Felting Sea Patterns

Felting Sea Patterns

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.

Second Curlew

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

Dark-Bellied Brent Goose

Brent goose: making a felt picture

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.

‘Wide Sea Pattern’

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. 

‘Harbour Water’ Photograph

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?

18 thoughts on “Felting Sea Patterns

  1. Your pictures are wonderful! You can almost feel the feathers in your ‘second curlew’ and his beak is perfect. All your pebble shores have great texture and colour.

    The sea is endlessly fascinating and it’s great that you continue to experiment. Love your harbour water trials too.

    With regard to your last question: Annie is constantly drawn to flowers but I’m a wanderer and I can never be sure what I’ll make next.

    1. Many thanks for your lovely comments. Although you vary your subjects a lot it seems to me you frequently use a range of colours (turquoise, pink & golden yellow) – bright and joyful – that means I can often spot your work as yours before looking at the by-line.

  2. I find all your sea experiments very interesting and love the various results, but (just to be awkward) I was particularly intrigued by your pebbly beach. Have you done a blog on how you do this?

    My pictures tend to be landscapes, but recently I’ve been drawn to skyscapes and the effects of different lights on clouds, and the shapes they make. I spend a lot of time just gazing up trying to work out how to get the effect in wet and needle felt. I find that silk top is great for cirrus and cirrocumulus type clouds as the wool distorts the silk beautifully when it felts. It is the cumulus that I find more difficult – to get all the shapes and shadows without building too thick a surface. I must have a go at some of your wave type experiments and see what I can get that way.
    Thanks for all the ideas.

    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Ann. Your skies sound fascinating. I would be great to see some examples on the forum. I am a little obsessed with skies too, but tend to try or capture them in photographs rather than felt as my viewpoint in felt pictures tends to be more close-up than landscapes.

      I like your idea about doing a blog on beaches, I may well do that for my next one. It’s not easy to know what other people will find interesting but I know I now have a vote for that!

  3. What interesting experiments. My husband’s a painter (@emanuelartist on Instagram if you’re curious) and he too had lots to say about the texture of water and the sea. The ever-changing nature of waves makes it such an interesting and complex subject matter, doesn’t it?

    I really loved the prefelt artwork you created with all the teals – I must confess I too preferred it before it was felted. Sandwiched between glass and framed, it would have looked great in my studio 😉

  4. Thank you Leonor. I enjoyed looking through your husband’s artwork. Yes, it’s a shame when you put work into something to make it look less good than before you started! I’m not a big fan of laid wool pictures but I might be ok with laid prefelt. Maybe I’ll have a go.

    1. You could maybe ‘tack’ all the bits in place with bondaweb while you work to frame it?

  5. Thanks Lindsay for a wonderful post. I think you could probably study water patterns for a long time. I did some studies of water in paint and it is really difficult to portray. I think that using wool and other embellishments to achieve water is very difficult too but you have done a great job. I like the use of the cobweb felt technique which you have worked out. And the estuary water is great. I think the prefelt gives a more abstract look to the water but just gives a different feel. I’d love to see a post about your beaches too.

  6. Many thanks for your comments, Ruth. I’m glad you like the cobweb ones – I think that’s my favourite technique. Great – 2 votes for beaches. I’ve already had a few thoughts about what I’d include to show different effects so it looks like the next one is already writing itself.

  7. So much water so little time. It seems to me you could do water all your life and never do the same thing twice. Your studies are great.
    Have you thought of taking a good picture of your before wetting layout? then you have both You could frame the photo as a separate art piece. I keep thinking I will do this, but haven’t figured out how to get a good picture from above.

    1. Thanks, Ann. I do usually take ‘before’ photos but I haven’t thought of doing anything with them other than using them as progress shots. I will have to think about whether I can make them into something. I work from a standing table so have to climb onto a high stool to take overhead pictures. I suppose it’s possible to put things in the floor and photograph them from above? Food for thought. Thank you!

  8. Fabulous work Lindsay. I am in awe of your work! I haven’t felted pictures but love your attention to detail. Beautiful work.

  9. Thanks so much, Helene. I really appreciate your comments. I just love wet felting and if I can spread a little of that enthusiasm then I’m very happy!

  10. Although I don’t live by the sea, I have found your article and your experimental techniques fascinating! Thank you for all the insight and shared techniques!

  11. Many thanks, Sally. Delighted you found it interesting. I hope some of the things I tried would also be relevant to other types of water like rivers, ponds and lakes.

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