Vancouver artisans hit handmade heaven in felt creations

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      This holiday, why not distance yourself from the consumer craze that typically floods malls and big-box stores and give something with heart and history instead? That seems to be the trend hitting Vancouver, anyway, where dozens of craft markets are shining a spotlight on the city’s mind-blowing maker community.

      Ahead, find three B.C. artists to look for on the craft-fair circuit this December. Each specializes in arguably one of the season’s most festive mediums: felt.

       

      Frances Felt’s Frances Dickinson made unique Christmas stockings this year.

      Frances Felt

      When it comes to the holidays, there are few things more merry or personal than a Christmas stocking. And textile designer Frances Dickinson ensures that no two are alike.

      “I just love the idea of it being a sort of mini art canvas,” she tells the Straight by phone, “where I can use all my sewing techniques and make each and every one special.”

      Since 2003, the Vancouver-born textile grad has run Frances Felt, where she crafts hand-felted scarves, shawls, and bags, as well as denim culottes, A-line skirts, and tops decorated with felt appliqués. (Clearly, Dickinson was ahead of her time.)

      It wasn’t until this year, however, that she began offering her handmade Christmas stockings. Sharing a ritual that she’s practised in her own family, Dickinson produces seasonal socks using elements like corduroy, vintage buttons, and ribbon.

      Felt poinsettias add storybook charm to a dark-wash denim stocking, for example, while jolly wreaths, button-nosed reindeer, and gingerbread men adorn others. Free-form embroidery illustrates antlers and snowflakes, and a combination of ribbons and fabrics decorated with doves, stripes, and plaid makes up the cuffs ($49 each).

      “I always feel that Christmas should be a hands-on, tradition-oriented time,” says Dickinson, “where you use your stocking year after year.”

      Next Saturday and Sunday (December 10 and 11) she’ll be at Shiny Fuzzy Muddy, a hip biannual market that she helped cofound in 2003, at Heritage Hall. Dickinson will also be offering on-site embroidery services there.

       

      Feltcandy artist and owner Alli Brumwell has worked with felt for more than two decades, creating style and home items like fuzzy nesting bowls and toques.

      Feltcandy

      Take a peek at Alli Brumwell’s felt goods and you’ll notice one consistent theme: colour. Vivid blues, bold fuchsias, and electrifying violets swirl through her fuzzy nesting bowls, while sunshine yellow, Easter green, and pastel pink are splashed atop tea cozies and vases.

      “I find that when I look at colour, I can instantly be transported back to the emotion I had when I was a kid—when I first experienced that colour,” the artist and owner of Feltcandy says. “And it’s usually a positive emotion. So it inspires me to want to create something that will elicit that same response in other people.”

      Brumwell has been working with felt for nearly two decades now, fashioning an assortment of style and home objects from hand-felted and hand-dyed wool, in her Vancouver abode. With their energizing hues and whimsical shapes, Feltcandy’s toques and cross-body bags are fit for both tots and grownups, while her sophisticated dishes offer a handy place to store keys, loose change, and other easy-to-lose essentials.

      Brumwell loves the unpredictability of felting, which often results in unique textures and shade combinations—so much so that she doesn’t mind the time it takes one bit. “There’s a lot of labour involved but to me, it’s meditative,” she says. “I don’t look at it like an hourly-production thing.”

      In preparation for Make It! Vancouver, happening next Thursday to Sunday (December 8 to 11) at the PNE Forum, Brumwell has crafted a selection of pillows made from vintage wool blankets and hand-knit Aran sweaters ($125 each). The festive cushions are decked out with figures of star-topped evergreens.

      She’ll also have hand-felted bird ornaments (from $12) on hand, plus various storage bowls, canning jars, and vases (from $30) decorated with a traditional work-sock pattern that has been wildly popular with customers.

      “It’s a familiar thing that people recognize,” she says, “and then they see it with a new twist and they’re quite drawn to it.”

       

      Fait Pour Toi’s Anne-Marie Bélanger uses cotton Ts and jeans in all of her dolls.

      Fait Pour Toi

      For Anne-Marie Bélanger a beat-up cotton T and a well-worn pair of jeans are more than just garments. They’re also the materials that make up her one-of-a-kind dolls. “I try to have, in every doll, at least one piece from someone else,” she says.

      Having inherited a love of crafting from her Québécois mother and grandmother—both of whom know their way around a spool and needle—Bélanger fell into toy-making when she stitched together a doll for a friend’s daughter upon moving to Vancouver in 2006.

      Comparing it to her more recent creations, the aspiring French teacher now describes that first plaything as “raggedy”. (“I would always end up with a crooked head, a wider head, or a longer arm,” she recalls with a laugh.) However, the adorable figure was enough to win friends over, and 10 years later, she continues to produce dolls under the name Fait Pour Toi.

      Treasured scarves, onesies, handkerchiefs, and other accessories and clothing items are transformed into snazzy dress shirts, stockings, and lacy headbands for her filles and garçons, or girl and boy dolls ($50 each). Antique buttons from Bélanger’s grandma complete many of the pint-sized outfits.

      Felt—coloured in shades of red, brown, and even blue—is used for the hair, recycled-bottle polyester for the stuffing, and “super huggable” cotton for the skin, which comes in an inclusive range of hues. “So many times people say, ‘Oh, I had a pillowcase like this when I was a kid’ or ‘My grandma had curtains like that,’ ” Bélanger says of her vintage threads. “I think a lot of people are drawn to that kind of memory, for sure.”

      For her third appearance at Got Craft?, taking place next Saturday and Sunday (December 10 and 11) at the Pipe Shop Building in North Van, Bélanger will be offering embroidery services for those who would like their dolls personalized.

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