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The punny side of sheep

DAY 6+7/7 Wool Masterclass @ Bergerie National, France

Perhaps this should have been part of Day 1/7, anyway...

La Bergerie Nationale de Rambouillet was created as an institution by Louis XVI (16th !) to become a model farm for the development of innovation and agriculture.  In 1786 the Bergerie acquired the renowned Merino sheep.  In the 19th century this flock came to play an important role in the improvement of sheep wool in many European countries and in the southern hemisphere through the export of its rams as sirens. Today, the Bergerie Nationale is a state domain, located 50km southwest of Paris and occupying 250 hectares of the 1,100 hectare estate.  The beautiful buildings have a strong likeness to Marie-Antoinette's estate at Versailles - my favourite part of Versailles ! I know she certainly visited the Château de Rambouillet (in seeing it apparently she exclaimed 'How could I live in such a gothic toadhouse!') with her husband, whether she made it up to the farm I don't know but I like to think she would have favoured it...

This was our home for the week.

Day 6 and 7 were spent working on our collective blog and we were also introduced to Paris design due LaboPull.  We were split in to groups of 3/4 during the week and each group was given a focus point, a descriptive word which we were to explore:



Elementary Design



______________ ______  _____

Which one was I part of??!


Mix of Materials
These were the words we originally brainstormed as a whole.  When we broke down to our smaller group we tried to dig more out of these words, really explore what stories and ideas could come out of these words.  We were all quite struck with the contrast of handmade/machinemade and this led us to look at more contrasts particularly anthropologically. The idea of place and what this constitutes and what are the connotations of place - rural/urban, city/suburb etc.  and then connecting this back to design we began to look at colour.  What would happen if you combined bright, artificial colours to the countryside ?? We were looking at this in terms of wool and how wool could be promoted to generations (younger in particular) that may not appreciate it's properties as much as older generations would.  How would colour positively alter wool's appeal?? 

We thought about how we could show this through imagery.  We could use photoshop to change the sheep to bright colours thus putting them in the context of the countryside but having the colourful element of the city?  This is what happened...

Some Google/Pinterest searching and our story began to unfold for us.  These sheep have been dyed by farmers, some out of desperation (to prevent thieving), some for decorative purposes (Tartan Day).  So the sheep have gone from being relatively inconspicuous to standing out a mile ! So much more can now be explored on this subject and I don't want to give away to much just yet! Back soon...

And to end this WONDERFUL week below is a photo of all the Irish cailíní in Paris on our final day (8/7 technically !!) Deirdre has been very indiscreetly photoshopped in by yours truly.  Think I'll stick to the wool.....

l-r (Fiona DalySinead Kane, Deirdre Duffy, Fiadh Durham, Ciara Harrison)


DAY 5/7 Wool Masterclass @ Bergerie National, France

Today we were introduced to theatre designer and textile artist, Ysabel de Maisonneuve.  Ysabel is based in France but has spent extensive time in Japan studying their traditional Shibori techniques.  This was the topic of discussion for today’s workshop.

To give you a backround on Ysabel, she has worked on many in-theatre and on-site productions, including with Théâtre du Frêne; Theatre du Soleil, the award winning Tambours sur La Digue directed by Ariane Mnouchkine; with Peter Brook; Yoshi Oïda; and with Russell Dumas’ Dance Exchange in Australia.  A recipient of the Japan Foundation Fellowship, her textile works have toured internationally and collections sold in Paris, New York and Tokyo.

Ysabel began her day with us by outlining the background to her work, showing us images and techniques she uses on commissioned work, both fashion and theatre based.  She has created work for the fashion house Balenciaga as well as working with designer Christian Lacrioux on costume designs.  

The majority of images above are taken from a theatre brochure of Bunraku which is Japanese puppet theatre. Ysabel worked on the backdrop for this theatre company. It was fascinating to hear Ysabelle's experience of working on this scale, her challenges and the experimentation involved when working to such a large size.  Where can I find the space? What equipment can I use (eg. Ysabelle had to make her own large bath out of wood in order for the material to be evenly dyed) ??  

Our afternoon was spent experimenting with different Shibori techniques.  There is a few definite strategies you need in order for your Shibori to be a success:

1.  The material needs to be TIGHTLY compressed - strongly tied and knotted.

2.  Keep it simple and with repetition. TAKE NOTES. If it is a success you know how to repeat it, if it is not your desired result you know how to NOT do it again !! 

I think it is a very interesting process.  Similar to the felting I was continually looking to find form, shape, texture.  I had a few successes but I think it will be a case of practice and experimenting with scale, colour and different fabrics.  

* I think the prints -below-  beside eachother, create a much more interesting effect.  They clash while still remaining harmonious.


DAY 4/7 Wool Masterclass @ Bergerie National, France

Where to begin with our day today....

We met Patrice Sebille, artisan wool mattress maker.  A charming man with one of the most niche crafts I have come across before.  He makes mattresses, by hand, using wool.

Our morning was spent with him explaining to us his business (he has a small workshop studio in Paris), his ambitions to create a 'flying' mattress and the students/designers/artists he has worked with along the way.

The 'flying' mattress was a concept of using an iron panel between layers of wool in the mattress creating the illusion that the bed was floating. The concept was worked on with a industrial design student. The result fascinating.  Will do my best to dig out an image of it.

The first image is of the 'Diabolo' (named after the game????). The idea being that it is NOT a bed mattress and NOT a chair mattress.  It is a multi-use structure with teenagers in mind, somewhere to throw your clothes, somewhere to laze about on etc.  I think the fact that something so beautiful can be created from what is usually a square/rectangular shape immediately changes your perspective on what could be created from this very old craft.  This idea brings us to the second image. A photo of work by textile designer Pauline Angotti. Pauline interned with Patrice, learning the skill of mattress making with the idea of a much larger project in mind. She then went on to create body structures, commissioned by famed Japanese make-up company Shiseido.  It suddenly became EVEN more interesting.

Our late morning/afternoon was then spent making our own 'mini' mattress (latter images).  This process is extremely labour intensive, extremely time consuming and extremely rewarding.  I am left buzzing after our day with Patrice.  He is a fascinating person and very kind to have shared his mistakes, his experiences, his successes with us to remember and hopefully learn from.


DAY 3/7 Wool Masterclass @ Bergerie National, France

Today we were joined by a group called CPIHL who are based in Massif Central.  Their aim is to become a promotional tool for wool in Massif Central companies and surrounding regions.  They hope to primarily promote wool for interior purposes - bedding, mattresses, rugs, wall hangings etc.

This is a breakdown of their strategic plan:

Knowledge management of wool and wool companies.

Business Networking.

Quality and Creativity.

Training and Relocation Support (working with the Centre of Wool and Felt studies to organise conferences, colloquiums, training, residencies)


A main initiative in their plans is form the Wool-Cocoon Gite (bed and breakfast/housing). The objective of the project is to promote wool. The owners of these gites use wool to decorate their homes and also to be knowledgeable of the wool so as to promote it.

After the above introduction we then began a felt workshop.  We used three wools, Merino, Texel and their native wool (who's name I will need to find).  I have experimented with felt work before, both in flat work and in 3-D form (slipper making). These have all been part of workshops so I have done very little experimenting at home.  I am unsure whether the process of felt works for my work.  I always want to be seeing a form begin and the lack of form left me a bit lost... I know there is a way to create shape so I just need to find my patience to begin this process!!


DAY 2/7 Wool Masterclass @ Bergerie National, France

Our morning today was spent with Marie-Therese Chaupin who also spoke with us yesterday about the different sheeps of Europe.  Today we looked at products produced by these types of wool, some for interior purposes, some fashion, some accessories. All beautiful.  It was very helpful to see the end product of the wool.  It is interesting to note how oblivious I was to the processes involved.  They always seemed so foreign to me.  It was also extremely helpful to break down the processes in to steps,

1) Scouring,

Washing the wool. Has to be done slowly in order not to felt the wool.  To hand wash (hot water is best to remove the grease from the wool). Cold water can be used - rain water is very good. You need to seperate the wool. The wool can be left to soak for a number of hours, removing all the grease.

2) Carding/Combing,

After washing the wool, it gets carded or brushed.  The fibres are then left parallel and the short and long fibres can then be identified.

Combing (for wool tops) is a long process to seperate the long and short fibres.

3) Spinning,

Turns the fibre in to yarn.

4) Weaving/Knitting/Felting/Crochet

* Teasel (a plant) - used to lightly brush fabrics (or to tease the fabric out lightly)- could create beautiful movement within fabrics.

The late morning and afternoon was then spent with Jeanne Goutelle, a trend forecaster and consultant.  A fascinating job which I have always had an interest in.  It was very helpful to discuss the role of the consultant.  We brainstormed words as a consultant would do for a client.


DAY 1/7 Wool Masterclass @ Bergerie National, France

Meeting the Marino.  We arrived at the Bergerie National on the morning of April 8th.  We were given a tour of the farm, consisting of sheep, cows, horses, pigs, rabbits and hens. The farm is used predominantly as an education centre for children and families although it is a working farm. The existence of the Marino sheep is a main reason for our stay at the Bergerie as they are descendants of the original breed of Marino brought to France in 1786.  Louis XVI of France received 366 sheep selected from 10 different cabañas; these founded the stud at the Royal Farm at Rambouillet. The sheep were a gift from the King of Spain who was a cousin of Louis.

As well as meeting the Marino sheep we were also introduced to the Roman sheep, a combination of two breeds, one being Russian, the other...I will need to check my notes.  We had a chance to see one of the Roman sheep being sheared, really fascinating.

It was a day full of information and I have my wool samples to prove it.  I am interested to see where this week could take me.