This is a guest post by Kim Winter of Flextiles.
In September I started a two-year part -time basketry course at City Lit, which is an adult education institute in London. Although it’s only one day a week in college, there’s at least another day’s worth of homework, so it’s quite intense. But I am enjoying it immensely.
In the first half of the term we focused on plaiting, mainly with strips of watercolour paper. In the second half of the term we moved on to willow, which was much harder on the hands! You can read more about either of these subjects on my blog if you’re interested.
Stiff paper or card is ideal for plaiting, as you can get nice sharp edges and the structure retains its shape. But I like messing about with different materials, so I wondered what would happen if I plaited strips of prefelt and then felted them afterwards. How would shrinkage affect the overall shape and pattern?
If you don’t know how to make a bias weave plaited basket, there are some good instructions here. I don’t usually twine around the base as shown here – I just use pegs! – but otherwise the method is the same.
I used commercial prefelt for this experiment, in two colours. The white prefelt was merino wool, while the grey prefelt was Gotland. Gotland has a sturdier finish than the merino, but in my experience they have slightly different shrinkage rates, so that was another thing to throw into the mix! 🙂
I cut six strips of each colour and then wove them together to make a squarish 6 x 6 base. I pinned them together as I went along, and when all 12 strips were in place I then stitched horizontally and vertically. I did a couple of back stitches at the beginning and end to secure the threads but left the ends long so I could use them to continue stitching up the sides.
(Apologies for the quality of some of these photos, but they were taken in artificial light, as the days are so short at this time of year!)
Once the base was stitched, I started weaving the sides by overlapping the central two strips on each side and then continuing to weave under and over the adjacent strips. I pinned and stitched as I went along.
This is what the piece looked like after I had woven the sides and cut off the excess felt.
Normally with plaited baskets you have to make a border by tucking the ends in or stitching a band around the edge. The advantage of felt, of course, is that it is self-sealing as the fibres mesh together, so I planned to finish just by trimming the edge after felting.
Once the weaving was complete, the felting could begin. I wetted the piece down, rubbed with soap, and started gently rubbing it all over, turning it inside out to make sure that both sides were felted.
I had to keep opening it up and turning it around during the rubbing phase to make sure the sides didn’t stick together (I could have used a plastic resist but didn’t bother, as I never rubbed for too long in one position).
The prefelt strips felted together fairly quickly, but despite the care I took when rubbing, holes started to appear at some of the intersections. So when the piece was partially felted I did some more stitching to ensure that there were no holes. I’m afraid I didn’t take any photos of this as it was quite dark by this stage!
This is what the piece looked like after felting and fulling.
I was tempted to leave the felted ends on, as they gave quite an organic feel, but in the end I trimmed them off, and rolled the piece some more to seal the cuts.
I also initially thought I might leave the stitching in, as I liked the marks and texture it added. But when I took out the stitching on one side for comparison, I felt that it distracted from the subtlety of the pattern, so I ended up taking it all out!
The inside and the outside have different patterns due to the weaving, but during felting some of the fibres have migrated through, so you can get an idea of what colour is on the other side.
Scaled up and turned upside down, I also thought this could make a good flowerpot hat – I can see Audrey Hepburn wearing something like this, can’t you? 🙂
So it is possible to plait with felt, though it is rather fiddly and time consuming. The forms are softer and more rounded, and you get a subtle idea of the pattern on the other side.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all a very happy and creative 2020!