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 ……………….
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!!!
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!
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! Tweet
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!!!
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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)
- 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!!!
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???
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 …..
- 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
- Once this is done I then turn the vessel right side out and check the design for loose pieces
- 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
- 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!
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Once the vessel comes out of the machine I inflate another balloon inside it before the final session of banging and stiffening
- 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!
The vessel I started during the week needs a couple more hours work and then hopefully it will be fully felted and fulled. I realise from some of your comments here, on Facebook and via email that it might be helpful if I wrote down the steps that I am using for this process one by one so here goes, (PS this is not a definitive way to felt vessels just the one I am using for these!) …..
- Determine the size of the vessel and cut out the template, I use 2mm thick laminate floor underlay by choice although any type of flexible plastic or bubble wrap will work just fine
- Make my prefelt from 3 even layers of merino
- Cut out some prefelt shapes
- Lay my template on top of bubble wrap, bubble side up
- Lay my initial shapes directly onto the template, for these vessels I am working with the design inside method. I think that this is keeping the edges clearer and helps me get a seamless edge around the resist
- Lay 2 fine layers of white merino up to and about 1.5cms (half an inch) over the edge of the resist
- Wet the fibres with soapy water, rub lightly either through a net or by pressing another piece of bubble wrap on top
- Turn the package upside down when I am happy the layer is wet through (but not soaking) using a second piece of bubble wrap, bubbles against the fibre as usual
- Fold in the prefelt pieces that are draping around the edge of the template first, lay out more template shapes to complete the design. By using the laminate floor underlay I can see the colours from my prefelt through the resist and this helps me determine where I want to position the rest of the prefelt
- Fold over the white merino from side 1 and then lay 2 layers of the same wool in side 2 this time just going up to the edge of the template but not too far over
- Wet, press and turn over back to side 1
- Fold over small edge from side 2, lay out 2 more layers of white merino going approx 1.5cms over the edge again, wet out and turn over
- Fold over edge and lay out 2 more layers of white before wetting out and folding over any stray fibres to the other side
- Place piece of yarn or different coloured fibre in the centre of the side where I will be making my cut to remove the resist
- Start to felt the vessel by rubbing gently on top of the bubble wrap and then delicately directly on the fibres themselves paying special attention that the edges are pulled up tightly around the resist
- Keep turning the vessel over to work on both sides and rotate to ensure all the package is worked evenly
- When I am happy that the felt is holding together firmly and starting to shrink I cut a circle in the centre of my top side and work the cut edges to seal them before removing the resist. Note in the picture how you can see the design on the inside at this stage, I love this first glimpse!
Tomorrow I will post the rest of the process as well continue with the stiffening debate. Thanks so much for all your comments to date on this topic and the tip about using a yoga or exercise ball for my next vessel, I have borrowed one from a friend (thanks Cathy) so my largest vessel will be underway by Wednesday at the latest!
This morning I started my largest ArtL!nks vessel to date, the template I am using is a couple of inches bigger all round than my dustbin lid or trash can lid as those of you would say in the USA! I know that part of my original proposal was to set up a seperate blog to write exclusively about the project but to be honest I have decided that it makes a lot more sense to document my progress here, it is felting after all and this is the place all my friends come to when they want to discover what I have been up to during the day!!!
Anyway, I need to buy more laminate floor underlay and a fresh roll of bubble wrap later in the week because while this vessel will be large it is still not going to be as large as my final work and I need more resist material to draft out the biggest template. I want this largest vessel to have a finished diameter of approx 1m (just over 3′) and when I am in town I think it would be fantastic if I could find some huge balloons over which to shape and dry the piece, it would be so much easier to finish if there was already a shape inside to felt towards. Thanks to everybody who is leaving comments here and on Flickr about the vessels I have felted to date, it is interesting as well to have a debate about the merits of stiffening felt versus shrinking and working without stiffener and hardening the piece by hand. We might talk about how I am shrinking and firming up the vessels in the next post, for now I am going to get a quick cup of 3 ginger tea and then off to do some more rubbing and felting!
Swap partners are now up for the Flickr Clasheen Crafty Swap so if you are one of the current participants please ENJOY!!! These swapping events are meant to be fun and I just want to take this opportunity of thanking everybody who has participated to date and welcoming new swappers to the experience, I think you are going to love it!
Before I write a little about the warm shawl I felted yesterday (could this be nuno felt???) I just want to address some questions which pop up quite regularly about the swap both as comments or private emails here to me at Clasheen. I hope you don’t mind but I am just going to write the sallient details as bullet points, I know you will get the gist but for anyone needing more info please take a look through previous swaps on the discussion board and in the group pool of pictures to see the type of packages we share around the world. Here goes …..
- Everyone is welcome to join wherever you may live in the world
- We usually swap one main item (hand crafted by you for your partner!) and a selection of other smaller items.
- Our participants come from all walks of life so all we ask for the hand crafted goody is that you put some thought into it and make sure it is something that you would like to recieve yourself! Ideas include wearable accessories (scarves are probably our most popular items to swap), a small painting, notebooks, jewellery, hand made cosmetics, bath products etc.
- The additional items are often lovelies from our own stash, fibre, fabric, buttons, beads, upcycled, recycled, old books, magazines, findings etc., anything that we may personally like but have never managed to find a use for ourself or know that our partner would particularily like.
- I assign each participant a number and when I do the draw put these numbers into a container and pair them up as the numbers are drawn out. This does mean that it is a lottery and sometimes a participant is teamed up with the same partner twice although I don’t think that has been a big issiue to date.
- The swap is not a competition or meant to be in any way stressful but it is nice to check through the discussion board to see exactly what makes your partner tick and try to put together a parcel that will please. What colours do they like, are they girly or practical (I know that I’m not girly anyway!), do they read English, salty or sweet, tea or coffee, ground or beans, you get the idea.
- You do need to join our group on Flickr in order to participate, this is just the only way for me to monitor the swap without getting boggged down in paperwork from this end of things!
- Full names and addresses obviously need to be swapped with me as moderator of the group and with your swap partner. We do this through Flickr mail and not publically on line so there is no need to worry about private details becoming visable to everyone on the internet.
- For new or potential participants just take the plunge! Really we have some good fun and it is fantastic to get to know people from all around the world and share a little of our own hand made goodness and wonderful to get a little something in return!
Now on the that shawl! I am always on the look out for unusual fabrics to incorporate into my nuno felt and other wearables or to cut up and use as surface decoration for items such as vessels or bags. A while ago I picked up a very unusual and lightweight mohair/metallic thread shawl that just seemed to be crying out to be felted into a beautiful and warm shawl. It was like a gossamer piece of cobweb, beautifully soft and warm with a really interesting knitted pattern. Nuno felt is the process of combining a lot of fabric with a little fibre to create a totally new fabric, in this case although technically the shawl I started with could have been called fabric it was probably machine knitted and not a woven fabric like silk or cotton so can I call the end result nuno felt??? I had been having a bit of a mental block about what colours to use with this piece but for some reason yesterday white and baby blue just jumped to mind and that was what I decided to work with as a backing for the shimmering indigo shawl. The knitted square had subtle colour variations changing from silvery white in the centre through to deepest indigo at the edges. The whole piece was also threaded with a silver metallic thread and I am now thinking that there must have been some elastic somewhere in the yarn because the fully felted end shawl almost appears to have a slight ‘give’ or stretch to the fabric. Because I really wanted to keep the beautiful drape of the knitted shawl I decided to lay only one light layer of short fibred merino on the reverse, I did succeed pretty well although in some places the felt is a little patchier than I would have liked optimally. Probably that is to do with the fact that I never (well almost never except for bags and vessels!) weigh my wool out in advance and I didn’t realise how little blue I had in stock so ended up using every last scrap no matter how unevenly laid out it was! For some reason I can’t upload any more photos to the blog today (oh the restrictions of the internet!) but you can have a good look at the close ups on Flickr to see how well the fabric ‘melted’ into the merino backing. You can also see from a shot of the rear view how different stitches and colours in the base layer result in subtle variations of colour in the finished shawl.