So soft felt vessel

Almost no words today (truck problems etc. so run out of time) but a detailed picture of my latest felt vessel, this one is 100% mohair and incredibly squishy, soft and tactile.  Had friends over for a loooong lunch yesterday and Eileen made the comment that it would make a wonderful nest for a kitten!  ‘Till tomorrow ……………….

Dizzy, fizzy, pink mohair vessel!

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Further exploration for my ArtL!nks project. Is more surface detail ever less???

You know the saying ‘less is more’ but do you think that the opposite holds and would it be possible to say that ‘more is less’ at times as well???  If ever this were the case the experiments I have been felting this week incorporating mohair might hold true to that principle, I am inclined to have a sneaking liking for them while Carmen is quite unreserved in her horror!  

Before I start to talk about these pieces let me say that I have also felted a white Icelandic wool and silk vessel (great as a lampshade!) which I have stiffened on the inside with lightly diluted PVA glue.  Success!!! 

Thin felt vessel stiffened on the inside with PVA

I used the same template as the medium sized white, brown and orange vessel from earlier in the course of this ArtL!nks project but only laid out two fine layers of wool and a large silk cap covering nearly both sides of the template.  Because I wanted to see how the glue would work I just rubbed and rolled the vessel until it was felting together without obvious seams at the edge of the resist and then turned it inside out, inflated a balloon inside and sponged on the diluted PVA to the surface.  My idea in trying this method was that while the PVA would strengthen the vessel it would not be totally absorbed by the felt and therefore once I turned the piece right side out to dry I should still have a ‘felterly’ texture to the surface of the felt, in addition to this it would obviously be larger than the firmly felted pieces using the same sized template.  Once the glue was sponged on I turned the felt right side out again and inflated another balloon inside before hanging the lot from my ceiling to air dry.  Yesterday afternoon I burst the balloon and even though the outside appeared totally dry the inside was still damp at the bottom.  By this afternoon however the whole vessel is quite dry and in fact it is incredibly light and almost got blown away in the light breeze when I was trying to photograph it.  The silk cap was a waste of time, possibly because the Icelandic wool is coarser than the merino but I was expecting some nice white on white texture and to be honest it almost looks like a glob of glue on the surface!  Other than that the felt feels pretty good on the surface and when I hold the vessel up to the light is looks wonderful as a lightshade, more possibilities with this one, maybe using the yoga ball as my template.  On Monday the LARGE vessel will start, procrastination ends here as I have now invested in a more expensive yoga ball complete with stronger pump, no excuses now to get the damn thing inflated!!!

Now, on to my ‘more is less’ experimenting.  Carmen is always great at sharing any unusual materials she gets with me and recently we were lucky enough to get some large bags of  ‘what I am now calling mohair waste which came as big clouds of fibre kind of like an  unstructured batt, probably there is a proper name for it but hopefully you can follow my drift!  This waste is the fibre removed in the process at woolen mills when woven and washed mohair is brushed to raise the surface creating not surprisingly ‘brushed mohair’ fabric.  Part of my ArtL!nks work involves expetimenting with surface detail and although these pieces are totally off the wall as far as my other work is concerned I did have great fun playing around with these.  I need a window of a couple days solid felting to complete my LARGE vessels and that is not going to occur until next week starts because I just haven’t had the space/time balance right this one! 

Plenty of colour and texture going on here!

Neither of us has ever felted with 100% mohair before so my first piece was a glorious riot of colour and texture which until I started to felt I had no idea if it would be successful or not.  Inspired by Robin Blakney Carson from Luckystone Feltworks I wanted to see what the result would be of adding oodles of various embellishments to the surface of the lustrous fibre, this mohair has an amazing sheen.  Now I am not for one minute suggesting that my experiments reach anything like the standard of Robin’s students work (they bead, slash, embellish and stitch into their felt as I had the pleasure of seeing at Robin’s workshops in Rhinebeck) but it was fun to just throw caution to the wind and play around with oodles of different materials and fibres and see how they would all combine with the mohair!  Unfortunately I have run out of time now but you can check my Flickr photos for more details (some notes about the materials on this picture) and to see the vessel I felted from mohair with a gotland/merino lining, info to follow next post!

Pretty snowed under …..

I promise a proper post tomorrow but for this evening I am pretty snowed under metaphorically speaking and with a change in temperature and colour outside (the colour over the mountains is always an indicator!) I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a fall of snow sometime this evening too.  Plenty of felting from Monday and Tuesday to document and report followed by a full day training with the Crafts Council yesterday (very exciting, more anon), golf club meeting yesterday evening and then a full day teaching today coupled with a TOTALLY bunged up sink downstairs (now unblocked thanks to Carmen’s turbo style plunger) mean all I am fit to do now is put some food in the oven and relax for a while!!!

Productive weekend playing with surface embellishment on felt vessels, stiffening experiment number one underway too

Continuing with the theme of sculptural felt for my ArtL!nks work, this weekend I played around with surface embellishment.  Between Friday afternoon and Sunday night I felted one small vessel incorporating a plastic net (the net that my clemintines came in) at the lay out stage and another medium sized one with leather and seed bead embellishments, these I stitched to the vessel prior to the final drying and shaping.  An email from Connie in relation to beading felt prompted me to create the stitched piece, I need to collect another roll of laminate floor underlay and 50m bubble wrap in Kilkenny on Wednesday so until then I can’t start on my largest vessel, playing around with surface design and starting to experiment with stiffeners and fabric paint seemed like a good way of continuing the project while having fun at the same time! 

Little leather leaves, seed beads, white vessel and sewing tools

The idea for adding the leather leaves and seed beads was inspired by a purse I saw in one of the Stampington magazines, I will explore my untidy studio and upload the name as soon as I get my hands on the magazine!  Because I made the vessel in pure white without any prefelt cutouts it was nice just to concentrate on the form and enjoy feeling the wool felting under my hands.  Once the vessel was felted and shaped I started to stitch the little leather shapes around the brim.  Felt is a wonderful medium to stitch into (if the felt is thick enough and not paper thin) because for most sewing projects it is possible to hide any thread ends and loose ends within the fabric thus leaving a totally clean reverse to the stitched side. 

Stitching on the first leaf

It didn’t actually take as long as I anticipated to stitch on the leaves and now the vessel has a balloon inside it once more to keep it in shape until it is 100% dry, I will post a photo as soon as this is last stage is completed.

The other sculpture/vessel entailed stretching a plastic orange net around my resist, laying three layers of brown merino on top of this followed by one layer of yellow fibre.  I didn’t trap the netting at all and hoped that the torn edges in some spots would add the the surface interest, the plastic incorporated well but I am not totally sure if I am happy with the colour combination and design now it is drying, possible less plastic would have been more in this little sample! 
Little plastic orange net and merino sculpture/vessel

This morning I have created and stiffened a medium sized vessel using Icelandic wool, loads of soap and cold water a la Anna Gunnarsdottier.  More about this vessel next post, stiffeners again and tools we all use for fulling our felt.  Thanks for all your comments to date re stiffeners, much appreciated!

Thanks, picture of my recent ArtL!nks vessel drying and stiffeners at last

Thanks for all your comments re. the yoga ball, I am now wondering if my new ball has a puncture somewhere so I need to try and inflate Cathy’s with the foot pump before I go into total breakdown mode!

It is FREEZING at Clasheen this morning, still well below zero degrees and most of my windows have ice on the inside even though it is now almost lunchtime here.  I did manage to take a photo of my latest ArtL!nks piece out on the wall just to give you an idea of how much it has shrunk and also how it looks in relation to two of the previous vessels. 

Vessels increasing in diameter

The balloon is still inside until it totally dries out and as I said previously I am not 100% happy with the end result (not the nicest design and definitely not quite the shape I was looking for) but I suppose it is fruitless to expect that each piece will turn out exactly as I want and hopefully my next piece will be more pleasing to the eye.  I measured the diameter of my initial resist at 56cms (a couple of cms bigger than my dustbin lid) and the final measurement at 31cms therefore if I have done my online percentages correctly that is a shrinkage rate of 55.37%!  Without a larger balloon to put pressure on the inside of the vessel I found it impossible to shrink the felt further although I do feel that there might be some more potential to decrease in size I just don’t seem to be able to achieve it myself.  Once I burst the balloon I will see how stable the felt is and how the shape holds when dry, because the felt is quite thick (as are the first smaller successful vessels) I am hopeful that all will be well.

One of the vessels I am intending to stiffen with wooden floor varnish (Anna Gunnarsdottier uses this for her hugh felt sculptures) and see how it weathers the elements outside.  Will it hold water (Anna would say yes!), will it discolour, how will I secure it in the garden?  Obviously unless I add some form of stiffening aid just leaving one of the vessels as is and putting it outside would probably mean that after the first heavy rain the shape would start to distort because the form is hollow.  We get a LOT of rain here in this neck of the woods and while I love outdoor installations made in felt which weather subtly with time for these vessels the shape is all important to me. 

I have tried PVA glue to stiffen some buttons/jewellery early in my felting days and found that when used neat it TOTALLY altered the feel of the felt, you would need an angle grinder to cut into it!  Probably if I had diluted it 50/50 with water things would have been fine but as it was the texture was horrible and it was a long time before I ventured into the stiffening game again.  My next and only other attempts were to stiffen two felt sculptures I made, one during an Anna Gunnarsdottier workshop and one directly afterwards when I returned home to Clasheen.  As far as I remember I allowed the sculptures to dry totally in shape before re-wetting and squeezing out the excess water.  Next I plunged them back into a basin of PVA or wooden floor varnish (without fungiside) and worked the medium thoroughly into the felt before squeezing and reshaping.  In both cases I stuffed the drying felt with bubble wrap and while they definitely will never shift in shape again I am not totally sure that I like the finished effect!  Unless you actually touch the felt it does appear to be ‘normal’ but that seems to make the sensory experience even more surreal as soon as you discover it feels totally unlike a tactile fabric under your hand.

Anyway, I have been following all your comments with interest making note of what other felters and textile artists have tried as stiffeners so thanks a million for sharing your thoughts everyone!  This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this topic I suspect but some of the most common mediums used to stiffen felt artificially are …..

  • PVA glue
  • Wooden floor varnish
  • Bondcrete (Australian)
  • GAC400 from Golden (American)
  • Shellac
  • Artists medium
  • Acrylic floor polish

In all cases I think it is possible to use these undiluted or diluted and this will have a big bearing on the end result achieved.  My friend Nancy Schwab has painted some of her vessels with a 50/50 mixture of textile paint and water which also acts as a stiffener, has anyone else tried this out and if so what paints do you use?  Have you any tips and advice to share with us by leaving a comment?  All info gratefully recieved!!!

Quick question re yoga balls!

I know I promised to really fire the discussion about stiffening felt in my next post so I am digressing slightly, don’t count this as a post just a little diversion until tomorrow!  I want to ask the question ….. how long does it take to inflate a yoga ball with a foot pump?????  This morning I have tried to inflate my new ball with Cathy’s foot pump, tried being to opperative word because after about 10 minutes of huffing and puffing only the tiniest smidgen of air seemed to have entered the blooming thing while I myself was all puffed out from the effort of trying to get it inflated!  Later I will try to inflate Cathy’s ball (bought my own in Aldi yesterday) in case hers is any easier but to be honest if this is as easy as it gets it would be days before I could finish a vessel using one as a shaper.  Any thoughts???

Order of process continued …..

Following on from yesterday’s post the shaping and fulling of the vessel takes a lot of time once the opening is cut and sealed.  The steps that I go through are as follows …..

  1. Insert one hand inside the ‘package’ and pressing around the outside where the resist meets the seam work the felt from both sides to even out any potential ridges
  2. Once this is done I then turn the vessel right side out and check the design for loose pieces
  3. For the smaller vessels I had no problems with the design not integrating into the white merino but for the larger ones it seems to be necessary to check each prefelt design and then using a Clover needle felting tool (5 needles in a spring loaded holder) go over each design element to ensure everything is felting together well

    Securing loose edges of the design with a Clover needle felting tool

  4. Once I am happy that all the elements are cominging together it is time to apply some pressure and start to rub, roll and felt strongly using whatever method I fancy as I work on different parts of the vessel.  At this stage I might roll or rub on bubble wrap, the table or an excellent ridged mat I brought home from America (fridge shelf liner I think!), a great present from one of my students.  You could also use a car floor mat although I do find that sometimes they turn pure white merino a nasty grey colour!
  5. I still have soap in the felt at this stage and soon I will blow up a balloon inside the vessel to try and work it into as round a shape as possible.  Pouring HOT water from the kettle over the vessel I work it with soapy hands over my washing up bowl in the sink
  6. After a while I take it out of the sink and upend it over a large glass salad bowl.  Now I start to stiffen the felt by banging repeatedly all over the surface with a long handled wooden spoon
  7. Periodically I roll the whole balloon encased package on top of the ridged mat and spot full with a felting mouse before plunging it into HOT water again and doing some more rubbing in the sink
  8. Next I rinse it thoroughly in HOT water before turning the vessel inside out, inserting another balloon and repeating the rolling, banging  and rubbing process on the other side

    Inside out vessel starting to get stiffer and take shape

  9. I keep alternating between banging the vessel into shape now, stretching it with my mouse from the inside and rewetting with extremely HOT water.  When I am happy that the vessel is almost shrunk to size I turn it right side out for a last rinse before putting it in my washing machine and turning on the drain and spin cycle.  Now I don’t have any balloon inside the vessel as I want to spin out as much water as possible using the machine
  10. Once the vessel comes out of the machine I inflate another balloon inside it before the final session of banging and stiffening
  11. When I am finally happy with the strength of the felt and the final shape I leave the vessel on the balloon to dry fully sitting once more inside my large glass salad bowl

Today I have spent about 4 hours banging and rolling this latest vessel and at last it is resting around its balloon to dry.  As soon as I am happy that the felt is totally dry (probably a few days because it is a big piece) I will burst the balloon and take some pictures.  I don’t like my surface decoration as much as the last vessel I felted but I was concentrating more on the size and shape of the piece and wanted to use up the prefelt I had from a previous one last week.  Tomorrow is my sister’s birthday so I am having a felt free day but on Wednesday morning I will start my largest vessel hopefully using Cathy’s yoga ball for the shaping and shrinking, watch this space! 

As you can read from the process above I am stiffening these vessels by shrinking and fulling the felt to the degree that they are strong and hold their shape without the use of any additional stiffeners.  My next post will examine some of the ways in which to add different solutions (PVA, artists medium etc.) to aid the stiffening process and it would be great to stimulate debate about this process, thanks to all of you who have already commented on the topic here and on Facebook!