Getting scissor happy with your felt

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.

Happy felting!

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15 Responses to Getting scissor happy with your felt

  1. ruthlane says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post. I have tried this technique before but have not done it in a while. I might have to have another go. It really works well for tree roots.

    • helenefeltzen says:

      Thank you Ruth,

      I agree, we accumulate so many techniques for the years, it feels good to return to them every now and then. I hope the level was not too basic. I thought there might be some folk who had never tried the technique before and might now be tempted to do so.

      I found it interesting to work with a fibre other than merino. I thought it produced a more diffused effect. Galway sheep are native to Ireland so it was good to have that connection too, given where I am based. I have been endeavoring to find more information from the Woolen Mills regarding the New Zealand mix in the fibre but so far I have not heard back from them. I can pursue it more rigorously if there is an interest.

  2. annielynrosie says:

    Lovely result! The bright colours really pop out and leaving the edge ‘organic’ looks good.

    Thank you for the interesting post and the clear explanation of how you achieved this.

    • helenefeltzen says:

      Thanks so much.

      The mills have a number of very bright colours that are normally outside my comfort zone. I thought it would be fun just to grab some sample while I was with them – a bit like being in a sweetie (candy) shop! 😉

  3. Chrissie Day says:

    Thank you Helen an interesting fibre piece – nice to see an old technique used again. Somewhere in the files in cyber are bracelets made by me dying this technique And layers of colour to cut into

    • helenefeltzen says:

      Indeed Chrissie, we learn so many techniques over the years it’s nice to dust them down every now and then. I found it interesting to experiment with the Galway fleece – it produced a more diffused effect to merino, which I have worked with in the past.

      I would love to see your bracelets. when you find them perhaps you might like to share them.

  4. Karen Lane says:

    This is a very effective technique Helene and one I often use. I also learnt it from a workshop with Marjolein, an incredible feltmaker and the nicest person you could ever wish to meet! Your post was very informative and I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work on here.

    • helenefeltzen says:

      Thanks Karen,

      Yes Marjolein is one absolutely superb human. So talented and such a lovely person. Her workshop was held in my locality which is highly unusual as I live in a rural part of Dublin. We have a mini version of Newgrange close by and I was delighted to be able to arrange to have the tomb opened up for her to visit. She really was in her element. It was one of many memorable moments spent with her that weekend.

  5. This is a fun technique with lots of possibilities. the wool looks really sturdy and with a nice finish on it. Marjolein doesn’t live that far from me but I haven’t managed to take a class yet.

    • helenefeltzen says:

      What a lovely place to live Ann!

      I love the way Marjolein uses her environment to the full when presenting her works.

      Yes the fibre was fun to work with. I might make a pair of slippers out of the remnants to see if it stands up to a bit of wear and tear.

  6. Leonor says:

    Sounds like you had a lot of fun!

  7. Antje says:

    Thank you Helene, for your lighthearted but informative post on this fun, colourful, technique. Seeing the result with the lovely organic edges is making my fingers itch….I,m not alone, of that I’m sure, in wanting to add decorative stitching etc. Will you embellish your piece?

    The wool appears to have a good finish – what method of Felting & fulling did you use (rolling, slamming, flapping etc)?

    I’m curious – you started with 43 x 28cm what determined this unusual size, and what was the finished size?

    • helenefeltzen says:

      Thanks a million for your kind comments. If your fingers are itching then it’s done the trick! I’m just going to answer your queries in order of appearance.

      This was really just a sample piece – to test out the Galway/NZ blend fibre, so there’s a very strong possibility that it will find its way into my sample box rather than sewing one. The colours and the cuts became references for a 3D basket I subsequently made. I had initially thought I would write the blog on the 3D piece but it became so long I figured folk would have fallen asleep reading it. So I stuck with the flat piece.

      It’s quite a strong wool – suitable for objects rather than wearables although it might work in footwear. I have a pair of boots I made at a workshop. They are made using Bergschaf and the texture is quite similar. If I were to go down that route I think I would make a sample pair of slippers and test run them before investing time in making more sophisticated footwear.

      on the felting and fulling front:
      I rolled it about 50 rolls (x 8) (NSEW turn over and repeat) when I was preparing the pre-felt
      Once the gathering was done and these edges felted together (as per blog) I used a technique I learnt from Marjolein Dallinga ….
      Hot soapy water – as hot as your hands will take wet down the piece
      Knead it like you are kneading bread. do this for about a minute
      toss the piece lightly – there’s no need to be anything other than gentle in your tossing. Check it to make sure that only the pieces you want to felt together are doing so
      pat the piece down
      repeat. You should feel it shrinking after about the third round. Keep going until you are happy that it has fully shrunk.
      Then alternate hot cold water for a bit.
      I always finish my pieces with vinegar in the final soak. I popped it into a laundry bag and into the washing machine (mine is front loading) and spun it. I shaped the centre of it a bit and left it to dry.

      Regarding the size. If you were using this fibre for a flat piece you could expect a 30% shrinkage rate (2 10gram (each) layers on a 25cm square). Everything becomes distorted when adding stitches and that is why I didn’t include the final size of the piece. I have now measured it and it’s interesting the 30% rate appears to apply to the surface area as a whole. The original 43 x 28cm size has shrunk to 26 x 24cm. I just did some quick calculations of surface area allowing for shrinkage and whereas the final dimension appears to imply that the shorter side did not shrink as much as in the flat sample, in the overall context the area surface is coming in as if the shrinkage is slightly greater than 30%. I am attributing this to the raised surfaces from the gathering. I’m also concluding that the gathering distorted the finished shape in some way. I hope this is making sense. Thinking back I’ve seen this before when I rathered a prefelt which had been made on a circular resist. The finished piece resembled a brain. It’s all in the stitching.

      I hope this all helps.

      Happy felting and thanks for getting in touch. ☺

  8. helenefeltzen says:

    Hi everyone, Thanks a million for your comments on my piece. I have endeavoured to catch up with you all individually. I am still waiting to hear back from the woollen mill with regard to to make up of the fibre that I used for the experiment. I will post their response if I hear from them. Cheers everyone!

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