I made my first felted picture maybe 8 years ago. It’s a seascape with a curlew based on a scene I’d photographed. I realise now I haven’t ever completely moved away from the sea and the birds in my felt making. The picture is still hanging on my living room wall, though it’s not really my favourite. I can see too much that I’d want to change.
Looking at the dark water I see I included strips of ribbon as well as nepps, locks and some non-wool fibres – probably bamboo. A little while later I made a second curlew which I much preferred. In this one the sea is slightly more abstract with silk hankies representing sea foam.
I live by the coast and seem always to return to the theme of water – specifically the sea and even more specifically the water near where I live, some of which is technically an estuary: the mouth of the river Thames. I’ve been looking recently at how I’ve tried to represent the sea in felt, then trying out some new water experiments.
In my last guest blog I showed how I made the watery background to my dark-bellied Brent goose. Here’s a reminder
This technique of laying cobweb pre-felt on top of base layers was something I worked out for myself and often use as I really like the effect
The first picture, ‘Winter Sea’ I made entirely using this technique. For the second picture ‘Big Wave 3’ I used straightforward tufts of different coloured wool for the darker water but a cobweb strip in front of the wave to suggest water from a previous wave.
For ‘Wide Sea Pattern’ I’ve added some silk fibres to enhance the foamy effect.
I’ve also tried nuno felted seas using large pieces of fabric. I’ve made two pictures of a lovely little ringed plover I watched a short distance from my house.
In the left picture I used a UK charity shop wool scarf that already had a crimp. I ran pewter-coloured merino wool on the back in only one direction to enhance the crimp, which I hope gives a distant wave-like pattern. In the one on the right I used some very dense silk (from a US thrift store sarong) which I only partially felted in as I wanted to keep as much as possible of the sarong’s watery pattern (also, the silk was VERY dense!).
Thinking about how to represent sea patterns, I have spent a little time recently looking at photos and videos of how people do this when drawing or painting the sea, and wondering if I could use some of these ways of looking at and representing sea water in wet felt making.
Experiment one: I laid out two pewter merino layers then a fine horizontal layer of blues, which I pushed apart with 2 pencils hoping to evoke a choppy sea. Then, I suppose because I thought the darker tones may get lost, I added some more dark wool into the gaps.
I ended up with something that looked very flat – perhaps like dappled water but not what I had in mind. I wish I was more strict in sticking to my original intentions: I think it would have been better without the dark wool I added at the end. Maybe I’ll come back to that in the future and do the experiment properly.
Experiment two: Estuary Water. Next I wanted to experiment with the dark colour of the water. Out came the trusty drum carder and I blended pewter, beige and green wools which I laid horizontally on a vertical layer of mixed pewter and beige. I made a single layer of mixed blue prefelt that I pulled apart and laid on the top.
I call the result ‘Estuary Water’ as there’s often a lot of muddy sediment in the estuary which gives it an opaque, brown look. I like it but haven’t decided what to do with it yet – its dimensions don’t fit any standard canvases or frames. Maybe I’ll use it as the background to something else.
Experiment three: I decided to made some smaller felt pictures that were just sewn onto stretched painters’ canvases rather than being framed behind glass. Focussing on the sea water: this time I snipped into the prefelt blue layer with scissors after I’d laid it on the background.
I like this effect and could maybe take it a bit further in the future: make some bigger cuts or more of them. I stitched these onto pre-stretched canvases that are slightly smaller than the felt so the canvases aren’t visible when looking head on.
Experiment four: Harbour Water. I took a photo of the water in the harbour a few months ago that I found interesting and wanted to investigate in felt.
I’ve thought for a while I’d like to blend just two colours with each other and black and white and this seemed like a good opportunity. I used the drum carder to blend duck egg and teal merino wool with charcoal grey and natural white in various proportions.
I then made prefelts which I cut up and placed on a background of teal (1st, vertical layer) and duck egg (2nd, horizontal layer)
Quite interesting but I liked it a lot better before I’d felted it. I had a second go, using a piece of the duck egg prefelt as the base, which I like slightly better.
I like the shimmery water better than the round sections, which are a bit too round. Again, I’ve stitched the pieces of felt onto smaller canvases so they can hang but appear to be floating. I will look at them for a while until I decide how and if to develop the ideas further.
Experiment five: Choppy Whitstable Waves. In July a customer asked me to make her a picture similar to one I had but in a smaller size. I tried to use some of the things I’d seen in videos of how to paint water using acrylics and adapt them to my local sea colours and patterns and the medium of wet felting. I laid out darker ‘windows’ at the front of the waves with some water being pulled upwards by the wave (with the top fibre running upwards) then blue sky reflections made from cobweb prefelt sitting behind the wave foam.
I feel this has some potential. I particularly like the wave second from bottom and am tempted next to make a single long wave using this technique.
At this point I had to break off to set up my harbour hut exhibition for a week. Interestingly, the customer didn’t like the smaller picture I’d made as much as the original and decided to buy the bigger original instead.
I still find sea patterns endlessly fascinating. Each experiment seems to ask more questions than it answers and produce new avenues to investigate. I have no doubt I’ll keep on coming back to sea patterns (and birds) again and again.
Are there any effects here that you particularly like or don’t think worked so well?
Do you have a theme, subject or colour-way you keep going back to in your work?