Craft Heroes: Felt Mistress, Couture Monstermaker
The Felt Mistress with Tippy, a member of her entourage.
With recent commissions from Selfridges, Brix Smith's Start London boutique and brilliant new comics publisher NoBrow Press, the artist known as the Felt Mistress (aka Louise Evans) is officially a creature creator of the highest order. She learned her sewing skills in the rag trade, spending years creating high-end wedding dresses and fanciful hats. Those years in the fashion trenches give an effortless feel to her quirky, Mod-inspired plushies. They come in Dayglo colours, wear fantastic miniature fashions and often sport fun accessories on top of their monster-appropriate whiskers and horns.
This week the Mistress was kind enough to answer some questions from one of her adoring fans here at Crafty Crafty, and share top-secret photographs of recent projects-in-progress.
Some of the Felt Mistress' commissioned work - a poster for Swedish dairy giant Arla.
You often work in collaboration with other artists - chiefly your partner, illustrator Jonathan Edwards. Do you relish working with others because of good experiences during your high fashion days, or are other factors at work? And what was the first hint that Mr. Edwards would make the ideal collaborator?
I do enjoy collaborating with other artists but I am also a complete control freak as far as my "stitching" is concerned. I have to be left alone to do that bit. This is why I think I prefer working with 2D artists: they do their bit, then I do my bit and they don't really get to see the piece until it's finished, as I have to get in the zone. Thankfully they trust me.
I have been working with Jonathan for many, many years. We started going out when we were very young teenagers so we know each other's work and working methods very well.
We first collaborated on pieces a long time ago but these pieces were normally birthday presents for friends or just for fun.
One of the early pieces was a character called Simon Creem which Jonathan had written a comic strip about for Tank Girl magazine. (For that) I customised an old Action Man, making him a new head out of fake leather.
After years of working with satin and taffeta in the wedding dress market, what drew you to felt?
I got into wedding dresses quite by accident. I was offered the job after university and only intended it to be a temporary thing, thinking "it will do for now". I had no interest in weddings and was certainly not a wedding dress kinda girl. To my surprise I actually enjoyed it.
I only worked on one-off bespoke designs, so I would get the more unusual requests. I loved the challenge of pattern cutting for lots of different shapes and sizes, learning about how balance, carefully placed seams and corsetry can make a big difference to how a dress looks and feels on an individual.
These skills have also proved useful when making the plush characters. Knowing how to make 2D fabric fit a 3D body shape allows you to apply this when looking at a 2D drawing and thinking how to turn it to 3D.
I have always made things in felt. My mum made simple things in felt - bookmarks, needlecases, finger puppets - to sell as fundraisers for my school when I was small, and I would love to help.
I specialised in millinery in university and was trained to make felt trims and block felt hats so felt has always been part of my life.
Right: Michael, created from a drawing by the Mistress's partner, illustrator Jonathan Edwards.
How do you approach a massive project like the Selfridges Christmas windows? Where do you begin?
When I was first contacted by Selfridges I had no idea how big the project would end up being. When it started off I thought they were just going to stock some one off pieces and then it just grew and grew. We were working with Selfridges for about 9 months with lots of waiting time inbetween and it's only really now when I look back at what we did that I think "oh my!"
We were pretty much given free rein to do what we wanted which was amazing. They knew they wanted a doll's house that reflected what Felt Mistress characters did at Christmas.
Because we didn't want to stick to doing one family of monsters we changed it to an apartment block - Felty Towers. That way we could show different types of characters in their own settings. We then could also think of one room and one set of characters at a time, styling the four rooms then moving on to the exterior.
Japanese culture is a massive influence on your work. When did this begin, and what have been the highlights of your love affair with Japan?
We first visited Japan in 2005 and that was it, we fell in love with the place and have been regularly ever since.
This year we got to spend five weeks there as part of a gallery residency and we were also invited to headline the arts festival which was on during our residency.
Those five weeks were so amazing. We got to see so much of Japan and meet so many other artists who have now become good friends.
Left: Pookie and Gilbert in their favourite country - Japan!
Your work will next appear in a Jim Henson tribute show - fittingly titled 'The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me'. How did the Muppetmaster influence your work?
I grew up watching The Muppets and Sesame Street, and for someone like me who works with characters, puppets, and fabrics Jim Henson is a hero. I had a large collection of glove puppets as a child and would often put on puppet shows for my parents.
The piece I have made for that show is inspired by my favourite Muppet and I still have a pin badge with this particular character on from when I was about 6. I don't want to fully reveal until the show opens but I think you will guess from my sneak peek!
Right: Sneak peek at her upcoming Muppet tribute
Oh, and, incidentally: what's your craft weapon of choice if the zombie apocalypse hits? My millinery egg iron. That would certainly help me remove the head or destroy the brain!
Indeed it would - thanks, Felt Mistress!
To check out more of her exploits please visit her website!
[All images copyright Felt Mistress]