Experimenting with Felt Rope and Structure

Experimenting with Felt Rope and Structure

I thought I would move on in my experimentation with creating structure in felt and differential shrinkage, this time using a felt rope. I’m not sure why I thought this was a good idea but I suddenly remembered why I don’t make many felt ropes.

I used a batt of yellow short fiber merino and tore it into a strip. I then worked a bit on trying to dry roll it to get some of the air out. But that wasn’t working too well so I added soap and water. The rope turned out OK but is far from perfect. I always forget how much patience these take to do them correctly. Now that the rope was done, how to add the felt to this spiral structure?

I came up with the idea of covering a PVC pipe with lime green mixed 56’s wool. I probably should have used merino but this is what I had grabbed for this project. I covered the pipe with wool and then wet it down.

I wrapped the rope around the wool covered PVC pipe and then began adding wisps of wool over the rope. I wet it down as I went to hold everything in place. I then spent a fair amount of time rubbing and working around the rope so that the wisps would stay in place and hold the rope down to the felt. Apparently, not enough.

Here it is after felting. What a mess. The ends of the rope were coming loose and it looked like my dog Edgar had been chewing on it. (Not really because he would have torn it to shreds in a matter of seconds.)

I took a break and then decided I need to full it much harder. I found a thinner stick to put in the middle and worked the piece with soapy hands as well as rolling it on the ridged mat and banging it hard against the table.

Here is the end result. Not appealing or impressive. But I might try again with a much thicker inner and outer layer of wool.  I also will probably try wrapping the rope around a flat resist instead of a 3D object. I can always full around the pipe or dowel rod after the felt is holding the rope together better. Not totally a disaster but close! I do think it’s good to go ahead and post about something that doesn’t work out as planned. Perhaps someone else will learn something from my trial and error experimentation. And perhaps you can empathize with me that not all projects are beautiful or perfect. What have you experimented with lately?

17 thoughts on “Experimenting with Felt Rope and Structure

  1. I think you should persevere – there’s a lot of promise showing in those final photos! Interesting experiment Ruth.

    Oh if I had a penny for every piece of felt that went wrong I would be rich! But experimenting and embracing all the results, however good or bad, is the only way to develop.

    1. Thanks Lyn, I will try again and see how the experiment turns out. And yes, I agree, it’s the only way to push yourself and learn something new. Too bad we don’t make money from failures 🙂

  2. As I like to say, everything is an experiment and not every make is a masterpiece. We just have to keep trying. I found that using latex gloves helps get the ropes started and makes them easier to dry roll in your hand first. I am not a big fan of making cords, but have also found the bamboo mats very helpful to getting a nice hard cord when it is damp.

    1. Thanks! I agree that it is good to realize that every thing you make won’t be a masterpiece. I think many websites give a false impression that everything created is “perfect”. I will have to try the latex glove method and see if that makes rope making easier. I don’t have any issues getting it hard once I have it started, it’s the first part of rolling where I’m not patient enough. 🙂

  3. A very interesting idea Ruth. Maybe let the rope dry and then use a stiff brush to rough up the outside of it so the wool will have something to grab. I am not a big fan of making ropes either. Like you it is the patient bit at the beginning but it is so necessary if you don’t want cracks.

    1. Thanks Ann, that’s a good idea about roughing up the rope. I will have to try it with my next experiment.

  4. An interesting result Ruth It reminds me of pumpkin stem coils.

    We all need experiments like these to learn from….in my case – providing, when I repeat a similar activity, i remember what I learned!!!

    Do you start your dry rope rolling (turning) straight down the length or diagonally from one end? I find it easier on the diagonal.

    1. Thanks Antje, that is a problem, remembering what I learned. I don’t usually remember until halfway through some other project and I go “duh, I knew that.” I rolled on a slight diagonal but I don’t think it was enough.

  5. There’s a blog post by Gladys Paulus on the DHG blog here: http://www.dyeinghousegallery.com/en/compares-carded-wool-bergschaf-and-merino/

    It’s not a tutorial as such, but a comparison of felting with Bergschaf and extra fine merino wools. However, the first sculptural sample she makes is, I imagine, similar to the effect you were aiming for. She says she used strips of prefelt around a resist – the differential shrinkage caused by the different thicknesses of felt resulted in the sculptural shape. Could you use a strip of felt laid out in a spiral pattern instead?

    PS I hate making felt rope! 😉

    1. Thanks Kim, I appreciated the link. Very nice article by Gladys. Having used the prefelt before for other experiments, I wanted to try something different. I greatly prefer the prefelt method as rope is such a pain. But I think I will try at least one more time to see if I can achieve a better result with rope.

  6. it mite be intersting to use a core of (non-rusting) wier in your rope. then as ann suggested ruff up the exterior and add the body(?) part, looks like the beginings of some vary scarry microscopic catapiller. maybe a few antena and some undulation in the body which the wier wood alow. also attacing the coil only in some areas and leaving loops away from the body section may be intreeging. if you were working at a larger size the doller store and a lot of other places have exersize/IT band rollers. which are a stiff fome with bumps or nobs on it to terriaze your I T band but work well to wet felt over with inthusiasum. if your body was big enuff you could start on that but getting it off may be problimatic if it shrinks too quickly. i am looking forword to seeing the mark 2 vertion of this idea!

    1. Thanks Jan for your suggestions. I doubt I will use wire as the point of these experiments has been to see what structure I can get just with various forms of wool. I could definitely embellish this one and make it into some form of worm or caterpillar. That might make it better. I definitely don’t want to go as large as an IT band roller. Hopefully, version 2 will happen soon.

  7. Ruth, Try using ropes around a flat resist. Pam de Groot’s second online class, Surface Form and Space, has two sampler-projects that utilize this approach.

    Also, perhaps don’t felt the rope down as much?

    Oh! And if your flat resist is large, use clothes pins to help hold the ropes/cords along the edge as you lay them out. (I had to do this for a witch hat as everything kept shifting).

    1. Thanks for the suggestions! I am definitely going to try it around a resist next time. And your idea of leaving the felt rope at prefelt stage is a good one too. Will try again 🙂

  8. Interesting experiment. Did you have something in mind before making it? At least you tried, but it looks like you may be trying again if you follow the suggestions.

    1. Thanks Marilyn, I didn’t have a specific outcome in mind, but had a thought of what it might look like. This wasn’t it, but that’s okay. I have loads of good suggestions for improvement.

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