I was delighted that several of the participants from the complex felt bag workshop stayed over in Kalamazoo to join us on Monday for the felted accessories workshop. We started the day with a quick look at some of my work and then I gave a simple felt flower demo using the short fibre merino I that I love to work with (available online from either Wollknoll or Filzrausch) before everyone launched into flowers of their own! This was a great way to get warmed up and after a very short time everyone had made a couple of flowers, some of them using a resist and multi layered. After this we discussed what accessories everyone would like to make and then the group of 12 divided into two sections, one to work on nuno scarves and the other to discover some of the tips and assorted ways I use to create felt balls, cords, dreadlocks, cubes and all sorts of components useful for jewellery, buttons, closures and the like. I particularly like to show people how I felt balls and cubes starting with a square wad of fibres, this method was shown to me by Australian sculptor and felter Anita Larkin and was a revelation when I first learnt it!
URGGH, for some reason I am not able to upload pictures here this morning so forgive the lack of eye candy, there must be a technical hitch. I will try again tonight and hopefully I will be back to full speed tomorrow morning, off to tidy the studio this Bank Holiday Monday. To keep your imagination fired why not have a look through Dawn’s Facebook album sharing the wonderful time we had together with Horst, Janice Arnold and just mooching around at Plainwell Icecream Parlour and visiting beautiful Lake Michigan.
It is amazing how many ways there are to felt a ball. Today I needed to make a couple of felt balls and although they are always trotted out as a beginners project for me they are far from it! I always seem to have difficulty starting them off without getting creases but no more, Australian feltmaker Anita Larkin’s way worked a treat. You lay a few very light layers of wool down on a bamboo blind (I used merino) at right angles to each other and then dry felt for a few seconds. This dry felting is done by placing the palm of your hand of the fibres and moving it gently away from you and back towards you, then do the same from a 90 degree angle. You now have a flattish square of fibres which you fold over at the corner to make an angle, exactly like folding a won ton. Starting from this angle now fold and roll the whole wad of fibres into a ball making sure that the last wisps are as smooth as possible on the outside. Dunk very quickly and very gently into hot soapy water (I use natural olive oil soap) and start to rotate LIGHTLY in your hand. Almost immediately you will feel a skin forming on the outside of the ball, the inside will still be dry and any small creases can now be covered with a light wisp of wool. Work the ball in your hand and on the mat dunking it a couple of times in the hot water as you progress to start working the inside as well. Before you can say ‘felt’ you will have a great ball, amazing! Make sure to rinse it out in hot water and there you go.
Speaking of Australia I mentioned before a great Australian website for felting and sewing supplies, Essential Textile Art. Today I placed another order for various types of sari fabric to incorporate in my nuno felting. I am going away on a felting course to Wollknoll in a weeks time and hope that the fibres will be here on my return. My new Etsy shop is now set up and I will be frantically making some nice pieces to sell as Christmas presents, as soon as I have the items up I will post a link here on the blog! Remember, sign up to Buy Handmade if you want to support artists and craftspeople from around the world.
Swap update: We now have swap participants from Ireland, Germany, Spain and Denmark to join in the upcoming exchange that I am organising. To keep it simple for the first swap the theme will be Autumn and the deadline to join will be 21st September. Swap buddies will be allocated then and your package needs to be posted to your buddy by the 14th October. We will exchange one handmade accessory, one seasonal receipe and a little something extra. Obviously everyone is into different forms of craft so you may make your handmade item anything that you would like to recieve yourself using Autumn at the theme. If you don’t work with textiles there is no problem, just let me know if you would prefer to exchange a piece of art (hand made cards, wall hanging etc.) or some hand made edible goodies and I will pair you up with someone who would like to receive there items. To sign up and for those of you already signed up please email me with your likes and dislikes and let me know if you would be happy to receive gifts other that textiles if necessary and I can forward your preferences on to your swap buddy when the draw is made. If this swap goes according to plan we might consider Christmas as our next theme! To check out other current swaps visit SwapDex, be careful you don’t get hooked.
I had a lucky escape on Thursday morning when I got a nasty cut at the edge of my little finger whilst trying to do the washing up! Housework is not my strong point but I had decided to clear the decks in the kitchen before getting stuck in to a bit of felting and a couple of calls re. the Irish Green Gathering. Unfortunately a recycled glass Mexican wine glass ‘exploded’ in the sink just as I was inserting the sponge held by my my right hand into the cup shape and voila, a nasty deep cut and a trip to the doctor ensued. One finger glued together later, today I have decided just to post a couple of pictures of recent work and wait ’til the next post to finish talking about the Anita Larkin workshop.
Before I discuss the new way that we learnt of making cords at the Anita Larkin workshop, I just want to say that all the techniques we tried over the weekend ultimately unite and allow you to create exciting scupltural 3 dimensional pieces of felt! At first it seems that learning how to make cords is very basic at a workshop for people who have all felted before but you are never too late to learn new techniques. Most of you are familiar with making cords and probably everyone has their favourite method. How many can there be you might ask but I certainly learnt a totally different method from Anita than any I had seen used before. Lay out a long layer of very fine fibres in a diagonal and then lay a second layer on top of these in the opposite direction, also diagonally. If you want to make a thicker section lay some more layers in that place and then dry felt the fibres by lightly moving your hands over them as with wet felting. Using your spray bottle VERY lighlty wet along only the edge of the fibres and then roll them gently into a log shape. If you are going to be attaching this rope to another piece of felt leave the ends dry for the moment. Using the minimum amount of warm water lightly wet the sausage shaped fibre log and with soapy hands roll it very lightly on your bubble wrap, blind or sushi mat. As far as I can see the biggest difference is in the way the fibres are laid on the diaganol and the volume of (or lack of) water used. This seems to make a very solid and strong cord. Shapes that were started as in the previous post may be added on at any time once the cord starts to hold its shape or the cord itsef may be attached to another piece of felt that you are in the process of making. Next post I will discuss inserting wire into felt and wrapping a solid object in felt. I also want to post a few more images of work that I have completed recently to keep the blog a little bit visual!
An amazing tip learnt during the Anita Larkin workshop concerns the use of a wire brush! People had brought different sized brushes to try, but for fairly small pieces of work a suede shoe brush seemed perfect. We used these when repairing a seam or depression caused by uneven rolling, attaching an object or closing the hole created when removing the plastic around a resist (explanation re resists Anita’s way to follow in another post). I hope that I can explain what we did clearly but if it is not obvious enough please let me know. The type of ridge/depression I am talking about is that created by uneven pressure when rolling a ball or a cord, often a problem for me and I am sure that most of you know what I am talking about. Once you notice a ridge or depression forming at the pre felt stage use your wire brush gently to fluff up the fibres on either side of the problem area. Holding the piece of felt lightly in your hands (or on the table if easier) smooth the fibres with your fingers and encourage them to move towards each other. It is important that if the ridge goes in one direction you make the smoothing action in the opposite direction, ie. at a 90 degree angle to where the ridge is lying. Keep smoothing very gently for quite a few minutes and you will notice that the ridge or depression magically seals over. This method of fluffing up the fibres with a wire brush also allows you to attach a prefelted object to another piece of felt, just fluff up the side where you wish to make your join and work the seal very slowly and carefully. Next time that I write a post I will discuss Anita’s method of making cords and inserting wire into felt.
I did want to mention today however that on Saturday I attended an excellent one day workshop about silk paper making facilitated by Tunde Toth. This workshop was organised by the South East Textile Group and took place at our usual venue in the Demense Yard at Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny. Tunde is an artist working from the Kozo Gallery in Thomastown and specialises in different types of paper making. She brought a great range of fibres for us to work with, initially we made a basic silk paper and then got really stuck in using inclusions and dyes as we became more experimental. I found the whole process really inspiring as depending on the thickness of the paper made I feel it will be possible to insert the silk paper into a piece of felt at the early part of the felting process. Already I have made a couple of experiments with silk paper that I made on Saturday, more on this subject as soon as I have finished writing about the scupltural feltmaking weekend with Anita.
Thanks very much to all of you who are sending me emails and posting such nice comments on my blog, it is really nice to get feedback from my peers so please keep it up!
As promised I am going to write several posts over the next week or so about the various different aspects of sculptural feltmaking that I learnt at the Anita Larkin workshop last weekend. I was a bit physically tired when I got to Dublin and probably that made certain things seem very difficult to master. Day 1 was actually more successful for me than day 2 but obviously mistakes and disasters are also informative so hopefully I can learn something from them as well!
We started the first day by making felt balls, a TOTALLY different method than any I have ever used or heard of to date. Using merino roving we laid out a square shape using several thin layers of wool (approx 5) on a bamboo blind and then ‘dry’ felted it for a few seconds. This was done by placing the palm of our hand on the pile of fibres and slightly moving our hand in a circular motion. Next we folded up the corner of two sides to form an angle and lifted the pile in our hands. The rest of the wool was shaped into a ball by rotating the fibres around this angle, a bit like wrapping or rolling a wan ton. Careful attention was paid to the last fibres completing the ball making sure that they did not form any ridges. The resulting ball was then held VERY LIGHTLY in one hand and dunked into hot water for no more that a second. When lifted out of the water we then used our other hand to very carefully stroke the ball with soapy fingers. The idea was to form a skin on the ball but to have the inside fibres basically almost totally dry and unfelted. At this pre pre felt stage the balls were amazingly light and spongy. Anita explained to us that at this stage if we kept lightly wetting, soaping and rolling or working the ball by hand the fibres would always move to the centre and form a ball. HOWEVER, because the outside skin was barely formed and the inside was not felted at all we now had the option of forming any shape we wanted, amazing! By manipulating the ball in various ways an almost infinite number of shapes can be made. I made a star fruit shape by placing the ball between my two index and middle fingers and squeezing and working it into shape. If I cut it into a cross section it would look like an X, hope you can visualise this from my explanation. As the shape is forming you can suspend work and decide to attach it to another piece of felt aided by a wire brush. Why not try making a shape for yourself and we can learn more on the next post tomorrow!!
I have just returned from an inspiring weekend workshop (organised by Feltmakers Ireland) with Australian sculptor and feltmaker Anita Larkin. We were learning several different techniques, making balls, making cords, covering an item and creating pieces with multiple layers (via multiple resists). If this sounds like work that you may already have done WAIT UNTIL MY NEXT POST! Because of the need to conserve water in Australia Anita works in a slightly different manner, so obvious once you see it in action and I will explain a bit more tomorrow as soon as I have caught up with some urgent work on the Irish Green Gathering.
I am really looking forward to experimenting with the scrim that I batiked (is that a word?!) last week during the course that I participated in at the Grennan Craft Mill, Thomastown. The fabric took the dyes brilliantly and I intend to make a couple of vessels or bags tomorrow when Polly and Carmen call over for an afternoon of felting. The batik was really great fun and has given me a whole lot of new ideas for experimentation, will keep you updated as to how I progress. I will also post some images here showing a couple of the finished pieces I completed, also a bag or two when I get them felted with the scrim. Some of my clothes are still at the Mill as I took the opportunity on the last day of the course to wax and dye a couple of items! I will be picking them up next week when Alex is there and hope that they boil out well.
This coming weekend I have been luck enough to be picked by lottery to attend a sculptural weekend course in Dublin with Australian feltmaker Anita Larkin. This weekend is organised by the Feltmakers Federation and should be a really fun time, as well as a great opportunity to pick up some new skills.