Robbin is wild about St. Bernard dogs. And cats and pretty much any other critter that walks on four feet. She and her family rescue them as strays (mostly her daughter Kirsten rescues them) but ‘automagically’ they arrive at Robbin’s door and she and Harry find a way to make room for one more and in one case, give a cat his ninth life. Mick, the St. Bernard rescue, likes to eat raspberries right out of the garden and Kirsten is Robbin’s wearable art model. Robbin is a night owl and seems to work non-stop. Those tidbits of information about Robbin Firth are easily found on social media as she is very earnest in keeping her posts timely. But what you may not know about Robbin is that she’s a cancer survivor and an entrepreneur. Grateful that she is on the long side of the 5 year mark, she takes her felting art and felting business very seriously. Her discipline, focus and creativity are the foundation of her success.
Robbin is a self taught felting artist. Sure, she’s taken a class at the local fiber festival, but her approach to felting is uniquely her own. So much so that it when she started wet felting with its rigorous body movements of rolling, slapping and pounding the fiber, she thought there has to be a better way! Literally throwing her petite frame into the work, her husband Harry thought there might be a more effective method besides using rocks. (Felting is an ancient art, right?) As a wood worker, he went into the shop and worked on a prototype. Over a couple of years Robbin tested, made adjustments and the first revolutionary wet felting tool was born. They call it the Palm Washboard™ The first Palm Washboards™ were round. Now they come in many sizes and shapes to get into all the nooks and crannies that make up every imaginable shape a felter could want. The real trick comes from applying pressure in a concentrated area using the unique waffle design on the bottom of the tool. Robbin laughs when she says felting is not a complex process. Okay, I’ll give her that, but dyeing the fiber, having an ‘eye’ for what will look good when it’s felted is the artistry for which Robbin is known.
Heartfelt Silks is a family run business with Robbin and Harry juggling many roles each day. There’s Robbin the teacher, studio artist, customer service rep, social media maven, animal handler and Harry (with day job in mind) moonlighting as a Palm Washboard™ maker and shipping pro. In the summer months, they have a large garden. As busy as she is, Robbin plans time to work in her garden and grow enough to provide for her family and donates whatever is left over to a food shelf. (She’s a locally famous pickle maker.) Leaving the food to rot in the field is not an option as she learned from her grandfather. A regular at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, he owned a farm in Scandia, MN. Robbin tells a story of when her grandfather donated 14,000 pounds of potatoes to Second Harvest rather than see them compost in the field. Sure, it cost money and effort to deliver the goods, but the food didn’t go to waste and helped many people that winter.
Two questions shaped Robbin’s approach to life. What can I do with this opportunity and how can I help someone by doing it? I can use phrases like ‘being present’ or ‘mindful’ to describe this attitude, but Robbin will simply tell you it’s about showing up every day and doing the work. Whether it was her 22 year job at Andersen Windows or developing an A-list clientele house cleaning business while felting into the night, Robbin sets goals and makes a tactical plan for achievement. Robbin has a passion for success no matter what she’s doing. The felting tool she and Harry developed is a great example. Not only does it make her felting art more fun and efficient, it opens the world of wet felting to people who might not have tried it before. Robbin uses her art to teach people how to felt using their tool.
Twenty years ago, Robbin says a good friend taught her how to knit. Thinking that making fabric via knitting was too laborious, Robbin scrapped the knitting needles and went straight to wet felting. The process of manipulating the fabric and fibers is still captivating and can be such a lovely surprise! Experimenting with all types of fibers from silk to wool including many breeds of sheep—her Teeswater locks shawl has its own fan club—her felt pieces are moving into sculptural and wearable art. Felted scarves, shawls and toolkits are still the bread and butter of her business and her studio is decorated with their color.
October is a big month for Robbin and crew. She is hosting a month long series of workshops entitled Fabulous Fibre Month in conjunction with her studio at Seasons on St. Croix in Hudson, Wisconsin. Nationally recognized felting artists from across the Midwest (and one from California) are teaching the workshops. More info can be found here. Already known for her innovative felting techniques, this collaboration of expertise establishes Robbin among the A-list of felting artists.
Playing this studio artist/teacher/entrepreneur opportunity out to the fullest experience, Robbin is just beginning to see what’s ahead for someone who shows up every day and does the work.
[ale_button url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZtLWPlyXkY” style=”orange” size=”medium” type=”round” target=”_blank”] Robbin Firth interview with Fiber Art Now magazine [/ale_button]