PATRICIA BRICEÑO | RAW FELT | West Marin
Rippled, folded, textured, and woven, Patricia Briceno’s felted textiles are terrains unto themselves—intricate and detailed surfaces whose resemblance to earthy topographies are at once beautiful and mysterious, as the wildest of terrains tend to be. Though Patricia claims that felting is easy, the complexities of her pieces impart mystery to her creative process. One would not look at a felted dress and think, “I could do that too.” But felting is not a new and unfamiliar craft. It is one of the oldest around, and it requires very few materials: fiber, water, soap, a wooden dowel, and plastic sheets. But the simplicity of the process is deceptive, for transforming raw elements into a fully formed thing is rarely cursory and thoughtless.
Patricia often works on the floor of her Bolinas home, which looks out onto the water. She begins with raw wool—of which her favorite is the long, curly shag of Wensleydale sheep. She then adds embellishments and patterns, incorporating a variety of other materials, including bamboo, silk, and cotton, as well as natural dyes from rose, walnut, and eucalyptus leaves. On recently made scarves, you can see ghostly traces of leaf veins as proof. Through the applied pressure of rubbing and rolling, a textile coheres. Felting is ultimately an experimental process requiring both skill and whimsy—no two pieces are ever alike.
“She adds embellishments and patterns, incorporating a variety of other materials, including bamboo, silk, and cotton, as well as natural dyes from rose, walnut, and eucalyptus leaves. On recently made scarves, you can see ghostly traces of leaf veins as proof.”
In 2004, after seeing a beautiful felted dress in Mendocino, Patricia began taking felting classes, which gave her a foundation in the art, but her experience has largely been autodidactic, grounded in trial and error. Even before Patricia learned to felt, before she moved to Bolinas in 1999 to live with her husband Keith, she was connected to makers: she grew up in a village in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico where many of her neighbors were craftspeople engaged in home-based cottage industries. She learned to embroider from her aunt and her grandmother. The connection to handicraft is not unrelated to her love for making Mexican food—both are tangible, hands-on processes passed down through generations, requiring skill, spontaneity, and a lifelong love.
Like craft, food is as personal as it is communal, as familial as it is individual. Patricia recalls the papaya candy her grandmother used to make and relleno negro, a charred black chili pepper filled with meat, one of her favorite Mexican specialties. Just recently, Patricia got together with a group of friends and made one hundred tamales, in the spirit of communal making that has helped Patricia settle into Bolinas. She admits that Bolinas felt isolating and lonely at first, and she was not used to the breezy weather. But over the years, she has built up a supportive group of artists and spinners who go to textile fairs together and share trade resources. “All of my friends are into fibers,” she says. Still, self-employment as an artist is not easy, and to supplement her felting, Patricia spins, dyes, and sells wool yarn—there is a more consistent and reliable demand for it. “Somehow it works,” Patricia says. “I do the stuff I like to do.”