Sleeveless felt vest, days five and six of Dagmar’s wonderful workshop

While not all the participants decided to felt a sleeveless vest I really wanted to get to grips with creating a custom-made template and felt one under Dagmar’s expert supervision. Being accurate with measurements etc. is just not my favourite thing but learning tips from Dagmar about how best to scale up ones body measurements and create personalised templates was a really good exercise for me. I prepared this on Friday evening and weighed out my wool so that on Saturday morning I was ready to start laying out my vest right from the get go.

Wet silk hankies stretched around my resist

Once again I choose to work with short fibred merino as opposed to one layer of fine needle felt followed by two fine layers of merino tops. This meant that I needed to lay 4 fine layers of wool, for an outdoor vest in my size we reckoned an approximate weight of 360g excluding any optional attachments I might choose to add. I also had the idea to make my jacket reversible and had a clear idea of how I wanted the colour to be achieved, black on one side (with silk hankies from the wonderful Roo Kline of Moonwood Farm for surface interest) and a complex green with a darker green border on the other ‘main’ side. This I intended to achieve by laying the first layer in black, the second in my favourite green with a black border around the armhole, neck and perimeter areas and the third and fourth layers all in green, I have to say that I’m thrilled with the resultant colour!

Working on the front left hand side

I liked one of Dagmar’s sample vests, it had a cross over front which I thought would be warm for Borris market and Duckett’s Grove in the winter so aside for making it quite a bit longer (to cover my kidneys) the only other design choice I needed to make was what sort of 3D attachments to add. Being someone who likes strong shape and form I opted for a simple detail down the front opening panels continuing around the neckline. I did toy with the idea of pockets but leaving these out meant a totally reversible jacket that doesn’t have bulk at the sides, the final descision was easy, no pockets or frills for me. I’m not going to ramble on about the actual laying out and felting of the vest, suffice to say that while it did take me two full days to felt it properly I loved the whole process and am so pleased with the result, the vest actually feels a little like soft suede! Each of my crossway measurements ended up the exact size I had wanted (to the mm!), neck, shoulders, armhole, waist and hips, strangely enough the length didn’t shrink quite so much so I’m thinking that must be something to do with the fibre, alternatively maybe I needed to roll it a little more in this direction. I actually love the longer length anyway, when I make another vest (I’ve already had a commission, thanks Mary!) I’ll just need to take this into account when calculating the dimensions of a new template.

I’d really like to thank my local Arts Office and Carlow Co Council for awarding me an Arts Act Grant to go towards funding the cost of this masterclass. It was a wonderful experience, I feel that I learnt a lot and really have a far greater understanding of how I can translate some of my sculptural ideas into practice! I’ll leave you with two pictures of the almost finished vest, although it does fit well now I just want to try it on with a light woollen polo neck and tighten up around the armholes a little.

The back of the vest, black side out

The front of the vest, green side out

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Wall hanging and felt vessel on days three and four of Dagmar’s workshop

Being inspired by Dagmar’s fine art wall hangings on exhibition in Odense, Denmark during ‘Felt in Focus’ 2009 I swore then that I’d take a workshop of hers when this was one of the projects that would be offered for participants to explore.

Working on the back of my natural white wall hanging with ‘The Modest’ felting roller from ‘niki & niki’

Thanks to US friend Susan (who didn’t manage to get into Dagmar’s 2 day Irish workshop!) who alerted me to the 6 day masterclass at Big Cat Textiles, I booked asap and in turn alerted our mutual US friend Merridee, the die was cast and the three of us all had a marvellous time!!! I knew before I headed to Scotland that I wanted to make my wall hanging in natural white with various undyed fibres for the surface decoration, this left me free to make decisions about what attachments to add and how I wanted the piece to appear structurally after I had time to mull over all the different options. The soya, silk, linen, milk protein and sea cell fibres that I used on the surface gave a nice tone on tone effect and opting for a simple style meant that I was free to try a complimentary vessel with a spiral attachment on day four.

The almost finished wall hanging, sorry about the poor quality photo

Working with an open rather than a closed resist for my vessel was a eureka moment for me!!! Strange isn’t it? Dawn uses this method almost always for her beautiful hats and it never once occurred to me to do so for a vessel. It’s a hang over from reading somewhere (a beginners felting book I think, early in the days) that it was always preferrable to totally cover the template, something to do with the pressure the edges are put under during the felting process. Well anyway, chatting to Dagmar and actually trying an open sided resist has totally changed my perspective on how I’ll felt vessels in the future, I loved the way I could manipulate the shape and the quality of the open edges was very uniform and smooth! I’m not saying that I’ll always use this method but I can now see my way clearly to felting some vessels that I’ve been itching to try but to date have only existed in my imagination, watch this space. Finishing my vessel by the time day four’s advertised time was up meant that I had several hours free that evening to measure myself (with help obviously!) and work out how large I needed my template to be for the sleeveless vest with attachments that were scheduled to be felted during the fifth and sixth days of this marvelous workshop. I’ll leave you with a picture of the finished vessel, note the subtle colour and texture from soya fibre inside the neck. Next time, the vest.

My large felt vessel with spiral

Settling in to Dagmar’s workshop at Big Cat Textiles

After our introductory day observing and sampling how Dagmar Binder lays out her fibre I decided to felt a small neck piece in the evening, this time using some of my favourite short fibre merino from Wollknoll instead of the 21 micron roving which I used for the class piece, pics of both samples are in Monday’s post. I was far happier with the results, the surface texture of the felt was much smoother and I always like the way I can blend the colours as I go along. As a result I decided to use the short fibre wool for the rest of the week, maybe if I had used a 16 or 17 micron roving I would have had a similar outcome but for me I wanted to use the fibre that I have most affinity and feeling for and didn’t want to have to buy extra wool when I already loved the colours of what I had in my stash!

Don’t the colours just sing?

Our task for day two was to felt a scarf/neck piece incorporating resists using some of the techniques learnt about laying out fibres in different directions and subsequently playing around with the flexibility of the various attachments. I choose hot orange for the main colour and added red, purple and small amounts of yellow wool as well as pieces of silk fabric, gold silk fibre and red linen fibre for surface decoration. The silk I snapped up in a charity shop in Edinburgh so yes, you can get LOADS of silk there too if you look in the skirt and blouse sections instead of the scarf, I’ve done it!

I had a concept for my neck piece which didn’t work out quite as I had planned. Those of you who know me and my style of working understand that drawing and planning to the Nth degree is just not part of my creative process, rather I start with a concept and let the colours and fibres speak to me during the layout stage out and adjust my design organically as I go along.

The perfect length to throw around my neck

As a result I ended up with rather a nudibranch styled piece, surprise, surprise!!! As I was adding some silk pieces to the main body of the felt I was actually thinking of the speckles on a trout, once I got to the fulling stages however I totally changed the shape of the ‘tail’ end (it had 6 resists in it during the layout) the end result is quite shrimp like in places so overall the piece is very piscine in nature.

I’ll leave you with a picture of it sneaking up my cotinus, make up your own mind about the nudibranch influence but I can attest that it does seem to have a life of it’s own! Tomorrow I’ll blog about the wall hanging and vessel I made on days three and four, I’m particularly happy with my large felt vessel.

Nudibranch like neck piece at large!

I’m home now and all fired up!

I arrived safely home to Clasheen this morning, tired, elated, fired up with the knowledge to put some ideas into practice and very satisfied after a wonderful week felting at Jeanette Sendler and Alison Mountain’s beautiful new studio ‘Big Cat Textiles’ in Scotland!  The week was a huge success from many different points of view: the start of a wonderful season of summer schools for Big Cat in their new studio space, an amazing opportunity to learn from and be inspired by Dagmar Binder over the course of a 6 day masterclass (three dimensional structured surfaces for garments and wall hangings), felting and having fun with great friends Merridee and Susan from the U.S., being wined and dined by Merridee’s husband Keith who cooked great tasty food for us in the evenings and then kicked us back to the felting studio, spending creative time with old and new friends, learning techniques which I know will help me become a more professional felter and overall having such a fun time and creating some felt pieces that I’m actually very happy with!!!!!

My initial sample from Dagmar Binder’s 3d felting masterclass in Scotland, attachments felted using various combinations of 21 micron merino and prefelt

It was also lovely to meet Aileen Clarke and her friend Kirsty (fellow felters from Scotland!), work alongside Britt (we met for the first time at ‘Felt in Focus’ 2009!), spend time felting with Merridee, Susan, Linda and Jenny each night after supper, all in all it the week has definitely been one of the highlights of my felting career to date!

When I got home Annette and Rex were both in great form. Today’s been spent relaxing, chatting, showing Annette the pieces I made at the workshop and planning a trip to visit Philip and Mary Cushen at Cushendale Woollen Mill before Annette heads home on Wednesday.

Small sample neckpiece combining my favourite short fibre merino and hand dyed prefelt

My fingers and thumb pads are actually worn out now from all the rubbing and soapy water during the workshop (thanks Meridee for the Compeed plasters, brilliant!!!) so tomorrow is planned to be a work free relaxing day and I’ll get the chance to spend some more time chatting and showing off the beautiful rural locality surrounding Clasheen. I also hope to to catch up somewhat with emails and paperwork, forgive me if you’re waiting for a response to messages, mails or phone calls, concentrating and immersing myself in the total masterclass experience was essential!!! More pics tomorrow from the week as it progressed, I promise!

Dagmar Binder workshop news!

I’m having a wonderful time participating in Dagmar Binder’s 6 day masterclass in Scotland. It’s such a pleasure to learn new techniques from such an inspirational felter, the other participants are pretty cool too!!! I’m going to try and upload some pics here later if I can grab hold of a computer but failing that I’ve started to add pics to Facebook and will continue to do so as the week progresses.