In 2007, from her home in Ballybrack in the wilds of the Carlow countryside, artist Nicola Brown discovered the joy of working with felt. Following the success of her endeavours, a few years later she began eco-printing – a process that uses flowers, plants, bark and various other materials to create unique, individual and long-lasting prints on handmade felt and upcycled fabric.
“The three words which describe my craft are simple, natural and crafted,” she said. “I use leaves, onion skins and bark to create prints and colour on handmade felt and natural textiles in an environmentally mindful and health-conscious way.
“I started wet felting in 2007, was introduced to eco printing in 2012, and since then have spent my time dedicated to working in a sustainable way using local materials and vegetation wherever possible.
“I’ve planted large dye borders in my garden and over 13,500 trees on my property, which support a large and diverse selection of birds, butterflies, bees, insects and small mammals which help to convey the wider ecological aspect of my sustainable textile practice.”
Living in such tranquillity, the sustainable textile artist is inspired by her surroundings and the ample natural materials provided by the local environment.
“Both the built and natural landscapes right outside my front door inspire me every day and I never wake up not wanting to get out of bed,” she said.
“From the dry-stone walls to the Blackstairs Mountains, each and every sight, sound and scent of rural Carlow is the inspiration for my felt and eco printing.
“I’ve always loved leading an outdoor life and my background for many years was working with horses. At the same time, I was also interested in the environment, recycling, gardening, hiking, textiles and cooking from scratch.
“My passion is helping textile artists and environmentally mindful creatives to go from feeling isolated, frustrated and overwhelmed to feeling understood, supported and excited about implementing simple yet meaningful changes as they embrace a harmonious balance with nature and cultivate a more sustainable and fulfilling practice.
“Watching the seasons change has always been a joy, and now that I am a sustainable textile artist working in an environmentally mindful and health-conscious way, it’s as if all my passions have united and I can share this with others.”
Although she works alone and independently, Brown facilitates group or bespoke day and residential workshops both at home and abroad. She recently ran the Craft Hub residency in Carlow, which was a resounding success.
“Running the Craft Hub Residency was an absolute pleasure,” she said. “Six participants from different countries and different disciplines united to spend time together exploring the possibilities of the wet felting and eco printing process.
“Although from different backgrounds and crafts, everyone had an interest in the environment and working more sustainably and I loved seeing how they each responded to rural Ireland and embraced the experience.
“The most exciting times for me were when we opened our eco bundles together to reveal the prints, and also the feedback from participants, who shared how much they enjoyed exploring new techniques, spending time together, being close to nature and bouncing ideas off each other.”
Following on from this success, the artist will participate in the Craft Hub International Exhibition which takes place from August 22 to September 3 at the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art in Carlow town.
“The primary themes are sustainability and heritage and the exhibition itself is aimed at the arts and crafts sector, but it is family-focused and a series of kids’ workshops will take place in the weeks prior to the opening,” she said.
“Works on display will include a travelling exhibition from Craft Hub makers in participating European countries (including the UK), an exhibition of work created during the 2022 international residencies facilitated by me and Carlow woodturner Glenn Lucas, and a display of raw materials and equipment which Glenn and I use.
“Along with work from both Glenn and I – my contribution is a large eco-printed felt wall hanging – there will also be pieces from other Irish makers.”