Meet felting designer Claire Fairall

Since Claire Fairall discovered felting, she hasn’t looked back! She now makes fabulous bags, toys and homeware using the technique, as she explains to Judy Darley.

Claire Fairall felted mats

We caught up with Leicester-based knitter Claire Fairall in the summer of 2016 to find out why she’s such a big fan of felting. Why did she first decide to try the technique? “My learning tends to be led by my designing,” says Claire. “I’ll learn a technique to meet the needs of a new pattern I’m developing or a yarn I want to work with. Then I’ll start creating patterns just to play with my new technique.”

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It’s a practical and enjoyable way for Claire to make sure her knitting remains interesting and challenging. “I learnt short row shaping so I could create teddy bear paws and ended up making a menagerie of felt toys, then some felted multi-coloured mats and coasters using short rows and modular knitting.”

Claire was drawn to felt for a simple reason: because it’s fun! “Projects are forgiving for new knitters, as once the knitting is shrunk no one sees mistakes,” she says. “Wobbly edges disappear and if you added or lost stitches along the way no one knows! The magic of seeing a piece of oddly-proportioned knitting transform into thick, tactile felt still excites me.”

Claire Fairall felted teddy
Felting is forgiving, so even beginners could take on a project such as this bear!

Claire finds the design challenges of felting satisfying as well: “Felt shrinks more in length than it does in width, so creating soft curves for bags or detailed ears for a teddy is interesting. There’s always another direction felting can take me, whether it’s a new technique like modular knitting or creating a new soft toy character.”

Soon after she discovered felted knitting, Claire decided she wanted to make herself a bag. “I couldn’t find a pattern I liked so I took what I’d learnt from making felted slippers and used the techniques to create a curvy handbag.”

Claire Fairall felted handbag
Claire couldn’t find bag patterns she liked, so she started designing her own.

“My daughter and her friends loved it so I started making more,” Claire says. “I started playing with the design and before I knew it I had five bag patterns!” Each pattern is named after a member of Claire’s family, like the ‘Charlotte’ handbag, named after her sister. The next step was to start making and selling her bags at craft fairs. “I came up with new ideas in response to customer comments and requests. It was some time before I started to sell my patterns.”

Designing, Claire says, is a passion both in terms of the process itself, and the creative challenge it presents her with. “Designing motivates me to visit shows, libraries and museums. It keeps my sketch book by my side, and excuses me gazing out of the window thinking for whole afternoons!”

Claire Fairall felted bags
Claire’s stripy Japanese Knot Bags are quick to make and a handy size.

These days Claire receives frequent pattern commissions, and has discovered that Ravelry is a great place for support. “The best thing about Ravelry is the great community of folk who use it. My early listings quickly improved with the generous encouragement of my customers, and the forums are a friendly place to get advice.”

Knitting remains a joy, too. “I love to sit in the sun or a cosy chair, letting the yarn slip over my needles as the hours slide past. I love the challenge of creating something three-dimensional from a written pattern, wool and patience.”

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You can find out more about Claire and buy her patterns by visiting her website