Just Playin’

Just Playin’

The last twelve months have, as my Irish granny would have said ‘put manners on me’.  Cataracts, which were a ‘by the way’ diagnoses in my late 40s finally and quickly caught up with me.  Eight increments of sight deterioration over a three month period!  No more night driving, reading became a challenge and my creative curiosity disappeared.  And so, the waiting game began.  I am currently recovering from surgery on eye number 2.  What a difference it has made and while it will be some time before I get my new glasses, I can function without them for the first time ever! Also, life in all its facets is so beautifully colourful.

So why do I mention it in my post.  It feels awkward mentioning it as I am a very private person.  Awkward, but necessary.  Many of us go through times in life where we lose our creative mojo.  Initially, I found myself angst ridden and questioning my abilities.  The feeling never really went away but I had to find a way to go with the flow and tap away at bits and pieces for a while.

So now that the eyes are fixed I have started playing.  Nothing too serious (well except for my last piece but more of that later).  I am now a week and a half after the operation and here is what I have made over the past week.

Sample 1:

First up, a bit of a back story.  I have committed to a felt swap later in the year.  The theme is brooches so I thought I should start thinking about this.  I used to like felting with basic resist shapes and distorting them so I thought this might be a starting point for this experiment.

First of all, I cut a 15cm square resist and rounded the corners.  Then I covered both sides of the resist in eight thin layers.  I started and finished with a rich orange colour and sandwiched in between were two layers of mustard and two layers of green.  I used 16 micron merino which I purchased from Leiko Uchiyama https://www.leikofelt.com/merino/.  Leiko’s fibre is hand dyed and the colours are sublime.  She is based in Ireland and ships worldwide.

Sample 1 fibres laid out and wet down 8 thin layers

I made a prefelt in the usual way.  I wanted the prefelt to be strong so I kept working it until it started to distort the resist.

solid pre-felt shrinkage has started

Then I made a small incision on one side of the resist, extracted the resist and sewed the raw edges back together with some nylon thread:

Sample 1: repairing the hole which was cut to remove resist

Then it was time to play with the square shape.  I brought the edges of the square to the front of the piece and I started playing and shaping it.  Once I was happy with the shape I handsewed them to hold them in position. Then I worked hard at felting the edges together and to the flat back side of the piece.

Sample 1: working on manipulating the shape


Sample 1: working on a pleasing shape


Sample 1: Shape has been secured with stitching and fulling begins

Once it was felted, fulled and rinsed, I removed the threads and started cutting. Lots of cutting!

Sample is fully felted, stitches are removed and cutting has started


I got a bit scissor happy! I sliced through a little at a time

Here is the finished piece.  I have popped it on top of its original resist to give it perspective:

Sample 1 finished piece laid on original resist for size comparison

Here is a close up of the piece. The inch ruler underneath gives some perspective on size.   Do you think it would make a suitable brooch?

Sample 1: close up of finished piece

Sample 2

Next up, a flower.  This year sees the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Irish felting group Feltmakers Ireland, by our esteemed member and incredibly creative Elizabeth Bonnar.  There is a celebration planned for later in the year where members will focus on making pink flowers.  I thought I might take this down time to make at least one.  But I wanted to play and not produce my usual style of flower.   I wanted to make a three layered flower but I also wanted to do some free  motion embroidery on each petal.  I decided to make the three layers separate, felt them to my satisfaction then attack them with the sewing machine.  I cut out a template for the petals (small, medium, large) and then cut these shapes from prefelt as a foundation.  I laid different tints of pink merino  on top and finished it off with some tints of pink viscose.  Once this was wet felted and fulled, my work with the sewing machine began as I did free motion stitching on each petal.  After that, I needle felted the layers together and added a central yellow disk which I needle felted and then cut back the fibre until I was happy with the dome shape. Here are some photos I took of my progress.  I was really getting into it so forgot to take photos as I went along (maybe the mojo is returning):

Sample 2: prefelted flower petals and the start of the layering of the lighter colour pinks


Sample 2 is ready for wetting down


Sample 2 has now been fulled


Sample 2 dried and ready for free motion embroidery


Sample 2 with free motion embroidery completed


Sample 2 Layers are joined together and central disk has been needle felted into the flower


Sample 2: view of finished flower (still damp so not fully shaped).


Sample 2: view of finished flower (still damp so not fully shaped).


Sample 2: view of finished flower (still damp so not fully shaped).

Sample 3

My last piece this week is a personal piece I felt a compelling urge to complete.  When I left the hospital I was given instructions and bits and pieces to help the eyes heal.  Among these were non woven swabs which I found were really soft and well aerated.  I have no idea what they are made from but I reckoned they would work nicely on felt and I had lots left over.  So I made a bowl using two layers of undyed merino.  I wet this down, and then placed the non woven fabric on top, cut the pieces to size so that they fitted around the curves.  I then felted it in the normal way.  I cut a hole in the piece and removed the resist.  Then I sealed the raw edges.  When it came to fulling the pot I threw it quite energetically as I wanted to get additional texture on it.  Then I dried it.  There was nothing particularly spectacular about the result except that it was really soft and tactile.  I did not take any photos of this process as it was just the result of some personal urgency.   Using the 3cm hole at the back of the pot as an access point, I did some free motion embroidery stitching on my sewing machine.  It was as close as I will ever come to performing keyhole surgery!  It was challenging but I am pretty pleased with the result,  Again, the ruler at the bottom of the photo gives size perspective:

Sample three: small bowl covered with free motion machine embroidery


Sample 3 rear view featuring 3cm hole through which the embroidery was worked

Back to the question of creative block.  I don’t know if it is lifted but I think two things are helping me at the moment.  The first is making that commitment, whether it is to a person or a project, the second is keeping things small and manageable, that way I can handle complexities if a notion hits me on how I might enhance a piece.  Oh yes something else too, I have started to consciously seek not to be too precious about these pieces.  I have thrown paint and ink on pieces and woven stuff through them.  Not always producing happy little results (to paraphrase the artist, the late Bob Ross) but the process is freeing.


Have you had issues with creative block?  I appreciate that it is a personal journey to find what will work to free yourself up.  What may work for me may not necessarily work for someone else but if you would like to share your journey I would love to hear from you.  Together, we may be able to help others free themselves up and immerse themselves once again in this beautifully creative world we occupy.


Helene x

22 thoughts on “Just Playin’

  1. I also had double cataract surgery and it is life changing! I hadn’t realised how badly my colour vision had been affected and during the final 12 months I had triple vision – traffic lights looked like Christmas trees.

    Your ‘keyhole’ free motion stitching is amazing and has resulted in a lovely flower on a very pretty little pot. A successful use of a ‘foreign’ felting material 🙂

    The pink flower is gorgeous – I think the stitching gives it a delicacy that can be hard to achieve with felt.

    The first piece is very ‘geological’ and yes, it would make an interesting brooch. I really like the effect of the cutting revealing the coloured layers.

    You are right – starting with small projects is a good way to kick-start the creative spirit.

    1. Thanks Lyn, you are so correct, it is life altering. My daughter reminded me of when I was driving her one dark night last autumn. She suggested that I turn on the windscreen wipers to clear the rain and my response was ‘what rain’ . I think I have marred her lol. (and yes, we did the sensible thing, I pulled over and let her drive).

      Thanks again for your kind comments on the work.
      Helene x

  2. I have, and still am really, suffering from creative block as far as felting is concerned. At my age, 77, and with my inability to make time to properly market my work, I am constantly fighting against the “what’s the point” syndrome. I am running out of wall space for pictures, the people I give birthday and Christmas presents too are getting fewer. I have flashes of inspiration, which I think are getting more frequent, but …
    Anyway, I love your sample 1 and yes it’s a brooch I’d wear; and WOW that pink flower is beautiful, as is your little bowl, it seems you’re good at keyhole surgery, (perhaps the hospitals can use your expertise?) Isn’t it amazing what a difference stitches can make to felt?
    Your use of the spare swabs took me back to my early nuno felting days. My middle sister was a theatre nurse and at that time the hospitals were using cotton scrim swabs in theatre (they had little lead strips sewn to one corner so that, when the used swabs were counted after the operation and they came up one short, they knew that if they’d left one inside they could find it with the Xray machine!) Instead of throwing old swabs away, my sister gave them to me. These are ideal for adding strength to lightweight felt.
    Oh, and thanks for Leiko’s link – I love the free Japanese language lesson – at least the kanji, which are quite fascinating.

    1. Hi Ann,
      It is such a challenge when it comes to selling work. I think there is still a lack of appreciation about what can be achieved using wool. I was having a similar conversation with a friend recently. I am observing at exhibitions where work is for sale that there is a price point people feel comfortable paying, around E150 max. The trouble with that is I find original pieces take up so much time in the making that I would be seriously underselling my craft at that price. I am currently working on a bigger piece that has taken me at least 10 hours to lay out, I have yet to felt and embroider it, so I reckon it is destined for my walls too. It is disheartening and kind of impacts on ones creativity. But sure we will press on!

      Thank you for your kind comments. I am visualising myself arriving into the hospital and shouting out, right, who is next to be stitched up! It was great to have someone in the business able to provide you with the swabs. I had heard urban myths of theatre equipment going missing during ops. My mind’s eye is now visualising a protocol for a scalpel count before sending the patient off to post theatre – maybe the exit door could be fitted with a metal detector of some sorts that would rule out the trolley. I am sensing all the ingredients for a sit com.

  3. That pink flower is stunning, Hélène! I’m glad your mojo is coming back <3

    I went to a felting demo a couple of days ago by Moy Mackay and felt my creative juices flowing too! I can't do anything about it yet (I fell down and hurt my hand recently) but I've stored the experience in the back of my mind and will try something with flowers (hence my enthusiasm for your lovely one 😀 )

    I hope you continue to heal and thanks for sharing your journey with us 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Leonor. I hope your injury was not too nasty so that your hand heals quickly and that your downtime is not long.

      I imagine it was a super experience seeing Moy work and I am glad she has inspired you. I have some of her lovely books but I understand she appeared on landscape artist a few years ago. I must search the episodes out as I would love to see her in action.
      H x

  4. I love these three pieces Helene, and I would have difficulty in choosing my favourite. The bowl is lovely, such a moment when the red inside is seen. I think the swabs are the ‘common or garden’ packs of cotton gauze swabs that are great for all sorts of things! I also had a huge pile of them given to me last February and the previous July, but they have their purpose! I was so surprised to find a use for them making a felt bag (for a class). I’m so glad that you are better, that your eyes are on the mend, and I cannot wait to see all the work that you will make. It must be such a relief that your surgery has worked.

    1. Thanks a million Marie, yes, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the swabs (I like the idea of using them in your workshop), I suppose they were a bit of a novelty as they would not be generally around the house and they were so very welcome when it came to recovery. I have white coat syndrome (ironically hubby is a retired psychiatrist lol) so the sight of doctors or hospitals send the blood pressure soaring. I am NOT a good patient (although I am very quiet ….) Anyway, I see the optician for my new lenses this Saturday so once I get my sets of glasses it will be business as usual.
      Helene x

  5. Great pieces. I am glad you can see them now. LOL The flower made me think it need a lily pad to go with it. I can’t imagine trying to machine embroider in that little pot. what keeps me going is this blog. I need to make a post so I have to think of something to do or try. Other wise especially through Covid I am sure I wouldn’t have done a thing.

    1. Thanks Ann. I think we need to take it a step further though – the lily pad will need a frog who needs a fly ……..
      The flower in the hole kind of gained its own momentum – once started I just had to keep going. Lots of concentration, most likely a once off.
      How right you are! Having a due date for a blog post focusses the mind and working in a group I find also helps, so losing this during covid was quite the wrench. We will just keep chipping away at it until the flood gates open (fingers crossed).

  6. Helène your sample, exploration, get back to it pieces are brilliant.
    You must be delighted at being able to see colour & fine detail again.

    Your little keyhole surgery pot is testament not only to your renewed visual acuity but also to your nimble fingers and dexterity….you certainly challenged yourself from every direction on that one! I have your number….I’ll call upon you if I need keyhole work 🤪

    Is your brooch finished or will you add some beads/embroidery to it? It is quite a geological treasure & amazing to see it against its resist.

    Your stitching on the flower petals has given it a delicacy which will be further enhanced when totally dry as the viscose will provide a lovely shimmer – I’m sure it will be much appreciated.

    Mojo is a very delicate, almost fickle ‘commodity’ (I struggle to find an alternative word) that can’t be bought, and is affected by outside influences. Writing this and considering my situation, I’m now imagining it as like the weather (in Britain!)….when the sun is out it is great, creativity flows with enthusiasm. But constant clouds, frequently heavy with rain (yes, a metaphor!) can dampen Mojo and place it just out of reach. Like the sun, which is still there behind the clouds, the creative ideas might float around in the background, but those pesky clouds keep raining on enthusiasm!

    So for me, I question whether Mojo is the sun or whether it is enthusiasm. Mmmm, I’ve not thought about this before….I’ll now be giving it more thought….thanks Helène 🤔😩 x

  7. Thanks Antje. Every silver lining has a cloud – I am now seeing all the dust, cobwebs and today I discovered smear marks on the inside (between the double glazing) of some of our windows – too late to do anything about them as they are waaay out of guarantee! lol

    I managed to keep my fingers intact as I worked that little pot, although there were a couple of near misses. By the time I finished my machine was squeaking a bit so it was sent off for some TLC back to my super machine repair man. It headed off on a little DPD adventure and arrived back here today, feeling much better after its spa. Our lovely DPD man Stephen who has been on the route since covid, collected and delivered it back to me. I think it is lovely that we can get to know our postman and delivery men – about the only positives about the lockdowns – these guys were our heroes (rural living) and still remain so – a shared history. And yes, I am available for pub quizzes and keyhole surgery (preferably on doors🤪 ).

    I like your suggestion of further enhancement, once I get the new glasses, I will do further work on it. I won’t be using it in the swap though. I know my swap person would welcome it but her preferred colour differs so I want to make something I know she will wear. So this one will be ‘up for grabs’!

    I’m actually falling in love with the flower Antje. It may not make it as an offering. Ann has suggested a lily pad for it. Now I’m thinking a frog and a fly (or maybe a prince, or maybe the frog is the prince – I think mojo is coming back in a weird way).

    On that very topic, how eloquently you speak about mojo – every word is true. You are a proper wordsmith (I have always thought that about you so nothing new here). I do feel that if the group of us got together there would be sufficient mojo to take the roof off.
    Helene x

  8. Hélène,

    This is such a wonderful and inspiring blog post – it covers how to keep our creativity through life’s challenges AND includes three amazing felting projects. Also, thank you for tackling such beautifully ambitious flowermaking for the Feltmakers Ireland’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. It’s a splendid flower!

    So glad that you came and helped us at our recent Open Day – we could not have managed without you!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words.

      I really enjoyed our get together last Sunday. There was a great buzz to the venue and it was so lovely to see so many members of the public embrace this old and beautiful craft.
      Helene x

  9. Glad your sight and mojo are getting better 😀 I have been traveling so I am a bit late to the comments party. I agree with everyone on your pieces, they’re great. Looking forward to seeing more of your creations.

    1. Thanks a million Ruth, I hope your travels were both fun and fruitful.
      Helene x

  10. Lovely blog post, Hélène.
    I have not experienced catarats yet, but I remember my great-aunt who had that eye surgery and suddenly started to exclaim over ordinary sights as all the true colours came back to her! She felt like a child discovering the world anew, and I guess that a creative soul like yours can’t fail to get fresh motivation from such an experience.
    When some film director wants to show a situation as dull or depressing or desperately cold, they use filters that make all colours fade into a mix of greys and blue-greys: I had cataracts described to me as giving all things a dull grey or blue-grey tint, no wonder that it can drive someone to feel not interested in visual expression and lose their mojo!

    I find your techniques for your gorgeous brooch particularly inspiring, and I love its final marbled 3D effect. I hope that your brooch will give you a lot of joy and I hope to see the actual exchange brooch when you will finish it.

  11. Thanks so much for your kind words. Everything your great aunt said is true. The acuity and vibrancy is quite incredible – it’s quite wonderous what skilled physicians can achieve these days. Hard to believe that it has been on the go since the mid 1700s. I am really pleased that they are done. Unfortunately the latest one is taking time to settle down so I will have to see how things go in that regard.

    That is quite a fun technique and it’s great to get scissor happy every now and then, have you tried it yet? I will be heading back to the drawing board for the exchange brooch so fun times ahead!

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