Four years after she began sharing her art with Seasons on St. Croix Gallery in Hudson, Robbin Firth is getting the opportunity to share her methods more widely, thanks to her recently patented palm washboard tool. The invention was conceptualized by Firth and her husband, Harry, a woodworker in his free time who handcrafts each palm washboard.
“It’s a lot of work to knit and then felt it down, so that’s why I wanted a faster process,” Firth explains of her felting art. “So I asked my husband to create a tool. I started teaching at the house using the tool, and it took off.”
Though there are several methods, the process of traditional wet felting usually is laborious. Hot water is applied to layers of animal hair such as fleece and, with repeated compressing and rubbing, latches together into a piece of felt fabric.
With the help of the palm washboard tool, the Firths have made the process much less strenuous and more efficient by cutting out the step of rolling the material. The palm-size tool comes in several forms and types of wood, all outfitted with a knob on one side and washboard-style texture on the other for rubbing against the felt.
Felting isn’t the only process Firth is well-versed in. She has been involved with fiber arts for 20 years, beginning with knitting, before trying out everything from spinning to dyeing her own fibers, which she imports from Australia, Europe and Asia. She is known in the United States and around the world for the wearable pieces she creates, especially her intricate lock shawls, which are handmade out of wool with ruffle accents.
Firth is interested in passing this artistic technique on to others, offering in-person classes and video tutorials on Etsy.com, along with materials and embellishments so others can add their own flair to this art form. Her classes, offered for all experience levels, allow fellow crafters to learn as they form their own creations.