Date of this Version
Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii
Felt has a unique history as both a craft medium and an industrial material. Recently, it has become a material of intense interest to architects and designers. Felt is a very ancient and primitive material, made by simply matting together wool fibers with moisture and friction. It is a manufactured product, yet it shares many properties with purely natural materials. As a raw material for design, felt has incredible range — it can be made thin and translucent, or very dense and thick, even hard. Its plasticity is inviting a shift in the relationship of textiles to architecture and design.
Claudy Jongstra is a Dutch designer and felt-maker who is known for her particularly rawlooking felt fabrics. Through intense experimentation with the wool fleece and the felting process, she has developed a completely unique style which is highly refined in its craftsmanship, yet feels primal, with the gravitas of a natural material like wood or stone. Early in her career, Jongstra made a very active decision to produce felt on an architectural scale. When Anni Albers wrote “The Pliable Plane” in 1957, she expressed a vision for an integrated, rather than decorative, role for textiles in architecture, and Claudy Jongstra has come very close to realizing that goal. In the past five years, she has created works for some of Holland’s most important public buildings - the prime minister’s residence, The Hague, the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the new Central Library in Amsterdam — and all of these buildings prominently feature her felts not as works of art commissioned to adorn public spaces, but rather as architectural materials which serve specific technical, as well as aesthetic, functions.
Jongstra’s home and studio are on an acre of land north of Amsterdam, in a village called Spannum. She keeps a flock of 200 sheep, mostly Drenthe Heath, an endangered species indigenous to The Netherlands. She practices non-invasive farming techniques, and her herd is used as part of a managed grazing system designed to maintain the delicate moor ecology of Friesland. She uses only natural dyes, and has begun growing her own dyestuffs. She employs a shepherd and shearer, four to six felters, two dyers, three design assistants, and a business manager. The humbleness and charm of the farm environment belie the scale she is working on. Jongstra has collaborated on many architectural projects in Europe requiring literally tens of thousands of square feet of felt.