Fantastic visit to Arturo Alonzo Sandoval and watching a felt loom in action!

Many months ago I had an invitation via facebook from Arturo Alonzo Sandoval to visit him at the College of Fine Arts in the University of Kentucky (UK as those in the know call it!) to see a large felt loom working. Last Wednesday Jan had an appointment as new president of the PTA so friend and fellow fibre addict Nancy Collins and her husband Paul collected me in the morning and we met Arturo at his department in UK. The whole experience was totally mind blowing, Arturo is the most amazing artist, his weaving and art quilts just have to be seen to be believed!!! Anyway, we started the morning by heading up to the large room where the felt loom and all the other big weaving looms are located. I had never actually heard of or seen a felt loom before so do have a look at the official website and check them out, particularly interesting if you are a breeder of wool or hair producing animals and are looking for a simple way to turn your fibre into product. Stupidly I didn’t take any pictures of the loom itself in action, basically you feed your wool batt (with or without a layer of silk or other fabric) through two rollers (like an old mangle) and a series of felting needles punch the fibre as it passes through to the other side. Arturo explained that usually students would pass the batt through the rollers a total or 6 or 7 times and by the end have created a totally stable fabric ready to be used as it is or cut and stitched into couture garments. At the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival there were several booths where it was possible to see the results of this work, for me there were both advantages to using the loom and disadvantages. I really liked the fact that it was possible to ‘punch’ fibres together that otherwise might be difficult to felt and think that investing in a loom could be a really good option for a collective of Irish farmers wanting to utilize their home produced wool. Irish wool is difficult to felt into a compact fabric but using the loom would make this a possibility for blankets and rugs I think, also it’s possible to combine any fabrics with fibre, not just the natural ones and more open weaves. On the down side of things, because the rows of needles are evenly spaced across the working face of the machine it is not possible to punch fabric and fibre together without the needles pushing the fabric through to the other side creating little needle marks in the surface and I also think that it would not be possible to run thicker batts (I sometimes use 10 layers of wool as taught by wonderful felted Vanda Roberts) through, it that might be possible if you can adjust the rollers but I’m not actually sure how much play there is in that direction. Personally, if I had access to a loom and the time to experiment I would try running my fibre and fabric through twice then wet felt the resultant piece and in this way think that I would have a better chance of achieving the smoother, softer and more flexible surfaces that I like for my wearables. All is all it was a really interesting piece of equipment and one that I am going to mention to some local farmers once I get home to Clasheen. I have a dream (only a dream at the moment unfortunately!) of having the time and inclination to set up a small co-operative where sample carders, wool picking and cleaning equipment etc. could be shared and used buy the whole community and I really think that the felt loom can now be added to that list for future consideration, watch this space, but not for a couple of years yet I think!

Arturo with one of his art quilts in progress

Once we had finished in the weaving room Arturo gave Nancy and I a full tour through the Fine Arts Department and then we headed off to his studio, mind blowing and inspiring!!! We saw some beautiful finished framed pieces which were woven and stitched from a variety of materials including the sort of material that hoarding is covered in to show you how a building project in progress is going to look while finished. I’m not sure if it’s vinyl or what it’s made of but you probably know what I mean from the description! There are plenty of subtle and not so subtle political messages in Arturo’s work and these were obvious when we watched a wonderful presentation on the computer showing us how his work has evolved and changed through the years. Initially expressing himself through weaving, Arturo gradually has incorporated more and more unusual, whacky and recycled materials into his pieces. Now simple lines of zip zag stitching adds another dimension to the surface especially when he weaves with things like old archival film, strips of shiny metallic fabric and other textured fabrics, beautiful! A large commission was in progress when we visited the studio, here’s a picture of Arturo holding up a strip of film against the beginning of the background, the strips for the warp are all pinned against the wall at this stage of the process.

After we were finished at UK Arturo spontaneously invited us to spend some more time with him, both at his house and at the University of Kentucky Hospital where he is one of the art trustees, hope that’s the correct term! This is a marvelous medical facility which has just almost doubled in size recently, we saw some stunning large scale sculptures, an interesting video projection, a whole series of folk art pieces by local Kentucky artists and ended up in the surgery waiting room where one of Arturo’s wonderful art quilt hangs.

One of Arturo’s stunning art quilts in the surgery waiting room at UK Hospital

Paul met us at Artutro’s house and we all spent a great time viewing the funky and eclectic collection of art that he has gathered over the years, this is wonderfully positioned both in his stunning garden and inside in his colorful and welcoming home! I loved the bottle trees glistening in the sunlight (MUST make some with all the bottles we go through at home!) and was amazed how springy and comfortable the large woven outside rug was. Arturo made this by weaving old battery cables, check out my Keen’s Tanya, I took this photo of them against the rug ‘specially for you!!!

Outdoor rug woven from battery cables!

Arturo truly has created an awe inspiring body of work through the years and I really wished that Cathy Fitzgerald, Sheila Ahern and Eileen MacDonagh from Ireland could have been with us to watch the video presentation, see his work up close, visit the wonderful sculpture and art in the garden and get to meet Arturo in person, you would have LOVED it girls!!!

I’m going to leave you today with a close up shot from the large art quilt at UK Hospital, check out the film Sheila!

Check out the woven film Sheila!

 

Photos from the Lexington workshops!

It was another exciting but calm day in Lexington as larger projects from yesterday came together and new pieces were laid out too. Donna, Lindy and Karen all felted pieces in the tumble dryer last night and worked on new pieces today and until you have tried this out for yourself it is impossible to realise how much time and effort this can save you! Check out ‘Nuno Felting with Chrissie Day and Nicola Brown’ or the downloadable book if you are interested in learning more about how to go about this and to see the proof of the pudding here is a group picture from this evening; Donna is modelling her wonderful vest, Karen her highly textured scarf and Lindy’s large piece of yardage is photographed to the left of the group.

Lindy’s yardage, Tonya, Donna, Jan, Nancy, Karen and Sandy (left to right)

A lot of interesting techniques were incorporated into the various pieces, resists laid out inside three dimensional pieces to reveal hidden details later (Tonya in an wonderful large vessel and Jan in a gorgeous bag which also includes glass nuggets), Karen incorporated beads at the lay out stage of her first resist project, Nancy felted a wonderful large purse with integrated handles and Sandy felted an incredible large wall hanging using alpaca and a selection of fabulous locks from a variety of different sheep and other animals! Check out the album I’ve created on facebook to see more of the work, congratulations everyone, you are amazing!!! I’ll leave you with a picture of Sandy’s beautiful landscape, isn’t it an amazing piece for her second ever time felting?

Sandy’s felt landscape using all cleaned but uncarded alpaca and other fibres

Weekend fun and felting news, I’m off on my travels!!!

Although I still have a mountain of things to get finished before I head off on my US travels later this evening I have been having a wonderful action packed art and felting weekend! On Saturday night Alan and I joined Eileen MacDonagh and close friends old and new at a really great wrap up party to celebrate the success of her fabulous exhibition LITHOSPHERE at the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art in Carlow. It was a wonderful evening spent among the towering trees of ‘Cathedral’, yummy food and wine (which I couldn’t drink as I was the designated driver!), great craic and the best music I’ve heard in a very long time!!!

Music amongst the trees!

Local musician Joe Cleere has just been signed to a record deal in the US and although he had never played with them before he came along to join a trio of Eileen’s friends and their playing just seemed to compliment each other perfectly, we had an eclectic mix of traditional and alternative rock tracks, brilliant, thanks Eileen!!!!!

Yesterday I had a very busy day at Duckett’s Grove, I had intended taking loads of pictures of the new studio but to be honest I was so busy demonstrating and talking to visitors that there was almost no time to snap anything. Thanks to everyone who came in especially to see me, I really appreciated it and hope you enjoyed the day! My plan now is to bring my big studio tables from Clasheen to Duckett’s Grove, move the shelving and plints around in the space and set up one half as a display area and the other as a zone for felting and teaching from. The response to the demos was fabulous.

Visitors to the new studio

I now have a long list of contact details from people interested in trying felting for themselves, I’ve actually put Sunday 4th June in my diary for a beginners and improvers felting day and have only space for one more participant if anyone is interested, E75 including materials working from 10am until approx 4.30pm! Please email me asap if you would like the last slot!

Plenty of people came for the music, food and craft!

This evening I’ll be handing over everything at Claseheen to good friend George and hope everything goes well in my absence. It’s lovely here at the moment, foals in the fields, birds singing and wild flowers everywhere in the hedges and down the lane so I think that George will manage to have a restful and fun time with Rex! Don’t expect a lot of blogging over the next few days but I will be posting up to date pictures and notes to facebook as I progress along my way to Kentucky, take care and I’ll be back blogging about the Lexington workshops which take place on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th May from 10am – 5pm at the Beaumont Presbyterian Church, 1070 Lane Allen Road!!!

 

 

Very quick studio and US update this morning!

I really have run out of time to prepare and pack for my trip to the US first thing on Tuesday morning, I’ll be leaving Clasheen to travel to Dublin on Monday night so thanks George for coming a day early to stay in the house and mind Rex! Today is the official opening to the public of the new retail space at Duckett’s Grove, I’ll be in the studio giving felting demonstrations and have decided to felt some new flowers to use as samples for my flower workshops at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival in two weekends time. I’ll also be having a good think about exactly what way I want to lay out the space, the contracts are now ready to be signed so as soon as I’m back home from my travels I’ll be getting everything sorted urgently. Tomorrow I hope to write a short post about what we will be covering at the workshops in Lexington next weekend and Plainwell at the end of the month, watch this space!

CRAFTed, Zwartbles, KY, MI and Portugal felting workshop updates and Dawn’s wonderful visit comes to an end

So much news, yet again so little time! Dawn came with me last week to meet the pupils that I’m working with for my 2012 CRAFTed project, they just loved her hats and in turn she just loved them singing two songs in Irish for her!!!

Adding buttons and other bits and bobs to embellish the felt portraits

Tomorrow is my last session with the school and I can’t believe that I haven’t got my paperwork up to date for this. It has been so hectic here the last 6 weeks that for the first time ever I am behind at this stage of the project, the fact that I am working with 35 and not 26 pupils also has contributed to the delay, anyway, onwards and upwards. We’ll be hanging the finished felt portraits tomorrow and making friendship bracelets for all the pupils to share.

After the opening of Duckett’s Grove on Friday morning Dawn and I picked up my great Danish buddy Kirsten Elise Lund and we headed back to Clasheen for an action packed and fun weekend! On Saturday morning we headed over to Suzanna Crampton’s beautiful home and spent a wonderful few hours rambling around the garden and getting up close and personal with her gorgeous Zwartbles sheep!

Kirsten, Dawn and Suzanna, Zwartbles are such a gently breed and SO friendly it's amazing

I want to write a full blog post about this trip, the sheep and felting with their fleece before I leave for US but if I don’t get time please MAKE sure I do so later in the summer!!! After a blissful morning we all went for an early lunch to Nicholas Mosse Pottery, dropped Suzanna home then Dawn, Kirsten and I headed food shopping to Kilkenny followed by a brilliant trip to Cushendale Woolen Mill in Graiguenamanagh. Thanks so much Mary Cushen for opening up the mill especially for Dawn and Kirsten, we really appreciated the personal attention, this local mill is my ‘must see’ recommendation for any international textile visitor who comes to Clasheen!!!

Choices, choices at Cushendale Woolen Mill

In the evening Kate Ramsey arrived to stay and we were all joined by some of my closest friends for a plate of curry and a chat. On Sunday morning Niki Collier arrived and we spent the day felting, chatting, eating, laughing and basically having what we Irish call ‘the craic’, Kate and Niki also popped in to Carlow to see Eileen MacDonagh’s amazing exhibition LITHOSPHERE at Visual!!! In the evening our local guy won the final of ‘The Voice of Ireland‘, congratulations Pat Byrne, we voted, cheered and shouted with the best of them. Dawn, Kirsten and I had an early start on Monday morning, 4am to be precise! It was bitter sweet leaving the girls at the airport, our time together was really special and it was very sad to see it ending. I will be however heading to US myself in exactly one week and visiting with Dawn and the three of us have plans laid for a longer session together next spring, lots to reflect on and lots to look forward to!!!

Speaking of the US, I am SO EXCITED that I will be heading off my travels exactly one week from today, in fact by this time next week I’ll actually be airborn and heading over to stay with the wonderful Jan Durham in Lexington and the amazing Dawn Edwards in Plainwell! If you would like to join us in Lexington on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th May or Plainwell on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th May from 10am to 5pm please just contact Jan or Dawn asap, we have just a few slots left on each of these dates so hurry if you want to have some fabulous felting fun!!! There are also only a few places left for the amazing week long felting extravaganza at Dominio Vale do Mondego in Portugal, please follow the link to see what’s on offer and contact Karin asap if you wish to confirm your spot! I’ll leave you today with the full workshop descriptions for KY and MI, I’m also going to be in action for 3 days at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival from 18th, 19th and 20th of May in case you can’t make either Lexington or Plainwell!!!

‘Fantastic Felt Inspired by the Natural and Built Environment’ 

Skill Level: Basic felting skills an advantage but total beginners are very welcome too!

Class Description: Let the shapes, forms, colours, patterns, textures and structures of the natural and built environment fire your imagination! During this two-day workshop participants will design and create their own unique and beautiful wearable, functional or decorative pieces of felt using nature and the man-made landscape for inspiration. Some participants may choose to create a purely decorative art piece such as a complex vessel, sculpture or wall hanging while others may decide to design and felt some wearable art or interior accent, possibly a bag, some jewellery, some nuno felt or maybe a framed landscape or table runner.

There will be time to experiment and discover techniques or materials over the two days that you may have never considered using in your felting before. Nicola will be bringing some of her favourite mohair off cuts for everyone to try out and will share with participants how she is currently using free machine embroidery selectively to accentuate design elements in some of her new bags and framed landscapes. She’ll also demonstrate the use of an electric sander during some stages of the felting process and speak about the possibilities of fulling nuno felt using the tumble dryer, Nicola doesn’t use a sander all the time herself but sometimes it can really help with certain tasks and it is definitely useful to know when this might apply. The tumble dryer technique is wonderful for difficult to felt fabrics and to eliminate all the traditional rubbing and rolling, it’s not for everyone but it is fantastic to speed up the process especially if you have a bad back or other health issues so again, another technique it can be handy to know about!

Participants are encouraged to bring along treasured bits and bobs from their stash, buttons, beads, scraps of vintage fabric, shells, stones, glass nuggets etc., these all make wonderful inclusions in felt and help to personalize and create a truly unique work of art! We will have access to a sewing machine during the workshop but if you have your own machine with a free machine embroidery foot please bring it along and some threads too if you have space in your car. We won’t have access to a tumble dryer at the venue but if participants would like to try this technique during the workshop they are free to lay out a large nuno wrap during day one and get it to the stage where they can bring it home with them and finish it using their own dryer that evening. Nicola will clearly explain the steps to take and it should be possible to full the pieces and have them finished to show off on day two!

NB Although participants will get the most from this workshop in either Kentucky or Plainwell if they are able to participate on both Friday and Saturday there may be a few places available for those unable to attend both days, please just contact Jan or Dawn asap to check.

U.S. flights booked, residential workshop in Portugal filling up nicely, felting tools posted, Dawn’s materials have arrived and CRAFTed is underway!

It’s very busy here this week and will be until Dawn Edwards and Chrissie Day arrive so I’m going to post briefly with bullet points today!

  • I’ve just confirmed my flights a few minutes ago for my U.S. trip in May. I can’t wait to be back facilitating workshops in Lexington KY with Jan Durham on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th May, at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival on Friday 18th, Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th May and in Plainwell MI with Dawn Edwards on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th May. Visit the workshop page for all the details.
  • Karin and I now have participants from the U.S., Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Iceland arriving to participate in the week long felting extravaganza in Portugal so there are only a few places left now! Here’s a link to the flyer with all the details. Flyer Felt workshop
  • Niki has personalised where requested and packed our first batch of felting tools and they are now en route to their new owners, thanks Rem (Niki’s husband) for bringing them to the post office yesterday. This first flush of orders came from Ireland, England, Austraila, right across the U.S. and Canada, wow!!!
  • While our ‘niki & niki’ tools went out in the post yesterday other felting materials came in by courier! I had placed an order with Wollknoll recently so the merino roving for Dawn’s two ‘Fantastic Felt Hats’ workshops in Borris on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd April has now arrived as has the short fibre merino I need to bring with me to U.S., wool that I ordered for my current CRAFTed project came too and lastly I got some more ponge silk in chocolate brown for myself. I need this to nuno felt some more scarves for the new retail outlet which is opening shortly at Duckett’s Grove.
  • My collaboration with students at Rathnure NS for CRAFTed for the Crafts Council has changed shape somewhat. I was meant to have 26 six and seven year olds to work with but the school principal didn’t want one class to be split up so now I’m working with 35 pupils!!! It’s a very big group of little bodies, I think that Taragh (their teacher), Mary (a wonderful helper) and I will have our work cut out for us but it’s definitely going to be fun in the process! I’ll leave you with a picture from our first session last Wednesday, the pupils had never felted or handled wool before so were amazed at how it came together to form a strong fabric. These first pieces were all laid out on needlefelt; the children choose a couple of colours of wool to lay on top of the needlefelt, then added shapes of mohair off cuts and/or metallic fabric, some added swirls of natural and artificial knitting yarn and then all but one child added a generous sprinkling of shiny firestar!

Some of the first pieces of flat felt from senior infants and first class at Rathnure NS

U.S. workshop updates plus pictures of nuno felt from yesterday

I’m SO EXCITED that my spring trip to KY and MI is really starting to take shape!!! It’s taken quite a while to get a materials list together for the sessions organised in Plainwell MI by Dawn Edwards (25th and 26th May) and in Lexington KY by Jan Durham (11th and 12th May) because with the title ‘Fantastic Felt Inspired by the Natural and Built Environment’ participants are free to decide during the course of the workshop what direction they would like to explore, vessels, bags, sculpture, nuno felt, wall hangings, the list goes on. In a way I’ll be acting like a conduit for ideas, help and inspiration, the one constant is that the starting point and the theme will be the same for everyone. As a result it’s been a lot more difficult for me to write out a definitive list of what participants should bring with them, however I hope that the guideline below will be of some help for people with specific projects in mind and if anyone has a particular question that they would like me to answer personally please just email me and fire away!!! My workshops at the Kentucky Sheep and Fibre Festival have also gone live on the festival’s website so head on over there if you would like to join us on either the 18th, 19th or 20th of May! Now for the details for Plainwell and Lexington……

  • Small vessels, sculptures and bags will need 80 – 150g of fibre.
  • Larger and more complex vessels, sculptures and bags will need 200 – 350g fibre, for bags I like this to be divided into 2/3 merino and 1/3 a strong coarser fibre such as C1 or Icelandic wool.
  • A simple textured nuno scarf will need either a pre rolled silk chiffon or ponge silk scarf as a base, a long length of silk cut from a roll or alternatively a cotton cheesecloth or muslin length, the longer the better in all cases!  This project won’t need anything like a big amount of fibre but at a rough guide anything between 40 – 60g will be fine for a highly textured end result!
  • A large textured nuno wrap/bolero (two day project!) will need 2 – 3 m (yards is fine) silk chiffon, ponge silk, cheesecloth or muslin for the base and at least 40 – 100g good quality merino depending on size.
  • A large collaged nuno wrap, wall hanging or yardage for clothing (this may be made using the tumbler method and if so requires no rolling!) will need a piece of base fabric approx 35 to 40% bigger than the desired finished size. I like to use muslin, cheese cloth or my favourite cotton gauze for this but you can use silk chiffon or ponge silk too! In addition to this base fabric you need at least the same volume of fabric in a selection of colours and mixture of weights and texture, i.e. if your base fabric measures 180cm X 40cm you need about 2m X 50cm fabric comprising a mixture of silks, cottons and/or some metallic mesh plus at least 200g good quality merino (for wearables) or alpaca/other fibre for a wall hanging.
  • A large table runner will need less fabric than the large collaged nuno wrap above but a higher percentage of wool to fabric, this it to make sure that the runner will actually protect the table from heat or water and is not just decorative, decorative’s OK too if that’s what participants want!

As you can imagine different projects require different techniques and heaviness of hand when laying out the fibre. For wearables I usually but not exclusively use merino with some surface silk/banana/tencel/firestar fibre so I would just encourage particiapnts to sort through their stash and we’ll work together with whatever they bring. The figures above are a minimum guideline, I don’t want anyone to feel pressurised to buy more fabric or fibre than they may realistically need but to be honest where felting is concerned, can one ever have enough fibre or raw materials??? Each participant will also need to bring their usual felting equipment to the workshop. This may include bubble wrap, towels (please bring a few!), hard olive oil/goats milk/glycerine soap, sprinkler, bamboo blind, pool noodle, net, whatever they like to work with themselves, people wishing to try the tumble dryer method need to bring an additional lightweight roll of builders plastic to use instead of bubble wrap.  Anyone felting a bag, vessel or any sort of three dimensional project will need some flexible plastic to use as a template/resist, I prefer 2 or 3mm laminate floor underlay but in an emergency we can use bubble wrap or whatever flexible plastic you have to hand.  NB I love working with batts but roving and tops are perfect too, bring whatever you have and like to work with yourself.  I will also be bringing loads of embellishing goodies with me for everyone to share!

Now for some pictures and chat about the pieces I was nuno felting yesterday.

Texture from Heather's hand spun yarn

Those of you following me on Facebook (click both links on the sidebar to the right if you’ve not already done so!) may have seen the image I uploaded yesterday morning showing some chocolate merino, gauze and beautiful hand spun yarn from my great buddy Heather which I gathered together and was in the process of felting into a simple nuno scarf. This is one of the projects I’ve been completing for the new book with Chrissie, basically it’s an easy first piece for anyone to try using the tumble dryer method. The image here shows how this particular hand spun felted beautifully to the surface of the gauze, I love the texture and colour of it on the surface of this scarf, it’s well felted together but you still have amazing texture from the slubby yarn! Pictures of the completed scarf will be revealed when the book is finished, hopefully not too long because I’m working on it every day now and hope it will be finished before Dawn arrives for her holiday and workshops here at Clasheen in April!!!

The other scarf that I felted yesterday (I also started some felt landscapes) is an even simpler piece, one fine open layer of short fibre merino on top of a long piece of ponge silk. I also added a lot of hand dyed silk fibre on top of the merino, I like the way this scarf can be reversible and only wish that it had been less windy when I was trying to take pictures of it this morning!

Plenty of silk fibre on the reverse