Felting extravaganza in Portugal, part three!

As promised yesterday, I’m going to continue blogging about our wonderful residential week felting in Portugal and today concentrate on our trip to the Museu de Tecelagem dos Meios (the textile museum in Meios) and the pieces we made using the natural Bordeleira fleece from Dominio Vale do Mondego.

Watching a weaving demonstration at the Museu de Tecelegam in Meios

We started Wednesday morning by heading off to nearby Meios, this is a small village approx 1km away from Trinta, site until recently of 40 different wool processing and weaving factories. At Meios there’s a very interesting small museum with wonderful old tools and pieces of weaving equipment on display as well as huge working looms on the upper floor. Eelco and I had already been there on the Saturday prior to the workshop commencing and had found out that Wednesday morning would be the time to go if we wanted to see one of the largest old looms in action! These big looms were only ever operated by men, having seen one working I would never presume that a female could work one (even though I usually believe in equality for all), the physical effort required in the upper body to move the heddle was enormous!!! Alan and I went back for a further visit when he arrived to join me, we learnt that traditionally women did all the spinning and loading the flying shuttles, the men did all the weaving. Back downstairs after our demonstration everyone had fun trying on some of the gorgeous locally produced clothing and browsing the rugs and blankets for sale. The simple floor rugs, shepherd’s blankets and marriage blankets are woven at the museum, if they are to be brushed (as in the case of the natural white wedding blankets) they go one of the remaining working factories at Trinta and then come back to be sold on site. I also discovered some wonderful locally produced hand forged knives (you could easily cut off your finger with these!) and scissors, I bought two knives and a pair of scissors for myself plus some knives to bring home as gifts to Ireland.

Someone wanting a little bit of early lunch too!

Once we returned to base we had an early lunch so that everyone could have a head start in the afternoon selecting and starting to work with the freshly shorn Bordeleira fleece. We headed down to the stables and had the pick of gorgeous brown or white fleece, some people choose to felt smaller pieces while others wanted to felt a whole fleece. Because the climate and terrain is so different to Ireland there were lots of seed heads and various bits of dried vegetation in the fleece. At home our wool may be muddier but we definitely don’t have anything like the amount of little bits to pick out before we can get stuck into the serious besiness of felting! Once participants had selected their fleece everyone worked outside cleaning and sorting, this took quite a while depending on each individual animal that the fleece had come from.

Picking through the raw fleece prior to felting

Next two very fine layers of carded Bordeleira wool were laid out on the side of the fleece that would have been next to the sheep’s skin and everything was felted together using a lot of soap at the early stages of the process. Depending on previous experience and the size of the pieces some of these pieces took a lot longer than others to felt, this in normal, it’s not a race!!! I had laid out a slightly trimmed smaller fleece the night before and was able to finish it late on the Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a picture of it as it’s finishing drying, it’s on my chair at the kitchen table at Clasheen now and is a delicious contrast to the shaggy Norwegian wild mountain sheep fleece I felted last year!

Tomorrow I’ll write about nuno felting and our wonderful time eco dyeing with Terriea!

My fleece felted and drying in the sun

Memories of a marvellous time felting in Portugal, part one!

I’m going to divide up our marvellous residential felting experience in Portugal into several blog posts, there’s a lot to report and many photos to download from my camera so I’ll try to select some descriptive ones to post here as well as give you all a flavour of the atmosphere during the week. Of course I don’t have anything like enough pictures to share either, when I’m teaching I find it can be quite difficult to snap and think at the same time so do check out Heather, Terriea, Karin and Estela on facebook and leave some comments for them if you see any pictures that you like! Heather and Terriea also write two of my all time favourite blogs, both of them have wonderful pictures of our week together and will be putting more up over the next few days!!!

Inspiring location and scenery

I landed in Portugal late on Friday evening and Karin collected me from the airport so that I would have time to settle in and check out the organisational side of things before the participants started arriving from lunch time on Saturday. My personal Quinta (small granite farmhouse) was gorgeous, near enough to walk to the main house in 5 minutes but private enough to relax and spend time unwinding and recharging if I needed to. Karin and Eelco have been living at Dominio Vale do Mondego for almost 6 years now and their vision of an artistic retreat within a functioning bio-dynamic farm meant that this was the perfect place to have a wonderfully relaxing but productive felting holiday. I was so excited that great friend Heather would be arriving from the US and online friend Terriea was coming from Hong Kong, both of them were also previously online friends so I’m sure you can imagine our excitement when we all were together in reality as opposed to virtually!!! On Saturday we also had (in order of their arrival!) Annemarie from The Netherlands and Sandy from Spain (originally from the UK), Eelco’s sister Nienke and her friend Carla from The Netherlands arrived on Sunday as did Estela from Portugal. At various times during the course of the week-long extravaganza Karin and Noori from The Netherlands, Kelly (from the UK but now living up the road!) and Emma from Portugal (the local school principal) also participated so it really was a truly international experience!

Beautiful food and table decoration every meal

Karin and Eelco had organised wonderful local woman and chef Fernanda to cater for us at lunch and dinner each evening ably helped by Anna and Eelco when necessary, Eelco also took charge of decorating the table each mealtime and this was definitely an artistic pursuit in itself! The food was wonderful and the light and delightful organic Vinho Verdhe we drank every day proved the perfect accompaniment to any dish!!! After breakfast on Sunday morning Eelco took the participants who had already arrived out for a walk around the farm, his flock of Bordeleira sheep are beautiful, large calm and with wonderful twisted horns. I loved hearing the tinkling of the bells as they moved around the pasture during the day, they come inside every night as predators such as wolves are a possibility in the area (although definitely not common). I’m going to leave you now with a picture of the sheep, tomorrow I’ll continue writing more about our adventures and start blogging about how we found their wool to felt!

Bordeleira sheep grazing under the olive trees

Felting vessels using wool from rare or less usual breeds

Maureen and I have spent an action packed 3 days catching up, eating, drinking, sourcing supplies, visiting Cushendale Woolen Mills and Threads of Green (a wonderful sewing supplier in Kilkenny) as well as felting vessels using wool from rare or less usual breeds of sheep!  This work was to support Feltmakers Ireland in their drive to have a large display of vessels felted from less usual fibres on display at the Rare Breeds Survival Trust annual show at Gosford Park in Northern Ireland this coming weekend.  The only criteria was that 80% of the fibre used for each vessel had to be from a rare breed and there needed to be an opening in each piece because the public are being asked to drop a note in their favourite one and the vessel with the most notes will win a lovely Wensleydale fleece!

Cleaned and carded Zwartbles with collar of Finnish raw locks

My first vessel was felted from beautiful Zwartbles with a collar of raw Finnish locks, thanks Chrissie for the Zwartbles and thanks Carmen for the locks!

Maureen spent the first evening carding like crazy for her planned vessel, unfortunately I can’t remember the second fibre she used but I do know that they were both white and one of them was Wensleydale.  I liked her idea of felting in a metal chain and sink plug, fun!!!

Maureen with her funky vessel!

My second vessel was a large bowl felted using dyed Kainuu Grey wool.  This is a rare Finnish landrace sheep favoured by wonderful felters Rod and Karolina who specialise in large rugs and wall pieces, thanks again Chrissie for this fibre!  I wanted to see how easy it would be to machine embroider a wide, shallow vessel.  I didn’t have any difficulty actually holding the felt under the needle but I had HUGE problems with the viscose and rayon speciality threads breaking when stitching through the thick, softish felt.  Obviously this had to be a tension problem because there was no difficulty when I used polyester thread, I did try all sorts of different settings on the machine but hopefully when I have some more practice all will sort itself out with time.  Once the stitching was finished I shaped the vessel by steaming it over a large glass salad bowl.  This enabled me to create a deeper centre because I had been worried that it would be difficult to stitch inside the centre if the rim was too high.  I left the outside edge of the felt a little bit ruffled and hopefully now that the vessel has dried it will hold its shape on the long drive up to Gosford Park!

Large felt vessel with free machine embroidery

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!