Polish Felt Function, Fashion and Art

The Friends of Polish Art were treated to a new genre of art to enjoy, the glorious functions and visuals of Polish Felt. Rayneld Rolak Johnson, Ph.D., presented about the history, fashion and textured felt as an artist’s medium. The strong turnout at St. Anselm’s Parish Hall heard that in Poland, felting has a long and rich history. Felt, both wool and rabbit, is an ancient functional product that was used for clothes, shoes, military accessories and craft-art.

 Alina Klin, Ph.D. and Rayneld Rolak Johnson, Ph.D., both educators at Wayne State University presented at the recent Friends of Polish Art event in suburban Detroit.

Alina Klin, Ph.D. and Rayneld Rolak Johnson, Ph.D., both educators at Wayne State University presented at the recent Friends of Polish Art event in suburban Detroit.

Johnson, a longtime educator at Wayne State University in Fashion Design and Art, showcased and enriched about the history and development of Polish Highlander (górali) felt as both functional products and textured works of art. “Felt is no longer just folk art,” Johnson said.  She added, “Felt designs have evolved to be more than folk art. Felting techniques are recognized around the world in both craft and fine art.”


Dr. Johnson went on, “Felting was an ancient craft of creating a nonwoven fabric structure by matting wool, fur and hair fibers with heat, moisture and pressure. There is evidence of the expertise being practiced in ancient civilizations. More currently, a variety of felting techniques such as wet felting, needle felting and nuno felting have been implemented by designers and artists to create artistic original fabric structures for art to wear accessories and apparel.”

Her appreciation and vast pallet of art information generated many interesting questions including the construction techniques of millinery felt presentations. She also touched on her award winning textured textile piece, “Maui Sunset”, which was featured at the K-Mart headquarters in Troy, Michigan.

FPA board member and Instructor at WSU, Alina Klin, Ph.D., said, “Now we will need a tutorial on how to make Polish-American felt, this is so interesting and equally so culturally enriching.”

Klin added, “Felt making would be a fit for Tech Town at Wayne State in Detroit as an emerging entrepreneurially art pop-up. This is so appropriate for our International Studies Program at WSU, combining cultures and industry.”

A native daughter of Detroit, Johnson was recognized with her fashion prowess early and while in high school, she received from Governor William Milliken, the Michigan State Fair-Best of Show acknowledgment for the entire State Fair. This special blue ribbon award was for an apparel design and garment construction that she had entered. This was the only time in over 100 years of competition, at the Michigan State Fair, that a garment received this special designation. She was also an honored award winner at the national convention of the National Wool Council in San Francisco.

She started her Art and Textile instructing at the University of Detroit-Mercy.   Currently at WSU, her course specialties are the history, design, production and merchandising of apparel and textiles. She has focused research on the social, historical, economic and psychological factors influencing design and trend development and was selected as a research fellow by TC2 Textile Clothing Technology Corporation. Also, Johnson has published on learning theory and instructional design and is accomplished with cutting edge trends such as avatar fitting simulations.

A recent national project Johnson presented was the “The Influence of the Automobile on Fashion.” She has given international presentations related to apparel design and innovative teaching strategies, such as “The Art of Developing Creativity in Apparel Design Students.”

Of late, Johnson has been the costume consultant on some Michigan film productions. Most recently she was regional director of The Fashion Group International and is an active member of the Michigan Surface Design Association.