Finding Focus

Finding Focus

It’s the new year and here we are in England with what I’m calling the ‘new abnormal’: all non-essential shops closed; travel only if necessary; people working from home wherever possible and, for many of us, very limited direct contact with people outside our household.

If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d have liked a long stretch of time with few commitments that I could dedicate to felt-making, I’d have jumped at the chance.  Be careful what you wish for. 

Towards the end of 2020 I had several events to aim for so was able to focus on making things for those. Here are a few of my favourites: a succulent holder, nuno felt vase (with glass interior) and needle felted mince pie.

I have plenty of sales and exhibitions booked throughout 2021 but no way of knowing whether and when they will take place. I have notebooks full of ideas but feel I need to find some focus to direct my efforts and get the creative energy flowing. 

I really enjoy learning new skills and developing my felt-making in different directions. So, I decided at the turn of the year to sign up for some online workshops. I’m mostly self-taught as a felt maker but now I’m asking myself ‘why do I want to reinvent so many wheels?’.  I’ve long wanted to take Fiona Duthie’s workshop ‘Fibre + Paper’ so when I saw she was running the workshop in March 2021, I eagerly signed up.  I then find myself tapping my toes impatiently and thinking ‘I don’t want to wait ‘till March!’.

Fortunately, in February Fiona is offering another class I’d like to take ‘Ink on Cloth’.  Yep, I’m in for that too.  Still the toe-tapping: ‘what about January?’. 

The Felting and Fiber Studio to the rescue: Teri Berry was offering her bag making class starting 7 January.  Perfect! I’m in for another class.  Well, you can’t say I lack enthusiasm!

While I’m waiting for the class to begin (yep, still with the toe-tapping) I decide now is the time to retire an old friend.  One of the first things I felted for myself about 9 years ago is an iPad cover. I carry my iPad mini with me everywhere and the cover is worn out.  It has done a great job – it even outlasted the first iPad – but the corners have rubbed away and it’s looking very shabby.

I may have mentioned before (more than once) that I’m an avid charity / thrift / op shop enthusiast and have built up an impressive collection of second-hand fabric, mostly scarves and mostly silk. I have a dig around and fish out a very fine small silk chiffon scarf with leaf prints. Left – front, right – back, middle – action shot! I’ve carefully controlled the shrinkage so it fits snugly: it slides out when I want it to and not when I don’t.

I enjoyed working with the silk so decide to make some more samples.  One issue with fabric of unknown origin (and often even with fabric of know origin) is that you can’t be sure how it will felt. Here’s the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of each sample.

Some kind of velvet devore?

A woven cotton or linen?

A silk and cotton mix – I assume the background is silk and the slub lines are cotton

Definitely 100% silk (it still had the label in)

All are interesting. I chose a similar wool colour to the background silk colour as I want to focus on texture and print.  I particularly like the leaf print one and will definitely use that at some point. 

Next, my patience (!) has been rewarded and the bag class is starting.  First is an animal theme phone or glasses case.  I consult the interweb for animals that have big tongues and decide on a gecko.  I’m rather fond of geckos, though I’m not sure I’ve ever met one. 

I’m pleased with the result, although admit it looks rather more like a frog or an alien.  I was going to trim the tongue but decided to leave it as it is. I’ve taken to calling it my alien frog bag.  I made it to fit my phone but it’s actually a bit big so I’ve now added a thin green leather strap with some Chicago screws. Next time I’m invited to a ‘BYO alien frog bag’ event, I will be all prepared. 

On to the next, bigger bag, with integrated straps and internal pockets.  I have a fair quantity of nice natural grey Corriedale top and decide I’ll use that for the outside.  I’m on a roll with recycling the silk scarves so select a few with similar colours.  I’m not sure grey will be the best background so, in an unusual fit of sensibleness, decide to make some samples. 

I prefer the lighter colour behind them. The bag will be fulled very hard and I think I may completely lose the silk.  Little lightbulb moment: why not prefelt the silks with a light colour wool to help preserve some of their colour?

I prefelted some pieces of silk.  I even got a bit jazzy with the one with large spots, with fawn Corriedale and charcoal Merino.

On the left: the bag laid out with (nearly) all the surface decoration ready for wetting down. I did move things around a little afterwards but forgot to take a photo. On the right: the flap detail of the final bag

Finished bag

It’s not perfect (eg I put 2 pockets inside but they are on the front wall of the bag instead of the back and it’s a bit wider than I intended) but I do like it and will enjoy using it.

So, what next? The third bag is a backpack.  I’m wrestling with myself over whether to use wool I already have or wait for some I’ve ordered to arrive.  I have a studio full of wool but want to use a medium or coarse wool for durability and don’t have much of any colour or breed in sufficient quantity.  I made a sample yesterday of potential wool candidates but am a bit underwhelmed. There’s a black dyed Perendale batt, grey/brown Finnish top, light grey Swaledale top and natural white batt (can’t remember the breed) but I’d have to mix them and that’s a lot to have going on.

I decided too to make a paper template of the finished bag to help me work out the resist and stop making bags bigger than I intend. Ha, ha, I do hope I don’t start calling this my toilet seat backpack.  And that brings me right up to date.

All being well, I will have the backpack done to show you in my next blog spot in March, along with some makes from the Ink on Cloth workshop.

I’m enjoying the learning and Teri’s class is excellent.  The instructions are clear and detailed. She has been positive and encouraging and very quick and generous in responding to my extensive questions about clasps, straps, bag design, wool breeds….

Are you struggling to find focus, or maybe finding new ways to learn and different things to try?  I hope you’re able to do a little fibre work and I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and creative 2021.

14 thoughts on “Finding Focus

  1. The bag is gorgeous! Well worth the sampling beforehand.

    My grand-daughter has a leopard gecko – very sweet – and I think you’ve got the eyes well.

    Wow! Love the silk leaves – so many possibilities with that piece of fabric! Lucky find indeed.

    The new ipad mini cover is super – I’m being to get anxious about whether the charity shops will re-open in 2021!
    I feel sad whenever I pass the darkened windows of our local shop.

    Hope you enjoy your classes!

    1. I’m sure I replied this am but I can’t see it! Thanks very much for your positive comments. Yes, I’m missing charity shops too. The only positive thing is that maybe loads of people are clearing out their cupboards and wardrobes so when they do eventually reopen there will be lots of lovely things to find.

      Very envious of the leopard gecko – they look so cute. What a great pet.

  2. Well aren’t you the busy beaver. I do envy your enthusiasm and energy.
    The iPad cover is great. I love the leaves on it.
    I would like to see the first 2 samples on a different colour background. I think it would give you a much different look with the texture. It always amazes me that prints don’t get more distorted or disappear more in the shrinking.
    Alien Frog bag…LOL I had to look up Chicago screws.
    the bag turned out really well. A very rocky beach look. I am sure you will get lots of complements.
    I am looking forward to seeing the toilet seat back pack.

    1. Thank you, Ann. Yes I agree a different colour for some of the samples would be interesting. I think the leaves didn’t distort because the silk is like chiffon: it bedded easily into the wool so there’s very little puckering / ruching.

      I’m working now on the toilet seat backpack. I’m planning on doing a lot of shaping so I’m hoping for more of an egg shape will emerge!

  3. Can I have some of your energy, please? Lockdown 2.0 (here in Scotland) is really making me blue.

    Love the new bag and the new iPad cover! Those colours are right up my alley…

    Alien Frog Bag sounds good, but let’s definitely not comment on Toilet Seat Backpack 😀

    1. Thanks, Leonor. I find the only thing that stops my energy & enthusiasm flagging is having a good project to work on. In lockdown one it was the garden for me. This time, especially with the rubbish weather, it’s the learning driven by the external input. Otherwise I’d be lying on the sofa in my pyjamas wondering how soon I could have a glass of wine. Hope you find your muse soon.

  4. So wonderful that you have signed up for all those classes! I’m sure you will learn a lot and have fun too. Way to go on sampling first, the bag outcome really shows that it was worth it. The gecko is great and I look forward to seeing the finished backpack.

    1. Thanks, Ruth. Yes, I’m a sampling convert though I’m still a bit reluctant sometimes when I really want to get on with something. A whole box of new wool arrived yesterday so I’m going a bit more colourful with the backpack. I’ve already found some bits rather challenging so I’m looking forward to seeing it too!

  5. As always, absolutely fascinating and such wonderful results. Especially love the flap on your bag. I have a box full of scarves I should be experimenting with – you have encouraged me at least as far as having a look at what is there – a milestone!

  6. Thanks very much, Nancy. I’m glad you feel inspired to have a look at your scarves. I find it’s really worth snipping a square off the end and seeing what happens. I tend to do a few at a time so I can work them together. It’s nice when they do what you expect but even better (sometimes) when they surprise you.

  7. I adore your succulent planter, you have matched and blended the colours perfectly. I hope you have proudly displayed it in a prominent spot in your home?

    I agree with Ann, I am itching to see the white “pebble devore” fabric felted onto a contrasting colour wool (mid to dark blue would be my first choice!), I understand why you chose white and am loving the texture (I want to stroke it!) but suspect the contrast in colour will enhance the “visual texture” too.

    Well done for signing up for so many classes, your enthusiasm and energy must be boundless and it so inspiring to see everything you are achieving! Keep it up and keep asking questions, I love questions! 🙂

    1. Thanks very much, Teri. I really appreciate how thoughtful, thorough and knowledgeable you are in replying to all my bag queries.

      I’m hoping to get a similar effect to the succulent holder on the backpack, although I’m using Corriedale rather than merino and the bright green is a slightly different shade. It does demonstrate the advantage of fulling felt very hard: it is very solid – it almost pings if you flick it!

      I will try the pebble devore on a different colour – I might even be able to include it in a bag, which could be interesting.

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