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!!!