Learning from Samples

Learning from Samples

I’ve learnt many things since joining this forum but one of the most useful is the importance of making samples when trying something new. It saves so much time and lets me develop an idea quickly without wasting materials. Sometimes I’m trying to achieve a specific effect and sometimes I just want to see what happens if…..

As I can’t go to my studio at the moment because of the pandemic lockdown, I’m working small on the dining table at home so samples are a good option.

I’ve been thinking about trees and bark recently, including looking at the different lichens on trees and investigating how to represent them in felt.

I’m an avid charity shop moocher: always on the look out for second-hand yarns and fabrics I may be able to use in felt-making. I bought a charity shop scarf that included some pretty flowery mesh and decided to make a sample to see how it felted (or not) and whether I could use it for lichen.

flower fabric
a rectangle of the flowery mesh fabric

I started with a square of the fabric and felted it onto some white Finnish wool batt.

flower fabric white sample
a square of the fabric when felted

I like how the flowers crowd together and how the mesh disappears so I decide to try another piece on a darker background. This time I cut more random shapes of fabric, leaving space in between.

flower fabric grey sample
Pieces of the fabric felted onto grey

I really like this effect too but, looking at it critically, I realise it looks much more like barnacles than lichen (shells being another of my felting passions). So, off I go on a little diversion to wet felt a mussel shell with barnacles.

Returning to the lichen theme, I absolutely love the tiny worlds that grow on trees.  Here’s an example from a small twig from a pear tree in my garden (about the size of my little finger).

lichen photo close up
Pear tree lichen close-up

How gorgeous is that?!

I’d nuno felted silk when making lichen on the tree stump I showed in my last blog. I decided this time to make a piece of greenish prefelt with Perendale batt and Merino tops to see what effects I could create. I stitched, added small resists and tied in marbles in a random way to the prefelt then felted the sample to see what would happen.

This has some potential but I didn’t work on the finished felt for too long as I think it’s too thick & hairy for the delicate world of lichen.  I can still learn a lot from the shapes and effects. Next time I will start with a thinner merino prefelt and work on organising the composition. Or maybe I’ll make another sample. I love the discs on the lichen so will certainly try using a different resist technique next to work on these.

Finally, I’ve made a couple of samples this week to see how to resolve a problem I’ve created. I wanted to see if I could make a chinese lantern fruit with its beautiful lacy dried husk skeleton. (I don’t have my own photo but if you put chinese lantern plant in your search engine you will see them.) I jumped straight in and made the berry & stem without deciding how I’d make the husk skeleton & how I’d fit the two parts together. Clearly I don’t always take my own sampling advice!

chinese lantern berry
Chinese lantern berry and stem

My first question is ‘what’s the best felting technique for representing the appearance of a dried husk?’ It needs to be very lacy but very firm to hold its shape. I think I will have to use strips of prefelt for the 8 main veins but I’m not sure what to do about all the small ones.

I start with one sample laying out cobweb felt and trying different things on top: a loosely spun 100% wool yarn, some prefelt and some wisps of merino wool.  In the final stages of fulling I cut out a few sections to emphasise the shapes.

I decide to develop the yarn idea and this time lay out the yarn first then some merino and silk batt along the lines of the yarn.

I like the effect in itself but I don’t think it will allow me to make a felt that’s firm enough to hold its shape, which needs to be large and strong. Also, it’s not really delicate enough and I’m doing so much cutting out that I may as well make a solid strong 3D shape, possibly with yarn on top to guide the pattern and create texture, and then cut out rather than trying to follow the lines of yarn. That’s parked for now in the ‘needs more thought’ box!

I hope I’ve shown how useful samples can be, if you need convincing – as I did.

Do you make samples? What do you do use them for?


15 thoughts on “Learning from Samples

  1. I love your samples. You are right about making samples and that is something I need to do more of. When I try something new, my sample size tends to be for a small scarf/neck warmer as I make wearables. Usually it works out and if not, I can use it for something else, like artwork. My other size is a large square. I love what you did for the mollusc shell. You have a nice piece of fabric there. I can see that on a bowl or vessel. I am waiting to go to the charity shops so I can buy more fabric. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, it’s an interesting piece of fabric (though it was quite an ugly scarf!). I’ve just come across some cream velvet devore which I may try next – I think it will have an interesting texture.

    1. Yes. I think in my case it’s because I’m normally working towards specific sales or exhibitions and as it’s so difficult to predict when they will start again I have less drive to create specific things than usual.

  2. Samples really do save time for me too. I love the barnacles on the shell. For the the Chinese lantern I would probably use free motion machining on a water soluble fabric. I have had that on my list of things to try for a long time now 🙂

    1. Thanks Ruth. You may be right about the lantern but I’m not an enthusiastic machine stitcher (my machine lives in the bottom of a cupboard and rarely sees the light of day) so I would probably try other options before starting to try to teach myself FME!

  3. Great samples. I do make samples but tend to make them big enough that I can use them for something else after. For the lichens maybe use flat disks for resists you can cut the tops off. maybe some silk fibre inside to make them shine. Use the cut of circles in another project later. for the lantern I think I would try some Mashum fibre, spread super thin in one layer. It is super long and strong. the stuff I had was 12 inches I think you could get it to hold its shape if you make it over a resist. or maybe make the main ribs out of felt ropes and add the mesh over it.

  4. Such interesting samples! I’m not a felter but I am amazed at the different techniques and love to see the ideas generated. That scarf was perfect to create barnacles!!

    1. Thank you, Tesivaara. The samples do help me to work through & develop ideas and sometimes I end up in a different place from where I’d thought I was heading (hence the barnacles).

  5. Sampling is essential – not only does it save time and materials and frustration, it can sometimes lead to ideas for another project!

    Oh yes, the fabric makes great barnacles! The mussel shell is beautiful.

    We really do miss the charity shops – wonder when they’ll re-open?

    The lichen is well under way! Ann had a good idea about using flat disks (buttons?). The hardest part of that process is getting enough agitation on the spheres so that when they’re cut they’re firm enough to take a bit more handling to finish off.

    Ruth’s idea for the husk is a good. But if you want to make it from felt, maybe think about using a stiffener?

    1. Many thanks, Lyn. Lots of great ideas there. For the lichen discs I think I will use a doughnut shaped resist so the middle attaches but the rest of the disc can be worked separately. I also like Ann’s idea of including some silk fibre. Yes, stiffener may well be the answer for the Chinese lantern – and I invested in some not so long ago so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

      Ah charity shops. I’m thinking they will be inundated with donations when they reopen as so many people are clearing out their cupboards. Their reopening will be a joy.

  6. I can only repeat word for word what Lyn has said. I wish she’d stop reading & writing my thoughts!

    Your mussel shell is ace.

    Fascinating yet again that you and I are on the same path….I’ve just brought the last of my Chinese lantern Pods into the house having let them skeletonise in situ, & had been mentally planning how I could re-create the veined capsule. Other than a stiffener I’m still mentally processing alternatives, as I’d like to add it to my felted seed collection.
    You’ll probably get there before me.

    1. How funny! I’m not sure I will get there first as I’m putting it aside for now so I’d be very interested to see what you come up with.

  7. I’m a big believer in samples. Your experiments are terrific. Even though they didn’t turn out as envisioned it’s great learning. I’m sure we’ll see when you find the right materials for each experiment. Have fun!

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: