Felt Paintings by Moy Mackay

by Karen Pereczes

As appeared in 'The Craftsman' magazine, November 2005 - copyright Karen Pereczes 2005.


Felt making is an ancient art - one of the oldest ways of making fabric from wool that is thought to have been around for about 8000 years. Woollen fibres are felted together using moisture, friction and heat. The fibres interlock and matt together as the wool shrinks. Anyone who has washed their woolly jumper at 60 degrees (oops!) will get the idea! Today, it remains a popular craft - many felt makers producing items of clothing, shoes, hats and accessories. But Scottish artist Moy Mackay has found an alternative application for this traditional craft... felt paintings.

Moy uses a combination of traditional felting techniques and hand machined embroidery to produce vivid images rich in colour and texture. Explains Moy: "My work is presented in a fine art way, as these are framed rather than functional pieces. I frame each piece behind glass, which give a less textural quality and more of a painterly look. I like this aspect as, from a distance, people assume they are paintings. When they get up close they are usually pretty amazed to discover they are, in fact, made from sheep's fleece!

"I had a real desire to paint about 4 years ago, after the birth of my son Saul. I was trying to achieve a certain effect but it just wasn't happening, so thought I would try, for fun, to achieve this in felt - and so it began. From there, my work has continued to develop and progress. I am no master felt maker... my work is felted enough to make it stand up to the embroidery process, but I wouldn't recommend wearing my work!"

Moy graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1990 with a BA (Hons) in Design. She specialised in textile design and won a number of awards, including a travel bursary to Russia, where Moy developed a passion for Russian folk art.                                      "During my time at art school I travelled during the holidays to India and Nepal where, as well as working as a buyer for a friend who owned various shops in Edinburgh selling ethnic clothing and jewellery, I was introduced to various hand printing techniques and methods. This led me to experiment with hand printing methods and hand painting onto fabrics, combining this with embroidery, silks and rich velvets. India was where I found great inspiration in colour - especially in Rajastan, where the women are very tall and dark and wear the most amazingly bright, fluorescent even colours."

On leaving art school Moy moved to a more tranquil life in the Scottish Borders, working as a freelance textile designer for a London based agency - selling designs to the UK, Europe, USA and Japan. Says Moy: "I decided that the industry wasn't really for me and went on to set up 'The Decorative Wooden Tile Company', hand painting folk art floor and wall tiles. The inspiration behind this came from my trip to Russia where, in the vast numbers of museums and buildings I visited, there are beautiful hand painted tiles inset into the ceilings." At the New Designers show in London Moy won the Tomkinson Flooring Design award and was invited to exhibit a year later in the One Year On show in London.

Nowadays, it is the Scottish Borders - particularly the spectacular location of Moy's home, high in the hills of Wolf Glen in Selkirkshire - that provides the ideal inspiration for her work. "Mostly my work follows two themes - flowers and landscapes," Moy describes. "I am very lucky to be living in a most idyllic part of the Tweed Valley with a fantastic view of the Eildon Hills near Melrose... hence many of my pieces have been titled something to do with the Eildons. The changing seasons and colours are a constant source of inspiration to me.              

"The nature of felt making means that I have to work indoors, so I work mainly from photographs... I tend to take my camera everywhere with me, and take photos of any beautiful place, sunset or sky I may come across.           

"Colour is my main passion and is what inspires me more than anything else. My studio has a whole wall taken up by a huge rainbow of hanging merino fleece... I can just look at my wall and see all sorts of landscapes in that alone, which in itself is very inspiring but is primarily a great palette system. I build up layers of merino in different directions, placing on colours as I would in a painting - though much easier if you don't like something to just whip it off and try something else instead of waiting for the paint to dry."

Each piece is created using hand dyed and carded merino fleece. The fleece is built up in layers of colour and then felted. This is achieved by using hot water and soap, working the fibres together by means of rubbing and rolling. Most pieces are then finished with freehand machine and hand embroidery to add finer detail.

Says Moy: "It's the fine balance between spontaneity and control required that makes the process exciting for me. I like the fact that I donít actually know how a piece will turn out once it's felted... so the finished work always carries an element of surprise!"

Moy sold her work initially in shops and galleries, as well at the occasional craft fair. Her first solo exhibition 'Paintings in Fleece' was the best-selling and best-attended exhibition ever held at Old Gala House in Galashiels, and she has since gone on to exhibit widely across Scotland. Moy is based at WASPS (Working Artists Studio Provision Scotland) Studios in Selkirk - an old textile mill partly funded by the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Borders Council - where she is currently exhibiting her work.

Says Moy: "My work I feel is constantly changing and progressing - improving in my eye. The number of galleries exhibiting is quickly expanding (especially recently, thanks to a very capable and enthusiastic agent/come mother!) My aim is to exhibit my work further afield but, so far, have not had the time I would like to pursue this."

A self-confessed workaholic  ("It's a family thing!" Moy laughs), Moy also helps run 'Wolf Glen Tipis' - manufacturing traditional Sioux design tipis with her partner, skilled craftsman and musician Johnny Morris. Moy also specialises in the designing and hand painting of tipi artwork and runs workshops for both children and adults in felt painting.


Further information -

Moy's work is currently exhibited in various galleries throughout the Scottish
Borders and in Edinburgh - her felt paintings range in price from 180 to 800 pounds. Commissions are welcomed. Contact Moy Mackay at:

E-mail: mail@moymackay.com

Website: www.moymackay.com

Wolf Glen Tipis - www.wolfglentipis.co.uk