Have you ever put a woolly jumper in the washing machine at too high a temperature only to find that all that tossing and turning caused it to shrink? If you have, you will have likely berated yourself for being so careless. However, you could, as I found out while visiting this month’s wondrous woolly artist, Claúdia Moreira of TANTA Design – reframe this little mishap as your first attempt at ‘felting’.
More on that later. First, as the Portuguese would say, “Há ‘TANTA’ coisa para contar” – there’s ‘SO MUCH’ to tell …
Let’s meet the artist
Claúdia was born in Lisbon but grew up in Olhão. She told me she has always been linked with the arts in some way. She learned embroidery when she was five years old and always had a love for All Things Bright and Beautiful. In her teenage years, she even tie-dyed her own shirts.
Claúdia studied art in Faro before going to university in Lisbon, where she studied architecture, completing her final year in the Netherlands, which is where she met her husband.
The couple eventually moved to London for six years and Claúdia worked full-time as an architect but would unwind by taking evening and weekend workshops on anything from felting and printing to millinery (hatmaking).
She started to get into ‘The World of Wool’ when she was pregnant with her first child and would knit on her commute to the office – and found herself wishing she could find some more funky coloured yarns to work with.
But still, she didn’t have much time to dedicate to artsy things. It was only when her husband got a job in Dubai and Claúdia took time off to care for their young children that she had more time to practise all she had learned.
After moving back to Portugal about two years ago, Claúdia now splits her time between her architecture practice and this new artistic endeavour. Looking for a co-working space where she could work with and around other aspiring and inspiring artists, Claúdia was delighted to join the Loulé Design Lab last November.
As we’ve heard, Claúdia’s project has been a long time in the making. Indeed, I was amused to discover that that’s where the name TANTA comes from.
You see, she originally thought of calling it ‘TANTE’, which means aunt in Dutch – but she really wanted a Portuguese word. She told me how, over the years, she had kept all her crafty work or inspirations in a file on her computer called ‘Coisinhas’ – little things. However, what started small has been steadily growing bigger and bigger until now; as they say in Portuguese, it really has ‘TANTA coisa’ – SO MANY things.
The name stuck. And the beauty of it is that it doesn’t box her into any one thing – and she can feel free to pursue her many interests wherever they may lead.
“If it’s to put colour, I put COLOUR,” Claúdia laughed and explained when I gazed in awe at the rainbow explosionlaid out before me on a table at the Palácio Gama Lobo, headquarters of the Loulé Criativo.
She showed me her colourful collection of dyed yarns, as well as wool waiting yet to be spun. She sources local Portuguese wool and creates an array of truly tantalising tints. I was curious if Claúdia still sews herself – she does, and she showed me a lovely shawl she’s currently working on. For now, it’s more of a hobby. What she’s truly passionate about is creating colour.
It’s quite an arduous process, soaking and drying until you get your desired effect. Luckily, she lives in the countryside, where she has space to hang them out to dry. It’s a lot of work and she told me you really have to LOVE the process.
To create the bold and bright impact she adores, Claúdia uses industrial dyes. But I was also super intrigued to find out that, for the more mellow colours, she uses natural dyes from plants and trees she finds in the countryside around her. She uses the yellow flowers called Boa Noites (Oxalis pes caprae) that you can find highlighting the whole Algarvian countryside in winter, and also carob tree leaves, eucalyptus bark, almond pods and rock rose. Somebody even gifted her a wild mushroom found on the west coast.
Did you felt that?
After dying all the wool, Claúdia felt it would be a shame to let all the offcuts go to waste and this is what led her into the world of felting.
I didn’t know what felting was, but, using the washing machine as an amusing example, Claúdia was able to explain how it is a process of applying heat and friction to the wool. This causes it to swell and condense down again, making it more moldable.
Claúdia started to use her leftover bits and bobs to create the most lovely little containers. She also showed me lampshades and, as you can see on the wall behind her, some rather enchanting moon-crater-like sound-absorbing wall art she had recently made for the Noite Branca in Loulé.
But this artwork, it turns out, was made using no ordinary wool and this leads us on to the next stage in Claúdia’s woolly adventure …
Finding a use for the Churra Algarvia
At the beginning of the year, Claúdia was contacted by a zoologist called Carolina Bruno de Sousa from Algar Churra. She’s on a mission to profile, analyse and find uses for the Churra Algarvia – a native breed of sheep that hasn’t been paid much attention since the 1940s.
There are 16 native sheep breeds in Portugal and their wool ranges from fine and medium to very coarse. The Churra Algarvia, Claúdia laughed, definitely falls into the very coarse category. This means it’s extremely hard to work with. In the past, they used it to make rugs, but the factories were in the north of Portugal. The only thing they used it for here was to make fishermen’s socks.
Nowadays, of course, the fishermen have found alternatives in the local sports shops and, sadly, the wool (that needs to be sheared every year) is usually buried or burned.
In May, Claúdia and Carolina, who have now become firm friends, paid a visit to a local shearer in Estoi, Carolina to carry out her tests, and Claúdia to get her hands on some wool – and see if she could make anything of it.
It was quite dirty and very coarse, but Claúdia eventually got it clean and has managed to find ever more imaginative ways to incorporate this underused local material into her projects with beautiful results.
The world is undoubtedly a brighter, cosier and more colourful place with Claúdia in it. Keep an eye out for her at local wool festivals and, to follow her adventures or get in touch, please add her on Instagram @tanta.design