Dear Readers: For many of us, the terms “fiber arts” and “fiber artist” may need explanation. According toWikipedia, “fiber art” is a type of fine art that utilizes natural or synthetic fiber and other components such as fabric or yarn. The fiber artist uses these materials to create a variety of aesthetic works. In today’s column we will meet Kathy Revak, a local fiber artist who specializes in felting.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Kathy moved to Rusk County at age 16, when her parents bought a resort on PotatoLake. She married her husband, Joe Revak, shortly after high school, and the couple has two daughters.Interestingly, Kathy reports that although both her parents were artists –- her father a commercial artist and her mother an art teacher and portrait painter –- her own interest in art didn’t begin with painting or drawing. Instead, her artistic activity began as an adult when she developed a serious interest in knitting.
Kathy relates that when she was eight years old her grandmother taught her to knit and embroider, and as an adult her interest in knitting, especially sweaters, socks, hats and handbags, grew into a serious avocation. Although Kathy was employed by Rusk County for many years, she says that for part of that time she and a co-worker also ran a yarn shop in downtown Ladysmith.
It was through her knitted handbags, says Kathy, that she got interested in felting. She read an article on felting in a knitting magazine and was intrigued by a photo of a felted flower that appeared in the story. Kathy decided to find a felting teacher and in 2009 found an instructor in southern Wisconsin who taught her the basics of the craft.Since then she has become an instructor herself, teaching felting classes for beginners both at Toad House in Ladysmith and in Arizona, where she and her husband have a winter home.
Kathy relates that felt may be the oldest known fabric in the world, saying there are many references to its use in ancient writings from various cultures. She says felt is unique in that it isn’t woven, but instead is made from compressed and matted fibers or fur, primarily from sheep or alpaca. Felt is created when these fibers or fur are pressed together in a process involving heat, moisture and pressure. She adds that today felt has many uses, both industrial and artistic, but her interest is in the artistic applications of this remarkable material.
According to Kathy, there are a number of felting techniques used by fabric artists, depending on the piece being created. For much of her work she uses a “wet felting” process in which she first lays down bubble wrap on a large tray, then lays out her fiber in wisps or shingles to the desired size. Next she sprays the fibers with hot, soapy water and covers them with another piece of bubble wrap. With her hands, she then rubs the covered fiber until it coheres or “felts” together, a process which, she says, takes at least two hours. The final step is to rinse out the soap, roll the newly created felt in a towel and let it dry.
“Needle felting,” in which special needles are used to matt the felting fibers together, is another technique Kathy uses in creating her fiber art. This type of felting, she explains, is ideal for adding embellishments to pieces or for creating three dimensional works such as animal figures or dolls. This technique also enables her to “paint” multi-dimensional framed pieces both realistic and abstract.
Kathy’s felted pieces can be seen and purchased at the Rusk Area Arts Alliance Gift Gallery, 711 Lake Ave. West in Ladysmith, and anyone interested in taking a felting class can also contact Kathy at the Gift Gallery or at Toad House, of the same address.