Hi all! Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Helene Dooley and I would describe myself as a textile adventurer. I am largely self taught but I have been fortunate enough to be in a position to undertake workshops with some very prominent felting tutors and masters. I work under the name Feltzen.
This summer, the family took a cottage in the south west of Ireland – on the beautiful Valentia Island. Kerry is famous for its scenery and we made the most of every precious day there. One day involved a trip to Killarney’s National Park and I took this photo at the Torc Waterfall. It became the main source of inspiration for this piece.
I also managed a trip to the Kerry Woollen Mills as I wanted to experiment with some of their fibres. My main focus was on the Galway/New Zealand blend. They stock a vast array of colours and the best news is that they ship worldwide.
So, with inspiration and raw materials with a firm Kerry provenance I decided that I wanted to make a piece that would show off the fabulous colours of the wool. As this is an experiment with the wool, I thought I would go into a little detail on what it feels like to work with along with the various steps I took to make the piece. The joy of this technique is that each piece will be original as the end result is very much dependent on the colours used, where/how much you decide to sew into it and where you make the final cuts. Also, of course, the type of wool you use. I would tend towards a shorter fibre to minimise colour transmission between the layers but this is something you may be happy with. The technique was taught to me by the very brilliant Marjolein Dallinga, a Dutch Fibre Artist now living in Canada.
For this experiment I worked on a flat surface but the technique could easily be used on a 3D surface. Just be sure to make your resist big enough to accommodate your sewing as you will lose a fair bit of surface during the gathering and felting process. To familiarise myself with the fibre, I made up my sample which comprised of two layers (10 grams each) on a 25cm square. Shrinkage was around 30%.
I will briefly go through the making up of the prefelt. I made a rectangle (43cm X 28cm)which comprised of 4 layers using 20 grams per layer.
Each layer was a different colour and I very roughly laid down three different tones of wine/pink on one of the layers.
Top layer which is a dark green was embellished with a viscose – just for the fun of it.
I wet this down. The fibre was a bit of a sponge when it came to this stage – it took a lot of soapy water (nearly a litre). Because it was a bit of a challenge to permeate the layers, I ended up focussing the water on the centre of the piece and then I popped the bubble wrap on top and pressed the water to the outermost area of the rectangle. The prefelt formed quickly. I then rolled it very lightly. My aim was to end up with a fabric that was stable enough to hold together but would not withstand any rough treatment. I then left it to drip dry (over the clothes horse) overnight. Then came the fun!
It’s worth having a few things to hand before you start this technique:
- Strong thread – preferably nylon – this is for a couple of reasons. You want something that will withstand a bit of rough treatment (when it comes to gathering the fabric). Also you want to be able to remove the thread at the end of the process so you don’t want it to felt into the piece.
- A long sharp needle – you are going to be working through layers of thick prefelt (example: if you lay down 4 layers you will be stitching through 8 layers with this technique.
- Long pins – make sure that there is a large visible pin head on these as you won’t want to lose the pins in the work (hidden pins + felting by hand = agony).
Now it’s time to play. Using the pins, start by creating folds in your prefelt and work on this until you create folds. My inspiration was the exposed tree roots (first photo) so I opted to have my folds radiating from the centre of the prefelt.
I then took each fold and tacked a running stitch through it. To do this I started by knotting the thread unto itself (leave a tail and take your needle through the prefelt then back to the side facing you, tie the tail to the main body of the thread three or four times). Doing this will secure your thread so that it stays put when you pull to create the gathers. Then I ran a stitch through to the end of my fold, I gathered it up and tied it off (knotting the thread into the last stitch in the gather three or four times. It needs to be robust and not fall out when you start the felting process. Be sure to take out the pins as you go along. Continue gathering until you are happy that you have the basic shape you want to achieve.
Now it’s time to start felting. I used a pair of poly gloves for this part of the process. I wet the piece in the usual manner (warm soapy water). At this point I needed to be methodical in how I felted the folds so I marked my starting point with a peg and started working my way around the folds (rubbing each one a hundred times). I did two rounds. The folds felted to each other really fast. I was able to turn the piece over and see that the underside of the piece had melded together so I was pretty confident that my cutting into the piece would not cause disintegration. I finished felting and fulling the piece and left it to dry.
Then I cut into the folds. I used a very sharp scissors and cut through the folds just a little at a time. By doing this I controlled the colour that was visible. First skim revealed the third colour, second skim brought up the second layer colour etc.
Other possibilities are to cut into the sides of the folds. Or perhaps change the shape of the flat sections. In my case I reshaped the centre of the piece to make it stand above the rest of the cuts. A bit like a tree trunk.
I decided against felting the cut edges as I didn’t want to disturb the cut lines.
Here is a close up of the effect.
The Galway/New Zealand mix was an interesting experiment. I reckon I will use it again. The sample felted into a sturdy fabric. I think it would work well for structural pieces slippers, bags, sculptures etc but not for clothing. There’s quite an array of colours at the mill so I think I will soon be placing an order. After all, you can never have enough fibre.