A Wander around the Felt Cave, Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Making Studio

So last month we caught up with Lucy Sparrow and you might have read our latest interview with her here. We talked about her journey since the epic Cornershop installation in 2014 and looked forward to her latest show later in the year in LA.

It’s been a whirlwind for Lucy. Her particular brand of art, that of making well known items out of felt and wool and displaying them in an immersive way, is highly labour intensive. Yet she’s managed multiple shows including most recently a sell out replica Bodega in the meat-packing district of New York. It’s been a ride.

Making the Felt Magic

But with all this she’s needed to expand. Gone are the days when she could cut and sew alone in her living room. Now she has a more structured operation and there are people helping her to create the overwhelming volume it takes to put on an immersive ‘Cornershop’ type experience. Her latest project in LA for example is estimated to need between 35-40,000 individually hand crafted and sewn felt products.

What’s more, on each and every one Lucy hand finishes. She does what she calls the painting herself. That is, she will write the lettering and add any finishing touches to whichever item it is that is being created. The wording on a bottle of tomato ketchup for example or the edgings to the logo on a can of pepsi.

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A blowy man in the felt cave. A reminder of Lucy’s 8 Till Late Bodega in New York

All this of course requires organisation and so Lucy invited us over to see her felt cave, the studio where all the magic happens. It’s a place which she’s needed to expand twice since moving there a couple of years ago, such is the need to produce the goods in this mini felt factory.

Farm Living and the Felt Cave

Nestled in the middle of the Cambridgeshire countryside on a farm near Saffron Walden. She has rented a couple of farmers outbuildings and converted them into a mini storage and cutting warehouse. It’s like a cool little den, inside it’s all felt, string and patterns but from the outside it’s like any other farmers yard. Muddy and accessed via a small stone path there is absolutely nothing to tell that on the inside an epic undertaking is now underway to potentially stock a Los Angeles replica supermarket two times over.

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Packs of sushi on the cutting table in the main room

She also lives on the site. In a caravan just a few yards away she rolls out of bed at 7 and is working not long afterwards often well into the night. Her role is two-fold, during normal working hours she and a couple of her assistants will cut and pack the felt based  designs Lucy has already put together. This will then be packed up and sent to a team of freelance seamstresses who put them all together before returning the goodies back to the cave, all made up and almost ready to go.

It’s in the evening when Lucy sets to work painting and adding the finishing touches on each and every piece. Now decamping back into the caravan, with a cup of tea and working her way through boxset after boxset of every imaginable Netflix show going, she sits and paints alongside Basil her cuddly banana with whom she travels everywhere and does everything.

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Lucy Sparrow with Basil in the Felt Cave

Inspiring City Distractions

Picking me up from the station she arrives in a former ambulance, an investment which she felt was the ideal means of getting around. Except that being Lucy Sparrow she has changed the name of it to the ‘National Felt Service’ and then emblazoned on the side it says ‘Felt Aid Ambulance Service’. It’s quite a sight and certainly announces her arrival.

I feel kind of guilty when I pop over. It’s clear that she has lots to do and even though I’m visiting on a Sunday, even the weekends it seems offer no respite. Perhaps I am a welcome distraction, I like to think that’s the case at least. She makes us both a cup of tea and we get round to the inevitable logistical challenges of living on a farm. Simple things like rubbish disposal and keeping your shoes clean are constant worries.

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Peanut butters ready to go

The caravan is of course packed of feltness and I snuggle up next to a couple of sacks full of jars of JIF Peanut Butter, something which apparently, is very popular in the states. By the windows, some painted Doritos are drying in the winter sun and by the stove a load of French Mustard bottles just waiting to have the finishing touches applied. She shows me a room which I think might have been some form of bedroom but it’s difficult to tell, it’s just so full of felt.

Inside the Felt Cave

I wasn’t sure what to really expect of the cave itself but once there there is a re-assuring mixture of frivolity and thorough organisation. The small room she originally moved into is now pretty much full of filing cabinets. She’s made so many designs over the years that she needs to keep track of the patterns for them all and so has each and every one flat packed in a very organised way.

The main room is clearly where the work happens. A large cutting table on which sit a load of pepsi and diet pepsi cans, all waiting to be packed up into a box, not to be opened until they are the other side of the world in LA. Around the room, remnants from past shows and the tools to support the next. There are paints, coloured string and loads of the little eyes that she places on her fruit and veg to give them a bit more character. There’s also a little sick bay, where all the felt items that haven’t quite made the cut go. They all eventually do though she tells me, they just need a bit of love and care to get there.

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Lucy Sparrow in her felt cave with one of her felt pretzels

To the back of the main room are boxes piled high and ready to be shipped. There’s another room at the back with yet more boxes in it so there’s no doubt that she’s been busy and she needs to be, her plans are ambitious. When it happens, the LA show will be her biggest yet by some way. A kind of Sparrow’s supermarket with an 80’s theme she tells me, well that’s what’s in her mind at the moment at least.

I leave having spent the best part of a day with Lucy, an artist who we’ve followed for a while now on Inspiring City and who we’ve seen go from strength to strength. It’s gone dark though and so we hop back into the ambulance and down the leafy lanes of Cambridgeshire towards the station. She even gives me a little peanut butter jar to be going on with. It’s a lovely gift and gets pride of place in the living room cabinet as soon as I get back. As studios go, the felt cave is certainly unique but then it needs to be, Lucy Sparrow is a unique artist.

Lucy Sparrow was interviewed at her home and in the felt cave on 18 February 2018. You can read about that interview here and if you are interested in more about Lucy Sparrow you can catch all articles in the series here. Lucy’s work is also available through the Art Republic Gallery.

Lucy Sparrow Gallery

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The sick bay, but where they all get better

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Lucy Sparrow in her felt cave with one of her felt pretzels

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French Mustard drying

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Two happy avocados on the cutting table

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Bags ready to be packed for installations in the Lawrence Alkin Gallery

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Thread in boxes

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Boxes packed with felt goodies waiting to be shipped

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The painting rack

Lucy Sparrow

Lucy Sparrow