Plaited felt vessel

Plaited felt vessel

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.

Plaited paper vessel

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.

Prefelt strips woven and pinned together
Prefelt strips stitched together

(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.

Weaving and stitching the sides

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!

23 thoughts on “Plaited felt vessel

  1. What a grand idea! The photos are well done, and I love the nuances of the finished pot/hat. Congratulations on an innovative idea, and thank you for sharing.

  2. The plaited vessel is lovely Kim – great colour and design! At first the stitches did look good left in but you are right that it looks even better with the stitches removed.
    Yes, Audrey would definitely have looked good in that as a hat!

    1. Thanks Annie and Lyn. Can’t really take credit for the colours as they were the only commercial prefelt colours that I had! But I’m glad you also see the potential of a hat for Audrey. 😊

  3. I loved your post, and the photos were actually great, I could see everything. I just love how this came out! I used to experiment with weaving satin ribbons then put fusible web on back so I could use it like fabric, it was nice. I also played around with my wool yarn and rovings to weave a small mat and then wet felted it, it came out pretty cool. I just love the elegance of this vessel you made, the colors are good. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Mary – your plaiting experiments sound interesting too! When I first started felting I also had a go at weaving with yarn and then felting it, as I didn’t have any tops or roving. Glad you enjoyed my post!

  4. Great idea Kim! I love the end result but I loved the organic versions too. The shrinkage seems fairly even to me. Did the Merino and gotland prefelts not seem to shrink differently? The process does seem to be fiddly but the outcome is great.

    1. Thanks Ruth. I expected them to shrink differently, but in the end there didn’t seem to be any difference. Maybe all the stitching kept all the fibres together. 😊

  5. I like Flextiles and i love your tutorial about making that vessel . I will realy pick it up and use it for makijng a nice crown for a hat after i am recovered of a neck hernia.:(
    Best wishes for all in the new year,

  6. Kim I like your finished plaited piece, but also really liked it at the organic stage with the threads still intact. Having done various plaited vessels from paper I know this must have been a significant challenge using the prefelt strips & then to wet Felt it – brilliant. Great experiment.
    What I find fascinating (and it is obviously the medium) is how the square base has become so rounded far more than when using solid strips (paper or plastic etc), which retain an element of angularity.

    1. Thanks Antje. It’s definitely less angular than paper or plastic because of its softness. In fact I could probably have made the base completely round without corners through shaping while fulling.

  7. You might enjoy looking at Sachiko Yokata’s work. She loves reusing her feltwork using Japanese cut work including plaiting.

    1. So sorry, I didn’t realise Sachiko was so web shy. She has a presence at our local textile art store Unfortunately the bio doesn’t provide examples of her weaving but she is constantly reworking and refelting her work into motives. I did a workshop with her and had great joy cutting up old work and manipulating the pieces into much more satisfying outcomes.

    2. Actually she is on the Timeless Textiles site – but her name is Sachiko Kotaka, not Yokata! And I’ve now found examples of her work online – thank you!

  8. Amazing work Kim! I love how your textile practice is developing but you still keep coming back to felt, you are an inspiration 🙂
    I took a braiding workshop with Tim Johnson a few years ago and that inspired me to adapt those methods to felt, making long strips that would be coiled and stitched together was challenging enough but make a box from floppy prefelt strips, that is a task and a half! I take my hat off to you and the finished vessel / hat looks amazing. Really looking forward to seeing your work in the Prism exhibition!

    1. Ooh, Tim Johnson is one of my heroes – you are lucky! Did you see his exhibition in Farnham last year? Sadly, I’ve not yet managed to get to one of his workshops, as they’ve always clashed with other commitments, but it’s on my bucket list. 🙂

      I don’t think my Prism pieces will include any felt this year – but I hope you enjoy them anyway (assuming I get them finished in time!).

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