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Author: helenefeltzen

‘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.

Art Deco Lampshade (part 2)

Art Deco Lampshade (part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of this experiment (Part 1 was featured on June 20th).  If you have not already done so, you may find it useful to read the first part and then reading this will, hopefully, make more sense to you.

My first attempt at this experiment was not a complete disaster.  I was happy with the way the expanded design had shrunk back to its original size.  You might remember that because the layout was only one way (top/bottom) and little merino fibre was used (20 grams), I was working off a shrinkage rate of 100% on the vertical and 30% on the horizontal.  The pattern maintained its geometric shape which was a real positive.  However I needed to solve three issues:

  1. How to control the amount of viscose I used on the design (the viscose used for the first experiment resulted in the piece weighing over 50 grams when my previous lampshades averaged 30 grams)
  2. I needed to see if I could find a quicker method to lay the thin black roving I used for the outlines.
  3. I wanted to see if I could control the amount of wool fibre which travelled through the viscose (while at the same time fully felting the shade down to its desired size.

Three issues to sort.  I set to work.

Issue #1 controlling the viscose weight:

I felt it would be good if I could weigh out the viscose before laying it down. This might have been a straightforward exercise if I was working in only one colour but, given there were six colours to consider, (all of which covered different area sizes) it would be a big challenge to divide out the weights per colour.  For example, if I added 2 grams of each colour to the design the larger areas would be more scantily covered and the denser smaller areas might not let the light through.  Time to sleep on it!  By morning I felt I had the solution.  I would use viscose paper.  Last February I was kindly invited to make a video tutorial for my national association, Feltmakers Ireland and as part of my preparation work and work for the tutorial I made the paper.

Next I needed to make some pattern pieces from my expanded design which I could use to cut out the viscose paper. The symmetrical design meant that I could limit my pattern pieces so I noted the number of cut outs I would need for each piece.  Also, I worked out my colour scheme as some of the pattern pieces fitted into different parts of the design but required different colours.  Lastly, I weighed all the cut out pieces and was happy that the overall weight of the shade would not exceed my previous ‘successful’ ones:


Issue #2 Black Roving:

Next, it was time to see if I could tackle the issue with the roving.  You might remember that it was laborious to lay in the first experiment as the strands at the edges tended to ramble once I sprayed them with water.  This time, I decided to dry roll the strips of roving prior to laying it down.  It did not take very long and was quite soothing to do.  By the way, the wooden tray you can see in the photo has a non slip surface (Ikea) which is great for carrying drinks and also provides enough friction to roll the fibre.  I love multipurpose tools! I did not over-roll the roving – I just tidied it as you can see in the photo.

Then, I started outlining the design using the method Ildi showed in her wonderful blog.  I found it a lot quicker to lay out and the design stayed in place.  That said, I will investigate the pencil roving to see if there are stockists in Europe.  I sprayed water on the roving as I worked which helped keep it in place.

Next, I filled in the colour using my cut out viscose paper, spraying it with water as I filled in each colour.

After this, I laid out the merino tops (20 grams).  I decided this time to use a white for the background.  The layout of the merino is identical to that described in Part 1.  The method used for bringing the piece to pre-felt stage is covered in Part 1 so I will just insert some photos here (apologies if the narrative looks a little fuzzy).  When it came to joining the sides, I added a little extra viscose paper to cover the split (plus a little of the black roving for the lines):



Issue # 3 the transfer of merino through the viscose:

Once it was ready to roll, I rolled the piece leaving the decorators plastic and the resist in place.  I determined this time that I would use rolling to get most of the shrinkage so I kept rolling it until I was happy that it was well on its way to the final size.  (Apologies, I lost count!).  Also I wanted to handle the outside as little as possible so, when I removed all the ‘protectors’ I used gloves to handle the piece.  Then I turned the piece inside out and continued rolling.


Next, keeping the gloves on I did a little kneading and throwing but it was a lot gentler than last time.  Also, the duration was quite short as I was quickly reaching the required shrinkage.  I kept the measuring tape close by and regularly checked:

I turned the piece and, with the right side showing, fully rinsed the piece and compared the sizing and pattern to the one made in Part 1.  I knew immediately that the shade required a little more work as the central design was still an oval and it needed to be a circle.  I sprinkled it with a little hot soapy water and continued rolling until it was the required dimensions.  Then I rinsed it again and ironed it, shaping it as I worked:


Thoughts on the result:

I am quite pleased with the finished lampshade.  The colours were dictated by the viscose paper I had to hand but the overall result is quite interesting.  The colours definitely come into their own when the light shines through (yes! It worked!) I had mixed various colours when making the paper so I wonder what would be the outcome if each ‘page’ was a solid colour.  The outlines were pretty structured and the lines remained straight.  Also, because I ‘protected’ the viscose and either kept it covered or wore gloves when working it (and, of course, rolled it a lot more) there was very little transfer of fibre through to the viscose.  Part 2 was a lot more successful than Part 1.

The biggest challenge now is how to photograph using my phone!  To be honest, I don’t think the photos do not do it justice.  So I took identical photos, with a flash so that the colours are visible and without the flash (which shows the light shining through the lamp).  Here is the finished piece:


Art Deco Lampshade (part 1)

Art Deco Lampshade (part 1)

The thinking cap went on in bed the other night over what to do for my current blog piece.  I wanted to link it through to Lyn’s Art Deco challenge.  Two words came to mind while lying in the semi darkness – Tiffany Lamps.    Straight away I saw a big problem – I had happened upon the wrong period.  That said, the idea of producing a lampshade stuck in my head so perhaps I should research designs from the art Deco period that might translate unto a lamp.

I already had a lamp in mind – one that is readily available to anyone who has an Ikea nearby.  So I chose the Grönö table lamp.  It’s cheap as chips and a constant at Ikea.  Its dimensions are height 22cm and the width on each side is 9.75cm totalling 39cm.  I intended to have my layout running in one direction only (top/bottom) and from previous experience (using a different set of materials that included scrim) I knew that I was working to c. 100% shrinkage in this direction with c. 30% shrinkage on the width.

First task was to decide on pattern.  I had two criteria:

  • Symmetry
  • Geometric shapes

I felt that the main challenge was to produce a pattern that would end up resembling what was in my mind’s eye given that I would have different shrinkage rates on the finished piece (north/south 100% east/west 30%).  So, I set about drawing up the pattern as it would look in the finished size and then ‘grew’ it according to the expected shrinkage.  Normally, when I am upsizing a pattern, it’s a straightforward job.  I pop my pattern piece on a larger piece of paper, find a centre point on the pattern and then, based on anticipated shrinkage, calculate and mark out my new pattern points to enlarge the pattern.  Then join the dots.

First thought that came to mind was Kiss (keep it simple silly). I wanted to work in geometric shapes – I felt it was going to be difficult enough to grow the pattern without making it impossible.



After a few disasters I designed my pattern by working on half the height of the lamp.   I settled on the following:

Choosing colour would be the easy part, it was now time to give this pattern a growth spurt!  The pattern is about to grow from (cm) 9.5×22 to 14.5×47.  Time to get out the calculator and put the thinking cap on….  The pattern doubled in height and grew by 30% in the width Here is the result:


When the two sides are joined together they match up perfectly (what a relief):

Time to start working on laying out the design.  I wanted to try out Ildi’s technique using viscose for the colour.  I was working from the outside of the design (laying out the pattern first). I had no pencil roving so had to improvise with my tops, sectioning off thin strands of the fibre.  Next I laid down my pattern and some light decorators plastic so that I could see through to the design.  I ‘drew’ the pattern with the black roving, spraying it with water so that it would stay in place.  I was a bit unhappy with the edge of the roving as it strayed into the area which would be filled with colour and I spent some time pushing it back into place (there has to be an easier way to do this).

When laying out the viscose, I ‘tangled’ it rather than laying it straight.  I wanted it to replace the bandage cotton I used in my earlier lampshade so I needed the fibre to run in all directions:

Here are pics of the colour building up on the design:

Next it was time to lay out the merino fibre.  I used 20g for this purpose and laid out one layer in a ‘top to bottom’ direction, wetting it down with soapy lukewarm water:

Once a skin had formed, I added a light resist which I doubled over, placing it on top of the merino.  I added some strands of dry merino to the section where the two sides would meet and then, using the light plastic decorators plastic, I folded my sides over to join the pattern:

I wanted to tidy up the joins a bit so I used some of the thin black roving on the lines and some viscose on where the colours came together:


I then covered the piece with the decorator’s plastic and rubbed it to seal the ends.  Once I was happy that they were sealed, I removed the pattern from under the piece and inserted bubble wrap. I prepared my pre-felt (I like my sander).  The doubled over light resist came in handy as I was able to rotate the piece as I felted it, making sure that it did not develop edges.    Then I started rolling the piece (about 400 times each top/bottom, bottom/top; 200 each times side to side).  As the piece began to shrink, the light resist folded on itself.   I removed the decorators plastic.  When I was happy that I could move onto the next step I removed the resist.

I added hot water and fulled the piece, kneading and throwing it until it reached the desired shrinkage, 100% top to bottom and 30% side to side.  Once rinsed I ironed and shaped it.  I noticed a lot of the merino had travelled through the viscose – more than usual.  So I shaved it back.


The end result was mixed.  I was happy that the design had stayed symmetrical and that the shrinkage had returned the oval to a circle which was great.  Unfortunately the result was too thick for the piece to be used as a light shade (so I will need to find a suitably sized vase).   I had used grey in previous lampshades so I was aware that it should work as I only used the normal amount 20g. Previously, my working lampshades weighed around 30g.  It became clear what the issue was.  This lampshade weighed over 50g – basically the light could not permeate the viscose!  Lesson learnt!  I needed to find a way to control my viscose lay down.  Also, I was a bit disappointed with the transfer through of the merino fibre to the front of the piece, something I needed to work on.  Also I needed to find a way to prepare the ‘pencil’ roving so that it would be quicker to lay out.  Despite this, I loved the overall colour combination and it had sheen when it dried.  So there were many plus points in this exercise.

In Part 2 (coming 22nd June) of this experiment I will show you how I sorted out my issues.  Now I’m off to find a suitable home for my first experiment.

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 ( 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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