Dorking-based Master Fluff-a-tier Gillian Harris
PUBLISHED: 09:45 06 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:45 06 November 2013
Creator and purveyor of fabulous felt kits, Dorking-based designer Gillian Harris is a self-confessed 'Master Fluff-a-tier'. Janet Donin went to meet her to find out more
When was it that you first discovered feltmaking?
About 15 years ago. I used to be a busy graphic designer, but after my second daughter was born, I thought enough was enough and decided to pursue my love of textiles making and selling bags. Shortly afterwards, I fell head over heels into feltmaking and became totally obsessed.
What is it about feltmaking that fascinates you?
It’s such a magical process. You start off with bits of fluffy merino wool, rub them with soap and water and, hey presto, they turn into something you can use to make so many things. It’s totally intriguing.
Tell us about the process…
For wet felting, you simply tease out pieces of wool tops (unspun wool) and layer one on top of the other, place under netting and rub using soap and water. After a while, the fibres start to mesh together, which you then roll in a bamboo mat before rinsing in water. This makes the fibres shrink and harden into felt. It couldn’t be easier.
How do you create different patterns and embellishments?
You can do this in two ways: either with wet felting by layering up the design before rubbing with soap and water, or by the needle felting method. For this, you need felting needles that have sharp barbed ends which you stab in and out of wool tops. The barbs entangle the fibres causing them to mat together and felt, which you can then use as a decoration like embroidery, or even sculpt into shapes.
When did you decide to start your own business?
After deciding to take a day course, I became obsessed with felting, then simply experimented on my own and took commissions on my work. Later, I was persuaded to run courses in my garden studio and my business grew organically from there. I started selling feltmaking materials online through Gilliangladrag in 2002. Six years later, we introduced our very popular kits. Our lovely Fluff-a-torium retail outlet in Dorking opened in 2010 where we also sell the kits and all manner of wondrous fluffy things.
Where do you find inspiration for your feltmaking kits?
Ideas flow all the time but most of my designs include some aspect of flora and fauna. At the moment, I have around 50 different kit designs and will be launching a couple more next year. The designs range from handbags to hot water bottle covers, tea cosies to toys, bootees to brooches and lots more fluff and stuff.
And where are the kits made?
We do everything here at the Dorking studio. My graphic design background came in handy when I designed the packaging. The small kits include the materials and instructions but the large kits also include a bamboo mat and netting. Besides the materials, the needle felting kits also include pins for the brooches and clips for the birds and fish.
Do you have a favourite design?
The Vintage Vignette bag is one of my favourites because of the colours and flower embellishments, and I love Chirpy Chappy because he’s a fluffy little friend and I love birds.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I’m so lucky to be able to work with such gorgeous, colourful fluffy things. At times it can be stressful, but I love it as my job is so varied. I wear lots of different hats so never get bored.
How do you like to relax away from work?
I have a great affinity with the sea so head to the coast whenever I can. But I also enjoy writing my feltmaking books. I have a couple in print – Complete Feltmaking and Carnival of Felting – and another coming out next year.
Tell us more about the courses that you run?
Most of them are day or half-day courses and are held in the studio above the shop. I run the feltmaking courses but some other very important Fluff-a-tiers teach everything from embroidery to bookbinding, knitting, crocheting and spinning. We host a ‘Knit and Natter’ every Friday morning and on the first Wednesday evening of the month.
What is the best thing about living in Surrey?
I have a lovely Cavapoo dog called Betty Bou, who is a Cavalier/poodle mix, so taking her for walks in my local nature reserve or up on Leith Hill with the family is always fun. And I like to visit Denbies Vineyard here in Dorking – it’s always so colourful and beautiful whatever the time of year.
For more information on courses at The Gilliangladrag Fluff-a-torium, call 01306 898144 or visit the website at gilliangladrag.co.uk, where you can also buy the kits and materials.