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 continued …..

Following on from yesterday’s post the shaping and fulling of the vessel takes a lot of time once the opening is cut and sealed.  The steps that I go through are as follows …..

  1. Insert one hand inside the ‘package’ and pressing around the outside where the resist meets the seam work the felt from both sides to even out any potential ridges
  2. Once this is done I then turn the vessel right side out and check the design for loose pieces
  3. For the smaller vessels I had no problems with the design not integrating into the white merino but for the larger ones it seems to be necessary to check each prefelt design and then using a Clover needle felting tool (5 needles in a spring loaded holder) go over each design element to ensure everything is felting together well

    Securing loose edges of the design with a Clover needle felting tool

  4. Once I am happy that all the elements are cominging together it is time to apply some pressure and start to rub, roll and felt strongly using whatever method I fancy as I work on different parts of the vessel.  At this stage I might roll or rub on bubble wrap, the table or an excellent ridged mat I brought home from America (fridge shelf liner I think!), a great present from one of my students.  You could also use a car floor mat although I do find that sometimes they turn pure white merino a nasty grey colour!
  5. I still have soap in the felt at this stage and soon I will blow up a balloon inside the vessel to try and work it into as round a shape as possible.  Pouring HOT water from the kettle over the vessel I work it with soapy hands over my washing up bowl in the sink
  6. After a while I take it out of the sink and upend it over a large glass salad bowl.  Now I start to stiffen the felt by banging repeatedly all over the surface with a long handled wooden spoon
  7. Periodically I roll the whole balloon encased package on top of the ridged mat and spot full with a felting mouse before plunging it into HOT water again and doing some more rubbing in the sink
  8. Next I rinse it thoroughly in HOT water before turning the vessel inside out, inserting another balloon and repeating the rolling, banging  and rubbing process on the other side

    Inside out vessel starting to get stiffer and take shape

  9. I keep alternating between banging the vessel into shape now, stretching it with my mouse from the inside and rewetting with extremely HOT water.  When I am happy that the vessel is almost shrunk to size I turn it right side out for a last rinse before putting it in my washing machine and turning on the drain and spin cycle.  Now I don’t have any balloon inside the vessel as I want to spin out as much water as possible using the machine
  10. Once the vessel comes out of the machine I inflate another balloon inside it before the final session of banging and stiffening
  11. When I am finally happy with the strength of the felt and the final shape I leave the vessel on the balloon to dry fully sitting once more inside my large glass salad bowl

Today I have spent about 4 hours banging and rolling this latest vessel and at last it is resting around its balloon to dry.  As soon as I am happy that the felt is totally dry (probably a few days because it is a big piece) I will burst the balloon and take some pictures.  I don’t like my surface decoration as much as the last vessel I felted but I was concentrating more on the size and shape of the piece and wanted to use up the prefelt I had from a previous one last week.  Tomorrow is my sister’s birthday so I am having a felt free day but on Wednesday morning I will start my largest vessel hopefully using Cathy’s yoga ball for the shaping and shrinking, watch this space! 

As you can read from the process above I am stiffening these vessels by shrinking and fulling the felt to the degree that they are strong and hold their shape without the use of any additional stiffeners.  My next post will examine some of the ways in which to add different solutions (PVA, artists medium etc.) to aid the stiffening process and it would be great to stimulate debate about this process, thanks to all of you who have already commented on the topic here and on Facebook!

Spiky wet felted neck piece!

'Green Grass"I am just about to set in to 2 full days felting, heaven for me!!  Before I start I just wanted to share this image of a new design that I am playing with, basically a cross between a necklace and a scarf that I am calling a neck piece.  Today I will be expanding on this idea and also making some long cords to use for some necklaces and collars.  Have any of you used a fabric stiffener when shaping felt and if so what is it called?  I would be very grateful to learn the name and also hear what kind of success or otherwise you have found when using it.  Thanks!   Please just leave me a comment or send a personal email.