Today I am so, so happy to introduce you to the incredibly talented Sarah Dixon of Felt So Good.
Sarah makes beautiful felted creations, including our newest favourite, a hand-felted playmat.
A little while ago Sarah offered to make a custom made playmat for us to try. (Sarah offers custom made playmats in her Etsy shop, but there are lots to choose from, too!)
Sarah guided us through the process of creating our own custom made mat. The little ones picked a woodland theme and Sarah sent sketches of designs before deciding on a final layout .
We have been having so much fun with our gorgeous mat, it has been used for all sorts of brilliant adventures and happy imaginative play, and the felt is so sturdy that it has quickly become our favourite toy to take on trips and visits to friends.
Sarah, tell us about yourself, how did you get to be where you are today?I am 43 years old, and live with my husband, David and children Aiden (7) and Niamh (3) in York. We moved ‘up north’, back to David’s roots, when we knew I was pregnant with Aiden because we wanted to be around supportive family and the less hectic pace of life when compared to the South of England. I always planned to be an organised, scheduled mother (I read Gina Ford!) but when I met my son for the first time I realised that wasn’t what he needed and have spent the years since doing my utmost to give both kids what they need. They’re amazing people, and I learn so much from them.
Have you always wanted to own your own business or did you previously work in a different job?
I’ve worked all sorts of different jobs from lab technician to barmaid, via reception, admin and software development! Nothing gave me the sense of fulfilment that being a Mum does, though, but I also needed something to keep an active mind ticking over whilst reading Hairy McLary for the twentieth time that day. I’ve always been a frustrated artist, but once I discovered wet felting I found a great way to express myself and after a few people asked about buying things I’d made I thought I’d see if I could start a flexible, part time business based around it.
What are your hopes and plans for the future of your business?
Humble ones! I’d just like to continue making play mats and pretty things for people who want them! I love custom makes, and as my time frees up (Niamh starts preschool in September!) I’d like to fill more of it with making felt and make more of a contribution to the household finances. I’d also like to do more ‘art’ pieces, it’s a bit out of my comfort zone but I am enjoying expressing myself visually.
Tell us about your shop’s philosophy or ethical commitment.
I make things that I love, from beautiful, natural materials (other than the occasional bit of sparkle from a synthetic fibre!). I would ideally use British wool but can’t find it in the range of colours I need yet, so for the time being I use Merino from non-mulesed flocks. I try to price fairly, pay my taxes, and use sustainable materials and packaging wherever possible. I try and support other small businesses, it’s wonderful when you have beautiful things around your home and you have forged relationships with the people who made them; so much nicer than mass manufactured stuff!
Who or what inspired you?
I’ve always had a big imagination, and loved seeing the beginnings of small world play and role playing in my children. My first play mat was made for my son, but others for friends soon followed and eventually became the designs that are in my Etsy shop today; inspired along the way by photographs from customers, and requests when I make mats to order. That’s my favourite thing, having a chat with a customer and waiting for that spark when I realise just what I’m going to make! There are some wonderful books, websites and YouTube videos on wet felting, and I’ve soaked up everything I can to learn new techniques and make my work more interesting.
What is the product in your shop you are most excited about?
The play mats are what I am most passionate about, they’re what started the business and the thing that I make that bring me the most joy (although I do also love any of the rainbow pieces, it’s hard to be anything but happy when you’re making rainbows!) There’s something very special about making something that a child will play with, just a little fuel for their imaginations. The way children interpret (and reinterpret) the mats is magical, what is a road one day becomes a river the next, and a canyon after that!
Tell us about your customers.
I am lucky enough to have met many of them, as they’re local to me and I’ve delivered or had them collect, and to continue to have ongoing relationships – they’re great people. Very supportive, mostly of the natural parenting mindset or Waldorf/Steiner inspired. I do also sell via Etsy, and have sent mats all over the world, but whether it’s someone I meet to talk to, or I only know via email or Facebook, I love the process of working with other people to make something really special.
Can you explain the process of making felted playmats?
When I start making a play mat like this which has different areas to it, I start with a single layer of wool tops in the different colours laid out so they slightly overlap. I then build up the layers, keeping to that layout but laying the next layer at right angles. I do this for 4-6 layers depending on the wool. Once I’m happy that the base is in god shape I add the big bits of detail like the hedges and stream and then go in and add fine detail like the veggies, flowers and so on until I’m happy. At that point I leave it all for a while so I can make sure I’m happy with it.
I cover the finished design in netting, get it wet and soapy and start rubbing – very gently at first to preserve the layout and then gradually more firmly as the felt comes together. After a few minutes I tuck the edges under as they can be a weak spot and this makes them stronger. I then keep rubbing until the felt passes the ‘pinch test’ – that is you can pinch the felt and no individual fibres come up. When that happens I start rolling! There are many techniques for doing that, but I use a shaped rolling pin that gets really good results. When there’s no movements in the fibres at all, I stop rolling and start throwing, kneading and generally being a bit more brutal with the felt until it feels good and tough.After lots of rinsing, I let it dry and then press it. If there are any areas that need attention I needle felt to add detail or sharpen it, and then the mat is finished and ready to go to whoever the lucky person who wins it is!
Thank you so much, Sarah, for explaining all of this and walking us through your creative process!