Land Felt – a feeling for textiles and the land

PV-landfeltghosthareIF you stand beside the Bincombe Bumps, neolithic barrows between Dorchester and Weymouth, at mid-day, you will hear music.

Well, that’s what the legend says – and that legend is just one of the aspects of the South Dorset Ridgeway captured in felt and textile art at Land Felt, the spring 2014 touring exhibition from Artsreach, Dorset’s rural arts organisation.

Part of the ongoing South Dorset Ridgeway project, involving Artsreach and other local groups, Land Felt is a celebration of the history, landscape, plants, wildlife and legends of this spectacular stretch of countryside above the Dorset Jurassic Coast.

Running from Eggardon Hill to the villages of Osmington and Poxwell, the South Dorset Ridgeway has been an important area for about 6,000 years. There are more than 500 ancient monuments which mark the history from Neolithic times onwards and this exhibition captures the footprints of humans over the millennia, through to the most recent marks on the landscape – the “new road” from Dorchester to Weymouth.

Sheep have grazed the hills for centuries, reared for their wool, and also for the meat, while their horns were used for Dorset Buttons.

Land Felt concentrates on felt, said to be the oldest textile craft in the world, and still practised in many parts of the world for clothing and furnishings, notably among the nomadic peoples of the steppes of Central Asia and Arctic peoples such as the Sami in Scandinavia.

Experienced felt artists and tutors led workshops in villages along the Ridgeway and the results are on show in the exhibition, which continues to mid-April.

Bincombe Bumps Music Barrow is one of the larger exhibits in the show, which opened at Upwey village hall. It was created by members of Age UK Dorchester who joined a Land Felt workshop led by felter Clare Hughes. Some of the small group had never tried felting before, but one member, Carla Taylor, was already a skilled needle felt artist, learning a new aspect of her craft.

PV-landfeltbookCarla’s contribution to the Bincombe hanging is the curious hare, literally popping his head out of the felt background. Carla also exhibits Ghost Hare, an exquisite white needle felt piece decorated with silver and glass beadwork.

The Land Felt project began with an introductory morning at which the tutors – Di Pattinson, Pauline Stanley, Penny Blogg, Mary-Clare Buckle, Clare Hughes and Annabel Wilson – and the participants heard about the legends and stories of the Ridgeway and looked at photographs and maps of the area.

The biggest of the groups was at Upwey and was led by local felt artist Di Pattinson who learned the craft from Eileen Sarup, a gifted and well-known felter who lived locally and taught the craft. Di says: “I was hooked from the start.” When Eileen moved away, Di took over and now inspires a new generation.

PV-landfeltbincombeDi, whose training in watercolour painting informs her use of colour in felt art, has work in the exhibition, including pages in the interesting felt “books” with work by many of the participants, illustrating different landscape and architectural features of the South Dorset Ridgeway.

Among the Upwey group was Celia Morris, a scientist and embroiderer whose knowledge of the chemistry and nature of materials influences her work. She is a specialist in fine embroidery, such as goldwork, and dyes her own silks for her embroidery, but is always keen to learn new forms of textile art.

Subjects of feltwork range from a scary mask of Dorset’s mythical bull-man monster, the Oozer, to vessels, hangings, decorations and framed pictures. There is also a small display of Dorset Button-making, including Dorset Button books by Ros Atkins.

One of the subjects that occurs in many of the pieces is a hare – either a small figure in a landscape or the main motif, as in a large felt vessel by Val Ghose. Clare Hughes said: “Hare are so spiritual. It is very much a female thing.”

As well as the exhibition – which is free – there are also have-a-go sessions at each of the venues. At Upwey, Clare Hughes led sessions on wet felting and needle felting. PV-landfelthareKatherine Jones, who came to the exhibition knowing nothing about felting, was fascinated: “I have never done anything like this,” she said. “I’m not at all arty but I have really enjoyed it.” And Julie Nash, who also tried needle felting, said: “It is very therapeutic. It’s lovely to learn a new skill.”

Land Felt is at Upwey village hall on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th March, West Stafford village hall on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd March, and Strangways Hall, Abbotsbury, on Friday 11th, Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th April.

At West Stafford, there will be a wet felting have-a-go session on Saturday from 1.30 to 3.30pm and there will be Dorset Button-making workshops at West Stafford on Saturday 22nd March and Abbotsbury’s Strangways Hall on Friday 11th April, both from 10.30am to 12.30pm. FC


For more information on the South Ridgeway Project and on Artsreach activities and events, visit


Pictured are: Bincombe Bumps Music Barrows (detail showing hare).

A page from one of the Land Felt books.

Di Pattinson and Celia Morris, with felt books open showing their pages.

The magical Ghost Hare, by Carla Taylor.

A hanging of the South Dorset Ridgeway landscape with a hare.



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