A Turnstone Picture: Step by Step

A Turnstone Picture: Step by Step

I’ve recently finished a felted picture – mostly wet felted but with needle felted elements.  ‘How long did it take to make that?’ I’m often asked when people see my work.  I find it difficult to answer precisely. ‘Quite a long time’ isn’t very helpful so I usually say something like ‘About four days’.  I don’t really know if that’s true. It’s my best guess. As the felt-makers among you will know, most people have no idea how much work can go into making felt, so as I was making my latest picture I thought I’d try to document the stages and see how long it all takes. That’s what I’m going to show you here, plus take you on a little visit to the town where I work.

I’ve already decided to make a picture of a turnstone feeding at the water’s edge so I set about making prefelt sheets for the pebbles.  I live on the North Kent coast and love watching the local water birds: how they look, move and interact with their environment. It’s mostly pebble beach on the stretch of coast nearest to my home so pebbles are a good place to start.

First a piece of natural grey merino prefelt. Then a piece of mixed browns

It takes a surprisingly long time to cut all the pebble shapes

Here’s the grey cut up and an offcut of nuno prefelt which I’m gong to add into the mix.

And finally a sort of orange / yellow piece. 

I use prefelts as they give the pebbles more definition than if I just add blobs of wool. I’d guess all of the above is about a day’s work.

Now I can start the layout. This is going to be quite a big picture so will take up pretty all the space on my standing work desk. Here’s the first layer – natural white merino.

The second layer starts off with pewter for the water. While I’m working on the water section I add some dark blue low lights.

After I complete the second layer with more natural white merino, I lay out different coloured wool on top of the pewter and dark blue. I’ve previously carded pewter wool with a variety of light blues and greens using large hand carders.  I haven’t even thought about adding that time to my calculations.  I use this for the top layer of the water, mostly covering the dark blue which I want to add depth without being too prominent.

Here you can see that I’ve also added all the cut up pebble shapes to the bottom of the picture, plus some scraps of silk cut from old scarves, leaving a white section where I will add the wave.

For the wave I’ve chosen mohair because it has a slight shine and I hope it will be wiggly when felted. Along with the mohair I add lots of silk hankies and wool locks: I’m trying to get lots of texture into this section.

There’s also a piece of sort of knitted yarn that I picked up in a charity shop a while age.  It’s meant to be knitted into a scarf (according to the label) but I lay a line of it under the wave, hoping it will look like the foam from a previous wave. I also pop some offcuts into the wave for more texture. I finish by adding a few locks to the water to look like small cresting waves and I’m at the end of day 2.

A couple of days later I start the wetting down.  Because it’s large, I decide to work in three sections, starting with the pebbles. I like to use voile netting over and under the wool – which you can see in this photo.

I spend a couple of hours prefelting the picture, working both sides.  Here’s the back. I can see the pebble outlines pushing through the white so can be confident the layers are starting to felt together.  At this point I decide to take a break and go for a wander outside.

I work in a small rented studio in the historic town of Faversham, about 8 miles from where I live, in Whitstable.  The studio is in a former industrial building (originally a late-Victorian brewery bottling plant) which is now a lovely not-for-profit gallery, café and shop called Creek Creative Studios. It also includes 32 small studios filled with a good variety of busy individuals including painters, jewellers, potters and glass workers on the ground and lower ground floors; writers, illustrators, stringed instrument specialists, web designers and other small businesses on the upper floor.

Faversham is a gorgeous medieval market town so wandering about at lunchtime (and of course checking out the charity shops) is one of my favourite pastimes.  It’s a lovely sunny day so I thought I’d share a few photos with you.

Top left is the historic market place with its stilted guildhall. Top right is the Shepherd Neame shop: there’s a long history of brewing here and Shepherd Neame is Britain’s oldest brewery. Some days it does mean the town is rather ‘aromatic’. Second right is the lovely Yarn Dispensary. Originally an apothecary, the building dates back to 1240 and has a beautiful, separately listed wooden apothecary interior. It also sells a delicious selection of yarns. Bottom left is an old pub; next is the old water pump in the marketplace and a couple of the other buildings that surround the market place. There’s still a market here 3 days a week plus regular monthly ‘best of Faversham’ and antiques markets at the weekends.

Back at the studio I spend the rest of the day rubbing and rolling the felt until it’s fairly firm.  Because it’s a picture and going behind glass it won’t endure much wear and tear but I still like to ensure it’s properly fulled.  End of day 3.

I leave the background to dry and return to it about 6 days later, as I start to think about the turnstone or turnstones.  Working from my own photos, I roughly sketch a couple of birds and cut them out so I can see how they might look.

Although I like the 2 birds they are a bit small (the waves round here aren’t that big) so I decide to go for one pecking bird but bigger than the sketched one.  First step is to make some prefelt for the feathers.

Here it is as I’m starting to wet it down (left) and as a light prefelt (right – apologies for the poor quality of the second photo)

I cut up the feather prefelt and lay out a general bird shape.  At this stage I am leaving the head large and a bit vague.  I’ve learned that it’s better to make it too big and cut it to size later rather than trying to get the exact size and shape and risk having to add more wool or felt.

Here’s the bird felted and with a lightly trimmed head.  Sorry it’s not a great photo as it’s electric light and I’m casting a shadow but I hope you can see it well enough to get the overall idea.

From layout decisions to the felted bird has taken most of day 4.

The next stage is to needle felt the bird into the background and needle in the eye and legs as well as refining the beak. For the legs I used some of the orange-ish prefelt I made for pebbles, adding strands of wool on top.

Using a broken needle I pick at the wave to raise some of the texture from the silk hankies and wool locks.  I’m not sure whether it’s visible in this photo but it does make a difference in the actual picture.

I didn’t take progress shots of the needle felting but I’d say it took a good half day.  It’s difficult to know when to stop fiddling around with it and declare it finished.

So, here is the final picture before framing.

And a shot in its frame. 

Frame size is 63 x 86 cm (approximately 25 x 34 inches)

I used an adhesive hook tape – like the hook side of Velcro – which I stick to the mount board. The hooks hold the felt in place without impacting the fabric.

So, it looks like my 4 day estimate was a bit low.  Next time someone asks how long it took me to make this picture I could say ‘About 4 ½ days, oh, plus the carding, the nuno prefelt and the framing….’ .  Maybe I’ll just settle for ‘About 5 days’.

Do you try to work out how long you spend making things or just go with the flow?

23 thoughts on “A Turnstone Picture: Step by Step

  1. It is lovely!! I am asked that question all the time and over estimate rather than under. It is good we like what we are doing because we never will get enough money for all our time!

  2. Thanks Donna. Completely agree about enjoying what we do. I do occasionally think, when someone really likes my work but thinks it’s expensive ‘don’t you think I deserve at least the national minimum wage?’ but I don’t say so. There’s no point.

  3. Thats a beautiful piece of work Lindsay. It’s very interesting to see the different processes you go through to make a picture like this I hadn’t realised your birds are made separately and then applied to the background.
    As hard as I try I struggle to work out timings. On the odd occasion that I’ve managed to do it I found that I had underestimated. I agree entirely with your comment re national minimum wage, but we just have to smile and grit our teeth!

    1. Thank you, Karen. I have tried felting birds directly into the background, which works ok, but I like the control & definition I can achieve by separately wet felting them then needle felting them into place. As for minimum wage…. Hmm… as you say, gritted teeth.

  4. I think this is absolutely brilliant Lindsay. I love how realistic you have managed to make that sea bird look. Although the method is far more labour intensive, I do think the result is outstanding.

    Faversham looks such a delightful place to craft. Your photos remind me of my favourite market town Ledbury. I adore medieval market town, so Faversham is now on my list of must-visit places!!! ❤️

    1. Thanks very much for your comments. Very kind. I do love Faversham and am amazed at how many people haven’t even heard of it. I didn’t even photograph the beautiful Creek, or lovely old barns or talk about the historic connections to the gunpowder trade (until there was a huge explosion). Please do visit and let’s meet up for a cup of tea!

  5. Oh he’s gorgeous Lindsay. A fascinating post, thanks for taking us through all the steps. I’ve given up trying to time making pictures. If anyone asks me I just say that I once timed a commissioned picture and gave up after 144ish hours.
    That first picture of your cut up pebbles looks a bit like grated and chopped chocolate (dribble dribble!)
    Lovely to see Faversham again – it must be more than 30 years since I was last there.

    1. Many thanks, Ann. Felting is indeed a slow process. I’m not sure that parts of Faversham have changed very much in the last 30 years though there’s lots of new house building on the outskirts. Do come and visit some time if you get chance.

  6. Thanks for a wonderful post Lindsay! It’s interesting to see your process and I sympathize with figuring out the timing. The large project that I did for class took over 250 hours which included all the planning and designing. So definitely minimum wage isn’t made here either. I do love your pebble beaches and even though they are a lot of work, they really make the scene more realistic. I would love to come visit Faversham, it looks wonderful. I’ll put it on the bucket list.

    1. Many thanks, Ruth. I suppose I must like the pebble beaches too, otherwise I wouldn’t keep making them. I do hope you make it over to the UK some time.

  7. Lovely! The legs in particular are outstanding. You did a great job contrasting them with the pebbles and making them realistic. And thanks for sharing some photos of your area and the buildings. Wonderful history there.

    1. Thank you, Carlene. I’m glad you like the legs, I often find getting them right is one of the hardest things. It’s very obvious if they’re not in quite the right place or at the right angle to keep the bird upright! Yes, Faversham is lovely and some of the buildings are extremely old.

  8. What a beautiful piece of artwork Linsday, thank you so much for sharing your very interesting process.
    I recall on a trip to Bayeux some years ago, I called into the local lace museum, a tiny place with the most exquisite pieces of handmade lace. A black lace shawl hung in a frame on one of the walls. written beside it was the following 10,000 hours at €4.00 per hour. This simple statement transformed an extremely high end piece into something that one would consider very good value for money! It was gone from the wall when I visited the following year, presumably by someone who hopefully considered that they had gotten an amazing bargain which they would treasure.

    Perhaps, going forward, this is the way all artists, most especially textile artists should price their work. Perhaps folk would think twice before commenting in such a manner. Maybe ….

    1. Thank you Helen. Great story about the lace shawl. I do hope someone bought it exactly as you say. The time question does start some interesting conversations and often gives me a chance to talk to people about the stages and processes. I have to be careful their eyes don’t glaze over though!

  9. What a beautiful picture! The bird is perfect – love everything about him from his little orange leggies to his feathers and his lively eye.
    It’s very clever of you to make the picture such a good shape considering that the bottom incorporates lots of pre-felt and the top is made of layers of dry fibre.
    Faversham looks interesting – what a great place to have a studio and to be with other creatives.

    1. Thank you, Lyn. I’m glad you like him. I’m very fond of turnstones: we only have them here in winter so I never see them with their summer feathers – they look very different. I’ve learned to put more dry layers on the water section to try to balance up the amount of prefelt in the beach but it does involve guesswork and the wave always ends up the widest bit so usually gets a small trim at the sides.

  10. Ah, the hard question of time – aren’t people amazed at how long it takes you to make something, whether you under- or overestimate? People will never understand how little we get paid for making these lovely items… In any case it’s time well spent, Lindsay, your work looks absolutely gorgeous 🙂

    1. Thanks, Leonor. Very kind. I guess we must do it because we love doing it.

  11. Lindsay….your turnstone picture is just fabulous.

    It is eye opening not only to customers but I think also to us as artists, just how much time goes into every aspect of planning, sketching, collating, auditioning, experimenting & finally creating our work. Gritting teeth is usually to be accompanied by the weary smile too!

    Creating your birds separately adds a little 3D element to the surface, which when combined with the legs & glistening eyes makes them come alive.

    One day I’ll make it to visit you in your studio, then you can give me a guided tour of Faversham too.

  12. Many thanks, Antje. You’d be most welcome, though visiting the studio would be quick: quite small, full to bursting and always in need of a tidy up! However, the cafe, shop & gallery are really nice and Faversham is definitely worth a visit. C’mon down! X

  13. Another amazing picture. your birds and stones are always wonderful. Timing is always so hard especially if you don’t do a piece start to finish. And then there’s all the years of practice and learning that came before the picture you just did even go started. Would it save time to you think to make bigger prefelts for your pebble so you had enough for more than one picture?
    It looks like a lovely little village. You are lucky to have so much history all around you.

  14. Thank you, Ann. Actually there probably were enough pebble and feather prefelts to do 2 pictures – I didn’t think about factoring that into my time estimate, though it was always a bit of a ‘finger in the air’ calculation. I know a woman who does the most beautiful machine knitted clothes. When people ask how long it took her to make something she says ‘about 35 years’ in recognition of the development of her craft. It’s certainly another way of looking at it.

  15. Great post, Lindsay. It is very interesting to get walked through your process, and the description of Faversham is a nice tasty bit that makes me hunger for a visit there! The finished artwork is more than worthwhile the 5+ days of work. I love your technique for making fantastic seaside background: it is not easy to get the right texture, shape and colour combination for a convincing pebble beach.

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