Stepping into the Huntington Beach home of artist Fatima Kaser, our eyes are awakened by vivid hues of red, yellow, purple and blue. Our toes are greeted by her curious, cuddly dachshund, Cocoa. After a brief conversation with her four-legged companion, she agrees to behave, and Kaser warmly waves us into her living room—a space that has been artfully transformed into a small gallery featuring works by her friends and her own wearable creations. Her stunning felt works are draped across various pieces of furniture, and a mannequin displaying her latest nuno felting creation peeks at us from an adjoining room. Both Kaser's home and work showcase a careful collision of her cultures and travels, pulling from lands like Europe, South America, America and the Caribbean.
Sipping our coffee and eyeing the various cultural keepsakes adorning the room, we try to follow Kaser's life path. "My life is a long story," she says in her slightly diluted Venezuelan accent. Born in Venezuela, her heart remains in Amsterdam where she spent most of her life. Her travels, work and 20-year marriage to an American man have led her to Barbados, throughout Europe and across the United States. Thankfully, the family of five moved to HB three years ago, and now we have our very own expert in the arts of nuno felting and wet felting.
Living in a city like Amsterdam that places such a high value on the arts, it was only natural for the multilingual mother, while raising her three children, to immerse herself in the culture. Idolizing the works of artists like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Dali and those of her native Venezuela, she began taking classes in nuno and wet felting techniques. Incorporating the colors and shapes of her Venezuelan roots into her craft, Kaser's keen eye for color shines apparent in her work. "I don't know if it is a gift or because I grew up seeing color," she says. Now the colorful fashionista has gifted to the world her unique wearable art.
The process of nuno felting, or painting with fiber, is a rigorous, wet and simple one. Techniques vary from artist to artist, but the foundation for the natural bondage between the fabrics requires a loose, pure fiber, like wool, and a sheer fabric, like 100 percent silk. When soaked with soap and water, the wool hooks onto the silk, joining the two as one. The stunning result is a lightweight felt.
Kaser's essential materials include wool sourced from Colorado and 100 percent silk sourced both locally and abroad. "It has to be pure silk," she tells us, adding that only the pure form of the fiber will iron without melting. For nuno felting she uses just five tools: bubble wrap, olive soap or all-natural dish soap, wooden palm washboards, water and her hands. Her work meets no limitations, as Kaser follows the advice of one of her teachers: "It's all in your hands. What you can see, what you can do."
During our visit, we follow Kaser into her garage studio, and she points us to a plastic table surrounded by her son's surfboards, racks and mannequins proudly housing her work, containers brimming with a rainbow of wools and silks and a lattice wall adorned with wet felted flowers peeking through the gaps. Our vision of her technique alters as she graciously walks us through the entire organic process of nuno felting a scarf.
Lying a light blue strip of 100 percent silk atop a strip of bubble wrap on the table, Kaser delicately pulls strands of dark blue wool from her bundle and places them onto the silk in a vertical pattern. The darkest shade of blue in the space, however, likely belongs to Kaser's curls. Working across the silk strip, she returns to each section, lying the same color across the wool strands horizontally. The process is repeated with different colors, and her creation evolves as she positions various pieces of felt and a wool-silk hybrid onto the work. She welcomes commissioned work and lets the customer select the palette, but, warns Kaser, "If you let my imagination go, I will add color." Checking over her work, she declares the motley strip ready for a bath.
The need for the bubble wrap finally becomes clear. Armed with a bucket and scrub brush, Kaser slips on her waterproof clogs and begins splashing the mixture of dish soap and warm water onto the strip, working her way down the scarf-to-be. Confident that the work is completely saturated, she places a strip of bubble wrap atop the suds, tightly rolls the piece, wraps it in towel and forcefully massages the dripping cylinder numerous times. "Start rolling as if you're making bread," she advises. The process is repeated a few times, and Kaser makes sure to roll the work from the opposite end with each round.
Once certain that the wool fibers have migrated into the silk, she then rinses the scarf thrice, in hot water, cold water then vinegar. She hangs the scarf in the garage to dry, noting that, unlike other artists, she refrains from using a dryer—from "cheating." We agree that the finished product resembles a coral reef, and we stare in awe at how she brought the gorgeous garment to life in roughly one hour. Some of her more involved creations, like her tapestry cloaks, can take up to four hours to complete. She makes one new piece daily.
Kaser has been advancing her craft for two years and has built a beautiful collection of one-of-a-kind men's and women's scarves, stoles, shawls, beach tops, cloaks, wraparounds, hats and flowers—also known as Fatima's Wild Rose Creations. Inspired by her HB street, the name perfectly represents her work, which comes to life through her diverse cultural influences, envied creative freedom and desire to teach her children about her birthplace. Says Kaser, "The feeling at the end is so nice because you create something that is unique...They're all different. I cannot do two of the same." Her daughter models many of her finished pieces, some embellished with lace, beads, dream catcher designs and other shiny "bling."
Just recently, her wet felted work Ocean City, MD, Seaside and a pretty in pink wet felted shawl Tapiz Guajiro were featured at the HB Art Center as part of its annual group show, "Centered on the Center," and a small collection of her creations display permanently at the venue. In the future, Kaser hopes to teach felting workshops at the Art Center. The Las Damas Sunset Beach Art Festival in May also showcases her work, and she donates much of her goods as well. "I do charity because my mom said, 'You give and you receive,'" says Kaser. "If you have a gift you can share it with people." Currently, Kaser is prepping for the upcoming RAW Hollywood show and hoping to introduce her work to more local shops, galleries and markets.
"People are afraid of color, of fiber," says Kaser. We say let her open us up to it, with every wild creation.