Plainsboro artist turns felt into fashion

In an exhibit at the Plainsboro Library through July 29, Nelly Kouzmina has created a fantasy world in felt. There are landscapes with striated colors from shore to sky and clouds and trees that flop off the “page” like elephant ears. 

Some have been dyed with natural plants, a process the artist refers to as botanical printing or eco-dyeing. “The patterns are created with elements found in nature, such as eucalyptus, acacia, oak and maple leaves that lend their unique shape as well as their color through dye,” said Kouzmina. 

Some are abstract with embedded glass balls that serve as eyes, looking out from the artwork and onto the viewer. Others take a more free-form shape, such as a set two bell-shaped flowers at the end of stems.

One work, titled “Dreams,” has bobbles of tiny stitches and an area that opens, as if a wound, to reveal the inner workings. Another, a seascape, combines the glass eyes and the opening inward, with texture to suggest sand and even a real starfish embedded in the fiber.

Whether for form or for function, all the felted pieces are one-of-a-kind. Frilly dresses are so fanciful they seem inhabited by sprites. Though intended for wearing they work equally well hanging from the wall, with form-fitting felted bodies adorned with bobbles and beads and flouncy skirts in such color combinations as lime and lavender. 

There’s a lovely pink and white number adorned with pink and white felted flowers on the front that hangs from a dress form, and yet another that slings over one shoulder, Tarzan style.

And oh, the hats! “Sahara” is a felted white cloche at the top with two long white flaps suspended at either side. “Miss Violette” is a lavender cloche with felted flowers pinned to the brim. “Caterpillar Giallo” is an orange-y yellow with eyes that look like an insect’s and soft antenna. There are even form-fitting caps with cat and mouse ears. In fact, “Miss Mouse,” a grayish white cap with mouse ears, is paired with “Mouse cape,” in an ombre-patterned shading of light to dark gray. With more of Kouzmina’s signature wounds, it looks like a tattered mouse.

Kouzmina, a Russian native, is a self-taught fiber artist with an engineering background. She began exploring the felt making process three years ago, although the felting process dates back thousands of years. Some of the earliest felt remains were found in the frozen tombs of nomadic horsemen in the Siberian Altai Mountains, dating to 700 BC. Clothing, saddles and tents (yurts) were made from felt because it was strong and resistant to severe weather. It is not woven and does not require a loom or other equipment for its production.

The Plainsboro resident’s interest in felt coincided with a revival of the form. Last year she received the award for Best in Fiber Art at the Ellarslie Open in Trenton, among several other awards. Kouzmina teaches felt making for Plainsboro Township, West Windsor Arts Council, Artists of Yardley and the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie.

“I love the process of felt making,” said Kouzmina. “Sometimes I like it more than the results. I love to experiment with different fibers, objects and dyes. Felting is a liberation, passion and love.” 

The exhibit of whimsical wearables will have you dreaming of occasions at which you might wear these.

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The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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