so impressed with the prototype that I encouraged him to take it to production, so that the rest of the world of felt-makers could enjoy its unique benefits.  My method of making felt has changed but my fabrics are still of great quality and beauty.
You can find the wet felt roller at

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tell Tale Venus: Finding the balance between beauty and meaning

Tell me about the theme…  I’ve looked for aspects of my life and work where I strive for balance - usually between beauty and meaning, which reminds me of a corny Kris de Burgh song ‘the head and the heart’.  It’s as I don’t trust Keats’ lines that 'beauty is truth, truth beauty/that is all. Ye know on earth and all ye need to know’ (Ode on a Grecian Urn).  I feel I sometimes sacrifice beauty for meaning.  There has always been this struggle between my head and my heart…a thing of beauty can make me weep but my head wants to know what it is about it that makes me weep.  I can’t accept the raw experience at face value.  

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus

1486 (Uffizi, Florence)

Ruskin rings more true, when he writes that ‘the twin purposes of art are to make sense of pain and to fathom the sources of beauty’ ("On Possessing Beauty" Alain de Botton).  I would tweak it slightly to include, as well as make meaning. Art has tended to define my criteria of beauty.  Nothing is more beautiful and enigmatic in terms of woman, or the aesthetics of painting, than Botticelli’s Venus.

About a decade ago writing my MA thesis on how art can become the container as you explore feelings, thoughts and your experience, I created a series of montages using a reproduction of the image (in reverse) and a photocopier to depth my own experience of woman/Venus, where in one state of the montages, I clothed her in a pinkish garment with a flower motif. 

image montage by Joni Cornell

As a ‘Venus’, a ‘heavy woman’ on the threshold of old and new experience, I felt too naked and so I clothed the Venus/me. This ‘clothing’ is not just physical but goes to the core of my psychological experience (with needing to hide sometimes). What I’ve made for the Balance exhibition is another representation of Venus’s garment.  I’m well aware that the garment is limited by my skills, vision and the functionality of my ‘wearable’ art pieces.  The tunic is earthy, and bound by notions of nakedness and modesty ('would/could I wear it' is something I ask myself as a maker), as well as my ability as a felt maker.  The mantle attracted because it's circular in shape and twin in function but whether you wear it as a collar or peplum, it is another layer with which to protect.

Working with the colour pink too – has meaning – pink for flesh (but it’s not just pink but ‘rose quartz’ with grey/black worked into the colour-way and I like this aspect of ‘dirt’ or soiling in the pink like myself as a Creole - not quite white but 'coloured'); and red (for passion and blood). When I was young, I couldn’t abide wearing pink and red together, until an artist suggested they were analogous and naturally went together.  My partner’s reaction upon seeing the finished ensemble was ‘it’s so pink…and frou-frou...’ 
‘But pink is Venus’ colour,’ I retorted. 
'Venus wouldn’t wear pink.' 
'Pink is the colour of the heart chakra and love…but in any case it’s not entirely pink!!!' 
I suppose it is ‘frou-frou’ compared to what I usually make. I like the idea that Venus’ garment (if she wore one as usually she is scantily clad) would ‘rustle’ (it's hard to make felt rustle) and be feminine and showy.

It is not irrelevant that I am reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time which has reminded me of my own bond with a Botticelli painting, as well as the way art functions in my life. Monsieur Swann, you see, falls in love with Odette de Crecy because she reminds him of the Botticelli ‘type’. He puts a reproduction of the painting (which incidentally is not The Birth of Venus), on his bureau rather than a photograph of Odette, which is really quite an odd thing to do but doesn’t seem at all odd to me.  As a Creole woman, I can never be the Botticelli type but that has not extinguished my fascination and love for the painting. Venus was born of the foam as a grown woman – the painting by Botticelli is steeped in symbolism and redolent with meaning.  There is the neo-platonic reading of the painting which Botticelli’s contemporaries would have held looking at the painting - Venus’ physical beauty leads to thoughts of the Creator and divine love. It also tells us about the powerful Medici family who commissioned the painting and whose patronage was the source of the flourishing of the arts and sciences during the Renaissance.  If not for Lorenzo, Botticelli wouldn’t have had the freedom to explore his ideal of beauty and his love of the sensual. Most of the painting’s meaning is lost to us now, unless we seek it out.  It’s not just a beautiful image but you could if you wanted, ignore its meanings, see it as a beautiful painting about a beautiful woman, with her strange but beautiful attendants.  You could but I can’t...Aside from the art historical meanings the painting holds personal meanings for me, which have changed as I’ve grown into adulthood and changed. The thing about art is that not only can it inspire love (as with Monsieur Swann), but as I’ve found, it can companion you as you experience life, and it can console when no one else can.

mantle laid out ready for wetting

mantle at pre-felt with roses attached

Tell me about the making… in the garments (tunic and mantle) I’ve used vintage fabrics, including a 50 something year old dressing gown that my grandmother made for my mother, which she wore for her lay-in bed after she gave birth to me.  At one time I wore it too, as I tried to encourage a swelling in my womb.  For several years now I’ve been upcycling using this dressing gown, which I’ve always found quite an ordinary garment though it has enormous sentimental value as my only family ‘heirloom’.  I’ve included it in a story cloth, made a dress, and have cut up bits and felted them into scarves depicting ‘home’.  This ‘upcycling’ is my way of allowing the original garment to live on in different forms.  I have also included fragments from a 20 year old skirt (oh the stories this skirt could tell about a mid life crisis) and left over bits from a silk pair of pantaloons I made around the same time.  They are fabric fragments from life, fragments of a life of which I've spent time making.  I tried out the 3-dimensional roses on the mantle first to see whether I would like the effect when the fabric was fully felted. 

my grandmother's

tight stitches

running stitch

sewing running stitch

Tell me about  - the balance between beauty and meaning…  Reflecting on my grandmother making the dressing gown (and of course my mother as a young woman) as I unpicked the seams, and trying hard not to tear it in my frustration with the tight stitches.  ‘Oh Grand-mere, how could you stitch so tightly?’ I've asked under my breath.  Yet I've mirrored the small stitching in my running stitch in silk and cotton threads.

Then I’ve opened up where the seams have been and found the print still bright and new. Once I would have found this not beautiful, just as I found the Venus de Milo not beautiful because she was not ‘whole’.  As a young girl I couldn’t abide ruins or broken statuary.  I congratulate myself on my tastes having grown up. We are like this too – broken and not whole, not beautiful and beautiful and life is about coming to terms with these aspects of the human condition. Botticelli’s Venus is so perfect (yet, not quite – the painter has drawn her flat rather than naturalistic and the painting is like a frieze); and what I like is that she stands on the threshold as a new born (like any new born) with the world at her feet and all her attendants at her beck and call. Here is a place of ‘balance’ – this in-between, this liminal experience of threshold, this between breath experience that Buddhists love…the idea of balance is a paradox.  It’s a moment, and broken when the next step or breath is taken (an aha moment indeed - can you see how a painting if you allow it, can become personal and lead you towards making meaning?) … 

And my grandmother, who has been dead almost fifty years, well she makes her presence felt (no pun) not only in my heart, but in work that I make.  (I think I have enough of the dressing gown left for one more piece in the future). 

tunic at pre-felt

finished tunic

(back view)

finished tunic

(front view)

Venus with her attendant

finished tunic

(back detail)

finished tunic

(without mantle)

finished ensemble

mantle as peplum

finished ensemble

mantle as collar

Venus' ensemble modeled by Natalie Cooper, attendant tunic modeled by Kym Coates.