The Forest of Dreams: beginning a new project

Sample textile fronds from the Forest of Dreams
Sample textile fronds from the Forest of Dreams

In our Forest, everyone can reach out and touch their dreams: ‘I hope she always has people around her that care for her.’ ‘I want to travel with Doctor Who and meet a Dalek.’ ‘I hope my boys will take their own path in life.’

Thomas enjoys the hanging that represents his dream: 'space to be myself'
Thomas enjoys the hanging that represents his dream: ‘space to be myself’

Jenny and Marion, the Forest of Dreams team, were invited to make a multi-sensory textile piece of art, working with Sense families and staff across six different areas of the country.  It was the beginning of a great journey of encounter, fun, and lots of messy play with fabric.  These oldblog posts will chart our great adventures in the Forest of Dreams. Our hopes and ideas The Forest of Dreams is an immersive place full of textures – felted, plaited, wrapped and much more – and filled with multi-sensory representations of ‘dreams’ and their meanings.  It’s been made by artist Jenny Langley who has worked with Sense members across the country. The aim of the project was to engage with everyone taking part, of all ages: children, family members, Sense staff and professional artists. Everyone works at their own level of expertise, and challenges themselves to take their skills that bit further – including the artists.  The forest will be full of surprises – unexpected materials, pockets for treasures and secret messages – who knows what you will discover!

Watching the hanging textiles blowing in the wind, and hearing the noise of the dangly things caught everyone’s attention.
Watching the hanging textiles blowing in the wind, and hearing the noise of the dangly things caught everyone’s attention.

We took the Forest to the Sense venue at Summit Point in Birmingham on a windy day.  Watching the hanging textiles blowing in the wind, and hearing the noise of the dangly things caught everyone’s attention.

'Jack will really like these: watch!' said Tom
‘Jack will really like these: watch!’ said Tom

‘Making links’ between families, between different SENSE groups, and with the general public was an important part of the project.  We wanted everyone in the project to be able to communicate and have moments of meaningful encounter, like Jack and his friend Tom, exploring the chime bells together.

But most of all, we wanted everyone to have fun!

A word from the artists

Felt shapes made by Jenny as samples for the Forest of Dreams
Felt shapes made by Jenny as samples for the Forest of Dreams

‘Felting seemed a good place to start,’ said Jenny, ‘It’s a very tactile process which lots of people can access and just rubbing little balls of coloured merino wool fibres in warm soapy water produces lovely felted shapes: long lengths of wool rovings could be twisted, plaited and then felted – just perfect for a magical Forest!  I had great fun making samples to show the groups, adding in different colours of threads and fabrics – for instance pieces of my old blouse from Australia bought when I visited my sister there ten years ago. ‘This has been a great chance for me to put personal things into the Forest.

felt shapes made by SENSE families
felt shapes made by SENSE families

I added some stylised leaves made many years ago when I first learnt to screen print.  I made embroidered ash leaves, to remind me of a favourite childhood tree: gingko in memory of a close friend, plane tree leaves because Marion’s son recently got married under a plane tree. ‘I tried out textile activities that could work at lots of different levels:  tearing up old fabric to make knotted and plaited fronds (we discovered that tearing fabric was a lot of fun!); wrapping curtain rings, circles of twisted willow and dogwood, even shiny pan scourers; we collected a feely basket of different fabrics to feel. ‘I ended up with a collection of samples to show the groups what the finished forest would look like.’

Storyteller Marion Leeper developed a story to go with the forest. John Chapman lives in a house with an apple tree in the garden and a hole in the roof where the rain comes in.  One night he has a dream.   ‘I adapted a traditional folktale to make a sensory story which I hoped everyone would enjoy,’ says Marion.  ‘The Forest of Dreams is about the fact that our dreams are often within our grasp.

Logan loved the sensation of the tickling feathers that represented the bird in the story. He reached out his hands towards it.
Logan loved the sensation of the tickling feathers that represented the bird in the story. He reached out his hands towards it.

‘I included all my favourite sensory props: water to spray, cloths to cover people’s heads, tickling feathers and music.  I told the story many times during the project, so that everyone would get familiar with it.  It was a great way in to talking about what our own dreams might be.

In the next oldblog we’ll talk about what happened when we met the families in six very different settings.

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