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!!!


8 thoughts on “Thanks, picture of my recent ArtL!nks vessel drying and stiffeners at last

  1. I never thought about stiffening felt before. I always thought it can become as stif as you want by keep on felting… (silly me maybee, hihi)
    I made a little bag which I kept massaging after I rinsed the soap out and It got really stif, nearly like leather. It is also very waterproof now… BUt much much work 😦
    Thanks for investigating this topic 🙂

  2. Hi Nicola,
    Very interesting topic and I have been following with interest.
    When I studied at Goldsmiths a feltmaker named Heather Belcher came in a couple of days to give us workshops on felt making. Now I know she told us of the Origins of stiffening felt to make hats which was using a very dangerous chemical not sure what it was but that was also the origin of the Mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland because it was such a dangerous substance most Hatters in those days went crazy eventually.

    She told us to experiment too. I think to look at the history of felt making in general might give some clues. What about the Felt Tents these are made to sit over structures. So perhaps a structure of some kind inside might help. Thin wire or perhaps thin sisal string that has been stiffend before hand with varnish, into the required shape around your ballon but on top of your first layer of felt. perhaps that’s the answer put your varnish inside the layers so that it doesn’t destroy the outside feel of the felt. Good Luck and let us know how your fair with all these experiments. Thanks for sharing Tricia x

  3. Good morning Nicola,

    Could you put the ball in a tub of water to see if you get air bubbles around a possible puncture? Maybe a bicycle tire patch might remedy the problem if so.

    In response to Tricia’s note above, the substance that she was referring to, and that was at one time used in the felt hatmaking, was mercury. Can you imagine….Mercury??? Here’s a link to some information if anyone is interested:

    Continuing to enjoy these posts and will look forward to the ongoing discussion of stiffeners and what you discover.


  4. Pingback: Crafty Blog Update 16th-22nd January « Irish Knitting & Crochet

  5. Hi Nicola,

    I heard somewhere that some felters use wallpaper paste to stiffen their felted objects; if that is the same formula as one of your listed stiffeners, I don’t know. I haven’t tried it yet, but do know that they gather dust, probably because the surface is somewhat sticky.

  6. Hi Nicola,
    Thanks for your response on my blog post:
    I really appreciate it. I’ve used most of these stiffeners on wool, but I am wondering if you’ve used them on llama or alpaca. I am going to try it on the current bird pod I’ve finished. ( I use floor was or water based polyurethane) and I’ll try to remember to let you know how it works out. Llama and alpaca are so different from our beloved water resistant wool.
    Maybe get to see you soon?

  7. Hi Nicola just picking this up in 2015! Interested to know why you thought you needed to stiffen the vessels? I can understand possibly with jewellery (shellac) but surely once vessels have felted fully then they should be firm enough? I’ve done a few and they are firmer with each one I have done …..because my practice is getting better. I wonder since this was done in 2011 do you still stiffen them in 2015? Love the one here .. Looks like a Christmas tree decoration.

    • Hi Tricia, the reason I wanted to stiffen a large vessel in this instance was from the waterproofing point of view as I wanted to position it outside in my garden over an extended period of time. It was an experiment and was neither of the actual vessels pictured. So, to respond to your question, no, I don’t stiffen my felt vessels, they are felted by hand until totally fulled. Following the stiffening/waterproofing experiment I did have a sculptural piece outside for a long time………. until a friend’s dog attacked it once and pulled lumps out of it while I was away.

Please comment if you feel like it, I love the interactive nature of my blog!

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