A felting project in Greenland

In the summer 1996 and 97 I went to Greenland to make a felting project for sheepholderwomen , women from small isolated communities and women from two towns down south.

In the southern part of Greenland it is warm enough to breed sheep.- There are about 20.000 sheep in that area and the sheepholders have each 3 -400 sheeps.

New sheepholderplaces are still established, so you can see young couples start their life together in one of the old ones or in a completely new farm.

All those sheepholderplaces are situated in very isolated places ( there are no roads outside the towns), which means, that the families don’t see other people for long periods, and to earn enough money, the life of a sheepholder is very hard.

This project was made to give those women a possibility to earn some money on homeproduction and to use some of those 20 -30 tons of wool they use to burn every year.

Attempts have been made before to find use for all that wool. The Greenlandic wool is rather course, but very good felting . Spinning, weaving and knitting projects have been made, but nothing really with success.

Now the initiator of this project, Bodil Høyer Jensen, had seen my book: ‘Felt in form’, in which I describe how to felt figures and animals with my special method. She had seen the possibility of producing things of felt to sell to the tourists who these last years come to Greenland in larger and larger numbers.

Bodil is a very powerful, warm, and active woman and when she has got an idea, nothing can stop her, so she raised money to the project from foundation, government and municipal authorities, and after two years we were ready to start the first course. I had made a very intensive program and we had two weeks to go through this..

First of all it was an enormous experience to come to Greenland. It was such a big and fantastic nature so it nearly took my breath, and everything was so different. But people were extraordinary kind and joyful and soon we had our hands deep in the felt.

This first summer I taught them:

  • Soft sculpture felt.
  • Scabelon felting
  • Picture felting
  • Relieffelting
  • Steamfelting
  • Woolcolouring

When the course of this summer was ower, the women had felted little Greenlandic figures (inuits), seals, muskoxen, sheeps, icebears and we had felted reliefmasks inspired from the traditional Greenlandic wooden masks and our picturefeltings were wonderfull landscapes. We also illustrated the old myths by felting soft sculptural beeings after my method.

The Greenlandic people love animals and they were wild about those little felted ones. They started to tell the old fantastic myths of which they have so many, and I realized that for them, those myths were still alive. They compared happenings and incidents from their daily life with the myths, and there was always a myth that fitted. Their children were also brought up by them, like we use our moral rules for our children.

That first year I learned a lot about their life. How isolated some of them lived.and how strange it was for them to stay away from their homes for so many days.

Four of them, who incidentally did not speak danish lived in a small community with 150 inhabitans, and I was so happy to visit them there.

This community which is kind of selfruling place had established a house available for them as a workshop where they were sewing things out of sealskin but as a lot of Greenlandic women did the same, they were not very well paid by this, so I learned this year when I came back, that they had changed to use felt as their material and now only made animals, and certainly very beautiful ones out of felt.

They had a cardingmachine and prepared the wool which they got from the local sheepholders, and the municipality distributed their things.

After we had finished the first course we talked a lot about how to organize things in the future .Bodil has a mercantile education except her sewing education and together with two other girls she has made a very good organizing work. First of all, they have made a ‘ five years plan ‘ in which they describe how they want the whole project to develope.

Their purpose is: To create a future tradedeveleopeing, that will be characteristic for the South part of Greenland

They want the children in the schools and institutions to use felting and grownups in institutions as well.Except the homeproduction

First of all the girls who went to the first course last year were chosen because they should be able to go back to their groups and teach them what they had learned, so when I came back the second year there had been a lot of feltingactivity during the winter. In the town which has 3000 inhabitants there now was a group of 25 felters, and out in the sheepholderarea they had been driving by help of snowscooters and met each other for felting. I got a description of one of the tuffest meetings, where they went home in the darkness and the snow had been so heavy so they did not really know where they were.A funny thing is, that for the sheepholders the winter is the time of the year where it is easiest to get together, because they can use the snowscooter, the rest of the year they have to sail and that takes much, much longer time.

What they had also planned was, that they wanted to go on with having courses every year, and they had made economic calculations, very specific, of what it would cost.

The first course they would like to have was: arctic dresses, and the second course was: felttoys. I have promised them to be adviser for them and to help them finding good teachers.

To be sure that all this works,they want to have a co-ordinator, so that this person can work full time on the project.

They want the three southern municipalities and the homerulingdepartment to give them the economic help for all that, and they have already had a meeting, and now they wait for the result.

When I left last year, we had already planned this year’s course, because they wanted to learn how to make things that had to do with Christmas, as Santa Claus has his home in Greenland. We had also planned that we wanted the course to take place in a camp far out in the ‘ wilderness’, so that we could felt night and day. Meanwhile Bodil had got the idea that she wanted me to do some productdeveloeping for them, so while they were driving round on their snowscooters I was sitting here in Denmark and made models of 9 Greenlandic animals for them except the nisses and Santa Claus’s. The Greenland Bank foundation were asked to support that, and they did.

And then this summer we were at the camp in a characteristic red wooden house in a wonderful landscape far up in one of the big fjords. There we felted nisses , reindeers, christmastrees, igloos, a big Santa Claus and in the evenings when we had finished the day’s program, we felted two big birds, an owl and a sea-eagle with wings of 1,5 m.

As we were together day and night I experienced much more about their daily life. We had a lot of delicious Greenlandic food- all kind of fishes , and a little seal was also on the menu.

The coursists were the same as last year, only this year there was also a very young sheepholderwoman , in her first twenties, and I heard how it is to have that kind of life. Her husband was educated on the sheepholderschool ( 4 years) and he himself was born on a sheepholderplace, but she was born in a town. She was educated as a sewing -woman , but she missed the last part of the education, which she had to get in Denmark, and her husband could not do without her work at the farm, so she did not expect that she could finish her education. It had been a very big change for her, when they started out there. They get favourable loans when they start , and they don’t own the land in Greenland, only the buildings. The sheep’s can not be outside in wintertime as you have to protect the vegetation, so there is a lot of work to do with them, and when she and her husband took care of the sheep’s in the cold barn, then she had to bring her one year old girl and try to dress here very warm. She expected one more child now, and those children certainly learn to look after themselves.

Sofiigur is a modern woman, dressed in modern clothes, she wants to modernise things on their sheepholderplace, fx. she is carefully sorting the wool, and that has been a problem earlier, because it has not been important for the men before as they did not use the wool for anything. She had also made her own little firm, making textile thing for sale, and when I asked her,she was interested in selling wool to Denmark. And as I find their wool especially good for my kind of felting, I will recommend it.

I find that if we only use those very fine fibered wool sorts, then you forget how wonderful the felted material can look when you can recognize the fibres.

As a finish of our course, we made a big exhibition in the culturehouse in Julianehåb (Qaqortoq) It was a very big success, and we were happy that both the press and the politicians praised it to the skies.

12 proud Greenlandic girls were more proud when they were asked if it could be possible to move the exhibition to a big meeting about agriculture that was held for people from West- Norden.

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