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Author: helenefeltzen

Makings, Musings and Mathematics

Makings, Musings and Mathematics

 

A recent post from on spinning by Shepherdess Ann reminded me of a wonderful trip to Finland back in 2013.  This weeklong trip brought together representatives from many European Union countries. We spent the time together in an Artists’ commune in Järvenpää experimenting with various fibre media.  It was an incredible experience; there was lots of learning and some great friendships were formed during our time together.  Participants were each given a drop spindle and a lesson in how to use it.  My spindle has taken pride of place (gathering dust) in among the Tunisian crochet hooks.  That was until I saw Shepherdess Ann’s beautifully spun fibre.  I had to try my hand at it again.

A dear friend had gifted me some tops which came in 25 gram packs so I decided I would use these for my experiments.  As my previous lesson was long forgotten, I consulted YouTube tutorials and marvelled at the near balletic elegance of the teacher’s movement. I soon discovered that like ballet, ease does not mean easy.

During my first attempt I endeavoured to copy the tutor, pulling on the tops so that a uniform amount of fibre was spun.  I will not even refer to what I produced as ply – it was thick in places and perhaps less thick in other spots.  A friend introduced me to a new language when she asked me if I was using the ‘park and draft’ method.  I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about (back to Google again!)  Here is the result of my first attempt:

I thought I would play a bit and use it to crochet.  Using my 15mm (US size P) hook I made a magic circle (ring) with the aim of starting some hyperbolic crochet after the first few rounds.  There was so little yarn that the end result was flat (except for the risen centre) (4 rounds).

For my next attempt I decided to pay more attention to the division of the fibre so this time, using my eye as a guide, I separated strands of the tops and started spinning.  The result was a bit better but there were still areas of thickness when the yarn was spinning.  Two possible causes identified; the fibre was thicker where I joined ends and I got distracted and at times used too much fibre in the process.  Still this was an improvement from the point of view of the length of yarn I had produced.

In order that I could compare my samples, I used the same methods making my hyperbolic piece.  I was happier with the result as I started to see curling at the outermost edge.  (7 rounds)

My third sample was made using the orange/purple fibre.  On this occasion I decided to use my scales to weigh out the fibre, rather than relying on my eye. I know it’s not the correct way to do this but I just had to see if I could find a more even way to divide the fibre.  So, I ended up with 25 lots at 1 gram each.  It produced a more even width on the yarn.  Now I was aware of another issue, tension.  I had no control over it so it was back to YouTube.  From this I surmised that I should be pushing the twist up through the fibre as I spun but I found this tricky.  Despite the still imperfect result and the problems with tension I managed to get more yardage and it was a lot more even than the previous samples.

Notwithstanding the dreadful tension I was quite pleased with the shape of the hyperbolic crochet.  In fact I felt that the tightness (tension issues) of the yarn gave quite an attractive finish to the stitches. Also, I was delighted that I managed 8 rounds before the yarn ran out.

 

I don’t know if I was feeling frustrated by my efforts while making this third sample but I started thinking of how spinning was second nature to females throughout the millennia. The Tarkhan dress, excavated in Egypt in the 1900’s was subsequently carbon dated and found to be at least 5,000 years old.  In fact according to the Harvard Gazette (2009) a team of archaeologists and paleobiologists discovered flax fibres that are more than 34,000 years old, during excavations in a cave in the Republic of Georgia.  They surmised that the flax collected from the wild could have been used to make linen and thread quite possibly to make clothing. In early Ireland (I’m Irish), spinning and weaving skills were so important that the Brehon Laws, written about 600-800 A.D. lay down as part of a wife’s entitlement in case of divorce, that she should keep her spindles, wool bags, weaver’s reeds and a share of the yarn she had spun and the cloth she had woven (https://weavespindye.ie/history/). Spinning was still carried out by females prior to the arrival of the Spinning Jenny just over 250 years ago. In essence, a skill which was once learnt by girls on their mother’s knee was lost to many with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution.  I could deduce from this that what once came naturally to the female line of my ancestors is now the cause of much personal frustration. I am resolved to find somebody once the world reopens who will be prepared to sit beside me and guide me through this process so that I can gain this lost skill.

Back to Finland:  One of the other skills I learnt while with the group was how to crochet. I have since found it very meditative, especially when I just crochet for the fun of it (no pattern).  So, some years ago, in this frame of mind and with a pile of pink spare yarn on my hands, I decided to crochet a hyperbolic plane.  I had no pattern, I just wanted to see what would happen if I started with 6 stitches on a magic circle (round) and doubled my number of stitches in each row.  By Row 10 my round had 6,144 stitches.  I committed to one more round (12,288 stitches) and decided to change my colour to green so that I could monitor the row’s completion.  Let’s just say it took a while to complete.  Although it is a number of years since I completed it, I still love to pick it up and run my fingers through the ruffles.  It’s actually quite soothing.  My adult comfort blanket!

 

Utterly useless – a watering can that can’t hold water!

Utterly useless – a watering can that can’t hold water!

Inspiration: US Sculptor Rogan Gregory’s piece

Okay! I will admit it! I have a big thing about shapes.  Sometimes it keeps me up at night.  Over the Christmas between planning what to do with all the leftover turkey the dog hadn’t managed to steal (I had no idea he could jump THAT high) my mind got to thinking about book resists and how introducing a hole in the resist would totally transform the shape of the piece.  Then in the New Year I came across this felting challenge on social media (thank you Mia Hartgroves) which involved producing a wet felted interpretation of this watering can, created by the US Sculptor Rogan Gregory.  In my mind it ticked all the boxes.  I love the shaping around the handle and I reckoned the overall shape could be achieved with an asymmetrical book resist.  Plus I got to put a hole in the resist!

First was the sketching.  Not my strongest point but this year it’s on my to do list to practice more.  Normally I just do my calculations in my head and visualise (no wonder I’m awake half the night).  From a practical viewpoint I knew that I needed to get out the pad so I started small and grew the piece over a number of iterations.  Soon I had my pattern as the drawing had grown sufficiently to fit on an A3 page. I reckoned when designing the resist that it was important that a line could be drawn through the pattern so that each page would have sufficient area to accommodate the laying down of the fibre.  This was going to be especially important at the spout end of the design.  Also, the placement of the hole for the handle was important as I wanted to capture some of the curvature on the sculpture.  Once adjustments were made to accommodate these factors, I finalised the pattern and cut out the resist.  The resist has three pages; two to accommodate the bulk at the bottom and one at the top.  Therefore I cut the pattern twice, sewed along the centre of the resist and then stuck the two layers (where the handle was) together.  At that point I was ready to felt.  I chose Corriedale (grey) and I planned to embellish the piece with grey viscose.  Viscose has a beautiful sheen so I reckoned I could capture some of the shine of the original piece with this fibre.

Three page resist

I started with the bottom page of the resist as this was the one part of the project which could remain undisturbed once it was laid down.  First layer was laid north/south and second east/west as I wanted the top direction of the fibre to flow with the direction of the piece.  Viscose was then added and it was wetted down. Once a skin had formed on the fibre I covered it with some light plastic (decorator’s plastic) and folded over the page, making sure that the plastic remained next to the fibre.

The bottom of the resist ready for laying down the fibre
Ready for wetting out
Gently does it!
Turning attention to the top pages

Turning my attention to the top (handle) side of the resist, I set about folding in the excess fibre from the underside. To avoid build-ups I trimmed back some of the excess by pulling away and discarding the fibre.  I paid particular attention to the spout.  As the Corriedale fibres were long there was a danger that I would end up with a build up of layers at the top of the spout.  I did the unthinkable and cut back some of the excess with my scissors.  Then it was time to lay down the first layer of fibres.   Again in a north/south direction, I paid particular attention to two areas; I broke the long fibres in half so that I did not crowd (too many layers) the spout; I also took care when placing the fibres around the handle area – I laid the fibre on the bottom part of the handle and then tucked it into the other side of the resist.  Once that was safely tucked away I was able to continue to cover the rest of the side tucking in the fibre about the remaining section of the hole.   I laid down only one layer and repeated the process on the other side of the resist.

First layer paying particular attention to the hole
Wrapping the wool at the hole

Once both sides were covered with one layer of fibre I wet them down, tucked it in and set about working a skin on it.  Then it was time to decide where to place my fishing line into the felt so I scoped it out with pins, measured and added extra for the ‘overflow’ from the can.  I cut 6 lengths of fishing line (3 for each side) then tacked them down onto the fibre.  I made sure that they were symmetrical on each side of the resist.  I threaded the ends of the fishing line through a straw so that I had some control over them when I was tacking them down.

Scoping out the positioning of the fishing line
The tacking begins …
All secure and ready for the next stage

Once secured, I put the second layer on the top two sides of the resist.  I was once again mindful of the hole and the spout.  I checked to make sure that the spout end of the resist was still visible as I did not want this end to felt together. I applied the viscose fibre to the two top sections of the resist.   After that I felted the whole piece (placing decorator’s plastic on both sides of the top to stop the fibres being disturbed as I worked on each of the pages) and rolled it until it started to shrink.  Then I removed the resist.  I cut into the bottom section of the hole. I did not remove any of the felt just sliced through this section and then sealed it.  Once these were sealed I started the fulling process until I was happy with the size. 

Cutting the hole in the prefelt and removing the resist
Time to Shape

I wanted more definition on the curvature around the handle so I decided to stiffen the piece.  I soaked the can in a dilution (Golden GAC Medium-800) stuffed it and left it to dry. 

I’m pretty pleased with the end result.  If I was making it again I think I would use more fishing line in the piece, perhaps including it in the bottom section.  That way it might not look as if the line is flowing through the top section only.  At the moment the line (representing water) seems to be defying gravity. 

I thoroughly enjoyed planning and making this piece.  Next time I may try a hole in a symmetrical book resist just to check out the overall alteration in the shape of the structure. 

Happy felting!

Getting scissor happy with your felt

Getting scissor happy with your felt

Hi all!  Firstly, let me introduce myself.  My name is Helene Dooley and I would describe myself as a textile adventurer.  I am largely self taught but I have been fortunate enough to be in a position to undertake workshops with some very prominent felting tutors and masters.  I work under the name Feltzen.

This summer, the family took a cottage in the south west of Ireland – on the beautiful Valentia Island.  Kerry is famous for its scenery and we made the most of every precious day there.  One day involved a trip to Killarney’s National Park and I took this photo at the Torc Waterfall.  It became the main source of inspiration for this piece.

 

I also managed a trip to the Kerry Woollen Mills as I wanted to experiment with some of their fibres.  My main focus was on the Galway/New Zealand blend. They stock a vast array of colours and the best news is that they ship worldwide.

So, with inspiration and raw materials with a firm Kerry provenance I decided that I wanted to make a piece that would show off the fabulous colours of the wool.  As this is an experiment with the wool, I thought I would go into a little detail on what it feels like to work with along with the various steps I took to make the piece.  The joy of this technique is that each piece will be original as the end result is very much dependent on the colours used, where/how much you decide to sew into it and where you make the final cuts.  Also, of course, the type of wool you use.  I would tend towards a shorter fibre to minimise colour transmission between the layers but this is something you may be happy with.  The technique was taught to me by the very brilliant Marjolein Dallinga, a Dutch Fibre Artist now living in Canada.

For this experiment I worked on a flat surface but the technique could easily be used on a 3D surface.  Just be sure to make your resist big enough to accommodate your sewing as you will lose a fair bit of surface during the gathering and felting process.  To familiarise myself with the fibre, I made up my sample which comprised of two layers (10 grams each) on a 25cm square.  Shrinkage was around 30%.

I will briefly go through the making up of the prefelt.  I made a rectangle (43cm X 28cm)which comprised of 4 layers using 20 grams per layer.

Each layer was a different colour and I very roughly laid down three different tones of wine/pink on one of the layers.

Top layer which is a dark green was embellished with a viscose – just for the fun of it.

I wet this down.  The fibre was a bit of a sponge when it came to this stage – it took a lot of soapy water (nearly a litre).  Because it was a bit of a challenge to permeate the layers, I ended up focussing the water on the centre of the piece and then I popped the bubble wrap on top and pressed the water to the outermost area of the rectangle.    The prefelt formed quickly.  I then rolled it very lightly.  My aim was to end up with a fabric that was stable enough to hold together but would not withstand any rough treatment.  I then left it to drip dry (over the clothes horse) overnight.  Then came the fun!

It’s worth having a few things to hand before you start this technique:

  • Strong thread – preferably nylon – this is for a couple of reasons. You want something that will withstand a bit of rough treatment (when it comes to gathering the fabric).  Also you want to be able to remove the thread at the end of the process so you don’t want it to felt into the piece.
  • A long sharp needle – you are going to be working through layers of thick prefelt (example: if you lay down 4 layers you will be stitching through 8 layers with this technique.
  • Long pins – make sure that there is a large visible pin head on these as you won’t want to lose the pins in the work (hidden pins + felting by hand = agony).

Now it’s time to play.  Using the pins, start by creating folds in your prefelt and work on this until you create folds.  My inspiration was the exposed tree roots (first photo) so I opted to have my folds radiating from the centre of the prefelt.

 

 

I then took each fold and tacked a running stitch through it.  To do this I started by knotting the thread unto itself (leave a tail and take your needle through the prefelt then back to the side facing you, tie the tail to the main body of the thread three or four times).  Doing this will secure your thread so that it stays put when you pull to create the gathers.  Then I ran a stitch through to the end of my fold, I gathered it up and tied it off (knotting the thread into the last stitch in the gather three or four times.  It needs to be robust and not fall out when you start the felting process.  Be sure to take out the pins as you go along.  Continue gathering until you are happy that you have the basic shape you want to achieve.

 

Now it’s time to start felting.  I used a pair of poly gloves for this part of the process.  I wet the piece in the usual manner (warm soapy water).  At this point I needed to be methodical in how I felted the folds so I marked my starting point with a peg and started working my way around the folds (rubbing each one a hundred times).  I did two rounds.  The folds felted to each other really fast.  I was able to turn the piece over and see that the underside of the piece had melded together so I was pretty confident that my cutting into the piece would not cause disintegration.  I finished felting and fulling the piece and left it to dry.

 

 

Then I cut into the folds.  I used a very sharp scissors and cut through the folds just a little at a time.  By doing this I controlled the colour that was visible.  First skim revealed the third colour, second skim brought up the second layer colour etc.

 

Other possibilities are to cut into the sides of the folds. Or perhaps change the shape of the flat sections.  In my case I reshaped the centre of the piece to make it stand above the rest of the cuts.  A bit like a tree trunk.

 

 

I decided against felting the cut edges as I didn’t want to disturb the cut lines.

Here is a close up of the effect.

The Galway/New Zealand mix was an interesting experiment.  I reckon I will use it again.  The sample felted into a sturdy fabric. I think it would work well for structural pieces slippers, bags, sculptures etc but not for clothing.  There’s quite an array of colours at the mill so I think I will soon be placing an order.  After all, you can never have enough fibre.

Happy felting!

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