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???

Sue’s fabulous felt purses!!!

Today’s post shares pictures of two beautiful purses felted in Michigan by my friend Sue. I first met Sue last May at one of the Plainwell workshops organised by great buddy Dawn Edwards where she chose to felt her first vessel complete with craters, ever since then we have kept in touch via this blog and through Facebook. When I started offering my new felting kits on Etsy Sue ordered one in a beautiful soft butterscotch shade, don’t forget you can custom request your favourite colours and I’ll oblige you if I can! I also included two buttons, one vintage and the other a lovely shiny kind of bronze colour with a very interesting opening where you sew it on.

Sue's beautiful clutch complete with vintage button

For her purses Sue combined the butterscotch fibre from the kit with some wool and hand dyed locks she already had in her stash, laid out some silk scraps on top for embellishment and added the mohair off cuts and cotton gauze, also from the kit. Once felted she added some machine stitching to both the purses and a long leather shoulder strap to one, aren’t they FABULOUS??? I can’t wait to meet Sue again at the 2012 felting workshops in Plainwell on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th May, then I’ll be able to hold the purses and admire them in all their glory!!!

Sue's gorgeous leather and felt shoulder bag

The Felter has landed!

After a little delay (3.5 hours!) at borderland security everyone was happy my papers were in order and I arrived safely to SF. Yesterday I spent the day travelling up to The Tin Thimble and now I am just heading for a shower, coffee and a bite to eat (a big one!) before Sharon and I head off to the studio and shop. I am so excited to be visiting here again and I believe that some amazing new silk fabric and wonderful fibre arrived over the last couple of days, I can’t wait to get my hands stuck in!!!  Hopefully I will get a chance to borrow Emma’s computer to blog either this afternoon or tomorrow and I will update you all properly, there’s only so much typing I can do from my phone!

In love with Zwartbles!

I recieved some wonderful Zwartbles fibre from Chrissie to experiment with as part of our collaboration, I am IN LOVE with this wool!  What I got was a beautiful dark brown fibre and it just felt wonderful to lay it out and work with.  Amazingly it did not have anything like the usual shrinkage rate of approx 30% but it did felt down into a beautifully strong and fine piece of fabric and was not spongy at all.  This had been a worry for me initially when I realised it was not shrinking much but no fear, it felted brilliantly!  I’m not going to post pictures up here yet about what I actually made (keeping that for the book, almost there!) but if you are interested in reading up about this breed and marvelling over some great photos check out the Zwartbles Sheep Association’s website.  Off for another spot of writing now, please bear with these sporadic posts with few pictures until at last this collaboration is finished and ready to print!

First pictures from CRAFTed project!

Only a few words today because I used most of them up with sixth class this morning!!! 

Having fun adding the surface decoration

 

I was blown away by how creative everyone was.  Each pupil was asked to choose two colours to use as a base, then they could select from all sorts of yarn, fibre and fabric to add to the surface layer.  A lot of the girls had brought in beads, buttons, pipe cleaners and all sorts of glitzy embellishments with them and these will be stitched on next Monday before the felt gets stuck to the front of their journals.  A tip for anyone wanting an easy way to decorate a copy, why not stick velcro to the book and then just press the felt to the barbed side of the velcro???  No sewing, I like that! 

Anyone see a favourite colour combination here???

Some of the pieces were fully felted by the end of the session but others will need a little more fulling at home before they are ready to embellish with stitches, beads and buttons.  It is always interesting to see how different people felt at different speeds, one of the last girls to lay out her wool was in turn one of the only girls who ended up with a fully felted piece at the end of the session!

Metallic mesh fabric, thick and thin merino, little buttons to be stitched on afterwards

There is no right or wrong way to felt either as many ways to end up with a good finished result but I always like to share with pupils what I was shown when I started because I feel it gives a good foundation to build upon.  You can check out my flat felt tutorial if you want to see what we did today.

SO EXCITED to announce American felting workshops in May, CRAFTed, upcoming book and process of first mohair vessel explained a little!!!!!

So much to share with you and really not enough time to get everything written down and documented, today I have just had to put felting aside and tie myself to the computer to try and get my diary under control for the next few months!

My biggest news of the day is that I will be paying a return visit to California and Michigan during the month of May and I am just so thrilled and excited to be planning another series of felting workshops with you on that side of the world, watch out, here I come!!!!!  Although provisional dates and venues just need to be finally confirmed and I don’t want to jinx anything it looks as if I will be teaching in San Fransisco on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th May, travelling to an exciting fibre retreat in Downieville for 13th – 16th May and with the wonderful Dawn in Plainwell, Michigan either the last weekend in April or the third weekend in May, I am so excited I can hardly speak, unusual for me as those of you who have already met me can readily attest!!!!!  I had such a ball the last time I was over and met so many lovely people, I am really looking forward to renewing acquaintances and meeting more of you, the internet is truly a wonderful place to make contact with fellow fibre addicts!  Although I haven’t actually contacted them yet there might be the possibility of putting something together with a fascinating artist and designer in Los Angeles and if any others of you would like to discuss the possibility of me teaching a workshop while I am over please email me to discuss options asap!

My next bit of news is that I start a short residency called CRAFTed this Friday, a learning skills for life project aiming to connect creativity and innovation through craft.  It is jointly organised through the Crafts Council of ireland and Kilkenny Education Centre and I have been paired with 6th class at Scoile Mhuire Presentation School in Kilkenny, 32 girls aged 11 and 12.  Last Wednesday I met their teached Mairead at a day long training for the project (we had fun!) and we have decided on the working title  ‘exploring transition’ to be the theme for our collaboration.  This residency follows on from my Craft in the Classroom residency but due to financial constraints and funding restrictions in Ireland at the moment we just have 10 contact hours and 6 hours preparation this time (in addition to the training day obviously).  On Friday I will be meeting the girls and showing them some of my work, answering questions, giving a short demonstration of the magic envolved in felting and then we will be discussing and planning how the course of our project will evolve.  This class will be leaving at the beginning of the summer and moving to ‘big school’, they will also be making their confirmation during the Spring so ‘exploring change’ seemed an appropriate theme, let’s hope it proves to be so and I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew! 

Fibre diva, author and good friend Chrissie Day and I plan on having our collaborative felting book published in time for my upcoming trip to USA!!!  This has been long in the planning and I hope worth the wait when we finally get it together and under one cover at last!  We both love to felt with similar and different raw materials and the book should be an interesting combination of different styles, techniques, tips and advice, watch this space!!!!! (How many exclamation marks can one blog post cope with?????)

Now on to a brief but fairly comprehensive explanation (at least I hope it will be brief and not bore you!) of the process I went through at the end of last week, as with the white, brown and orange ArtL!nks vessels I decided to work with the design inside for my first mohair vessel experiment.  This proved to require more concentration than I had expected; building up the layers of colour and texture in this way and turning the felt inside out near the end of the felting process allowed for the clearest end surface design and least difficulty combining different materials especially around the areas where the fibres met the edge of the resist. 

Nubbly textures and surface detail incl. yellow plastic net, red linen fibres, lilac wool neps and rich reflective mohair

Areas where I trapped hard rectangles of previously felted wool under silk chiffon and fibre (to get both design elements and a raised surface texture) plus the places where I added some pieces of yellow plastic netting needed the most brain power but I kept my flat felt experiment to hand and this was a big help in determining how exactly I would lay out my design.  Once I had the fibres and fabric laid out against the plastic resist on side one I followed this with a thick layer of loose mohair fibres.  As I mentioned before this mohair is a waste product from the weaving industry and as such when Carmen and I get the bags of fluffy, lustrous fibre the colours are both clear and subtly blended, it obviously depends on what fabric the mill has been brushing and what has been previously brushed as to what colours we end up to work with.  I choose the pinkest and purpleist (are these words???) blends to lay against the design and once the first side was totally covered I wet it out using a lot of soap, gave it a brief rub and then turned the package over to the other side.  Next I continued laying the surface design (working with the laminate floor underlay for a resist allows me to see the shapes and colours from side one through the plastic) before folding over the edges from side one and laying out the mohair on the second side as well.  Once that is done (soaped and rubbed lightly) I turned the package over again before laying two even layers of gotland/merino blend on each side.  The important thing at this stage is to place a piece of yarn or contrasting fibre on your work wherever you decide you will be cutting into the felt once the felting has occured and the fulling is progressed enough for you to be cutting out your resist.  If I don’t do this at this stage I totally forget where the upper and lower surface of my vessels will be, live and learn!  I spent a lot of time rubbing lightly on both sides of the package and paid special attention to the edges around the resist, the fibres there need to be nice and snug otherwise you will end up with unwanted ridges when you start to shape the vessel. 

Silk and linen fibres on top of woven mohair squares

Once I was happy that the fibres were starting to felt together well I commenced rolling in different directions alternating with rubbing directly on top of the felt using more pressure and friction at this stage.  When it looked as if I needed to cut into the felt to relieve the internal pressure (the felt is shrinking and therefore the plastic resist is getting scrunched up inside) I knew where to make the insision because I was careful to keep an eye on that odd coloured bit of yarn which was my marker!  I sealed the edges and rubbed carefully around the edge of the resist before turning the package inside out and having a look at what the vessel would finally look like and how the design worked in the round.  Finishing the piece was exactly the same as any other sculptural felt, rinsing, rubbing, rolling, banging, shaping etc. until finally I was happy with the result.  Because I used a combination of mohair with the gotland/merino blend the vessel is nice and strong sculpturally and definitely should hold it’s shape over time.  I like the way the different fibres have blended and mingled although I have to say I pulled off some sequined ribbon (do you remember us buying that Sharon???) once I turned the vessel inside out, a bit blingy for me at the end so it had to go much to Carmen’s delight!

Productive weekend playing with surface embellishment on felt vessels, stiffening experiment number one underway too

Continuing with the theme of sculptural felt for my ArtL!nks work, this weekend I played around with surface embellishment.  Between Friday afternoon and Sunday night I felted one small vessel incorporating a plastic net (the net that my clemintines came in) at the lay out stage and another medium sized one with leather and seed bead embellishments, these I stitched to the vessel prior to the final drying and shaping.  An email from Connie in relation to beading felt prompted me to create the stitched piece, I need to collect another roll of laminate floor underlay and 50m bubble wrap in Kilkenny on Wednesday so until then I can’t start on my largest vessel, playing around with surface design and starting to experiment with stiffeners and fabric paint seemed like a good way of continuing the project while having fun at the same time! 

Little leather leaves, seed beads, white vessel and sewing tools

The idea for adding the leather leaves and seed beads was inspired by a purse I saw in one of the Stampington magazines, I will explore my untidy studio and upload the name as soon as I get my hands on the magazine!  Because I made the vessel in pure white without any prefelt cutouts it was nice just to concentrate on the form and enjoy feeling the wool felting under my hands.  Once the vessel was felted and shaped I started to stitch the little leather shapes around the brim.  Felt is a wonderful medium to stitch into (if the felt is thick enough and not paper thin) because for most sewing projects it is possible to hide any thread ends and loose ends within the fabric thus leaving a totally clean reverse to the stitched side. 

Stitching on the first leaf

It didn’t actually take as long as I anticipated to stitch on the leaves and now the vessel has a balloon inside it once more to keep it in shape until it is 100% dry, I will post a photo as soon as this is last stage is completed.

The other sculpture/vessel entailed stretching a plastic orange net around my resist, laying three layers of brown merino on top of this followed by one layer of yellow fibre.  I didn’t trap the netting at all and hoped that the torn edges in some spots would add the the surface interest, the plastic incorporated well but I am not totally sure if I am happy with the colour combination and design now it is drying, possible less plastic would have been more in this little sample! 
Little plastic orange net and merino sculpture/vessel

This morning I have created and stiffened a medium sized vessel using Icelandic wool, loads of soap and cold water a la Anna Gunnarsdottier.  More about this vessel next post, stiffeners again and tools we all use for fulling our felt.  Thanks for all your comments to date re stiffeners, much appreciated!

Order of process for making my ArtL!nks felt vessels

The vessel I started during the week needs a couple more hours work and then hopefully it will be fully felted and fulled.  I realise from some of your comments here, on Facebook and via email that it might be helpful if I wrote down the steps that I am using for this process one by one so here goes, (PS this is not a definitive way to felt vessels just the one I am using for these!) …..

  1. Determine the size of the vessel and cut out the template, I use 2mm thick laminate floor underlay by choice although any type of flexible plastic or bubble wrap will work just fine
  2. Make my prefelt from 3 even layers of merino
  3. Cut out some prefelt shapes
  4. Lay my template on top of bubble wrap, bubble side up
  5. Lay my initial shapes directly onto the template, for these vessels I am working with the design inside method.  I think that this is keeping the edges clearer and helps me get a seamless edge around the resist
  6. Lay 2 fine layers of white merino up to and about 1.5cms (half an inch) over the edge of the resist
  7. Wet the fibres with soapy water, rub lightly either through a net or by pressing another piece of bubble wrap on top
  8. Turn the package upside down when I am happy the layer is wet through (but not soaking) using a second piece of bubble wrap, bubbles against the fibre as usual
  9. Fold in the prefelt pieces that are draping around the edge of the template first, lay out more template shapes to complete the design.  By using the laminate floor underlay I can see the colours from my prefelt through the resist and this helps me determine where I want to position the rest of the prefelt
  10. Fold over the white merino from side 1 and then lay 2 layers of the same wool in side 2 this time just going up to the edge of the template but not too far over
  11. Wet, press and turn over back to side 1
  12. Fold over small edge from side 2, lay out 2 more layers of white merino going approx 1.5cms over the edge again, wet out and turn over
  13. Fold over edge and lay out 2 more layers of white before wetting out and folding over any stray fibres to the other side
  14. Place piece of yarn or different coloured fibre in the centre of the side where I will be making my cut to remove the resist 

    Gently working around the edge of the resist

  15. Start to felt the vessel by rubbing gently on top of the bubble wrap and then delicately directly on the fibres themselves paying special attention that the edges are pulled up tightly around the resist
  16. Keep turning the vessel over to work on both sides and rotate to ensure all the package is worked evenly
  17. When I am happy that the felt is holding together firmly and starting to shrink I cut a circle in the centre of my top side and work the cut edges to seal them before removing the resist.  Note in the picture how you can see the design on the inside at this stage, I love this first glimpse! 

Sealing the cut edges of the opening

Tomorrow I will post the rest of the process as well continue with the stiffening debate.  Thanks so much for all your comments to date on this topic and the tip about using a yoga or exercise ball for my next vessel, I have borrowed one from a friend (thanks Cathy) so my largest vessel will be underway by Wednesday at the latest!

Aquilegia vessel, gorgeous gotland/merino and leicester/merino combinations a dream to felt with

Inspired by the flowers in my herbaceous border and being extremely short of time this week I suddenly realised on Monday that I had the perfect coloured batts in my studio coupled with just enough time to felt a simple cylindrical vessel. 

Detail from aquilegia felt vessel

Last summer at Felt in Focus there were some wonderful suppliers from which participants could purchase fibres, yarn and fabrics from.  One of the smaller Danish producers Henrik Hjelholts had the most amazing coloured leicester/merino and gotland/merino batts, I couldn’t help but drool over them each day and just before he closed up shop at the end of the symposium I succumbed to the lure of the fibre!  This wool was a little bit more expensive that I had been used to buying hence my unusual hesitation but as I have discovered it is absolutely gorgeous to felt with I now consider it totally worth the extra cost.  Since then I have been gazing periodically at the wine and raspberry gotland/merino batts that I bought (most of the green leicester/merino has already been put to good use in a bag!) and once I decided to felt the vessel on Monday everything just seemed to come together in my mind pretty quickly.  

Back of aquilegia felt vessel

For the inner layer of green I used the leicester/merino mix and the outer layer of wine is the gotland/merino cross, combining these two blends of fibre has created a very stable felt vessel.  I wanted to expose an ‘eye’ of colour at the front of the piece so after laying out the green I positioned an oval shaped plastic resist near the top of the vessel.  This I covered with two layers of gotland/merino, colour ‘Karry’, before adding another slightly smaller oval resist and completing the vessel in the wine.  When I had everything almost completly felted and fulled I exposed the two ‘eyes’, originally I had thought about beading one of the layers but on reflection I like the felt just as it is!

Felted accessories, our Friday workshop with Lyda Rump

Yesterday morning I drove Lyda back to the airport and after a quick call to Ikea, McDonalds (a girl’s got to have some junk food ocassionally doesn’t she??) and the library in Carlow I returned home to Clasheen ready for a hot bath and bed.  I am physically tired but mentally exhilarated after our weekend workshops and I am so looking forward to getting silly household chores out of the way so that I can start laying out some samples for my newest felt project.  I still have to finish fulling my complex felt sculpture but that is on hold for a couple of days until I get the house tidied and the well (STILL no water of my own) back in proper working order.  Now on to the ‘Felted Accessories’ workshop with Lyda on Friday.
We started the morning oohing and aahing over some of Lyda’s beautiful scarves and inventive felt jewellery.  These fun pieces of jewellery gave us the freedom to discover how different colours, fibres and fabrics combined together without the stress of laying out a bigger project and it was very satisfying to have a gorgeous felt accessory at the end of each experiment! 

Gold threaded fabric, turquoise beads and felt necklace strung on rubber cord

Lyda encouraged us to incorporate artifical fabrics into our layout and these had some amazing results in the finished felt, you either loved each piece or you hated it, no middle ground!  During the morning I suddenly remembered that I had a large artificial fabric wrap donated to me by a friend to repurpose and the metallic weaving combined with black was perfect to cut up into pieces to see what the result would be if it were felted into a background of short fibred merino.  As you can see from the picture on the left it formed a good bond with the wool fibres and crinkled nicely during the felting process!  I thought  it was interesting the way the mixed fibres in the weave affected the finished shape.  My lay out of wool and fabric for this piece was square but as I felted them together they shrank very much more in one way than the other.  This ended up as an interesting twisted rectangle shape which I further embellished with turquoise stones and strung on a black rubber tube.  My brief to myself over the weekend was to try our new things, to stitch or bead some work and to complete some projects and not leave them on the long finger for finishing later, whether you like this piece or not it is finished and it is beaded!

Argh, I am so annoyed and frustrated because when I uploaded this post for some reason the second half of my writing and the image to accompany it was deleted.   I don’t know what actually happened and unfortunately I have to rush to the bank so don’t have time to write any more right at this minute.  I will however leave you for the second time, this time with a picture of my merino, stone, fabric and bead pendant minus the longer and more instructive description! 

Beaded felt and stone pendant