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!

Stunning printed silk for nuno felting, new online store about to go live!

At the moment it just seems to be a roller coaster ride, organising my American workshops (sorry about the lack of details yet, trying to pin everything down in reverse order time wise!), sorting out my new online store, ploughing through the ever mounting paperwork and housework (on the back boiler yet again!!), attending to my golf club duties (unpaid I might add) and trying to get some time to actually felt and be creative.  Spending time felting is the one thing that keeps me sane and although Alan can’t understand why I feel compelled to get into the studio when so many other things need to be done I just would go totally mad if I didn’t get a little time to play around with fibres!

English Garden wrap/scarf

On Saturday morning I drove into Carlow town with Alan as we had a washing machine of his in the back of my truck which needed some repairs, my truck is very handy for hauling stuff around!  Anyway, while I was on this mission of mercy I managed to call into a nearby shop for a couple of minutes to check out their t-shirts and have a look at some of the latest summer accessories.  I was lucky enough to have the very good fortune of snapping up three stunning printed silk scarves, absolutely perfect for the pictured nuno felt wrap!  I laid out short fibred merino and silk fibres on one side of the silk scarf roughly following the colours in the print though not being totally confined by colour at the same time!!  It did take me longer than usual to lay out the fibres but I definitely think that the results have been worth the effort, I love the finished colours and texture! 

Detail showing both the silk side and the fibre side out

During the course of this week I promise to launch my new online store and this wrap/scarf will be one of the special items I am offering to launch my summer collection!!!  Here is a close up shot to show how I followed the colours and shapes printed on the silk when laying out my fibre.

Mixed results for first day working larger piece

Yesterday I started working on my first larger sculpture of 2010.  As mentioned before I have planned various shapes and sizes over the last few weeks but luckily I didn’t have enough laminate underlay (to use as a resist) to start working on something particularly big yesterday!  I decided to work on a modified shape born out of the sculpture I made last summer in Denmark and set to making the resist and weighing out the wool.  For the type of work that I wanted to create a symmetrical resist shape is best.  You cut your shape several times and then stitch the various layers together down the middle line using strong thread.  For arguments sake just imagine three circles stitched together down the diameter, if you fanned the resulting semicircles out you would have six sides to create your sculpture with.  Next you prepare six dry circles of wool weighing each layer to ensure the felt will be even, then you start laying and wetting your wool flipping the semicircles as you go until all the various surfaces are totally encased.  For my piece yesterday I worked on a modified figure of eight lying sideways, the curves on the bottom edge were a bit extended and there was a small protrusion on the outside top edge.  It took me a while to prepare the stitched resist and as I was working I decided to remove one of the ‘leaves’ to leave me with a five sided template.  I decided to use natural white and apple green Icelandic wool with some green and white silk hankies and throwsters waste to add detail and surface interest.  It took several hours to get the resist stitched and the five layers of wool prepared and dry felted lightly to help the fibres come together, these were then stacked like pancakes in preparation for covering the resist and wetting out the wool.  To be continued …….. with some pictures!

Large felt vessel and first batch of Icelandic wool on line

I have spent a LOT of today making a large felt vessel using some of my new Icelandic wool and thankfully the weather improved enough in the afternoon for photographing so I am at last starting to put it up for sale on Etsy.   In order to have less shrinkage than normal I used Anna Gunnersdottir’s method of felting with loads of soap and hardly any water, it takes a bit of getting used to but it definitely seems to work!Large felt vessel  I used a resist that I had cut out ages ago using my dustbin (garbage can!) for a template and weighed the wool to make sure that both sides had the same amount of wool.  The batts are exceptionally easy to lay out, just seperate the bigger pile into layers and then place the wool wherever you want it!  I used a gorgeous natural dark brown wool with chestnut highlights for the base of the vessel and white for the upper part to provide a nice bit of contrast.  When felting with the cold water it is best to use a liquid soap.  I had some Ecover floor cleaner that worked well, it’s a bit harsher on your hands than olive oil soap but not to bad in the overall scheme of things.  You need to rub and rub the wool for AGES before you can start any rolling or fulling.  Because of the amount of soap you really need to be quite sure with the pinch test (pinch some wool in your fingers and if it lifts up like fabric instead of fibre you can proceed to the next stage) before cutting the hole to remove the resist.Dark brown and white batts  Then you need to seal the cut edges of the felt before running your hand inside the package and felting a bit around where the edge of the resist is.  Once you are happy that everything is holding well together remove the resist and proceed to full.  I still find it absolutely amazing that a pile of loose fluffy fibres can form a strong and structural vessel, it never ceases to fascinate me how simple the process is and how complex the result may be!  I used just under 300g for this large vessel, the same amount could easily make 3 smaller ones or a very nice bag.

Felt vessels and great swap package

I have now uploaded some images of the felt vessels that I made for the Blueprint exhibition to my Flickr account.  With the exception of one bowl I decided to use all undyed fibres and keep the theme simple and stylish.  Probably the vessel that I am most satisfied with is a grey and white bowl with three oval pebbles stitched on as embellishment. 

Natural wool, stone and linen vessel

Natural wool, stone and linen vessel

Carmen gave me some raw linen thread to use for the stitching and I must say it does lend to the overall effect.  It really reinforces the thought that I have to get a bit more comfortable with a needle, judicious stitching can really enhance the style and feel of an item particularly when the thread has been chosen with care to complement or contrast.

The Clasheen Crafty Swap for Summer is well underway now, currently we have 98 members in our group and the numbers are growing weekly!  Swapping is a brilliant way to make friends and swap goodies with partners from all around the world, my most recent and wonderful swap package arrived on Monday afternoon from krobin in the Ravelry Cowl Swap.  In this secret swap we had to knit or crochet a cowl for our partner, send yarn and another cowl pattern and also include a few little extras taking into account the likes and dislikes of our swap buddy. 

Fantastic swap package
Fantastic swap package

My brilliant package included the hand knitted cowl, 3 crochet hooks, chocolate, yarn, pattern, pretzels, incense, my favourite ginger and orange bath lotion, ginger soap and some tasty chai tea!!!  Need I say more, EVERYTHING is me to a tee!

For my secret partner I crocheted a cowl in a silk/merino mix and finished it off with three buttons from my stash, hopefully my buddy will like it as it is in her favourite autumn colours!  I have bought some locally produced yarn from Cushendale Wollen Mill and yesterday got some chocolate and little extra goodies when I was in Carlow to complete my package.  Hopefully I will get it all together this afternoon (in between some dreaded cleaning in prep for Alan’s arrival home!) and it will be winging it’s way to the States tomorrow morning. 

Pictures of finished rug and ‘Creative Blog Award’

The finished rug!

The finished rug!

This morning as promised I was able to take a photo of my completed rug!  I know that this type of angled shot distorts the shape somewhat but I think that it is quite obvious how the sky area has shrunk more from left to right than the bottom section demonstrating clearly that the way we lay down the fibres makes a huge difference.  You should also be able to see how textured the areas are that were left uncovered with the coloured wool, the inside of the leaping animal for example is really crinkly and textured.

Close up of leaping animal

Thanks Irene for honouring me with this ‘Creative Blog Award’ !

For those who bring unique and creative elements to their blogs. For those who incorporate art, music, creative writing, photo’s, and other beautiful visual effects into their website. For those who put a unique spin on things and come up with new ideas. This award is for the artsy, the funky, the inventor, and even the rebel. This award is for those creative individuals who stand out from the crowd.”

The rules are:

1. The winner must copy this Award to their own blog
2. Link to the blog from whence you received the Award
3. Nominate a minimum of 7 other bloggers
4. Link to the nominated on your blog
5. Leave comment about the award on the nominated blogs.

The blogs that I would like to nominate are Deb Seeger, The Wolly Way, Her Majesty Margo, I’m a Ginger Monkey, A Hole in the Basket Primatives, Pretty Ditty and Jane Bo.

Special wool on order!

I am really looking forward to my delivery of a special wool from German company Filzrausch .  This is the short fibre merino that I saw for the first time with Sigrid and Ingrid Bannier at the workshops in November and what they use for almost all their jewellery making.  It is amazingly quick to felt and soft making it very comfortable to wear against the skin.  The cost is a bit more expensive that other merino but I am hoping that I will more than make up for this extra cost in the time saved and the scope of the projects that I intend to tackle.  Carmen had bought any wool that the sisters had left after the workshops and I got a little bit from her.  This afternoon I made some felt beads, a flower, a ball and a piece of flat felt, in all they took me probably a third of the time that I would take normally, amazing!  Watch this space, the wool should arrive at the beginning of next week hopefully.

One thing that I didn’t mention yesterday is that when I make prefelts I don’t lay the fibres out anything like as thickly as usual.  This is because the prefelt will be cut and laid on top of whatever piece I am working on and I don’t want the felt to end up too thick in those sections.  If however, you wanted a very textured piece, a wallhanging for example, maybe you would want the prefelt to be thick and to stand out a little from the rest of the background.  Anyway, it is nice to experiment a bit so you will find out what thickness suits your style of work yourselves!

Felt jewellery, lampwork, felting process/equipment …..

An amazing coincidence happended the other evening (was going to say occurred but not sure that the spelling is correct!).  Just before I checked out my account on Ravelry, an online fibre artist community, I happened to pick up a glass bracelet that I bought myself on Murano two years ago.  My sisters and I took my mother to Venice for her 70th birthday present and we spent a great few days marvelling at the beautiful buildings, art and glass.  Anyway, one day we took the vaporetto to Murano, probably the most famous place in the world for handmade glass.  I treated myself to a lampwork bracelet but strangely enough have only worn it about twice in the last year.  When I picked it up the other evening it immediately hit me that if I took it apart I could then incorporate the glass beads into one of my felted designs, what a revelation!  This is probably what I will do this afternoon, still plotting and planning my series of wallhangings and still a bit unsure how to progress so any diversion is a diversion worth taking!  The coincidence occurred (using the word anyway, spelling or not!!) when I checked out some of my groups on Raverly.  One of the people in a felting forum had actually been in Venice and her husband bought her a glass and felt necklace for a Christmas present, I was absolutely amazed since it was probably only 5 minutes previously that I had thought of my brainwave.  This really goes to show that no idea is a new idea!

Following on from some comments in relation to felting I thought that some of you might be wondering what the difference between felting and fulling is.  Christine White in her book ‘Uniquely Felt’ describes the process of wet felting as a two stage process.  Firstly there is the laying out of the loose wool fibres, the wetting and massaging in order to make a piece of non-woven fabric that holds together and this is called confusingly, felting.  If you were to stop the process now this would be called prefelt.  The second process to get a stable, strong fabric is the fulling.  This process is the rolling and/or throwing in order to toughen the fabric and cause it to shrink.  Combining the two processes is wet felting, sometimes called traditional felting or just felting, confused yet??  Fulling can also be done with knitted wool or crochet, usually be bunging it into the washing machine with the intention of shrinking the piece in order to make it more sturdy and hardwearing.  This is why when you are ordering any books about felting you need to be sure that they are actually about wet felting and not just fulling knitting as this seems to be a craft gaining in popularity all the time, especially in England and the USA.  Another area of felting that appears to vary from region to region is the actual equipment that people use so I am just going to state the basic felting process that I use on a daily basis. 

For 99% of my work I lay out my wool on a piece of bubble wrap, bubbles facing up. 

I lay my wool in thin layers overlapping the fibres like roof slates or shingles.

Using a mixture of grated olive oil soap mixed in warm water I wet out the piece making sure that all the wool is fully wet.

I place another piece of bubble wrap on top and with wet soapy hands massage the package gently all over.  Massaging gently ensures that any surface design you may have laid does not shift, I can’t emphasise enough how much quicker the next stage is if you spend about 5 to 10 minutes massaging.  I NEVER use netting to encase the wool as when I tried it I found that the fibres got caught in the net and I prefer working just with bubble wrap  and later in the process using my hands directly on the felt.  Also, it saves a lot of time that otherwise would be spent sewing the netting together!

I lift up a piece of the bubble wrap to make sure that all the wool is wet and when I am happy that it is I start the rolling process. 

I roll my work in all directions and with both sides facing up, the length of time spent rolling just depends on the actual finish I want to achieve.  For flat felt like cobweb felt scarves it might take 45 minutes, for nuno felt I also throw the work and this process is actually pretty quick once you are sure that the wool fibres are working through your silk or cotton.  Wallhangings take hours or days depending on size and slippers in my experience take about 6 hours! 

This is felting at its simplest, when the piece has shrunk to your desired size just rinse (you may add vinegar to the last rinse), stretch into shape and dry.

Summary The basic equipment that you will need to create a piece of felt is bubble wrap, olive oil soap and water, towels help to mop up any excess water!

Tomorrow I will talk about the Osman technique and the use of prefelts to get a specific shape and a clear outline in your work.  Happy felting!

Comments, felting problem discussed and Clasheen New Year Stash Swap

Thanks everyone for responding to the last few posts that I have published in relation to the road sign.  I have to agree with those of you who said that it did NOT explain what I was doing, I know it doesn’t but I also agree with those of you who said that it would stand out especially because of the colour!!  My thinking at the moment is that I will make a second sign in complimentary colours and the text will read ‘Nicola Brown – felt’.  This could be a permanant feature at the top of the lane and would hang above the studio open sign which could be brought inside if I wanted a day to myself!  I don’t have any passing traffic (because I am in such a rural area) so from that point of view anyone actually driving to see me would know in advance that felt is my thing.

Among the comments was a question from Deb Seeger, a brilliant textile artist who has returned to felting since following this blog, a great compliment, thanks Deb!  You can see Deb’s profile by clicking here and follow the link to check out her work, I particularly like ‘Kissy Fish’ and ‘Heart of Gold’.   Anyway, Deb’s question was in relation to a piece of felt which seemed to seperate into 2 distinct layers when it was felted.  It might be that the inital layers were not laid out thinly enough and this could be the problem, it is definitely better to lay many thin layers of wool in opposite directions (especially if you are using tops) rather than just two thick ones and I would recommend using bubble wrap to aid the felting process.  Another possibility, although I may be wrong in my analysis (still waiting for pics to see clearly) would be if two different types of wool were used for the piece of felt, this actually happened to a friend when she used two different types of wool when making a pair of slippers.  The early warning signs were there when the wool (ordered from the internet) arrived as it did say it was not suitable for felting!  The colour was GORGEOUS however and she decided to go ahead with the slippers, this wool was to be the outside colour and if I remember correctly a black merino was to be the lining.  Using the resist method the slipers were started and worked on for many hours.  It appeared as if the top colour wouldn’t take the water properly but still she persisted – the end result was a soggy mass of one colour and perfectly felted ‘socks’ in the lining colour!  This might not be what has happened in Deb’s case as from the comment it sounds as if there are 2 distinct layers of felt so one solution would definitely be to needle the top layer in place.  Another idea (if the piece is not fulled too far) would be to fully dry the piece, roughen up the texture of the felt with a wire brush where you want the fibres to join, wet out again with hot soapy water and then give it a go with an electric sander before rolling and fulling again as normal.   I hope that this is of some help and if anyone else has had this problem we would love to hear your solutions!

Sign up is now open for the Clasheen New Year Stash Swap!

This is the time for New Year’s resolutions and what better incentive to help you tidy up your stash (if like me it is getting out of hand!) than to make up a nice parcel for your swap buddy full of the goodies that you have been hoarding but never getting around to using. Try and select items that you know your buddy will find a home for using their profile to guide you. Things like yarn, buttons, ribbons, pins, jewellery, zips, stickers, unused presents, paint sticks, craft wire, anything and everything that could find a home with someone else.  We also will be swapping one seasonal receipe as usual and a small little extra.  If you want to sign up for the swap please check out our dedicated Flickr swap group and sign up before Friday 16th January and I will let you know who your swap buddies are over that weekend. Packages need to be sent no later than Friday 6th February meaning that most people should recieve theirs before Valentines Day on February 14th!

Lastly, Happy New Year everybody!

Disaster in the utility room!

Well, last night I had a big disaster in my utility room.  Johnny, one of my felting students had given me a present of some beautiful Alpaca and I decided to try washing some of it in the washing machine prior to carding.  Thanks Carmen for THAT tip, what a catastrophe!!  I put the Alpaca in a pillow case, tied the top with cotton cord and set it on a cool silk and wool cycle.  When the cycle was over and I opened the door an amazing amount of brown ‘gunk’ was pooling within the rubber of the seal and the pillowcase was extremely wet and heavy.  Maybe I shouldn’t have then decided to rinse and spin the package on a higher setting but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Anyway, this morning I am the prowd owner of what looks like a raw fleece collar, some of the fibres felted together, some are shaggy and unfelted.  Never mind, I learnt a lesson and in actual fact I think that with a bit of judicious pruning I may well set a new trend in fashion accessories this Winter!