Kathleen Gerdes spreads her love of needle felting throughout Maine like a pied piper. When I first met her in person last spring, I had already published her first Fiber College profile. Her immediate friendliness, her use of color, and her excitement about felting confirmed what I’d learned through emails; Kathleen is one enthusiastic woman with infectious energy! We’re delighted to have Kathleen back at Fiber College this year. She’ll teach how to needle felt Garden Goddesses on Saturday afternoon and then give a demonstration on Sunday afternoon (how to make felted beads). You won’t want to miss her! And now here’s Kathleen.
Who are you? Tell us about your fiber journey.
My fiber journey began at the dining room table in my parents’ home. My mother used to sew new clothes for me, make quilts to keep us warm, and repair any piece of clothing that needed it. Unlike today, our clothing didn’t go to Goodwill when we got tired of wearing it. You continued to wear it with as many mended places as Mom could do. Her Singer treadle sewing machine hummed in that dining room for many years as my brother and I grew up.
Today I still pride myself in being able to mend clothing and because I am teaching my grandchildren to do that, hopefully, they will come to know that we don’t just discard what we no longer want. It is important to put a value on things. So many people are losing sight of that today. I have also taught them to make simple clothing for their dolls and themselves. My oldest granddaughter made the most perfect brilliant blue mermaid outfit and wore it in the tub many times! And she was only 6 years old at the time. I grew up in Falmouth, Maine and live here again, because that’s how life works. I am lucky to live in “horse country,” so when I sit down in my studio every day, I can hear them neighing and running through the pastures. Between the horses and the peaceful music that is always playing, I love designing and creating new felting projects. This fiber journey is taking me down roads that I never expected to travel. My road has led me to Portfiber, Nezinscot Farm, Fiber College, SPA, A Wrinkle In Thyme Farm, and Fiber Frolic just to name a few of the stops. Who could ask for more? Maine is such a wonderful place to create beautiful things. I wish more people knew the simple secrets of working with their hands and being able to make something that they are proud of.
What is my favorite piece that you have created?
I’ve come to realize that designing the pieces that I hope to make is just as exciting as actually making them! What a great feeling it is to have so many epiphanies that lead to beautiful wall hangings or adorable little whimsical creatures. My life is filled with owls and dragons and flowers that fill my heart and soul with joy. I love all of the projects that I work on, but there are a couple that are special to me. I love my lion. I created him several months ago and he’s been proudly roaring his way through his days on display at Portfiber.
I’m also in love with my felted beads, where I use both the needle felting and wet felting techniques. They are colorful and fun to make and I also love the “no fail” recipe! Anyone can make them and once you learn the technique of the “sushi roll” beads, the possibilities are simply endless. My idea of heaven really.
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve given to a student?
I always tell my students that felting is easy, fun, and that ANYONE can do it. It’s a simple process with simple tools and what can be created is simply amazing. My students always begin their class doubting that they can “do it.” But by the end of the class, they are beaming and telling me that they loved it and can’t wait to go home and practice what they have learned.
What is the best advice that you’ve ever been given?
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway said that, but I’ve always remembered it and it is written on the first page I see when I open my journal each day. It really is true that the “end” is always wonderful, but as with so many things, it’s the journey that is exciting and that’s when you realize how good it feels to work with your hands to create something beautiful. Some days, I feel so lucky to be able to sit by the ocean and work on my felting projects. Maine, the ocean, and felting. So good for the soul.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
The tool that I love the most is my multi tool. It holds anywhere from 4 to 8 needles and it allows me to create colorful backgrounds on my wallhangings without too much wear and tear on my hands. I have several multi tools but my favorite was made by a man here in Maine by the name of Peter Keniston. He created a comfortable ball on the end to hold on to and he also knew that we break many needles, so changing them is something else that he made easy for us. I love that tool and don’t know what I’d do without it! Thank you, Peter!
What would your Fiber College students be surprised to know about you?
Within the past several months, I have created a “Maine Felters Group”. It is a state wide group and we welcome new felters, experienced felters, and even those folks who want to learn to felt. We share and learn from each other. It’s not something that anyone has done before and because I love felting and all that it brings to my life, I thought “Why not?” Within the first week of announcing it on Facebook and in my classes, my email list grew to almost 40 people! How exciting! We are about to have our second meeting and it looks like we may have upwards of 20 people there. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome of this group. I just KNEW there were lots of felters in Maine; I just had to find them all!!