Cristina Larsen, a dear friend of mine, is a superb textile artist. Not only is she a talented sewist, knitter, crocheter and weaver, she is also the creative mind behind the fabulous felted toys sold under the brand Textile Platypus. Cristina graciously agreed to appear on this space to tell us a bit about what she does.
Andrea: Cristina, could you tell us how you developed your interest in textiles and design?
Cristina: From an early age, and while growing up in Argentina, I saw my mother working with textiles. She made all the clothes for our family of seven and also created toys for her five kids. Her creations seemed an act of magic to me and I was especially fascinated by the toys she made. Since I was about five years old it felt very natural to make dresses for my dolls. From then on I kept learning different techniques such as crochet, knitting, sewing, weaving, spinning, dyeing and felting.
Andrea: So you were exposed to creativity with textiles from a young age, but how did you first learn to make felt?
Cristina: I had my first contact with felt more than twenty years ago when I met my teacher Elsa Paredes, now a dear friend, after her return to Argentina from studying textile design in Sweden. Felt was not an easy technique for me to learn. In fact, I tried many times over the years without success! At first my felted pieces came out with many holes but perseverance paid off and now it feels like the roving ‘obeys me’ pretty well.
Andrea: For your toys you pretty much make everything yourself, from felting the roving to choosing the dyes, to hand stitching together the final product. Can you give us a brief explanation of the process to make one of your toys from beginning to end?
Cristina: The process begins with pre-washed white or brown wool roving, mostly merino wool which is very soft and makes a very compact and even textured felt. Sometimes I mix alpaca or llama fleece for a more furry effect. To make the felt, I prefer the wet felt technique because it results in a very durable and malleable material, perfect for toys that will be handled by a small child. When wool is exposed to humidity, friction and heat, its structure is altered and it becomes felt. I once heard that wet felt was the first textile humans ever made – this amazes me!
To dye the felt I use non toxic dyes and almost always mix different colours so that each small piece of felt (about 12×12”) ends up being unique.
Once the felt is made I press and steam it and proceed to cut it into the pieces that will be stitched together into little felt animals.
The filling for each toy is made from carefully selected and washed recycled sweaters. The toys are hand stitched together with cotton thread specifically chosen to brighten up the final product. The eyes are the last detail I add to each toy – it brings them to life, as I like to say.
I would like to add that it is very important to me that all materials used in the creation of my toys or other textile work in general be natural, that there are no toxic products involved and that the items I make are made to be loved for a lifetime. It’s important to consider our environment and every small act to avoid further damage to it counts.
Andrea: This certainly sounds like a long process filled with details! I’ve seen a few of your toys and am always amazed by the shapes and colours you choose. Where do you get your inspiration to create specific toy patterns and to generate such gorgeous colour combinations?
Cristina: Most of the time the inspiration comes from an animal I really love, as is the case with the platypus, for example. I think it is a combination of my affinity with a specific animal and the qualities of the felt itself that results on me working on a certain animal shape. As for the colours, well, I love colour and playing with different shades is not an effort at all for me. It kind of comes naturally and besides, felt is such a versatile material that it makes it possible to create all kinds of patterns on the felt itself which will result in lots of fun in the creative process and the final product itself.
Andrea: There are so many things one can make with textiles, why did decide to focus your creative energy on making toys?
Cristina: I personally love toys and love to play with them. When I participate in the One of a Kind Show as a vendor, I notice how people of all ages are strongly drawn to the toys. People handling the toys smile in a way that is difficult to describe but that has made me realize we all have a child inside. To me it is important to nurture and keep that inner child alive and it makes me happy to contribute to that. This is why I put all my heart into making these toys.
Andrea: Your etsy store showcases a variety of gorgeous animals, but you also make some season or event specific products. Can you tell us about those?
Cristina: To work on seasonal items is very inspiring and refreshing for me. For example I’ve made some felt hearts for Valentine’s Day (also appropriate for other occasions, of course) that I particularly like – they are an explosion of colour!
I’ve also made dragons to celebrate the Chinese New Year, a Rudolph reindeer for Christmas (red nose and all), love birds which are perfect as wedding gifts, and lots of bunnies in two different sizes for Easter (who doesn’t love bunnies?). Aside from the felt, winter inspires me to weave and knit scarves and shawls, always colourful of course.
Andrea: I have to say, I really like your toys, but your scarves are also beautiful. Do you ever consider special requests from your customers for a specific type of creature or colour combination?
Cristina: Special orders for specific items are more than welcome. I very much enjoy special orders because they force me to go out of my way to discover new things. For example, I recently received a special order for a family of bunnies intended to become a mobile for a nursery. The customer gave me a general idea of the colour scheme and based on that I made a really fun polka-dot felt which I used for the bunnies.
Andrea: What would your number one piece of advice be for someone who is interested in learning how to work with felt?
Cristina: I would encourage anybody not to be afraid of trying it. Perseverance is a good idea in case the first few attempts are not as good as one expected. Felt is a very versatile and rich technique and an endless source of inspiration and creativity. As I mentioned before, it was very hard for me to grasp it at first but this will not necessarily be the same for everyone. In fact, my then ten-year old son made a perfect piece before I managed to do the same – and of course it gave him great pleasure to do so! It was only after he mastered felting, and for very mysterious reasons, that I was able to make my own felt without problems.
Andrea: Cristina, thank you so much for taking the time to share an insight into your creative process with us!
Cristina: Thank you, Andrea, for allowing me to share with your readers a bit about my ‘heart-felt work’.