February 1, 2012
Dana Barnes makes giant sculptural textiles using an improvised felting technique.
Dana Barnes Design
Barnes starts with unspun merino wool and other natural fibers, and subjects them to her own hand-felting process. The exhibition pieces contain all-natural dyes.
Felt is excellent at absorbing sound and dampening vibration. Durability varies—Barnes’s fiber walls are relatively delicate, while her flat-felted pieces are virtually indestructible.
Barnes’s massive fiber walls make an impressive divider for large spaces, and her rugs are appropriate for residential and commercial interiors.
Eight years ago, the textile designer Dana Barnes decided to create a sound-absorbent floor covering for her loft. (Her children were being a bit too boisterous for the noise-sensitive neighbors downstairs.) So Barnes designed a huge felt rug to fill the open space—a project that began a multiyear experiment in large-scale felting, culminating recently in the exhibition Unspun: Tangled + Fused, on view at Ralph Pucci in New York until March.
The exhibition includes braided rugs, twisted-rope objects, and a six-inch-thick fiber wall made from a dense and seemingly random array of knots. All of the pieces were crafted from unspun wool that has undergone an innovative treatment in Barnes’s New York studio. “Everything that we develop is based on the age-old craft of felting,” Barnes says. “Which is a lot of hot water, soap, agitation, and then repeating that process until the fibers have bonded to the desired tautness that we want in a piece.” Barnes will not divulge more about her unique process, but she will say that everything is done by hand, partly out of necessity: “All our pieces are giant, so there’s no way we could put those in a washing machine.”
Each new piece begins as a drawing, which is then translated into a miniature model. From that point, making the full-scale textile involves lots of improvisation by Barnes and the small group of artisans she employs. “We’re figuring it out as we go,” she says. The only constant? “It’s all equally labor-intensive,” she laughs.