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Author: Flextiles

Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.
Plaited felt vessel

Plaited felt vessel

This is a guest post by Kim Winter of Flextiles.

In September I started a two-year part -time basketry course at City Lit, which is an adult education institute in London. Although it’s only one day a week in college, there’s at least another day’s worth of homework, so it’s quite intense. But I am enjoying it immensely.

Plaited paper vessel

In the first half of the term we focused on plaiting, mainly with strips of watercolour paper. In the second half of the term we moved on to willow, which was much harder on the hands! You can read more about either of these subjects on my blog if you’re interested.

Stiff paper or card is ideal for plaiting, as you can get nice sharp edges and the structure retains its shape. But I like messing about with different materials, so I wondered what would happen if I plaited strips of prefelt and then felted them afterwards. How would shrinkage affect the overall shape and pattern?

If you don’t know how to make a bias weave plaited basket, there are some good instructions here. I don’t usually twine around the base as shown here – I just use pegs! – but otherwise the method is the same.

I used commercial prefelt for this experiment, in two colours. The white prefelt was merino wool, while the grey prefelt was Gotland. Gotland has a sturdier finish than the merino, but in my experience they have slightly different shrinkage rates, so that was another thing to throw into the mix! 🙂

I cut six strips of each colour and then wove them together to make a squarish 6 x 6 base. I pinned them together as I went along, and when all 12 strips were in place I then stitched horizontally and vertically. I did a couple of back stitches at the beginning and end to secure the threads but left the ends long so I could use them to continue stitching up the sides.

Prefelt strips woven and pinned together
Prefelt strips stitched together

(Apologies for the quality of some of these photos, but they were taken in artificial light, as the days are so short at this time of year!)

Once the base was stitched, I started weaving the sides by overlapping the central two strips on each side and then continuing to weave under and over the adjacent strips. I pinned and stitched as I went along.

Weaving and stitching the sides

This is what the piece looked like after I had woven the sides and cut off the excess felt.

Normally with plaited baskets you have to make a border by tucking the ends in or stitching a band around the edge. The advantage of felt, of course, is that it is self-sealing as the fibres mesh together, so I planned to finish just by trimming the edge after felting.

Once the weaving was complete, the felting could begin. I wetted the piece down, rubbed with soap, and started gently rubbing it all over, turning it inside out to make sure that both sides were felted.

I had to keep opening it up and turning it around during the rubbing phase to make sure the sides didn’t stick together (I could have used a plastic resist but didn’t bother, as I never rubbed for too long in one position).

The prefelt strips felted together fairly quickly, but despite the care I took when rubbing, holes started to appear at some of the intersections. So when the piece was partially felted I did some more stitching to ensure that there were no holes. I’m afraid I didn’t take any photos of this as it was quite dark by this stage!

This is what the piece looked like after felting and fulling.

I was tempted to leave the felted ends on, as they gave quite an organic feel, but in the end I trimmed them off, and rolled the piece some more to seal the cuts.

I also initially thought I might leave the stitching in, as I liked the marks and texture it added. But when I took out the stitching on one side for comparison, I felt that it distracted from the subtlety of the pattern, so I ended up taking it all out!

The inside and the outside have different patterns due to the weaving, but during felting some of the fibres have migrated through, so you can get an idea of what colour is on the other side.

Scaled up and turned upside down, I also thought this could make a good flowerpot hat – I can see Audrey Hepburn wearing something like this, can’t you? 🙂

So it is possible to plait with felt, though it is rather fiddly and time consuming. The forms are softer and more rounded, and you get a subtle idea of the pattern on the other side.

Thank you for reading, and I wish you all a very happy and creative 2020!

Sublimation printing with Dawn Dupree

Sublimation printing with Dawn Dupree

This is a guest post by Kim Winter of Flextiles.

A couple of weeks ago I went on a sublimation printing workshop with Dawn Dupree, a well-established textile printer based in south London near me. She specialises in multilayered collage, often made using sublimation printing techniques,  like those below.

Sublimation printing uses a heat press and solid ink, usually painted on paper, and only works on synthetic fabric. You put the inked paper face down on top of the fabric, sandwich it between newsprint to prevent the ink from getting on the heat press, then press it in a heat press for around 30 seconds.

The heat causes the ink to sublimate to a gas and also opens the “pores” of the fabric, allowing the gas to penetrate. As the fabric cools down, the ink returns to a solid state and becomes part of the fabric. Unlike with heat transfer printing, the colour does not sit on top of the fabric so doesn’t crack or peel off.

You can buy ready made dye papers in different colours, and you can also make your own papers by painting them with dye and leaving them to dry. The colour of the paper is usually very different to the final colour on the fabric – the fabric is much brighter! So it’s better to do some sample testing if you are after a particular colour.

You can create collages in several ways. The simplest way is to cut the dye paper into different shapes, or use stencils to create a negative outline. You can also use transfer the dye to a photocopy in the heatpress and then use the photocopy to create an image on fabric. Carol’s pieces below, based on the beautiful work by her daughter Alex, used these techniques.

You can also transfer the dye to other items, such as lace, doilies, or yarn, like Gabriela and Maritza did below.

With the heat press you can also add foil to highlight various parts. Catherine’s multilayered piece below included foiling.

I wanted to see how shibori techniques worked in the heat press. So I took a piece of Vilene and folded it in a series of knife pleats in one direction and then the other. I printed this folded piece in one colour, and then unfolded it, repleated it along different folds, and printed with another colour.

Below you can see the folded Vilene on the right after printing with two colours. The purple dye paper is on the left.

Below is after printing withe four colours:

And this if the final piece after printing with five colours:

I also tried stitching. I stitched a piece of white polyester with five rows of running stitch, pulled up the stitches into pleats and then printed it with pink dye paper.

This is what it looked like when opened up.

I removed the stitches, pressed it and restitched in different places, and printed with a second colour.

I repeated this twice more. Then I tore the piece in half and foiled one half (the piece at the bottom).

I noticed that the papers I used for printing retained a very clear image of the stitched fabric. So I used them to print on other pieces of fabric, which looked amazingly 3D.

I hope you enjoyed this post, even though it doesn’t include any felt! Please note that the post is being scheduled to publish while I am on holiday, so I may not be able to respond to comments immediately.


Another prefelt seedpod

Another prefelt seedpod

This is a guest post by Kim Winter of Flextiles.

A few weeks ago, Ruth posted about how the shape of a seedpod she made using prefelt was influenced by differential shrinkage. I thought I would try out this technique with a couple of variations. 🙂

This is the seedpod I was inspired by. I found it on a beach in Thailand, but I have no idea what plant it is from!

thai seedpod

Unlike Ruth, I didn’t make “fresh” prefelt. I have a box (or three!) of old felt experiments and pieces I don’t like very much, which I am happy to cut up and reuse in new pieces. Technically this is not prefelt but actual felt. However, roughing up the surface with a wire brush usually loosens up enough fibres to allow it to attach to fresh fibre.

For this experiment I decided to use a felt tablet cover that I didn’t like, as it was very thick (I think it was two layers of merino sandwiching a layer of Gotland).

I worked inside out on this piece, partly because I wanted some spikes protruding from inside the pod and partly because I have found that it is easier to attach the prefelt or fabric this way.

First I made some spikes.

felt spikes

Then I cut out some vaguely diamond shapes from the tablet cover and roughed up the inside surface (which was white) with the wire brush. I laid these upside down (that is, purple side down) on the circular resist.

seed pod resist

Then I covered them with a thin layer of orange merino. I laid it in a circular pattern because I wanted the piece to shrink more around the circumference than along its height.

seed pod orange layer

After wetting down and a bit of gentle rubbing, I turned the piece over, folding the felt diamonds over and covering them with more orange merino. After wetting down and minimal rubbing, I added the spikes in the centre with more merino, rubbing very thoroughly to ensure they were properly attached.

seed blog spikes

Once I was sure that the spikes would not detach, I rolled the piece, rearranging the position of the spikes every time I changed direction.

When the felt passed the pinch test and I could see the darker outlines of the prefelt coming through, I cut a hole in the opposite side to the spikes and removed the resist.

removing the resist

I continued to roll the piece to start the shrinkage and firm up the cut edges and then turned it inside out so that the spikes were now on the inside.

seed pod right way out

To help with the fulling I immersed it in hot water and continued to rub and roll, sometimes turning it back inside out to continue the shrinkage and shaping process.

final seed pod

The spikes were actually a little bit short, so I curled the top edges of the vessel down and pushed up the bottom a bit to ensure they protruded properly. Also, I wish I had made them a different colour – maybe red.

And quite a lot of the Gotland has migrated through, so the final piece is a bit hairy. I might shave it.

seed pod

Thanks to Ruth for the inspiration!

Felt and basketry

Felt and basketry

This is a guest post by Kim Winter of Flextiles.

Some of you may know that as well as being a felter I have recently developed an interest in basketry. Given that I love making 3D vessels and sculptural felt, this is probably no great surprise!

My preferred method at the moment is random weaving, as I love the organic, freeform texture of this technique. After starting with cane, I moved on to work with paper yarn, which I like much better. I think my textile background has instilled a preference for softer materials! 😉

I can also dye the paper with indigo or other natural dyes, like this piece dyed with eucalyptus. And untwisting the ends of the paper produces some delicate feathery effects.

I had the idea of combining felting with random weaving after seeing a photo of a cape gooseberry.

cape gooseberry

I thought that if the orange fruit in the centre was made from felt, it would make an interesting contrast with the paper carapace. So I wove the paper case, leaving a hole at the top, and then inserted a small orange felt sphere and stitched the two together with very fine fishing line. I then finished the top with some twining and a little tassel.

felt and paper cape gooseberry
Photo: Owen Llewellyn

I decided to develop this further into a submission for an exhibition with the theme of “fragility”. With widespread concern about the human effects on our fragile environment, I read that scientists at Kew Gardens estimate that one in five plant species are in danger of extinction due to activities such as intensive farming, deforestation and construction.

So the idea for my piece, called “One in Five”, was to make five stylised seeds combining felt and paper yarn, to represent the fragility of the environment in general as well as their own precarious existence.

The second pod I made was based on a sycamore seed. I needlefelted the two seeds first before wet felting them, and then wove the paper wings around them.

felt and paper sycamore seed
Photo: Owen Llewellyn

I used a similar technique for the third seed, which was based on a bean pod.

felt and paper bean pod
Photo: Owen Llewellyn

The fourth seed was slightly different – no random weaving was involved. Instead, I wrapped several strands of paper yarn together, feathered the separate ends, and covered the wrapped ends with felt to resemble a dandelion seed.

It was a bit tricky to felt around the paper without making it soggy and droopy. So I ended up applying some matt varnish to the paper to protect it before felting, which worked a treat.

felt and paper dandelion seed
Photo: Owen Llewellyn

The fifth and last seed was the most difficult. I wanted to make a spiky seed case, a bit like a chestnut, but it was tricky to work out how. I eventually made a random weave sphere and then looped short lengths of paper yarn all over it. I started feathering all the ends, but then decided that the overall effect was too much and that I should just feather a few randomly. So I had to reloop quite a few bits of yarn!

felt and paper spiky seedcase
Photo: Owen Llewellyn

Having finished making the seeds, I had to decide on the best way to display them. They would obviously look better suspended rather than lying on a flat surface, but in one of the galleries where this exhibition will be displayed we cannot hang things from the ceiling.

One of the other advantages of felt and paper is that they are both very light materials – each of the seeds weighs only a few grams. So I thought I could somehow mount a branch on a wall and hang them from that.

I spent days looking for the perfect branch. Luckily, we’ve had a few blustery days recently, so there has been no shortage of branches, even on London pavements! I finally found one that’s not too heavy, is an interesting shape and has some lovely lichen.


So then it was off to a photographer friend, Owen Llewellyn, to take some pictures that would hopefully wow the selectors and persuade them to accept my submission. After experimenting with three different backdrops we finally went for a plain grey background, though there also some interesting experimental shadow pics!

five seeds on branch
Photo: Owen Llewellyn
dandelion seed with shadow
Photo: Owen Llewellyn
bean pod with shadow
Photo: Owen Llewellyn

Anyway, it clearly worked, as I have just heard that my submission has been accepted for the exhibition, which will be on display in London at the end of May and Birmingham in October. Phew!

Hat workshop with Sarah Waters

Hat workshop with Sarah Waters

Although I’ve made a lot of 3D felt, I’ve never made a hat (I’ve made berets, but they don’t really count). This is because:

  1. I don’t wear hats (unless it’s extremely hot or extremely cold, neither of which happens much in the UK)
  2. I’ve never found a hat that suits me (which may be related to point 1)
  3. I don’t have a hat block.

However, when the London branch of the International Feltmakers Association announced a hat workshop with Sarah Waters in March, I signed up. I’d seen Sarah’s magnificent Stone exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show last October – wonderful textured work on a huge scale – so thought it would be good to learn from her.

Thankfully, the hats we made were on a smaller scale! Sarah had brought along examples of various styles for us to try on to decide which suited us.

After a lot of umming and ahhing I decided to go for the cloche hat because the height and the brim were more flattering to my rather round face.

We started by making some samples to assess shrinkage rates and also experiment with different colours and textures. Sarah had generously brought along lots of offcuts of prefelt and fabrics for us to play with, in addition to our own considerable stashes!

These are my three samples, of three, five and seven layers of fibre. Although most people used three layers, I ended up using seven, because I wanted my hat to be very firm!

After measuring our heads and making some mathematical calculations, we got on with drawing out our resists and laying out.

Here is the inside of my cloche (Sarah reminded me that the inside of the brim would show, so I added some fabric along the bottom).

This is the outside.

Please note here the spots of gold-coloured fabric. This was a silk chiffon that was dark blue on one side and gold on the other. I’d used it in one of my samples and it worked quite well when felted, giving a subtle sheen (it’s the triangular shape at the top of the left-hand sample). Here I’d laid it on top of some thick circles of leftover pink prefelt.

However, when I got to the fulling stage, I decided the shape wasn’t really working. The hat was too tall – it hadn’t shrunk enough because I’d used so many layers. So rather than trim off the excess at the bottom, I reshaped it into more of a pork pie hat, with a partly upturned brim and a flatter crown. It actually suited me much better!

But remember the gold fabric? Well, the gold colour completely disappeared in the final hat, leaving much subtler blue circles, which was a bit disappointing.

This is a perfect example of what I like to call AFOT EUWA (aim for one thing, end up with another!).

Here are some of the other lovely creations made in the workshop by Emily, Nina and Sue.

And a final group shot!

How often do you aim for one thing but end up with another? 🙂



Felting with old sweaters

Felting with old sweaters

I’m a great recycler, as I suspect many textile lovers are. Much of my business is based on scouring charity shops and jumble sales for items that other people have discarded and transforming them back into desirable objects. Some old scarves get used for nuno felt; others are overdyed with indigo or overprinted.

Recently I had a go at darning an old sweater, after being inspired by an exhibition for a craft prize. But some of my sweaters have gone waaaay past the darning stage – so I thought I would try felting with them, using them as a kind of prefelt.

For the first sample I cut out circles and felted them on to two layers of white superfine merino. As they were 100% wool, they felted in really easily. I forgot to take any photos before felting, but the picture below shows the finished sample.

flextiles sample of felt with sweater circles

The circles on the left were covered with another two layers of superfine merino, as I wasn’t sure whether the base of two layers would be enough to support the circles. Obviously this felt was much thicker and you can hardly see the colour of the circles through the top layers.

The sweaters were knitted in stocking stitch, and the circles on the middle were laid out with the right side up, while those on the left were reverse side up. They looked quite different before they were felted, but after felting there was very little difference.

As you can see from the photo the superfine merino shrank a lot (around 50%) so there was very little space between the circles in the final piece. So in the next tiger stripe sample I left more room between the stripes.

flextiles felt tiger stripe sample before felting

You can clearly see the texture of the sweater before felting; after felting you can just about see the vertical rows of knitting.

flextiles felt tiger stripe sample

Although the stripes are also wool, they have not shrunk as much as the merino they are attached to. This leads to a pleasing texture of ridges, where the stripes are much higher than the base layers of merino. I’ve tried to show this more clearly in the photo below.

flextiles felt tiger stripe sample close up

After I made this sample I realised that white, green and purple were the colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union, which campaigned for women’s right to vote in the UK. White symbolised purity, green hope and purple dignity.

So to celebrate the centenary this year of some women in the UK getting the vote, I made a small suffragette neckpiece. 🙂

flextiles felt suffragette neckpiece

I really like using old sweaters this way – it saves me having to make prefelt!

What’s your favourite upcycling tip?


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