In December, felt maker and artist Jo Hesse began a collective art project called the Social Fabric Project. Part community festival and part fundraiser, the project brings together volunteers to create a large felt rug. 

The rug features colored scrap fabric collected throughout the year and wool donated by local farmers. The completed rug will be auctioned off this month at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. 

Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story. 

Jo Hesse shares why she selected the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts as the project’s beneficiary in a digital exclusive interview.  

Read the full transcript:

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Inside the Bombyx Center in Florence, Massachusetts, a unique community event is taking place: the creation of a large felt rug using colored scraps, as well as wool donated from local farmers.

The project is being organized by filmmaker and artist Jo Hesse, her dad, and a small group of volunteers.

Jo Hesse, Felt Maker/Artist: I work with my dad to make medium sized rugs, but I’ve always wanted to make bigger rugs.

And I wanted it to be, like, all about community and getting people to work together to do something creative together in the first part of the project and then to kind of synchronize our bodies and, like, work together in a…almost like a dance.

Dave Fraser: At this year’s rug making project, Hesse used percussionists and improvisational musicians to jam to the rhythm of the rug maker’s work.

Hesse says they help keep the beat for felt makers, while creating another layer of spontaneous communal art.

Jo Hesse: Drumming is — mainly because we’re working with a lot of people, and if everyone isn’t synchronized, it’s really hard to move the rug forward.

So, especially when you have new people that…it just really helps to have the drum.

Dave Fraser: The first few weeks of the project were spent designing the surface and arranging the colors of the rug.

Then, the group moved on to turning the wool into cloth, using traditional techniques that Hesse learned when she traveled to Turkey.

Jo Hesse: I went to Turkey to learn more about felt making and specifically to learn how to make rugs, because a lot of the felt making that you would encounter around here would just be small things or thin, like, garments — thin felt.

It starts out really big and fluffy and airy and, like, soft.

The — the stomping and beating of the fibers kind of shocks them into tighter and tighter tangles.

By the time you’re done, it’s like this very hard leather-like fabric that’s almost half the size of the original.

Dave Fraser: The collaborative aspect is what Hesse finds most exciting about her work.

The moments of complete community where creativity, physical activity, and resources are shared and something is able to be produced that one person alone would not have been able to do.

Jo Hesse: Last year when we did it, I didn’t tell people anything about what to do. Everyone could just do whatever they wanted for the pattern.

And people didn’t really think about each other or the whole, they just did their own thing and left.

And so this year, I did this circular medallion and I did some lines in it so that it had a form, thinking that people would then think about the whole more.

And they really did.

They were like, “Oh, there’s pink over here! And so let’s bring some pink to this side. And — or there’s like little squiggles over here, so let’s bring that over here.”

Dave Fraser: Later this month, the finished rug will be auctioned off and the proceeds will be donated to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.