Browsed by
Author: helenefeltzen

Travelling and Textiles – a perfect mix!

Travelling and Textiles – a perfect mix!

It’s summer time here in Ireland and the living is, well, slightly more laid back than the norm.  Having decided to metaphorically kick off the shoes for the month of July, I thought it might be nice just to “see and share ” rather than “do” and this forms the basis of my post.

Before I start on the main focus of this post (my holiday in Italy),   I just have to show you a beautiful piece that totally blew me away.  Before heading off, I visited Dublin’s Botanical Gardens.  Founded in 1795, it is an oasis of calm for any visitor and I would highly recommend a visit if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.  While there, I noticed that there was a patchwork exhibition happening in one of their exhibition spaces.  This piece just caught me, so I want to share it with you.  The artist is Ethelda Ellis and the piece is called ‘Aoife’s View’.  The curator told me that Ethelda is a medical doctor by profession.  If you would like to see more of Ethelda’s beautiful creations check out her blog:

Now, to the Italian holiday.  We headed to Como mid-July and, in spite of the heatwave, spent our time sightseeing and eating!  Our base was Como which is to the north of Italy, right beside Switzerland.  Lake Como is totally dwarfed by the Alps – a really beautiful place.

We called into the Cathedral, the Duomo which was magnificent internally and externally.  I reckon that to appreciate all its beauty would take months observing 24/7!  I want to share with you a small area of a tapestry which was made in 1610 and which underwent restoration in 1990.  It was impossible to get a good photo of the entire masterpiece as so much detail would have been lost.  So I settled for a little!

One of our tours took us to the tiny picturesque village of Orta which is situated on Lake Orta.  It was recommended that we visit the interior of the local church which was situated at the top of a steep street.

My journey was interrupted by the sound of a piano recital and when I investigated I discovered a rather special textile exhibition happening in the same building.  The works exhibited were by Sergio Cerini.  The artist merges his early experiences in the Italian high fashion industry with his current artworks, producing beautiful pieces which are in essence a mix of paper mache and textiles.  The description does not do justice to his widely exhibited pieces and he was reluctant to allow me to photograph his work.  He did, however pose in front of one of the pieces and others can be viewed on his Instagram page @sergiocerini

Since the 1800s, the city of Como was historically the main producer of Italian silk.  When ultimately production was outsourced to China, the area was in danger of losing connection with its cultural heritage.  The large factory was bought by the Hilton hotel chain.  These photos show early paintings of the factory, what it became at the height of the industry and where it is now (apologies for the reflection on the glass):


Rather than allow the old machinery to be lost to history, a wise decision was taken about 10 years ago to set up an Educational Silk Museum to preserve these beautiful machines.  Along with displaying the machinery, some of which dates back to the nineteenth century, the museum offers interactive videos and exhibits of high fashion clothing.  Unfortunately this section was not open during my visit but I thought it might be fun to show you some of the many machines featured.  So please, grab a cuppa, sit back and I hope you enjoy the show.  I have included captions for ease of reference.


Spinning Spirals and other topics.

Spinning Spirals and other topics.

A few years ago, while searching for an online textile workshop, I happened upon one that made me curious.  I was familiar with the tutor’s name, Ruth Lane, as her book “The Complete Photo Guide to Felting” was and continues to be one of my ‘go-to’ reference books.  Among its many attributes are two that I hold important, good writing and clarity.

At the time, Ruth was offering, among her courses, one titled   Nuno Felting with Paper Fabric Lamination.  This four week course is available under the heading Embellishing Felt With Surface Design Techniques – A Mixed Media Approach.

(  Ruth lived up to expectations by providing concise instructions on her methods.  The smaller class size made the whole experience very personal and enjoyable.  It also provided a space where I, as a participant could interact easily with fellow students – it’s something personally I think important as sometimes on-line classes can leave me feeling quite remote.

I was absolutely delighted when Ruth asked me to write some posts for the Felting and Fiber Studio blog and when I finally decided to design and produce the online Spiral Workshop I was thrilled when it was accepted as one of the courses on the FFS workshop platform.  I feel so comfortable with the whole ethos of small class sizes and encouraging participants to engage with others if they so desire.

The Spiral workshop came about as a result of a challenge put to me by a fellow felter.  Once I had refined my technique I set about filming each step of the process.  I wanted clarity as, to a large extent, the videos needed to replace my physical presence in the learning space –  that said as with all courses offered by FFS, tutors are available to answer questions for the duration of the course.

Once the full course was recorded, I set about editing the material. This did not involve a lot of deletions.  Instead the videos were broken into smaller steps which would make particular elements of the process easier to locate for participants.  Each video has an accompanying PDF which again is broken into steps to match the videos.  These are available for participants to keep and the videos are available for the duration of the course (and a few extra weeks).

This will be the third run of the course which will start on 26th August.  Registration for it opens today (12th August) and numbers will be limited to make the experience more intimate.

Here are some photos of students’ work.  They are all so gorgeous and so different. I have included some of the reviews at the end of the video.


If you are interested in finding out a bit more, feel free to check out the following link:



A competition win, Downton Abbey, the Sewing Bee and a super cool party

A competition win, Downton Abbey, the Sewing Bee and a super cool party

I recently won something!  As a person who hasn’t won a raffle since I was 6 years of age this was an exciting development and might finally encourage me to buy a lottery ticket.  My prize was two tickets to a birthday party.  Fatale Events, a super cool Irish events company were celebrating their 10th birthday with a big party.  The first part was a screening of the 1970’s film Cabaret which was followed by dancing until the wee hours of the morning.  The dress code was in the period of the film (early 1930s).

Like Cinderella, I had nothing to wear and, as the Fairy Godmother is away on extended holidays, it was time to don the thinking cap and start creating.  To be perfectly honest I have been going through a really dry period creatively so I was glad of the challenge.

So it was time to head online to check out the fashions of the time.  The brief stipulated “flapper”.  Now, I will readily admit that I am no spring chicken so the gorgeous pieces I saw online would have to be toned down a bit.  Think Downton Abbey, now visualise somewhere between Cora and Violet Crawley (though to be fair,  maybe closer to Cora!).  Anyway the fashions of the time were a bit ‘matchy matchy’ which made the job a lot easier.  Flapper dresses were unstructured, sometimes with a fuller skirt.  I visualised a longer style, a bit above the ankle.

Next, a pattern.  There was no time to source a vintage one (which would have needed adjusting anyway).  I found an unstructured dress in one of my books from an early series of The Great British Sewing Bee.

Recommended fabric for this dress was silk but since this was a ‘costume’ I was ready to break rules.  As an aside, I sometimes design and make for the stage.   I felt that I could do a hacking job on this pattern so the first step was to trace it.  A bit of a challenge as, while the book offers lots of great patterns, they are all drawn on a few pages rather than individually.

I measured to just the top of my legs and made this the cut off point on the pattern as I was going to add a full skirt.  Once I traced the pattern from the book, I adjusted the front to form a deep V shape and drew a corresponding V pattern piece.  I also made the corresponding adjustments to the neck facings.

Then, having calculated my fabric requirements I headed off to make the purchase.  I chose a stretch velour because it was cheap and this dress was a one-wear costume.  The colours were chosen to tie in with a gorgeous jewelled appliqué that I bought a number of years ago.  They were also colours which fitted in with the period represented by the dress.

Then it was time to get cutting, making sure that all pieces were laid in the same direction. (The velour is like velvet in that it is different shades depending on the direction it is viewed from).

Once the bodice was cut out I sewed the two fronts together and then top stitched the seam.  I used a zigzag stitch on the seams throughout.  Then I got to work on the V front.  I was a bit nervous as this was my first godet but it worked, even though I was working with stretch material!

I then sewed the back together and also topstitched it.  The pattern top had a yoke and, as I don’t believe in making life easy for myself, I decided to insert a co-ordinating piping in the front and back shoulder seams using the gold fabric.   I felt that this would add stability to a stretchy fabric.   I cut the strips on the grain where there was no stretch and prepared the piping by sewing cord into the strips.  Then I attached to the yoke.

I then sewed the yoke to the main bodice.  Next, I added a light interlining to the neck facing and attached it to the bodice. I then cut two strips of the gold material and added it to the sleeve area to give some colour balance to the bodice.  At this point I sewed the front to the back and hemmed the sleeves.

Once this was done I was able to decide on the length I wanted the dress to be.  So, having measured this and allowing for seam and hem, I cut two widths of the green fabric which I sewed together.  I then decided to hem it before sewing it on to the bodice as I reckoned that there was enough fabric to negate any slight deviation that might occur in the hem length (plus the dress was going to be worn in a dark club).  I then gathered it having divided the skirt into four sections so that I could control the gathers a bit better when attaching the skirt to the bodice.

Once that was completed, I sewed the appliqué onto the front.  This was a bit of a challenge to get straight but I got there in the end.


And here it is!

The dress felt great on but I was missing accessories.  So I felted a hat.  I called upon my youngest son, Cian to pick out merino wool fibre colours which would blend with the dress.  He did not disappoint.  I made a cloche hat, then added two bands of the green and gold velour to pull the outfit together.

I had made a bag some time ago in a mustard colour Corriedale fibre which finished off this ‘matchy  matchy’ theme.


I popped on my brown buckled shoes, feeling very pleased that, despite not wearing them too often, I had decided to keep them rather than send them to a charity shop.

The night was tremendous and great fun.  Happy birthday Film Fatale!  I wish you many more years of cool events and spreading happiness.  Thanks for a great evening!

Rising to the second quarter challenge (I hope)

Rising to the second quarter challenge (I hope)

Following what seemed like a never-ending period in creative limbo, the second quarter challenge has gotten me thinking again.  The photos were all amazing but one in particular set me thinking:

It’s funny, loading the photo as reference now, it is not like I remember it in my mind’s eye.  I thought the pole was further over to the left side of the photo.  (Like most people, I would make a very unreliable eye witness).  Having said that, it was the inspiration for what comes next.

It is said that a picture paints a thousand words and I thought I would add to my interpretation of the challenge by posting in photos and minimising my word count.

I thought I might post up a small project that could be completed by either new or experienced felt makers – one that could act as a ‘blank canvas’ for further development if the maker wanted to do this.  Or the project could be completed just following the photos.  It really will be in the hands of the creative.  If you decide to give it a go, why not post your results to the site.  You can do this through the following link, we would love to see them:

Here is what you will need for the project:

  • Your basic felting equipment (bubble wrap, soapy water, towel, pool noodle, white vinegar (optional))
  • Pattern: 23cm square piece of cardboard.  this will act as your guide when you are laying our the fibre.
  • A little light plastic (like decorator’s plastic)
  • Smallish round shape (for example a cookie cutter 5cm diameter approximately)
  • Tops/Roving in your choice of colours.
  • Bits of fibre, silks viscose etc for embellishing your picture (optional)
  • Iron/Ironing board
  • Most of all your creativity.

So, here we go.  Just follow the photos and happy felting!

Here are some other flower pictures that I made.  I have mounted them on canvas which I covered with thermoformable felt (left over from my hat project).  The hat project was covered in one of my earlier posts  (link: )


Brooches, bags, booties and other stuff: in search of the elusive bamboo mat.

Brooches, bags, booties and other stuff: in search of the elusive bamboo mat.

I decided to return to basics and take an introduction to wet felting course.  I am hoping to become a training mentor with the International Feltmakers Association and thought that rather than observe the interaction within this course; I would throw myself into it.  Despite felting for the best part of 10 years I will readily admit I am learning loads – happy days!  The course involves sampling various breeds of sheep for, among other attributes shrinkage rate and required finishing the fulling by rolling the sample in a bamboo mat.

I knew I had them somewhere in my workroom – you might be familiar with the process – one puts something away safely for use in the future and then one promptly forgets where it is!  My room was a disaster area after the Christmas holidays as it had become a dumping ground.  It was quite the miracle that I could even find the work table let alone the bamboo mat.  A tidy was on the cards.

As I started tidying, I uncovered a number of unfinished projects which I reckoned would fulfil the criteria of this quarter’s challenge.  Let’s just call it as it is, repurposing something stuck in the back of a closet into something a bit more useful.  Those unfinished projects started with great enthusiasm then put by when I ran out of steam!

First up was the unfinished silk throw which I started in June 2021.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I had inherited lots of fabrics from my husband’s Aunt Kathleen.  In amongst them were small lengths of beautifully coloured wild silk which I had cut into squares and sewn together.  I had gotten as far as putting wadding and a backing on to it so I added a binding and machine stitched (diagonally)  through the layers to complete the throw.  Sorry that I forgot to take a photo of the piece before I attacked it – just one of my work in progress and the finished throw.  I have to say I just love the richness of the colours!  I took the throw out into the garden to photograph but it was so windy it was difficult to catch so this photo does not capture the sheen off it.  You can just about see the pattern from the diagonal machine stitching.


Back to the presses where I discovered a pile of felt that I had made up – not sure for what reason – long forgotten.  Some of it was plain and I had experimented by nuno felting various silks onto another piece.  One piece was a beautiful red and it inspired me to make a heart brooch.  I cut out my shape and then put it through the sewing machine a number of times using a zigzag stitch on the edge.  I then sewed a brooch pin on the back.  Here is the result in time for Valentine’s Day (note the bottles of champagne in the background which still have not been removed from my workroom):

I then cut a rectangular shape from the nuno felted sample and zigzag stitched around this in a similar manner to the heart.

These were quick and easy to make (once the initial felting was done) and they have potential for selling at Christmas fairs or including in cards as small gifts.

I keep my handbags in my workroom.  I have a beautiful black leather bag that I paid a fortune for in the 1990’s and have worn it to death.  The colour of the bag is now nearly grey and it’s scuffed – it is normal wear and tear – I don’t believe in using something I love only on occasion.  I had enquired about having the bag renovated but the quotation from the one place I knew who did this kind of work was way up in the hundreds so I did not want to go there.  Instead the bag greeted me forlornly every time I walked into the room.  It was like it was pleading with me to put it back to work again.  I headed off to our shoe menders who said that there were no guarantees that any leather dye would work on bags (they are apparently specifically for shoes).  I decided to take a chance as I did not want to scrap the bag.  It was time to redeploy it.  I used two coats of spray on the bag and now it is as good as new.  I am so pleased.  Unfortunately I did not take a ‘before’ photo but this is how it turned out.

Back in the day when my daughter was at college, she worked in a high end retail store.  Like her mother she fell in love with a leather bag and spent most of her week’s wages on it.  Within a month it looked worn out as it scuffed easily and the colour came away.  So she talked to the buyer and got a replacement only to find the same thing happened.  Disappointed the bag was discarded as it was not fit to be seen.  She told me to throw it out as she felt she would not insult a charity shop by donating it.  Armed with my new confidence I headed back to the shoe repair shop and purchased another dye.  This time I opted for a paint rather than a spray on dye and got to work painting on two coats.  I left it to dry thoroughly for a couple of days and then presented it for inspection.  I have to admit I fell in love with it and I was hoping she might hate the slightly changed colour so I could keep it.  She loved it (secretly I am delighted as she is a fussy lady) and she is now never without it on her shoulder when she is heading out!


Then I found a cheap carrier bag that I had purchased while on holidays a number of years ago.  I remember that it cost €1 (which is less than £1 and around US$1).  The handle was torn and the zip, which was used to tidy the bag when not in use was broken.

It was a bit of a sorry sight but I liked the plastic coated fabric and the challenge of repurposing it.  First of all I removed the zip to see if there was any life left in it.  When I was examining it I fell in love with the rainbow effect of the colours on the teeth and made up my mind to salvage it if I could.  I then unpicked the outer pocket that housed the folded bag  and dismantled the bag by cutting away the side and bottom seams and the handles.  This left me with two pieces of material and I cut two rectangles from these, using as much of the fabric as I could.  My intention was to double over the material so that the bag was self lined.  In effect, the bag would be half the size of the cut rectangles (less seam allowance) and I would be sewing through four layers.

Next, I removed the broken tag on the zip using a pliers and I opened the little hook on the mechanism as wide as I could so that I could fit in a fabric tag as a replacement.

I hand sewed the top and the bottom of the zip, cut the zip to size and then covered these areas with remnants  of the bag fabric. Here’s a photo of the mended zip:

I drew a line at the centre of the rectangles of fabric  and sewed through the two rectangles using a big stitch in preparation for inserting the zip (as per Teri Berry).  Then it was time to tackle the zip so I did this using the method Teri outlined in her post of 12th January (thanks Teri, it worked a treat).

I then sewed the original outer pocket back on to one side of the rectangle.

I turned the bag inside out (you might recall that the bag is self lined so the material is the same inside and outside.  I used quilters’ clamps and pins to hold the pieces together and sewed through the material rounding the corners.

I then used my sheers to neaten the seams.

So here is the finished odds and ends bag.  I hope I have added value to it and it will sell for more than its original €1 price tag when it hits the charity shop.

Did I ever find that elusive bamboo mat?  Yes I did in the very last box in the room.  It was worth the search.  I am feeling virtuous (or is that a bit smug) with my finished projects, ‘new’ leather bag, happy daughter and completed upcycling project.

Oh yes and tidy workroom.  Bets are on as to how long that lasts!

A little post script which happened since I uploaded the post.  A friend of mine asked if I could help out with a handmade gift for a new arrival.  Something small, so in the end we settled on booties.  I wanted to keep the price as reasonable as I could for her so I searched through my stash of felt samples.  In the middle of it I came across a hat which I made in my early days and which was waaaay too small for my head.  So out came the scissors and I took over the role of shoe elf (part time).  Thankfully I could work during day time when the real elves were asleep.  I found a free pattern on Pattern Bee ( and got to work.  So here is the result.  I hope my friend and the new parents like them.

I will readily admit I spent quite some time out of my comfort zone putting together this post.  Cutting into things does not come easy to me and I have fabrics that I caress every now and again, afraid that if I make that cut I will destroy it.  But it was good to let go on items where I had nothing to lose if things went wrong.  New things created from old things discarded.

Have you anything that you recently repurposed?  Perhaps this post has inspired you to finish off a project that has lingered in the back of the cupboard.  Perhaps you make do and mend.   If so, we would love to see your work.  Here is a link where you can upload a photo and write a brief description of what you have done .  The process is quick and simple and it’s just one click away.   I would love for my next post to feature our reader’s work.  Let’s get this conversation going.  We can all inspire each other.

Christmas time is toy time!

Christmas time is toy time!


Now it is a long time since any of my offspring expressed an interest in soft toys.  That said, I still enjoy making them every now and then.

Back in 2013, I was very fortunate to be awarded a trip to Finland.  It was under the European Union’s Lifelong Learning Programme.  The project brought together European citizens from throughout the Union and the aim of the project centred around new skills’ acquisition and learning/appreciating other countries’ cultures.  Subjects covered included spinning, weaving, sewing and crochet and the focus was on reuse and recycling.  It was a fantastic week.  I got hooked on crochet and when I returned home I enjoyed myself crocheting with and without patterns.

I started crocheting owls, they were great fun to make, I made tiny ones and huge ones – One ended up being used as a cushion by its young recipient.  Here are some of the owl family:


These led to a collaboration with a Maths teacher and these three ended up at an international maths conference:

Then came my interpretations of the famous Minions.  These ended up being gifted to various households:

When my friend became a grandmother, baby added this bunny to her soft toy collection (made with pattern):


This little guy had to stay here with me as I used teddy eyes (choking hazard).  He stands in a corner overseeing my work:

Most recently, I made this little hare for another friend’s little girl (again made with a pattern).  He hasn’t left the house yet and our off-spring (age range 25 to 31)  reposition him regularly – I am liable to find him in various parts of the house – it is possibly best if I hand him over before he gets lost.


Here’s a few of the toys I have sewed in recent years.  The patterns came from a website Bustle and Sew ( and are worth checking out.

I made a number of the elephants.  Here are a couple of them.  The brown material was sourced from the inherited stash – the floral (orange/green base)  material came from the days when Debenhams used to sell dress fabric (the name was printed on the selvedge:


I also made a few of the little dogs.  The pattern came from the same website:

I made this little teddy (again, the pattern was free from .  I found the fabric while rummaging through my husband’s aunt’s stash which she had bequeathed me.  It was an unfinished dress and the fabric is cord.  Again this little toy was to keep due to its sentimental origins (and its teddy bear eyes):


A more cuddly version made from fleece suitable for an older child (again the eyes and nose were the issue):

Another friend recently asked me to make her little one a Christmas stocking.  Both she and her hubby are visually impaired (she has around 5% sight and he was born without sight).  So I thought it would be good to add a very definite colour to the stocking so that she could see it more easily. The stocking was pretty straightforward and measures 16.5 inches (42cm) by 12.5 inches (32cm).  I appliquéd the little one’s name unto the front of the stocking.  It really was a fun make.


So this is my last post for 2021.  I hope some content within my posts got your creative juices flowing in perhaps a different direction.  I hope you all get a chance for some R & R over the festive season and I wish each and every one of you good health and much happiness in 2022.






‘Tis the season to … make a Christmas tree

‘Tis the season to … make a Christmas tree

Given that it is already nearly the end of November, I thought I would finally indulge myself with thoughts of the festive season.  As I am sitting here writing, a few thoughts came to mind including how advertising for Christmas seems to get earlier each year.  Here in Ireland I have seen ads in August which, like the vampire seeing sunrise, causes me to turn quickly away, run in the opposite direction, and bury my head.

That said, we have a local and, until recently, privately owned supermarket who sells Easter eggs on Christmas Eve.  What started as a joke one year became a tradition locally.  The supermarket owner, sadly now gone to his reward, would hold an annual Christmas dinner for his elderly customers.  Every year each customer was gifted a shopping trolley load full of groceries which they got to wheel home from the party.  This kindness was not advertised.  It was not used as a form of promotion.  This is what made it so special.  I suspect this story is not unique.  There are a lot of kind folk in our world.  If you can lighten our hearts with a story like this one please feel free to share it in the comments section.

In the spirit of sharing I thought it might be fun to make and share a felted Christmas tree with you all.  It is made around a very simple book resist (only three pages) and takes less than 50g of merino wool.  I am including full instructions for anyone new to felting or to the concept of using book resists so if you would like to give it a try, here is what you need:

  • Your usual felting equipment (bubble wrap or equivalent, soap, warm water, vinegar, your hands, towel etc)
  • 50g Merino wool
  • Enhancements (eg silk viscose etc) – optional
  • Bandage cotton (or a piece of cotton with a really loose weave)
  • Heavy plastic for resist (I use under floor insulation material) also decorator’s plastic which will act as a protector between the pages of the book resist.
  • Ruler, marker
  • Pins, needle, thread, scissors
  • Kitchen roll holder (optional but good for popping the tree on to shape and dry)

Step 1 – making the book resist:

Using the floor underlay (resist material) draw an Isosceles triangle – draw a 40cm line and mark at 20cm.  Now draw a 60cm line up from that point.  Join the top to both sides of the 40cm line as in the photo:

Now cut out two of these triangles from the resist material and join them together along the central line using a needle and thread.  Also put a little stitch through the two resists (see the arrow in the picture).  This will create a three page book resist:

Step 2 the layout:

Next, cut out three triangles, the same size as the resist, from the bandage cotton.  Place the first one on the first page of the resist.  Since it is white on white it is hard to see in the photo.   Spray it with water to keep it in place.

Weigh out 3 x 15g of the merino wool.  Using approximately 10g, lay down the first layer of the fibre in a “criss cross” manner.  Now lay out the additional 5g and then add on embellishments.


Wet down and cover with a sheet of light plastic protector.  Wet the protector and rub the fibre through the protector:

Once the fibre is wet through, lift up the bottom of the protector.  Place a thin roll of fibre along the fibre just at the base of the resist.  Now fold over the excess of the laid out fibre over this roll.  Wet down and add a little embellishment to the base.  This will tidy off the base.  Cover with the protector.

Then turn the page to page 2 of the resist:

Next lay out the second triangle of bandage cotton and spray it to keep it in place.  Then, fold over the edge of the fibre onto the second page of the resist (see arrows):

Repeat the laying out process in the same manner as before.  Once this is complete, cover with another sheet of the protector and continue on to page three of the book resist.  Tidy in all the loose fibres around the edges:

Step 3 felting and fulling the tree:

Start the felting process, gently rubbing the fibres through the protector.  Take special care of the edges of the pages.  Once the fibres are secure, it’s time to roll.  Using the bubble wrap pool noodle and towel  and leaving the protectors in place roll approximately 60 times in each direction (north, south, east and west) on each page:

Once the tree has started to shrink, set aside the pool noodle and the bubble wrap and roll using the protector (leave the resist in place) 60 times in each direction on each page:

Then remove the book resist and the protectors:

Turn the tree inside out and continue fulling with the bandage cotton on the outside.  Check every now and again to make sure the tree surface is not felting together:

Work the bottom edge by rolling the edges (see arrow in photo):

Keep shrinking the tree until there’s 40% shrinkage (the tree’s height reduces from 60cm to about 36cm.  During this process, I warmed the felt up in the microwave (40 to 50 seconds on high each time being watchful not to burn the wool):


Step 4 – Getting scissor happy and finishing off:

Measure out spaces for slits and cut into each space at an angle so that the flaps are shaped like a V.  I graded these so that the bottom layer is 3cm deep, next layer up is 2.5cm etc.  In total there are 6 columns of flaps.  (Just be aware that the first and third photos here  show just one of three sides of the tree – I still have it shaped like the book resist is inside). Tidy up the bottom of the tree and seal all the cuts.


Rinse using some vinegar in the final rinse and roll in a towel to remove excess water.  Shape the tree pulling out the flaps along the way.  Leave to dry:


Looking slightly wonky when wet!

Here’s a view from the top of the tree to show how I chose to shape mine.

Here is the finished tree.  The 40% shrinkage has helped with stability despite its height.  I popped a set of fairy lights inside it to finish it off.  With the benefit of hindsight, I should have added contrasting embellishment to the tree as I found the ‘green viscose on green merino quite flat, especially when the light is turned off.  Examining the surface closely the sheen of the viscose has been lost, especially given the amount I used.  I think white would have been a lot more impressive.  Having said that, this will give me the opportunity to take fabric paint to the piece.  Gold or silver, what do you think?

Here are alternatives I made a few years ago.  These little trees were felted on ordinary resists using small, medium and large triangles.  Sorry the photos are not better but the trees are still in storage.  I embroidered silver stars on the red tree, inserted lights in the green one and sewed little baubles onto the white one:

I love hand made Christmas decorations.  It doesn’t really matter what they are made of – it could be fabric or felt or perhaps paper. Maybe crochet or knit.  I believe that the one thing they all share is that they are made out of love.  What do you think?  Do you have some favourite pieces that you would like to share?  Or perhaps this piece has spurred you on to making something – perhaps even a Christmas tree.  I would love for you to share them here.

Wishing you joy, peace, health and happiness this Christmas!

sending a virtual hug to each and every one of you,


Time to show, tell and imagine

Time to show, tell and imagine

I just want to give you some background into this little story.

I was so fortunate when I got married all those years ago.  Hubby came with a wonderful extended family.  Lest I leave anyone with the impression of interference on any of their part, these were all formidable, strong women, born in the 1920s and 30s who were interesting and interested but never prying.  Every single one of them was creative and all lived well into their 80s.  Three are still with us and, despite the years, their characters have not changed.   I feel privileged to have known them all for the greater part of my life.

So, back to my story.  One of the aunts, Kathleen, passed a few years ago.  In her working life she was the Head of an Arts and Crafts Department at College (adult) level.  She was a great collector of beautiful objects and when she died she left me her collection of textiles.  I used one of these to line the 1950’s style hat I featured in my last post (September 18th).

All the fabrics filled two cars so I decided to catalogue them when I got them home.  I should mention here that my dining room was out of commission for some time while I carried out this task.  I noted dimensions, cut a sample and categorised each piece.  There were rich silks from her early travels in Asia, beautiful wools (Prato, Italy is embedded on the side on one piece), edgy cottons from the 60’s, fabrics with exclusive stand alone labels included on the selvages – all in all there were over 450 pieces, which I documented and stored in boxes.  Realistically I knew I could never use them all so I shared with various sewing enthusiasts.  My aim was purely to recoup the cost of all the storage boxes I had to buy so excited buyers got to enjoy top class coat weight 100% wool fabric for €15 (this was the maximum charged).  In short, I shared some of the joy Kathleen gave me.

While sorting through all the fabrics I made two other amazing finds and it is one of these that I want to bring to you today.  It was a sampler which my husband’s aunt no doubt picked up in an English or Scottish auction house at some stage in her life.  I suspect it was an examination piece as the name on the side in perfect copperplate handwriting is ‘Edith M. S. Simpson No. 48’.  The date, which is cross stitched into the top of the piece is 1900.  The folder used to hold the pieces looks to be handmade – although a sewing machine has been used to bind the edges.  Yellow silk has been hand sewn into the folder and acts as a backdrop for all the pieces.  The samples are, in my mind, perfection.  I hope Edith scored highly in her exam.  I wonder what became of her.  I hope she had a happy life but given the tumultuous events which would occur in the world throughout the following 20 years, I suspect she faced down many challenges and heartaches like many women of that era.

I hope you enjoy the photos and perhaps pause for a moment or two to think about Edith.  Never in her wildest dreams would she have thought that all her painstakingly beautiful work would one day be shown to a worldwide audience.

With sincerest thanks to my husband Enda for the photography.

The closed pack.  Still beautiful after 120 years.

For scale the complete pack is 22 inches by 15 inches (56 by 39cm)

The young lady herself – look at that copperplate handwriting

Inserting a patch  and teeny tiny knitting.  There are over 15 rows in the middle knitted sample and it measures only 1 inch square.

Cross stitching her initials, knitting on the round and a beautiful sock sample (heel) length 2 inches

More patching, on very fine wool this time.  Look at the size of the cross stitches.  Below decorative stitching gold and blue on linen.

More  fine stitching (gold/blue) this time on fine wool.  Gathering for a sleeve.  A buttonhole the sample measure 3 by 1.5 inches.

Darning on fine knit:

Tiny gathers.  I counted 66 gathers into the cuff:

I think this is a placket but happy to be corrected:

A patch.  Look at the perfect matching:

A patch on fine wool.  Look at the tiny cross stitches.  There are also two rows of tiny running stitch around the triangle.

Not sure what the top piece is called.  The bottom could be a decorative line of stitches for a collar:

A hand sewn French seam.

(Top) more fine gathering. Can you see the tiny little holes created by stitches in the bottom of the gathering?

(Bottom) Pin tucks with a decorative stitch.

It’s good to bend rules now and again (part 2)! (followed by exciting announcement!)

It’s good to bend rules now and again (part 2)! (followed by exciting announcement!)

I mentioned back in August that, having made this brimmed hat, I returned to the DHG Italy website where I purchased the industrial felt last June.  Here is the link to the August blog:

My original intention was to cover some canvas bases for exhibition pieces.  I had purchased two colours, black and blue and, as I only used the black on the canvas’s I had the blue to play with.  According to their website, the industrial wool is made up of 90% wool (Australian and South American) and 10% polyester.  DHG also mention that “This felt can be used as a traditional felt (cut, sewn, glued) but also by exploiting its thermoformability.” 

I decided to do a bit more research into the felt’s ‘thermoformability’ and my first port of call was the company’s website.  I was able to download a short simple set of instructions on how to add form to the felt using heat.

I thought it might be fun to work on a project that would take in this quarter’s challenge which is focusing on the 1950s.  It was time to put the thinking cap on and research hats of that era.  I consulted my vintage ‘oracle’ (my daughter Katie) and quickly decided on a half hat.  Katie mentioned that ladies wore these to accommodate stylish ‘front’ hairdos – the hair was curled to the front and back and that meant that these hats were placed on the back section of the head where the hair would have been flat.

She agreed to model the finished piece so I set about making a tin foil mould of her head.  At this point, she refused to be photographed wearing a tin foil hat (after all, this young woman has a reputation to maintain) so here it is on a lifeless model:


Next, I took her measurements.  I cut out a piece of felt 31cm (this was the measurement ear across the top of her head to the other  ear) by 25cm (depth to allow for folds in the felt). I placed pins when I wanted the folds to occur then I started folding the felt:


The DHG instructions recommended that, while the felt could be pinned when it was being shaped, ultimately all shaping should be tacked in place.  This tacking would remain in place until the piece had cooled down after it was ‘baked’ in the oven. All pins had to be removed as there was a distinct possibility that they would permanently mark the ‘baked’ felt.   So it was time to secure all the shapes – I used polyester thread for this purpose:

The next task involved securing it to the tin foil mould of Katie’s head.  More tacking.

Then, it was into the electric oven at 150 degrees centigrade (300F) for exactly 20 minutes.  The instructions stated that if it was left in any longer the wool would burn.  Also, temperature differed for lighter coloured felt which, it stated required a lower temperature of 130C.  It could also be ‘cooked’ in the microwave (5 minutes at 850W).  If I had used a microwave I could not have used the tin foil so I was happy to use the oven.

Once removed from the oven, the felt had to be left to cool fully so that the polymers in the polyester to set in position:

Once it was fully cooled down I removed all of the threads.  It was a bit time consuming as I had fixed them firmly into the felt but that was okay.  Here’s the result:


Next, it was time to cut out the lining.  In keeping with the vintage theme I found a piece of wild silk that my aunt had given me.  She was a fantastic lady and like the rest of her family, an artist to the core.  She was head of the Art faculty in one of our Third Level (university) colleges and a great collector of fabrics all of which she bequeathed to me when she died.  While the silk was not from the 50s it was pretty close to that era.  So I cut the fabric slightly smaller than my original measurements and hemmed it using my sewing machine.  Then I ironed in some pleats and hand-sewed the lining onto the inside of the hat.

As this is a half hat, I added a comb to the middle front of the hat and sewed elastic loops for bobby pins – one on each side:

It was then time to decorate the hat.  Given that Katie planned to do something special with the front section of her hair, I decided to decorate the back of the hat.  I used faux pearls which were mounted on thin strips of gold coloured wire and attached them with transparent nylon thread.

It was time for the photo shoot and my model did not let me down!  It was lovely to see her dress up – full hair, makeup and vintage style frock.  She has not had the opportunity over the past year and a half as we have been locked down for most of it.  Thank you Katie for going to so much trouble.

I am pleased with the result.  The instructions suggested using glue to help hold the shapes but I found that by taking time over the tacking and securing everything very well the folds stuck together during the baking process.  It is worth noting that DHG state that one can expect lighter colours to darken a bit during the baking process.

Does this inspire you to try their Industrial felt?  If so, what would you make?

Now, on a completely separate note, I am really excited to be able to share details of the launch of my Hanging Felted Spiral tutorial which will start up on October 29th.  Please access details through the following link:

Spaces on this four week workshop will be limited so places will be allocated on a first come basis.  Here is a glimpse of what you will learn to make during the tutorial:


It’s good to bend rules now and again (Part 1)!

It’s good to bend rules now and again (Part 1)!

I placed my annual order of goodies from DHG Italy in June.  I just love the process of opening the big box and checking off all the colourful goodies housed within.  Anyway, as I am creating some pieces for upcoming exhibitions, I included some industrial felt in the order which, according to the DHG website the industrial felt is made of  90% wool (Australian and South American) and 10% polyester.  – my plan was to use it to cover the canvas frames and mount my pieces on these.  I’m pleased with the way these have worked out so happy days!  I bought the industrial felt in two colours – black and a dark blue 2mm thickness. In the end I mounted all the pieces on the black felt and I had the blue felt left over.   So I thought I would experiment with it.    I wanted to see if I could make a hat with it.

Now, I have wet felted many a hat in my day, laying down the fibres around a resist and I really enjoy this whole process.  That said, I will readily admit here, I am not a milliner.  So the only ‘proper’ equipment I had to  work on was a hat mould which I bought from Hat Shapers last year.  The mould is sturdy and plastic and well priced.  It is designed for shaping and blocking felt hats.  One disadvantage is that hats cannot be pinned while shaping.  But I like a challenge so I gathered up other bits and pieces from the garage including a piece of MDF (to act as a base), a hammer and some lightweight nails to pin the felt in place.

The first task was to measure the mould adding in an allowance for pinning to the base and cut the felt.

When I found that the mould needed to be secured to the base as it was moving around – it was time to search out the Blu tack.  I placed tiny bits around the base and it worked a treat!

Next I submerged the felt in warm water.  It became quite malleable and a lot softer once it was wetted so I was pretty pleased with this.


I wrung the felt to take the excess water out of it and started working it on the mould. The first task was to stretch the felt over the crown.  I was a little nervous doing this as I thought that it might tear when  I put pressure on it.  My fears were needless as it took on the shape of the crown very easily.  I secured the crown initially with elastic and then with a piece of bias binding tying it tightly around the base of the crown:

Next, it was time to tackle the rim.  I thought this could be a bit problematic, given the amount of excess material (visible in the photo).  It was time to reach for the steam iron (steam on maximum!) and get to work.  As I steamed and stretched the felt, I ‘pinned’ it to the MDF base with the small nails.  Miraculously my own (thumb) nail is still intact, given the hammer size:

I had a little visitor who decided upon investigation that there really was nothing of interest (the dog biscuits are kept in the kitchen).  So having popped his head around the corner, he went back to sleep.

I continued steaming, stretching and pinning the felt to the base.  I was a little concerned that I might be stretching the felt too thin for it to work as a hat as there appeared to be a good bit of excess around the base.  As this was purely an experiment I decided to keep going.  I left the final shape to dry, adjusting the nails where there was too much slack in the felt:

Once dry, I decided to add a stiffener.  I used Hi-Tack Fabric Stiffener diluted 50/50 with water.  I used a large household paintbrush to apply the liquid and shot steam onto the hat to help it permeate the felt.  I let this dry and repeated the process:

Once dry, I cut the hat off the base using a craft blade.  I felt that this would give a cleaner edge than using my scissors:

The fact that I was cutting into one of the returns on the hard plastic mould helped this process and soon the hat was free of the mould:


I found that the brim needed to be stabilized and I did not want to lose any of the depth by turning under a hem.  So I decided to cut out a length of trim from the felt, fold it in half and sew it around the rim.  Doing this made the brim a lot sturdier.  I also cut out and secured a length of felt around the base of the crown:

Result:  to be perfectly honest, I did not expect it to turn out as well as it did.  The felt is sturdy.  It is not as soft as I would achieve with merino wool but having said that it is not so hard that it would be an irritation to wear.  Adding the binding to the brim stabilized it.  All in all, I feel that it was a success.

Sincere thanks to my daughter Katie who took time out from her ‘day job’ (Climate Scientist) to model this for me.

Following this make, I decided to check out the industrial felt on the DHG site more fully.  The site states that “This felt can be used as a traditional felt (cut, sewn, glued) but also by exploiting its thermoformability.”   By the sound of things what I have achieved with it is not listed among the recommendations.  But the word ‘thermoformability’ caught my eye. mmmmmm … I wonder what it means.   It was time to put the thinking cap back on.    The results of my next experiment will be posted on 18th September.

%d bloggers like this: