Felting extravaganza in Portugal, part three!

As promised yesterday, I’m going to continue blogging about our wonderful residential week felting in Portugal and today concentrate on our trip to the Museu de Tecelagem dos Meios (the textile museum in Meios) and the pieces we made using the natural Bordeleira fleece from Dominio Vale do Mondego.

Watching a weaving demonstration at the Museu de Tecelegam in Meios

We started Wednesday morning by heading off to nearby Meios, this is a small village approx 1km away from Trinta, site until recently of 40 different wool processing and weaving factories. At Meios there’s a very interesting small museum with wonderful old tools and pieces of weaving equipment on display as well as huge working looms on the upper floor. Eelco and I had already been there on the Saturday prior to the workshop commencing and had found out that Wednesday morning would be the time to go if we wanted to see one of the largest old looms in action! These big looms were only ever operated by men, having seen one working I would never presume that a female could work one (even though I usually believe in equality for all), the physical effort required in the upper body to move the heddle was enormous!!! Alan and I went back for a further visit when he arrived to join me, we learnt that traditionally women did all the spinning and loading the flying shuttles, the men did all the weaving. Back downstairs after our demonstration everyone had fun trying on some of the gorgeous locally produced clothing and browsing the rugs and blankets for sale. The simple floor rugs, shepherd’s blankets and marriage blankets are woven at the museum, if they are to be brushed (as in the case of the natural white wedding blankets) they go one of the remaining working factories at Trinta and then come back to be sold on site. I also discovered some wonderful locally produced hand forged knives (you could easily cut off your finger with these!) and scissors, I bought two knives and a pair of scissors for myself plus some knives to bring home as gifts to Ireland.

Someone wanting a little bit of early lunch too!

Once we returned to base we had an early lunch so that everyone could have a head start in the afternoon selecting and starting to work with the freshly shorn Bordeleira fleece. We headed down to the stables and had the pick of gorgeous brown or white fleece, some people choose to felt smaller pieces while others wanted to felt a whole fleece. Because the climate and terrain is so different to Ireland there were lots of seed heads and various bits of dried vegetation in the fleece. At home our wool may be muddier but we definitely don’t have anything like the amount of little bits to pick out before we can get stuck into the serious besiness of felting! Once participants had selected their fleece everyone worked outside cleaning and sorting, this took quite a while depending on each individual animal that the fleece had come from.

Picking through the raw fleece prior to felting

Next two very fine layers of carded Bordeleira wool were laid out on the side of the fleece that would have been next to the sheep’s skin and everything was felted together using a lot of soap at the early stages of the process. Depending on previous experience and the size of the pieces some of these pieces took a lot longer than others to felt, this in normal, it’s not a race!!! I had laid out a slightly trimmed smaller fleece the night before and was able to finish it late on the Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a picture of it as it’s finishing drying, it’s on my chair at the kitchen table at Clasheen now and is a delicious contrast to the shaggy Norwegian wild mountain sheep fleece I felted last year!

Tomorrow I’ll write about nuno felting and our wonderful time eco dyeing with Terriea!

My fleece felted and drying in the sun

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Memories of felting in Portugal, part two!

At the beginning of our first session felting I asked all the participants what was the most important technique for them to learn over the course of our week together. Working with the Bordeleira wool was going to be a new experience for all of us although I had had the opportunity myself to felt 3 small samples and one little vessel prior to arriving at Dominio Vale do Mondego. From the teaching point of view I wanted every participant to be able to leave having absorbed new skills or ways of working and most importantly having had plenty of fun!

Samples and materials laid out at the start of the workshop, picture mosaic thanks to Terriea

For the first two days we felted using washed and carded wool, flat felt pieces first then three dimensional vessels and bags of many different shapes and styles. The wool roving that we used was either a natural white or chocolate brown, it felted beautifully and it’s amazing to me it is not more widely known or appriecated elsewhere. I found that it felted every bit as quickly as mernio with an approximate rate of 25% shrinkage on pieces that I would normally achieve a rate of 33%. We incorporated a selection of other fibres with the Bordeleiera wool for added surface decoration or texture. I’d brought a lot of undyed fibres with me for everyone to share including linen, silk, milk protein, soy, banana silk, wool neps etc. and I’d also got some of my favourite mohair off cuts from Cushendale Woollen Mill, mohair waste (from the brushing process after weaving), angelina, firestar and various natural and artificial yarns to dip into as well as a few different colours of merino roving in case anyone wanted to use these too. These were displayed inside with the samples and examples of other work I’d made at the beginning of the week, from Terrie’s picture mosaic it looks as if everything was very organised, obviously knowing me you’ll appreciate that it never looked as neat and tidy again!

Sandy working on her large felt vessel

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of our flat felt from day one or two, I think that I was concentrating so much on answering questions and making sure that the new felters had a successful first piece I forgot to take any pictures. Here’s a picture of Sandy though from day two starting to shape her piece, she’s working here on a stunning large vessel felted from the chocolate wool with a design in natural white with gold linen strands. As the week progressed we found that the Bordeleira wool was perfectly soft enough for wearables and nuno felting yet strong and easy to work with for bags and vessels.

On Wednesday morning we all visited a wonderful museum dedicated to wool and started working with the raw fleece in the afternoon. I’ll post about that next time and for now leave you with a great picture of Heather modelling one of her bags as a hat, watch out Dawn, you’ve got some competition!!!

Heather modelling her very flexible bag! Doesn’t she look great???

Memories of a marvellous time felting in Portugal, part one!

I’m going to divide up our marvellous residential felting experience in Portugal into several blog posts, there’s a lot to report and many photos to download from my camera so I’ll try to select some descriptive ones to post here as well as give you all a flavour of the atmosphere during the week. Of course I don’t have anything like enough pictures to share either, when I’m teaching I find it can be quite difficult to snap and think at the same time so do check out Heather, Terriea, Karin and Estela on facebook and leave some comments for them if you see any pictures that you like! Heather and Terriea also write two of my all time favourite blogs, both of them have wonderful pictures of our week together and will be putting more up over the next few days!!!

Inspiring location and scenery

I landed in Portugal late on Friday evening and Karin collected me from the airport so that I would have time to settle in and check out the organisational side of things before the participants started arriving from lunch time on Saturday. My personal Quinta (small granite farmhouse) was gorgeous, near enough to walk to the main house in 5 minutes but private enough to relax and spend time unwinding and recharging if I needed to. Karin and Eelco have been living at Dominio Vale do Mondego for almost 6 years now and their vision of an artistic retreat within a functioning bio-dynamic farm meant that this was the perfect place to have a wonderfully relaxing but productive felting holiday. I was so excited that great friend Heather would be arriving from the US and online friend Terriea was coming from Hong Kong, both of them were also previously online friends so I’m sure you can imagine our excitement when we all were together in reality as opposed to virtually!!! On Saturday we also had (in order of their arrival!) Annemarie from The Netherlands and Sandy from Spain (originally from the UK), Eelco’s sister Nienke and her friend Carla from The Netherlands arrived on Sunday as did Estela from Portugal. At various times during the course of the week-long extravaganza Karin and Noori from The Netherlands, Kelly (from the UK but now living up the road!) and Emma from Portugal (the local school principal) also participated so it really was a truly international experience!

Beautiful food and table decoration every meal

Karin and Eelco had organised wonderful local woman and chef Fernanda to cater for us at lunch and dinner each evening ably helped by Anna and Eelco when necessary, Eelco also took charge of decorating the table each mealtime and this was definitely an artistic pursuit in itself! The food was wonderful and the light and delightful organic Vinho Verdhe we drank every day proved the perfect accompaniment to any dish!!! After breakfast on Sunday morning Eelco took the participants who had already arrived out for a walk around the farm, his flock of Bordeleira sheep are beautiful, large calm and with wonderful twisted horns. I loved hearing the tinkling of the bells as they moved around the pasture during the day, they come inside every night as predators such as wolves are a possibility in the area (although definitely not common). I’m going to leave you now with a picture of the sheep, tomorrow I’ll continue writing more about our adventures and start blogging about how we found their wool to felt!

Bordeleira sheep grazing under the olive trees

I’m almost home…..

Alan and I are at Porto Airport just waiting for our flight back to Dublin to arrive and then depart again. It’s really been a marvellous two weeks here in Portugal and I promise to write a couple of detailed posts over the next few days because there’s so much to report and so many pictures to upload. I’m taking advantage here of free internet access at the airport, I can’t use my phone (battery almost dead and no free wireless access) but there are banks of computers available for passengers to use and stations to charge phones too. Anyway, Alan’s looking a little edgy so I better push on, full internet access again from tomorrow so be prepared for an avalanch of information!

Quick update!

Our amazing workshop in Portugal drew to a close last Friday evening, participants started to head home and by the time Alan arrived at lunch on Saturday most people were well on their way to their final destinations. I still don’t have any proper Internet access butbi promise to blog properly and upload more photos as soon as I arrive home next weekend. Until then I’ll be relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery, food and wine in this region!