First Quarter Challenge

First Quarter Challenge

Lyn and Annie have set us a challenge for this quarter to make something inspired by the decade 1900 – 1909. The challenge is here If you would like to see it and maybe you could join in. first-quarter-challenge

They gave us examples of what was going on and what caught my eye was the aerial photography.  It made me think of some wonderful works by the fibre artist Chris Cullen of As theCrow Flies. https://www.facebook.com/cbdasthecrowflies/.  She uses mostly recycled knits and yarn in her amazing pieces. she sells mostly through galleries but does commissions through her Facebook page. for sale at https://www.facebook.com/Blue-Bramble-Gallery- in St Ives, and https://www.facebook.com/a2gallery.wells Also from Spring, Baxters Gallery in Dartmouth.

These are 2 of Chris’s recent pieces

 

I have in the past thought about doing a piece inspired by her amazing work. Lyn and Annie have given me the push I need. I thought I could do something similar in felt for my own farm. First a prototype. This is a flat piece and not of my farm but just a farm. I used an old sweater that I ran through the washer then dismantled and ran through a couple more times. I wanted a nice sturdy base.

I did this picture by needle felting into a square cut out of the sweater.  I have one of the little 6 needle holders that I used for most of it. Then switched to a single needle to put in the details. It is done in a very minimalist way with

The sweater piece.

The background and the road and the start of a field.

Added the fields and the house and barn.

Then some sheep of course.

I folded all the wool

Lastly used some green curls to make the trees.

It was a lot of stabbing, too much stabbing.  I think I will try to do all the main features like roads and the fields by lightly needling them into place and then wet felting them. Just adding the detail and features with needle felting. The next one will be more 3D. I have some ideas for the house and barns. Have you started thinking about his challenge? We would love to hear about it on the felting and Fiber studio Forum. Here’s the link to the place to post pictures. https://feltandfiberstudio.proboards.com/thread/4247/2021-first-quarter-challenge. or use the Forum button on the left to get there.

Website Changes

Website Changes

Life has gotten in the way of posting this week. I woke up this morning and realized I had forgotten to write my post for the week. If you are reading this on our website, perhaps you will notice that we have made some changes. Our theme that we were using was out of date and there were issues that kept developing here in the background that needed to be fixed. So Ann took on the challenging task of changing the theme.

 

We have tried to keep everything looking similar to what we have had in the past but we’ve done some editing and pruning in areas that we thought were not getting much use. Have you looked at all the information that is available here? I often notice online that beginners are asking questions about what different fibers look like, what the results of embellishment fibers in felt look like etc. We have tons of photos of different types of fiber. All you have to do is go to the menu at the top and look under Fiber or Other Fibers. There is a drop down menu and sub menus with galleries so you can see samples of a variety of fiber.

We also have free tutorials available under the heading Tutorials on the menu. Again, just look at the top for the menu and there is a drop down list with a variety of topics such as dyeing, fiber preparation, mixed media, needle felting, nuno felting and wet felting.

So I hope you’ll take a few minutes to explore what’s available here on our site. If you find any links that don’t work, we’d appreciate it if you’d let us know so we can fix them. Thank you Ann for taking on this huge task and revamping our site!

 

 

Finding Focus

Finding Focus

It’s the new year and here we are in England with what I’m calling the ‘new abnormal’: all non-essential shops closed; travel only if necessary; people working from home wherever possible and, for many of us, very limited direct contact with people outside our household.

If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d have liked a long stretch of time with few commitments that I could dedicate to felt-making, I’d have jumped at the chance.  Be careful what you wish for. 

Towards the end of 2020 I had several events to aim for so was able to focus on making things for those. Here are a few of my favourites: a succulent holder, nuno felt vase (with glass interior) and needle felted mince pie.

I have plenty of sales and exhibitions booked throughout 2021 but no way of knowing whether and when they will take place. I have notebooks full of ideas but feel I need to find some focus to direct my efforts and get the creative energy flowing. 

I really enjoy learning new skills and developing my felt-making in different directions. So, I decided at the turn of the year to sign up for some online workshops. I’m mostly self-taught as a felt maker but now I’m asking myself ‘why do I want to reinvent so many wheels?’.  I’ve long wanted to take Fiona Duthie’s workshop ‘Fibre + Paper’ so when I saw she was running the workshop in March 2021, I eagerly signed up.  I then find myself tapping my toes impatiently and thinking ‘I don’t want to wait ‘till March!’.

Fortunately, in February Fiona is offering another class I’d like to take ‘Ink on Cloth’.  Yep, I’m in for that too.  Still the toe-tapping: ‘what about January?’. 

The Felting and Fiber Studio to the rescue: Teri Berry was offering her bag making class starting 7 January.  Perfect! I’m in for another class.  Well, you can’t say I lack enthusiasm!

While I’m waiting for the class to begin (yep, still with the toe-tapping) I decide now is the time to retire an old friend.  One of the first things I felted for myself about 9 years ago is an iPad cover. I carry my iPad mini with me everywhere and the cover is worn out.  It has done a great job – it even outlasted the first iPad – but the corners have rubbed away and it’s looking very shabby.

I may have mentioned before (more than once) that I’m an avid charity / thrift / op shop enthusiast and have built up an impressive collection of second-hand fabric, mostly scarves and mostly silk. I have a dig around and fish out a very fine small silk chiffon scarf with leaf prints. Left – front, right – back, middle – action shot! I’ve carefully controlled the shrinkage so it fits snugly: it slides out when I want it to and not when I don’t.

I enjoyed working with the silk so decide to make some more samples.  One issue with fabric of unknown origin (and often even with fabric of know origin) is that you can’t be sure how it will felt. Here’s the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of each sample.

Some kind of velvet devore?

A woven cotton or linen?

A silk and cotton mix – I assume the background is silk and the slub lines are cotton

Definitely 100% silk (it still had the label in)

All are interesting. I chose a similar wool colour to the background silk colour as I want to focus on texture and print.  I particularly like the leaf print one and will definitely use that at some point. 

Next, my patience (!) has been rewarded and the bag class is starting.  First is an animal theme phone or glasses case.  I consult the interweb for animals that have big tongues and decide on a gecko.  I’m rather fond of geckos, though I’m not sure I’ve ever met one. 

I’m pleased with the result, although admit it looks rather more like a frog or an alien.  I was going to trim the tongue but decided to leave it as it is. I’ve taken to calling it my alien frog bag.  I made it to fit my phone but it’s actually a bit big so I’ve now added a thin green leather strap with some Chicago screws. Next time I’m invited to a ‘BYO alien frog bag’ event, I will be all prepared. 

On to the next, bigger bag, with integrated straps and internal pockets.  I have a fair quantity of nice natural grey Corriedale top and decide I’ll use that for the outside.  I’m on a roll with recycling the silk scarves so select a few with similar colours.  I’m not sure grey will be the best background so, in an unusual fit of sensibleness, decide to make some samples. 

I prefer the lighter colour behind them. The bag will be fulled very hard and I think I may completely lose the silk.  Little lightbulb moment: why not prefelt the silks with a light colour wool to help preserve some of their colour?

I prefelted some pieces of silk.  I even got a bit jazzy with the one with large spots, with fawn Corriedale and charcoal Merino.

On the left: the bag laid out with (nearly) all the surface decoration ready for wetting down. I did move things around a little afterwards but forgot to take a photo. On the right: the flap detail of the final bag

Finished bag

It’s not perfect (eg I put 2 pockets inside but they are on the front wall of the bag instead of the back and it’s a bit wider than I intended) but I do like it and will enjoy using it.

So, what next? The third bag is a backpack.  I’m wrestling with myself over whether to use wool I already have or wait for some I’ve ordered to arrive.  I have a studio full of wool but want to use a medium or coarse wool for durability and don’t have much of any colour or breed in sufficient quantity.  I made a sample yesterday of potential wool candidates but am a bit underwhelmed. There’s a black dyed Perendale batt, grey/brown Finnish top, light grey Swaledale top and natural white batt (can’t remember the breed) but I’d have to mix them and that’s a lot to have going on.

I decided too to make a paper template of the finished bag to help me work out the resist and stop making bags bigger than I intend. Ha, ha, I do hope I don’t start calling this my toilet seat backpack.  And that brings me right up to date.

All being well, I will have the backpack done to show you in my next blog spot in March, along with some makes from the Ink on Cloth workshop.

I’m enjoying the learning and Teri’s class is excellent.  The instructions are clear and detailed. She has been positive and encouraging and very quick and generous in responding to my extensive questions about clasps, straps, bag design, wool breeds….

Are you struggling to find focus, or maybe finding new ways to learn and different things to try?  I hope you’re able to do a little fibre work and I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and creative 2021.

Pleased to meet you, I love fibre

Pleased to meet you, I love fibre

Thank you Ruth and Ann for the invitation to the group. My name is Bernadette and fibre has been part of my life for a very long time. I started spinning and weaving in my late teens at the University of Regina. Since the pandemic there has been a lot of time available to really enjoy more indepth experiments with fiber.

There must always be purple! It’s my favourite colour and how I start every dye session.

 

 

 

 

 

I searched my stash and found loads of unwashed fleeces from so many different vendors and shepherds. There was mohair and silk, cotton, alpaca, linen, the list is pretty complete. Wool alone has so many breeds. They fascinate me with the variability of colour, texture, and spin characteristics within a breed and even within a single fleece. These past months allowed me or rather forced me to wash, sort, and dye several fleece from my stash. So with hand on heart I made the solemn promise that “I will not buy another fleece until these are all done”. I lied.

This rambouillett comes from Hutterite colonies in Alberta. These are extremely good farmers and the fleece shows it.

So I washed, dried, and dyed as many fleece as possible over the summer, Then as the weather cooled down, the wool has been either left in locks or hand processed into roving from wool combs, hand carders or from the drum carder. I’m starting to experiment with blending wool and other fibre. Over the summer I joined Jan and several other guild members in the Flax Project. Friends and family were worried there would not be enough raw material available for me and gave me fleeces, or sent me information on great resources for interesting materials. It was a gong show to say the least. I will be sharing the final results of the pandemic experience as the year progresses.

Writing and sharing my experiences is very new for me, so I hope over the next eleven months I can show you what my near geekery looks like. Being called a fiber geek no longer bothers me, its who I am. If there is any one thing that specifically interests you please let me know and I’ll do my best to help you.

 

 

Mr. Mer Considers a New Career in Modeling

Mr. Mer Considers a New Career in Modeling

Mr. Mer had so much fun with last weeks’ stretching and mirror blog that, if you don’t mind, he would like to do another one.  But he was very insistent that he needed to hit the wool before the next shoot.( He wanted to increase his bulk, especially in his upper arms and quads. I am not sure why a mer-man needs quads but ok, fine.  I did some quick colour blending with the hand carders to help him out.) Unfortunately this past week in Ottawa has been overcast with grey clouds, drizzle and today, more snow. So not the best weather for colour blending but I did my best. 

While I worked, I figured I should explain to him why we can have problems with the muscles in the neck and into upper shoulders.

Colour Work

“Think of your head as a bowling ball balancing precariously on a short Dowel. To help keep it from falling off there are two sets of cords at the front and 2 sets at the back.” I said as I brought wisps of the green colours from his fishy parts up to integrate it with his low and mid back. Then as I continued to explain, I added a yellowed skin tone base and more definition in his arms.

The front cords are called SCM (Sternocleidomastoid) which is one of my most favorite muscles in the whole body!! You have one on either side of your neck and they are amazing! Their name tells you where they are going and where they have been. They attach on the skull at the mastoid process, It’s a bump behind your ear, then head inferior to split and attach to the superior medial clavicle and the superior border of the Manubrium which is the top bone of the sternum.  But wait, this muscle gets even better! When you use (Contract) only one of the two you get Ipsolateral contralateral rotation!!! Is that not the coolest thing ever!!! Ok that means that it tips your ear towards your shoulder and then rotates your chin in the opposite direction. Now you see how cool it is!!

Balancing with the two front cables (SCM) are the 2 back cables called Levator scapulae. They’re cool too.  They are the elevators of the scapulae (shoulder blades). The inferior attachment is to the superiomedial scapula and the superior attachments are to the transverse processes of the upper 4 cervical vertebra. Think of them as like the Darth Vader of muscles. They can get the Suboccipitals or upper traps in trouble then look all innocent and claimed they didn’t start all the unhappiness.

Levator scapula is located under the upper traps muscle, which you can see draping over the upper back and shoulder.

The felting needle indicates the area of the superior attachment to the transverse processes of the upper four cervical vertebrae.

The felting needle is a little high but is trying to indicate the inferior attachment which is to the superiomedial scapula

Today we are going to look at Levator scapulae. Which is used when you stare (it stabilizes your head); at your artwork, the computer, a good book or where your needles are heading so you do not stab yourself. The longer you work without remembering to take a break, the grumpier they tend to get.  Luckily, there is a stretch for them. Think of it as “visually checking to see if your armpit smells”. You are just looking out of the corner of your eye.  You don’t have to get your nose into your armpit (that would be very uncomfortable). You may have to adjust the position a bit depending on the section of the muscle that is tight. Some patients find it feels like the correct stretch when they are looking out of the corner of their eye towards their thigh rather than their armpit.

Now if Mr. Mer will stop hamming it up with dramatic death scenes we can break down the stretch for you.

Pre-stretch consideration

Make sure you move only in comfort.  A feeling of pulling is fine but not a feeling of pain. If pain starts, back up just a bit on the movement. My teachers suggested it was preferable to do the movements separately, tip and then rotate. Add the pulling with the arm if needed. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds but stop if it is uncomfortable.

Step 1

Mr Mer has been felting with his right hand and has been finding tension building in the Right Levator scapula so he tips his left ear towards his left shoulder. Make sure both shoulders are down and relaxed (they will sometimes try to help by coming up. That isn’t really helpful) If you need to keep the shoulder from cheating sit on your Right hand or hold on to the seat of the chair with it.

Step 2

While keeping your ear close to your shoulder rotate your head so you are peeking out of the corner of your eye at your armpit.  Sometimes you will find the feeling of the stretch by looking more at your thigh that is ok too.

Step 3

If you feel like you would like a bit more intensity to your stretch, you can use the hand of the arm you are looking towards and gently rest it on your head. If you feel like you would like to increase the stretch try a gentle pull diagonally, down towards the thigh.

Adjust the angles until you feel the tugging of the stretch from the top of the shoulder blade to the upper neck. Sometimes you feel the edge of upper traps on the top of the shoulder.  It’s still a good stretch but you’re one muscle over from the one you are looking for. Keep adjusting ear tip and head rotation and add a bit of a tug until you find that “AHHHH” spot.

 Mr Mer says he is feeling half relaxed and will do the other side after the blog is done. “Don’t forget to use your Mirror to check your shoulder isn’t trying to be helpful and sneak up while you are doing your stretch”

Sometimes in the planning stage of a project we can spend a lot of time web surfing, looking at information for what must be only minutes but strangely seems to have been hours when I consult the clock! Mr. Mer and I hope this stretch may help if you too get lost in lots of great idea generating hours on the computer!

Interesting New to Me Scarf Type

Interesting New to Me Scarf Type

These last couple of weeks in the Wet Felt Makers group on Facebook people have been making in interesting and new to me type of scarf. It’s called a french scarf.

Arlene Toth shared it with the group and shared the youtube video.  It is part of a video from a fibre festival a year ago. The teacher is Elena Nayemova. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho5B-bOHKwE The instructions start at 28:58 in the video. It is in Rusian. You can probably figure it out by just watching her make it but If you want to and you are on a computer not using the Youtube app you can use a translation future on Youtube. It’s nowhere near perfect but it helps. I will explain that at the bottom.

The scarf in the video is very lacy and mostly yarn, very decorative. I wanted something warmer so used much more wool. After seeing how small the ones using the dimensions from the video were turning out  I sorted out my own sizing that I thought would work and had a go. If you are petite then the smaller dimensions would probably work for you but I am Rubenesque so that isn’t going to work for me. I picked purple and orange, my go-to colours. I used orange and gold silk lap bits on one side and some yarns for decoration on the other.

You can wear it in different ways.

 

The part that goes behind the neck is a bit short I think and maybe the rectangular part too. I added some to both parts and had another go in red this time, using silk hankies and silk top

 

For this one, I used silk hankies on one side and silk top on the other. I like this one better. I pulled the piece through farther so it hangs down to wear it out. I am not much for big bows. If you want to fold it into a triangle and poke the corner though I wouldn’t add the extra length to the rectangle part. Here are different ways to wear it

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The other thing I realized while taking pictures is that you can give the large piece a twist in the loop so you have both sides showing

 I wanted a winter scarf inside my coat. It worked wonderfully even though it’s not really cold here yet. I hope you give it a try.

Translation on Youtube.  You have to be watching Youtube in a browser and not on the app for this to work. Rather than write it all out, I will give you the link to Pat Spark’s blog post about it, as she explained it very well. https://sparkfiberarts.blogspot.com/2020/05/blog-post.html

Still Slow Stitching in the New Year

Still Slow Stitching in the New Year

The last time I updated you back in early November about my slow stitching project, this is what it looked like. I had started adding some leaves to the foreground trees.

I have been continuing my slow stitching over the holidays and it has been nice to sit down for 15-20 minutes a day and just do detached chain stitch in different shades of yellow, yellow-orange and orange. Ignoring any drama of the holidays or other issues that arose for a few minutes, calmed my mind.

Here’s how the trees are looking. I think that I will be adding a bit more orange but than I’m going to go back to the yellow shades.

Here’s what the full piece looks like now. It is definitely taking shape as a landscape. As I look at it in a thumbnail format, I can see that it still needs more dark values for shadowed areas but I like the progression. It’s interesting to me how the slow progression makes me look at it more closely and how the different colors affect each other. It’s been an interesting project and I imagine it will continue through most of this year.

What are your thoughts on a slow moving project? Do you get a Zen feeling or perhaps you are impatient and want to move on to a different project?

Reflections and New Beginnings

Reflections and New Beginnings

Here we are in January 2021, with Covid vaccines being approved and hope for brighter, more normal days just over the horizon. January is traditionally a month for reflection and making plans for the future. This year more than ever and I have an additional reason to be focussed on the year ahead….. my partner has accepted a job offer from Aukland University, so we will be moving to New Zealand in March / April.

Part of me thinks, the middle of a pandemic has to be the worst time to make such a drastic move but then, is there ever a good time? At least New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world who have a managed to control the virus on their shores and, consequently, are leading a relatively normal existence.

We made the decision to move in November and have been decluttering ever since, I am horrified by how much STUFF we have accumulated in our 10 years in this house. In many ways it has been a lovely trip down memory lane, finding trinkets and photos that have languished in a cupboard or box for 10, 20, even 30+ years.

While my felt samples aren’t quite that old (the oldest might be around 10 years old) they did bring back many happy memories as I was sorting through them, trying to decide which ones to keep.

Some of them document some interesting ideas, techniques and experiments that I thought might be of interest to you too….

Colour blending techniques:

When we felt, we are encouraging the fibres to mix and mingle, so when we apply layers of wool in different colours, the colours also migrate and mix, a little bit like mixing paint. This first technique is something I try to get my bag class students to incorporate as it makes for an easy way to achieve subtle tint / tone graduation on the outside of the bag:

The front with colours yellow through burnt orange running left to right
The reverse side with black (tone) and white (tint)

The more this piece is fulled the greater the effect the black and white fibres will have on the colours on the front. By adding a mid-grey between the black and white you can achieve a more subtle change of tone to the coloured side of the felt.

Mixing different colours is also possible and this is so much fun for anyone interested in colour-theory. For this next sample I laid out 2 fine layers of different colours of merino over a green base. Up close (if you click on the image it should enlarge), you can still see the distinct colours in a random marbled pattern but from a distance the colours blend and because I have used colours on the opposite side of the colour wheel, the resulting blends are dulling the top colours and edging them towards greys and browns.

Devore

This sample was made by nuno-felting some hand-dyed cotton muslin to merino wool. Then painting on devore paste, leaving it work its magic for a few minutes before washing the paste out. The paste dissolves / etches away the plant-based fibre (cotton) but leaves the animal fibres (wool) in tact, the grey wool can be seen where the violet / red cotton has been removed.

Layering different materials / fibres

This next sample is one of my favourites although the technique is nothing particularly ground-breaking, it is strips of hand-dyed prefelt, laid over hand dyed habouti silk on a merino base.

This is the back, I really like the way the prefelts on the front have created a subtle, embossed effect on the back.

Adding locks for texture

When most of us think of adding locks to a piece, it is to add lots of fluffy texture with the locks only attached to the base felt at their base but on a workshop I took with Heidi Grebb we explored laying out locks much as you would a final layer of tops….

The bolero jacket that resulted from the “lock texture” samples.

Fake tweed

By laying different coloured yarns (ideally different weights too), it is possible to create felt that looks a lot like tweed. If you use yarns with a high wool content, they will felt into the wool base on their own. If using yarns with a higher synthetic content you will need to add a very fine layer of wool fibre over the top to help anchor the yarns into place.

Inclusions

This last sample is my favourite, perhaps I should stop calling it a sample and think of it as a mini work of art instead… It is three, silk cocoons felted between several layers of Bergschaff.

I hope you found these samples / techniques interesting, if you have any questions about them, please ask!

As part of my mammoth clear-out I have a couple of items listed on Ebay that UK residents might be interested in:

A vintage, fedora / trilby style wooden hat block: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/333849774234

whole Wensleydale fleece, I am gutted to be leaving this behind but I know NZ border biosecurity will incinerate it on sight and that would be even more heart-breaking: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/333851163732

ReConnect

ReConnect

Happy New Year!

I have my fingers, legs and toes crossed that, at some point later this year, we might actually be in the position of being able to safely congregate once more in large groups. Zoom has been, and continues to be, a great way of keeping in touch with family and friends but it’s also proving invaluable for many creative groups allowing us to carry on meeting, have our regular show and tell, exchange ideas and generally stay together.

Another creative positive from last year was online shows and exhibitions. Ok it’s certainly not the same as actually being there but it has allowed artists an outlet for their creativity and, in turn, provided inspiration for those of us who have visited, albeit virtually. In some cases it may be that, having seen a body of work online, we might be all the more likely to make the effort to travel to see it in the flesh once things return to normal. For me, the most inspiring work I saw online last year was the Hinterland collection created in 2017 by Gladys Paulus and featured in the 2020 video Hinterland by Gladys Paulus – a film by Chris Chapman. Gladys’s work is incredibly skilful in its design and execution and I’ve been in awe of this body of work since it was first made public but not had the chance to see it on display. With this film we are privileged to not only see but also hear the story behind this collection, as narrated by the artist. This takes the viewers experience to another level. Its a very personal and very moving story, if you haven’t already seen this film please take a look.

Another “positive” that some of us were able to take from last year was a “reconnect” with nature. Prior to lockdown my morning routine with Maddie was a short walk to the local park where I would throw her ball for half an hour while chatting to other dog walkers. On days when I was working this would sometimes feel rushed and I would be constantly clock watching to ensure I wasn’t making myself late.

Lockdown meant my days had no time constraints, it was also no longer socially acceptable to stand around in groups in the park chatting, and the government were encouraging us all to get fit……Maddie was about to discover doggy heaven! The lengthy weekend walks, anything from one to two hours across the fields and through the woods, now became our daily routine. When we return to work I’m going to have to set my alarm a lot earlier as this is one routine I’m not prepared to give up!

Country walks are always a great source of creative inspiration and, if you’re like me, you’ve got hundreds of photos saved “just incase”! Someday you might get around to starting that felted/textile project on weeds, lichen, frozen puddles, frozen leaves, dried leaves, tree bark, tree skeletons, fungi, seaweed, stones, bracken, insects……..the list goes on!

One thing I hadn’t particularly noticed, and hadn’t deliberately photographed, prior to last April was shadows. I’d not given them a thought in the past but with time on my hands, and what seemed like never ending sunshine, I found myself noticing them. The most interesting were on a tree lined stretch of the Viking Way. I’d walked this path hundreds of times before but only now was I seeing these wonderful lacy patterns and thinking they could be the starting point for an abstract wet felted Wallhanging.

I didn’t sketch or design my layout or colour scheme, it simply started out as a white Merino background with clouds of pale Viscose. Several layers of “shadows” were built up randomly on top, the first was green Viscose, the others Merino. After felting I added detail with free motion stitch and lots of Colonial Knots – my favourite hand stitch! The addition of texture started to move the piece away from “shadows” more towards bark/fungi but I was happy with that as it was keeping the tree connection. The finished piece is approx 42cm x 58cm.

Due to ongoing restrictions the International Feltmakers are holding a virtual AGM on 27th March and to coincide with that they will be launching their second online exhibition of members work. This years exhibition title is ReConnect and any work submitted has to be less than a year old. I’ve chosen this piece as my submission as its creation back in June was sparked at a time when a lot of us were reconnecting with the natural world, taking the time to notice things that have always been there but which we may have previously overlooked. It’s world’s away from the imagination and expertise of Gladys but we all need someone or something to aspire to…..fingers crossed it gets selected!

I wonder which feltmaker/textile artist you find particularly inspiring?

Add a Mirror to Your Studio Space to Reduce Shoulder Tension

Add a Mirror to Your Studio Space to Reduce Shoulder Tension

Happy 2021! 

Since more of us were staying at home last year, some of us have overindulged our enjoyment of fibre to keep us happy during confinement. Whether you are wet felting, dry felting, damp felting, spinning or weaving, if you continue having fun too long without breaks, someone will get annoyed with you. Sometimes it’s your neck or your hands and wrists or your back. Sometimes you catch yourself slouching or sometimes you hear about it from your body later.

There was a question online about muscle pain from needle felting. It got me thinking about work.  I do miss work.  I was an RMT. I spent many happy years chatting with grumpy muscles and they’re usually less grumpy owners. Most of those 25 years were with people who worked in high tech. There were lots of shoulder, neck, back, arms and some low back complaints. Felters and other fibres artists often have the same areas yelling at them. After having a thorough chat with their muscles (a therapeutic massage), I would send them back to work with homework.  I gave stretches for specific muscle groups and often suggestions to help with spatial or time awareness. (Your RMT or PT can tell you which stretches to focus on from what they find during your assessment)

Pain is the body trying to get your attention. it’s trying to tell you something; often to request you stop doing what you were enjoying doing. If you read one of my textbooks (the red one, by Kessler, Management of Common Musculoskeletal Disorders. another of my memorable textbooks was called Myofascial pain and Dysfunction by Travel.) Dr. Kessler has some interesting insight into pain. He suggests you can suspect if it is a nerve pain or a muscle pain by the way a patient describes it. Each has its own vocabulary. Nerves tend to be; “sharp,” “stabbing,”  “lancing,” “searing”, but can also be “numbing”, “freezing”, “burning”, “chilling”. While muscle vocabulary tends towards; “aches,” “stiff,” “tight,” “hard,” “weak”.

 

Here is the cover of Kessler’s Textbook, In case you are really curious and want to read about this too.

While this seems to be a large vocabulary, it is not nearly as helpful as the body hopes. You get the message quite clearly but the interpretation of what exactly is the problem and sometimes finding out who sent it can be a challenge. With some pain, the spot you are feeling it, may not be the muscle that started the yelling. You may be feeling levator scapula yelling but it may have been the upper trapezius that started it or the other way around!

I have an odd way of looking at physiology but patients seem to have understood the analogy.

The brain is very good at ignoring the daily mumbles and complaints of the body. You spent years at school sitting and taking notes to practice ignoring your muscles.  The brain will often tell the muscle “I’m busy, call back later”. The muscle can be put off for a bit, eventually to get their complaint heard by the brain, will have to increase the volume or scope of their complaint and keep calling back. The brain will eventually answer and be surprised to hear the muscles are so angry!  If you can catch the muscle annoyance (tension) before it wants revenge, adjust your posture and maybe take a quick stretch break, you will be able to keep doing what you were enjoying for longer!

Unfortunately, when Levator scapula and Upper traps particularly are involved, it can be hard to be aware that they are misbehaving before you get yelled or screamed at. One way to catch them is to use a Mirror. Position The Mirror so you can clearly see how you are sitting or standing to work and the distance between your shoulders and your ears. (while you work, shoulders will often try to drift up and foreword.)  

(Mr. Mer, has been trying to build up his Quads and hasn’t notice his shoulders are elevated.)

Ask your shoulders, “shoulders are you being good?”

They will answer, “Yes of course we are!”

Do not believe them and check the mirror. Drat! They’re gossiping with the ears again!! When the muscles have been annoyed for an extended period of time telling the shoulders to go down directly often is unsuccessful.

The Shoulders says, “You put me here, so this must be the right spot!” and refuse to go any lower.

If it is true that they have grievously lied to you and they are up visiting the ears again… tell them to go up, just a bit, to get their attention.  Hold that position for a moment, then tell them to drop. (relax them as much as is comfortable)

Mr Mer’s shoulder are up towards his missing ears and refuse to go down when asked.
Mr Mer pushes his shoulders up just enough to get there attention and holds them for a few seconds
Mr Mer relaxes his shoulders and lets them fall lower than they were when he was working.

Shoulders will be shocked and apologetic!

Exclaiming, “We are sorry and will never do it again!”  

Be patient with them, realizing they have severe short-term memory issues and will likely be gossiping with the ears again soon.  (you don’t have Alzheimer’s, just your shoulders)

Finally, tell them to slowly roll backwards in as large a circle as is comfortable. (You do not have to practice rolling forward since most of what we do is in front of us). You can roll one shoulder at a time or both together. Whichever feels comfortable. 

Rolling his shoulders backwards was hard for Mr Mer since he was balancing on his tail and finn

 Since they tend to be less than trustworthy when asked directly if they are visiting the ears, check on them visually in the mirror regularly.  If you spot them drifting up or forward try another shoulder lift and drop, then backwards roll to remind them to behave.

As the shoulders drift up and forward (elevation and protraction) you can have compression of the nerves in the front of the shoulders. This can produce symptoms of numbness, tingling, weakness, and decreased Range of Motion in the shoulder arm and hand (depending on what part of the nerve bundle is getting squished). So check your posture and position occasionally while felting/spinning/weaving using your mirror.  

Door mirrors usually go on sale in August and September for students going off to school. They are inexpensive and can be propped up against a wall or if the wall isn’t in a convenient spot a chair will do. As long as you can see yourself, while you work, felting, spinning or weaving, the mirror is in the correct spot. By glancing over occasionally, you can check up on your position and adjust yourself.

Also, watch for the height of your work surface, which can add to muscle irritability if it is too high or too low.

Time:  Another factor is how long you are working. If your project allows you to stop and start it will be easier on your body.  I used to suggest a cassette tape recorder and a half-hour cassette of your favourite music to work to. When you hear the loud click at the end of the side or realize there is no music it’s time to get up and go flip over the tape.  Another trick for remembering to take breaks was drinking liquids (not too much coffee or you will be awake all night!) the Brain is very good at ignoring muscles until they are extremely displeased but it will always answer the phone if the bladder calls! Personally, ice tea is very effective.  Sometimes you don’t even have to drink it, just look at it and the bladder gets nervous.

Mirrors can also be used to look at your work and give yourself a different perspective on your piece. If you are debating a composition or are not quite sure it’s right, It allows you to check your proportions when the image is reversed.

Last thing to think about; the smaller the muscle group used the quicker it will fatigue. So try to avoid tiny finger movements if you can use your hand, arm or shoulder. Sometimes fine motor detail is all that will work but try to do little micro-breaks to keep them from fatiguing or intersperse them with larger muscles working.

I hope this will give you a tool to help reduce tension and let you keep having fun longer so we can have a fabulous new year!

Mr. Mer gets back to work with his shoulders much more relaxed.
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