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The International Feltmakers' Association

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

A short piece about preparing for the International Feltmakers' Association annual exhibitions.

I have been a member of the International Feltmakers’ Association for some years now. ( (“The International Feltmakers Association is a not for profit organisation established to promote felt in all its forms. We welcome everyone with an interest in feltmaking from the beginner to the professional.“). It has over 1000 members from around the world. In 2020, their annual exhibition was cancelled, and for the first time they held an online one. The title was “Kaleidoscope.” This, for me, conjured up bright colours and patterns, so not something that fitted with the faithful animal portraits I normally create. There is a herd of Cumbrian Fell ponies just the other side of Ullswater from where I live so I chose to felt a Fell pony photograph but play around with the colours. I was pleased with the result, but did not think that by itself it fitted the title of ‘Kaleidoscope.’ Once I had used the same photograph for two more Fell ponies in different colours, I felt that the three of them together with matching backgrounds might fit the theme so I submitted all three as one entry and was delighted when they were one of the 60 picked for the first online exhibition. Since then, I have had all three pictures put onto a single greetings card.

The 2020 show was such a success and Covid19 is still wreaking havoc in our lives, so the International Feltmakers’ Association decided to organise a second online exhibition. This time the theme was “reconnect.” I am a member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and a committee member of the Cumbria Support group of RBST so for me, ‘reconnect’ meant reconnecting British farming with its traditional breeds. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is a conservation charity ( whose mission it is to ensure that none of our native breeds of farm animal become extinct. It was founded in 1973 by Joe Henson to preserve native breeds; since then, no UK native breed has become extinct. 75 British native breeds went extinct in the preceding years of the twentieth century. I wish to play my part in reconnecting British farming with its traditional breeds. Since 2018 I have been needle felting my way through the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Watchlist to raise awareness of these important breeds.

As I had created Fell ponies for the 2020 exhibition, I chose sheep, goats and cows for my three 2021 pieces.

Jane Firth needle felting a North Ronaldsay ram
Working on the North Ronaldsay ram

My choice of sheep was straightforward as I have North Ronaldsay wool from another member of the Cumbrian Support Group and they are important due to their strange diet!

The DNA of the North Ronaldsay is 8000 years old but they are now classified as vulnerable by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Since 1832, North Ronaldsay sheep have thrived on a diet of seaweed because they are confined to the beach by a 1.8m high wall on the island of North Ronaldsay. We now know that ruminants that eat seaweed produce far less methane, which we would never have known without these sheep!

I chose the Old English goat as it is a recent addition to the Watchlist and

critically endangered. Before the 19th Century these goats were on every small-holding where a couple of goats efficiently provided both milk and meat just by eating whatever native flora was available. They are thought to have come across from Europe with the first farmers when there was still a land bridge.

My choice of cow was more challenging as I have mostly only needle felted Highland cows. I experimented and created many practice pieces. The one I was most pleased with was the White Galloway so that became my final piece.

The Galloway demonstrates the Rare Breeds Survival Trust motto ‘right breed, right place, right density.’ It is one of the world’s oldest breeds of cattle which has adapted to thrive in the cold, damp climate of the Galloway region of Scotland eating limited grasses and the roughest forage. They are hardy, long lived cattle with a shaggy coat that has a woolly undercoat for warmth and stiff guard hairs to shed the rain. They are smaller than some of the modern European beef cattle that need housing indoors over winter and feeding on imported concentrates. Winter feed costs for the Galloway are minimal because of their superior ability to thrive outside all year in the British landscape. The White Galloway is an efficient converter of a wide variety of native flora into beef that is low in both fat and saturated fat and high in Omega 3.

In 2022, the title for the International Feltmakers exhibition was 'Flora and Fauna.' My inspiration was this lovely Herdwick lamb amongst foxgloves. Though Herdwicks are born black, they soon start to get their white faces, as seen here.

Herdwick lamb getting her white face. The model for my Foxglove Herdwick piece.
Herdwick lamb

The 2023 exhibition title was 'my view.' I had already created a few landscapes, but the title was the inspiration for creating some more and for me to introduce a 'landscapes' page. I submitted both these pictures.

The online exhibitions of the International Feltmakers' Association can be viewed by following this link:

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