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Author: Lindsay Wilkinson Artwork

I’m a passionate wet felt-maker living by the sea in Whitstable, Kent, UK & working out of a small studio in Faversham, Kent. I draw a lot of inspiration from the beautiful coastal scenery and local wild birds which can often be seen in my felt work.
Community Art Installation

Community Art Installation

I was asked by my local community arts centre to run a felting workshop to contribute ‘something’ to a community art installation to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s forthcoming platinum jubilee.  The wonderful Horsebridge Community Arts Centre in Whitstable is creating a ‘tea party with a twist’: everything will be hand-made and not necessarily from the usual materials.  Think papier mâché teacups and crocheted sandwiches.  The Horsebridge received a grant from Arts Council England to create their installation which meant participation was free but I would get paid to run the workshop – a win-win!

I mulled over what the ‘something’ might be and decided to run a workshop making wet felted flowers as table centre pieces.

I decided early on to take my colour inspiration from the Commonwealth flag – royal blue and golden yellow. This would reduce the choices people would have to make (which often take a long time!) and would be a change from the red, white and blue of our national flag.

I’ve not made flowers before so set about designing something that was as simple as possible to make. The creators were unlikely to have any felting experience and we were going to do this in 2½ hours – both demonstrate and make.

By now my friend Sue (a ceramicist) had agreed to run another workshop making slab pot vases for the flowers to sit in, so they needed to stand in a vase. I took some wool away on a trip with me and started trying out designs.

Prototype One: a loopy sort of flower made by laying out 5 separate petal shapes of wool (herring-bone style layout) then felting them together with a little wool in the middle.

I thought it was OK but getting the petals even was a little challenging and we’d have to use wire for the stems. I wasn’t sure they’d sit very well in vases and I generally thought I could do better, so moved on to my second design.

Prototype Two: I liked this a little better. It was laid out in a flat circle and the petals were cut part-way though fulling. It seemed pleasingly tulip-shaped. I wasn’t content to settle quite yet, though, as I had a few other ideas to try out.

Prototype Three: a more complex design laying out one larger circle of wool then covering it with a circular resist with a hole in the middle and laying out a smaller circle of wool on top of the resist, ensuring the two layers joined together through the hole.  Not surprisingly, I realised that this was going to be way too complicated to create in the time available. The fulling took a long time. I did like the blue edging on the petals though so carried this through to the next sample.

Prototype Four: I wanted to try adding a felt rope stem so it would sit nicely in a vase without using wire so needed a fairly simple flower shape if there was going to be time to add the stem to the design.  I made a felt rope in blue, keeping one end dry and fluffy to attach to the flower head.  The head was laid out in a single yellow layer, radiating out from the centre, in a similar way to prototype 2. I joined the stem as I wetted down the wool and covered it with a piece of bubble wrap with a hole in the middle for the stem to poke through.  This would prevent the body of the stem felting to the flower.

Once the flower and stem were at prefelt stage and the stem was securely attached, I picked up the flower by the stem and rolled it closed, mostly between my palms, to shape it into a 3D rather than flat flower.

Yes, this seemed just about do-able within the time and was reasonably simple for inexperienced felters to make.  If anyone ran out of time they could skip the petal-cutting stage and make a cone-shape flower so they wouldn’t have to heal all the edges and shape every individual petal.

By the time I got back to my studio the right coloured wool had arrived, along with some yellow tussah silk.  I already had blue and yellow nepps so I could set about refining my prototype.  A few design changes: I decided we’d run a second layer of wool just around the outside of the flower head circle as this would give the petals a bit more body.  Second, I’d add add nepps to the centre and a few strands of silk to the petals. Here’s the new layout.

And here’s the finished flower: advanced prototype 4!

Yes, I was pleased with the improvements and fairly confident the flowers would sit comfortably in their vases. I parcelled out the wool, nepps and silk and gathered together all the equipment ready for the workshop. It took a while!

Normally I teach a maximum of 8 people at a time but as this was a small make I rather recklessly committed to 16 – thinking I could have 2 people per table. Not a problem until I started to seek out 16 towels and 16 mats…..but it seems my hoarding tendencies came good! Cutting out 32 pieces of bubble wrap (16 of which needed a hole cutting in the middle) and 16 pieces of net started to feel like I was on a production line. Happily, though, I got everything together just in time for the day of the workshop.

Here’s the teaching room at the Horsebridge with everyone setting to work – a lovely light, airy and spacious room with people well spaced-out.

A couple of work in progress shots

And lots of happy felters with their beautiful creations.

The workshop seemed to go well and we produced plenty of flowers to add to the installation. I made sure people took photos of their own flowers as they can collect them after the event, if they want to.

Here’s most of them gathered at the end of the workshop.

Lessons: we needed more time! It’s hard to estimate how long it will take to demonstrate something and for people then to make it.  I’d opted for 2½ hours but with hindsight should have gone for 3.  I’ve left myself quite a lot of ‘finishing off’ to do – to make sure stems are firm enough for example – before the flowers go into the installation in early June. I could wrap the floppier stems in florists wire but I’d prefer them to be fully felted. It also took me way longer than I’d realised both to develop the prototypes and prep all the materials. Happily I was able to put the time in and I’m now fully ready for any future flower felting opportunities!

The installation is from 2 June and I’m really excited to see how it all comes together and how the flowers fit in. I took part in a couple of the other workshops: making slab pot vases and monoprint doilies. There’s something really joyous for me in taking part in a community art project and the Horsebridge have done a wonderful job in involving lots of people in the installation. As well as a series of workshops, they’ve sent out lots of making kits for people who can’t get to the centre to make things and worked really hard to involve lots of different members of the community. If you’re interested in the end result I’m sure the Horsebridge Arts Centre will post photos so here’s a link to their website. https://thehorsebridge.org.uk/ and a big thanks too to Arts Council England for providing the project funding. https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/.

9 Vases & a Plant Pot

9 Vases & a Plant Pot

Some of the first felt objects I made were vases: made around a flat u-shaped resist that I designed to try to get a good even layer of felt on the base (wobbly bases not being good for vases). Every so often I get the urge to make a few vases, so I thought I’d show you some I’ve made recently.

My felt pictures are often inspired by my coastal environment. So, I thought I’d make some coast-inspired vases.

I prefelted some recycled silk scarf pieces to make pebbles then added pebble shapes to the lower section. The sea area had a pewter-coloured merino base with blue and green wisps of wool plus some silky fibre for the sea foam. The wave was a combination of some sort of knitted yarn I’d also found in a charity shop, with added mohair and the same silky fibre (I’m not completely sure what it was, it was just hanging around and looked suitable!)

I made 3 in total – here are the other 2.

Sometimes it’s the materials themselves that suggest pieces rather than the local scenery.  I put some beautiful bright coral-coloured dyed locks against contrasting duck egg blue and teal merino and thought that might be interesting

‘Locks’ vase

Continuing my vase-making spree: I’d dyed some merino for a workshop last year and I thought it might be a good idea to use up some of the hand-dyed wool on vases.

Now enter stage left the plant pot.  A friend who’d previously bought a plant pot holder from me asked about making one specifically to suit a plant she had.  I wrote a blog a while ago about my love / hate relationship with commissions but that was about pictures – I felt much happier about a plant pot as it’s not such a big commitment.

I was keen to include her in the design so I did a couple of very quick potential design sketches and consulted her on the fibre colour choices. As the plant was only in a plastic pot with holes in the bottom, I scoured my local charity shops and found a beer bucket to make the plant pot water-tight.

We decided to go for coral / pink / burgundy colours to highlight the under-sides of the leaves and an overall texture rather than a leaf-shape pattern.

I decided to do the top of the inner 2 layers green so it would show when you look down at the pot. With hindsight I should have done the whole of the inner layers green but I wasn’t sure I had enough of the green so did the lower section white. I carded together various colours of merino and silk fibre rather than use the fibre labelled ‘carded’ on the fibre picture – but keep and eye on that as it comes back later on….. Then laid locks on top.

And here’s the plant in its personal designer pot. My friend was very pleased with it.

Then it was back to the vases but with a twist.  I recently found in a charity shop an old chemistry lab heavy glass 3 neck flask and, as ever, I thought….I wonder how that would work with felt.  There’s a little corner of my brain that is devoted entirely to felting possibilities and it kicks into play whenever I’m mooching about charity shops, which is often!

On the same day I found some interesting yarn in another charity shop so I splashed out a further 20p and thought I’d bring these 2 finds together.

I was clearly wearing my sensible head that day as I made a sample with the yarn to make sure it would felt and see how it came out.  Even more sensibly, I used it on both sides of my sample (I wish I always remembered to do that) so I could decide which effect I liked best

I stared to ponder the engineering challenge of the 3 neck vase and decided I’d have to have a hole underneath.  Usually my vase covers are solid on the under side and the glass slips into the top. With this I wanted the felt to fit tightly round the necks so I’d have the glass entry point on the base.  I carefully measured and calculated at least 40% shrinkage then made my resist.  This time an upside-down U-shape

I laid 4 layers of natural white merino over both sides of the resist then ran a single strip of the yarn around.  I then added single black nepps below the yarn line, more densely near the yarn and just a few further down the shape. This seemed like a good idea but it took absolutely ages to separate out individual nepps, pick out only round ones and of a similar size, and then place them where I wanted them to sit.  One of those decisions you regret before you’re half-way through but can’t bear not to finish as you’ve already invested so much time in it!

Anyway, here’s the finished vase.  Actually, I’m pleased with the pattern, although I’d intended the yarn to sit a bit further up the flask. I’d not properly taken into account how much of the felt would be underneath.

I thought I’d find some more old 3 necked lab flasks. Having consulted both EBay and Google it rapidly became clear that they are not to be had.  I have not found a single similar 3 neck flask (there are new ones which are much thinner and tend to have domed bases, no good for vases).  The nearest I could find was a similar heavy glass 2 necked flask which is on EBay for £40.  £40!  I now feel I can’t sell my vase as I don’t want someone to buy it for the flask and rip off the felt! So, that one is staying with me, at least for the time being.

And finally we come back to the pre-mixed fibre I mentioned (labelled ‘carded’).  If you’re ever lucky enough to visit World of Wool in Yorkshire, you’ll see they have two huge skip-type bins full of ends of lines and wooly remnants (one with coloured fibres and one just cream /white). There’s a low fixed-price per weight for the content of each bin and you can ferret out all sorts of hidden gems. I can spend a long time almost falling into those bins. This mystery fibre-mix was one such find.

I thought I’d make a vase using that plus a piece of a pink silk scarf I’d just found in a charity shop.  That day, alas, I was not wearing my sensible head and didn’t think to make a sample: partly because I didn’t have a lot of the fibre and partly, well, because I just didn’t think about it.

I laid out 2 layers of a matching pre-dyed merino, 2 layers of the mystery fibre and a strip of silk and set about felting.  Fairly soon my error became clear.  The mystery fibre was not felting at all.  I persisted.  It still didn’t felt.  I persisted.  And persisted.  In the end it did felt, presumably with help from the 2 inner layers of merino.  It shrank more than I’d expected and the fibre hadn’t been all that keen on pushing through the silk, which means the silk ruching is rather loose in places. But it’s fixed completely round the edges and anyway, I like a bit of loose ruching.

So, here are my recent adventures in vase-making, with a little diversion via a plant pot.  I hope you’ve enjoyed them. Do you have a favourite?

Recycled Fabric Samples – Quarter 1 Challenge 2022

Recycled Fabric Samples – Quarter 1 Challenge 2022

Lyn and Annie have set us a lovely Q1 challenge of sampling ways of recycling fabric.  They showed a great variety of fabulous techniques in their blog

In this post I will show you some wet felted samples I’ve made in response to the challenge, and my thoughts so far on what I might do next.

The quarterly challenges are supposed to push our boundaries.  At first glimpse, I do this all the time. I rarely write a blog without using charity-shop bought fabric and bashing on about how much I love using recycled materials, so maybe it’s a bit of a cheat for me? Well, maybe.  But while I scour the local charity shops for silk scarves or old lace for nuno felting, I also pick up some second-hand fabrics asking myself – ‘what would happen if I tried to felt that?’ Although my intentions are good, I often don’t get round to trying out the more unusual fabrics. So, I decided I’d use the Q1 challenge to dig out a few second-hand fabrics I’ve bought in the past but not used and make some samples.

I like the colours and am interested to see what happens to the texture.  As you can see, the background is quite sheer.

First I cut a square, based on the width of the scarf. I laid out 2 fairly thick, even layers of midnight blue merino at right angles on the back.

Here’s the final sample. Shrinkage was about 50%

It’s interesting how much the velvet has been integrated into the felt.  I’d expected more texture. I like the result but immediately wonder how it would look with a lighter colour wool behind it. Maybe I would be able to see more of the original velvet’s pattern? Ideas for a future sample.

Next up is a black and silver sequin dress. I bought this because I like the way the sequins are distributed on the backing fabric: not packed very tightly and not widely spaced. Also, I like the way the black and silver sort of drip into each other.

Sequin dress bought in a charity shop

I cut a 20 x 20 cm square: I like this size as it’s big enough to see what happens and small enough to felt reasonably quickly.  It also leaves enough of the original fabric if you decide you want to make something from it. I laid 2 fairly thick but even layers of black merino on the back and wet felted.

I achieved about 45% shrinkage. I liked the result and started to think about how I could use this fabric – more of which later.

Here’s a second velvet scarf I wanted to have a go with

Unlike my first velvet sample, the background didn’t integrate so readily into the wool, so sat more on the surface. Maybe that was predictable as the background was less sheer but for me it highlights the value of making samples – you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get until you try it. Especially as my charity shop fabrics rarely have labels telling me what they’re made of. I like the texture: maybe this would work well to represent an animal. Shrinkage was about 45%

Sample 4 was a light pink fade-dyed silk scarf with lurex stripes.  I used 2 thin, even layers of natural white merino on the back.

Final sample: from square to rectangle

One of the most striking things was how much more it shrank in one direction than the other (about 45% in one direction, 30% in the other). The ripple of the lurex also gave great texture.

I could have fulled this harder but decided to stop. I wondered whether the uneven shrinkage was just because of the lurex stripes, but looking again at the original fabric I saw that the silk was much more densely woven in the direction of the stripes rather than at right angles to them. When wet felting, the more dense things are, the less they tend to shrink. I think this would make some fabulous fairy wings maybe. Alas I have no call for fairy wings at the moment. Put that on the back burner for a future venture.

Sample 5 is a section of a loosely woven silk fabric with a distinctive pattern.  I wondered what would happen to the motifs.

Shrinkage was 40%. Given it is loosely woven, I was surprised by the amount of ruching. The fibres retained a nice sheen.  I regretted my choice of natural white wool for this one.  I wished I’d used a turquoise blue or maybe tried 2 different colours to test how to show up the silk’s colours. I’ll put this in the samples box and maybe I’ll come back to this another time.

Sample 6 – I found this scarf particularly intriguing. Clearly a woven fabric but no information about the materials.  The weave made the fabric very stretchy but the threads themselves had almost no stretch in them. I thought maybe cotton or linen. Using the same method I went for 2 fairly thin layers of undyed white merino on the back. 

It was a bit tricky to decide how much to stretch out the fabric when laying it out so I ended up with a slightly larger sample than the others. Also, I don’t have an iron in the studio so I wet the particularly creased sections to help flatten them.

Blue woven scarf final sample

Shrinkage was 45%. I really like the texture here.  Maybe I will use this when creating waves / sea water in a future wet felted coastal picture. I could lay it out in wavy lines with dark blue or pewter-coloured wool.

A small aside.  Why do I keep talking about shrinkage? I’ve been felting for over 10 years now but it took me a long time to understand how to full felt properly.  It’s very tempting to stop fulling when you get to about 25% or 30% shrinkage. And for some things, like pictures behind glass, that may be OK. But in my experience, the more you full things the better the quality, strength, appearance and durability of felt.  And the best way of checking how well you’ve fulled or felted something is to aim for a high shrinkage rate. 

Sample 7 – a silk scarf with a dense feather pattern.  I was interested to see what would happen to the pattern when felted. I put silk on both sides, with wool sandwiched in between.

I wasn’t sure about the white wool but think the silk has potential to represent something like lichen in a felt picture or sculpture – maybe using sage green wool. Or maybe marble? I cut this sample into strips to make bookmarks.

OK.  These are the seven samples I made specifically for the Q1 challenge.  The next question for me is ‘so what?’

I’ve included some thoughts on what I could make next with these fabrics. I decided to investigate further the potential of the sequin fabric.  I tried some 3D drop-shaped pieces, using a resist with the sequin fabric inside.  The first has potential for earrings, though I need to think about the earring fixings.  Or maybe part of a neck piece.

The second is a prototype for 2022 Christmas decorations. I think this has potential but I would include more colour and maybe texture in the outside. Also, I must remember to mark the front as I couldn’t tell which side to cut into. It’s difficult to see the scale in the photos – the earrings are 7cm top to bottom and the decoration 11cm.

Here are a couple of fabrics I’ve sampled in the past and how I’ve learned from the samples to make things – in this case plant holders.

This was a loosely knitted shawl.  I made a sample and loved the mossy look of it. In the sample-making process I cut off the ribbed edge and included it in this plant pot holder, to give a textured band.

Here’s another charity shop scarf that I incorporate into plant holders

Final thoughts:

  • re-using, recycling or up-cycling are not just good, eco-friendly ideas but can be really fun and give unique results.
  • small samples are fairly quick to make but give you loads of information about how fabrics will felt or work with other processes
  • making samples is a great way of sparking ideas about future projects
  • make sure you full wet felting really well
  • keep your samples as you never know when the learning and ideas might come in useful

The Q1 challenge is not just about felt-making: it’s about different ways of recycling fabric.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer with samples – just lots of things to learn. Do join in by posting your recycled fabric samples on the forum.

Recycling, upcycling…..and how one thing leads to another

Recycling, upcycling…..and how one thing leads to another

It’s that time of year when there are lots of Christmas fairs coming up & I need to make some festive items. 

Recently, I picked up some Christmas-themed small wooden blanks (for tree decorations, or maybe gift tags) very cheaply in a charity shop. I started doodling on them with acrylic pens and found I was enjoying myself – it made me think about the recent popularity of adult colouring books.  Good for mindfulness.

Some examples of the painted blanks – there was quite a variety of shapes.

I know these aren’t fibre-related but it set me off thinking about doing something similar with felt. I bought some bauble-shaped wooden blanks online and after colouring a few in (colouring in is a little addictive) …..

 Some of the painted baubles

….. I decided to make a sheet of white felt, decorated with bits of vintage lace, old tatting and shadow-work embroidery, all bought in charity shops. I have a box full of old strips of hand and machine made ‘lace’, old dressing table doilies, bits of fine crochet….anything I think might felt. I thought this was an ideal opportunity to do some creative up-cycling. 

 

As I was making the felt it struck me that I have lots of handmade felt off-cuts, test pieces and samples that I could use in a similar way. A good opportunity to recycle work and release a little studio space. To continue my recycling theme, I even used charity-shop-bought crochet cotton for the hanging strings. 

These were cut from square samples I made during Fiona Duthie’s Ink + Felt class

 

Left, some more ink + cloth samples. Right, samples I made for my ‘hippie’ bag earlier this year

Left photo: Top left a nuno sample I made using recycled linen; the others were off-cuts from other projects

Right photo – the yellow was a coaster I made with coloured yarn; the green and pink are nuno samples, the blue is an example of paper felt with some acrylic pen

Finally, I painted some of the wooden bauble-shapes white, and married them with a broad strip of black vintage lace. 

So, the chance purchase of second-hand wooden blanks led me to upcycling vintage textiles and recycling some of my own felt off-cuts and samples. I love seeking out and using second-hand materials, especially small hand made things, usually made by women, that tend to be disregarded by many people. Often they are from something that has worn out, like a pillow case, or is rarely now used, like dressing table sets or antimacassars.

I have one particular piece of embroidery on fine silk that I couldn’t bring myself to use. The work is so fine I endlessly marvel at the skills of the woman who made it. It’s so intricate and beautiful with such tiny stitches it makes me feel slightly sad.  I bought it in a charity shop for £2. To me it’s a disregarded masterpiece.

Silk and embroidery (hand / finger included for scale)

The silk is starting to disintegrate and I’m really not sure what to do with it. Any suggestions? 

Do you take commissions?

Do you take commissions?

This question sends a chilled shiver through my heart. 

 

My first felt picture commission was about 4 years ago for a friend who wanted a view of a mountain in France for her husband’s 60th birthday. They have a house there and love the views. I really didn’t know what to do. It was very different from the pictures I had made to date and not somewhere I know or have ever been. After some soul searching I agreed to do it. I think I let the flattery get the better of me. 

 

        

The request was to do something similar to this but ‘a bit snowier’.   

Things really did not go at all as I’d hoped. Firstly, the time I’d set aside to do it was taken up when my parents, who were staying with me, both became ill. Fortunately everyone recovered but I had to do lots of hospital visiting and home caring so wasn’t able to do any work on the commission. 

 

Then I realised as I was working on it that I really didn’t understand the mountain from the photographs I had. Which bits were shadows and which bits ravines? Normally I felt local birds and seascapes that I know and love.  I struggled. To cut a long story short I delivered the picture but so close to the deadline I don’t even have a final photo of it. This was it nearing completion ……

I really didn’t enjoy the process & I wasn’t that happy with the result. Fortunately my friend liked it & her husband loved it but I vowed never, ever again to take a commission…….I had learned my lesson…. hadn’t  I?, 

 

A little while later another friend who was travelling sent me a photo she’d taken of a pair of African penguins and asked if I could make a felt picture as a birthday gift for her partner. “OK”, I thought, “birds and a beach, I should be ok with this.” 

 

 

Learning from my first experience, I allowed loads of time. I made samples and did lots of planning. I looked at a lot of penguin pictures online as the penguin on the right was at an odd angle and I felt it needed a clearer head. I made lots of prefelt. It took a long time but I enjoyed it and was pleased with the result: I thought it was true to the photograph.  I was there when the gift was presented. There were happy tears; probably some of them were mine. 

 

 

Then came an email. My friend’s husband, who’d been so happy with the French mountain he’d been given: it’s now her birthday one year on and he’d like to commission a companion picture for her of the local valley view in France. “Noooo” I thought. “I vowed never, ever to do another commission after that one”.  I tried diplomatically to explain that I wasn’t sure I could do it justice but agreed to look at the photos and let him know. 

 

 

More soul searching and much wringing of hands. I really didn’t want to refuse, but I really didn’t want to go through the same thing again. On balance, I decided I probably could and should do it, so I said yes.  

 

 

 

I was happy with the outcome and my friend, and her husband, loved it. So, maybe commissions were ok. 

 

Next, someone locally saw a picture of a little egret I’d made for my mother’s 80th birthday and wanted something ‘similar’. 

 

 

My Mum’s picture was based on a bird she and I had enjoyed watching together at a Yorkshire nature reserve. I didn’t want to copy it. The commission would be based on another little egret I’d seen just up the coast from where we live. I quizzed the woman in great detail about what she liked about my Mum’s picture and what she wanted her picture to include. I described what I was going to do. But it made me realise how difficult it is to understand what someone else sees in a picture and whether I can understand it enough to translate into something I can make. Previously I at least had reference photos but there was no photo for this one. 

 

I decided to give this client the option of not buying the picture if she didn’t like the finished image. It was, after all, a picture I would readily have done anyway. It was the best way I could think of of getting round the struggle of making what I can and want to do and meeting someone else’s expectations. 

 

 

The client seemed very happy with it and did buy it though I’ve really no idea if it’s what she had in mind. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another local woman saw at an exhibition a more abstract sea picture I’d made.  She’d like something similar but smaller. Surely I could do that? 

 

 

Well, you would have thought so but I guess I took my eye off the ball. I’d been thinking a lot about how small waves break and although I used similar materials, it really didn’t come out very similar at all: the original being semi-abstract, the second being more realistic.  I’d allowed my own interests to take over and really hadn’t met the brief. I decided to show her the second picture anyway, explaining it wasn’t that similar to the first one, but I’d be happy have another go if she wanted. 

 

She thought the new picture was ok but preferred the original and decided just to buy that one instead. A fortunate outcome and I’ve since sold the waves one but it all felt a bit precarious. For me, commissions are tricky. I’m flattered by the request but not necessarily comfortable in the execution! 

 

I’ve asked three painters if they take commissions.  One absolutely does not on the grounds that she wants to pursue her own creativity and doesn’t want to be influenced by others’ ideas. She does give the potential client an early view of her new work but that’s as far as she will go.  Fair enough.

 

The second  said, “I do, but I don’t really like it. It’s so difficult to understand what’s in someone else’s head.”  I’m with her on that.

The third does take commissions but he charges more for the work, to reflect the fact that he’s working to their brief. He takes a deposit and, when pressed, said if someone decided they didn’t like the outcome he’d keep the deposit but not insist they buy the picture. Fortunately that has never happened. 

 

For me commissions raise a lot of issues. Does the client have to buy what they’ve commissioned? Would I want anyone to buy a picture they’re not happy with? How do I know what they are imagining? Do I enjoy making them? Does it matter? 

 

So, do I take commissions? Um, sort of. I’m still not sure. I’ve realised that when I watch my local sea birds and look at the sea, water and beaches there’s a lot going on. I look at where the birds are, how they stand and move, what they’re doing.  I try to capture the colour, light and movement of sea water and waves.  As I create the felt I have images, sounds, smells and feelings about the scene that I hope in some way influence the picture. I do work from photographs but I rarely copy them. So, if someone wants a particular view, location or bird that I know and can experience then probably, yes. Otherwise, I’d like to think I’d say no.  But then I don’t have a very good track record of saying no, do I?! 

 

What do you think? Would or do you take commissions? If so, how do or would you manage them?

Connections: An Exhibition

Connections: An Exhibition

I’ve just taken down my work from a Made in Whitstable group exhibition at a local arts centre gallery so thought I’d tell you about the felt pieces I had in the exhibition.

Made in Whitstable is a loose affiliation of artists and makers who have a close connection to the town, on the coast in SE England.

With a diverse artistic group it’s not always easy to find a title that everyone is comfortable with. ‘Connections’ seemed to offer enough room for people to work with in their various styles and mediums.

This exhibition was postponed from Easter 2020 so it was great finally to get some work out there, and to catch up (albeit at a distance and in a mask) with people I haven’t seen for a long time.

As I’ve described in previous blogs, this year I’ve been learning from online workshops. I’ve long been interested in both seed heads and shells and these have both continued to feature in my recent work. Reflecting on this, I realise they are all forms of natural protective cases and although it’s not a snappy title, I decided it was a good ‘connections’ theme for me.

This is a picture I made specifically for the exhibition.

Recycling Oyster Shells: Turnstone at the Royal Native Oyster Stores, Whitstable

These photos show the oyster shells laid out, prefelt shells in a single sheet, then cut up and laid onto a background of white Norwegian batt (lower half) and tan Perendale batt (top half). There’s a recycled silk scarf laid over the tan batt layers to give the impression of a pebbled beach in the distance.

Layout for the turnstone, using a combination of merino wool and prefelt; fully felted turnstone and a trial with two birds. I decided to go for just one. I needle felted the turnstone into place then added the eye, beak, legs and a few feather details

I also made some smaller pictures along the shell & seed pod theme

Top left: mussel shell with recycled silk sea, cotton scrim wave foam and prefelt pebbles

Top right: Oyster shell with mixed wool and yarns and fabric barnacles on a recycled silk background

Bottom left: pink shell on a recycled silk beach with cotton scrim wave foam and mixed wool and silk fibre sea

Bottom centre: paper felt shell on recycled silk background

Bottom right: Corriedale, silk and yarn background with multiple-resist circles, hand stitching and a sycamore key

I also had various 3D shapes in the exhibition.

Left – based on a eucalyptus seed pod. I made this in a wonderful workshop by Gladys Paulus in November 2019. I covered that workshop in my first blog for the Felting and Fiber Forum. Various wool batts and mohair locks.

Top right – conker made in two parts (using the stem technique I learned from Gladys). Outer made from Perendale and Norwegian batts, inner is merino wool tops

Bottom right – based on a hazelnut, also made soon after Gladys’s workshop.

Here’s a poppy seed head I made this year after Fiona Duthie’s Fibre + Paper workshop. Mulberry paper is felted into the felt surface. The paper adds structure, folds and pleats well and can be drawn on / painted. I painted this with watercolours. I had to make the top separately so stitched it on. A local craftsman made the base; the pod is held on a piece of dowel attached to the base.

This nigella seed pod is also paper felt but made side-on with pre-felted ropes and thicker wool sections (not prefelted) to allow variable shrinkage (learned from Soosie Jobson). I had a reclaimed jarrah wood and dowel stand made for this.

Another paper felt shape, inspired by shells, with pleats and nobbles made as a result of Fiona Duthie’s workshop

And finally, I included a few plant holders and some earrings.

Here’s my display area – I did put the cards (bottom right) on a small table!

My display area

There were lots of good exhibitors. Here’s a small selection: top left fused glass by Irene Southon; middle left acrylics by Josephine Harvatt; bottom left watercolours by Sarah Louise Dunn showing local sites commissioned by Whitstable Museum to illustrate a map of the town; right, prints by Linda Karlsen. Work by Irene, Josephine, Sarah and Linda (Wearartworks) can all be found on social media like Instagram and Facebook. They and other exhibitors can also be found on Made in Whitstable’s Facebook and Instagram.

The footfall was rather disappointing and I would guess that sales were down on previous years, but it was really good to get some work out on show and to see what other people had been creating.

A Redshank and Other Felt

A Redshank and Other Felt

As shops, galleries and exhibitions start to reopen in England and I have quite a few sales & exhibitions coming up, I decided to make another picture based a local coastal bird.  I’ve seen quite a few redshanks recently walking along the shoreline and haven’t done a redshank before so I think that would be interesting.

I start by making some prefelt for the back and tail feathers in a muted pewter and white tone, plus some firm felt I will use for the orange/red beak and legs. (I forgot to take a photo of these.)

I have a composition in mind and I make a quick sketch to get the shape, stance and size of the bird then lay out the bird’s body using a base of white merino tops and the prefelt feather shapes.  There’s not much detail as I will needle felt this in later.  I haven’t tried this before but I needle felt in some of the feather detail part way through wet felting then finish fulling the bird.

I’m not sure what I was thinking (if at all) as I’m not happy with the loopy-ness of the needle felting or the direction of some of the feathers.  I park it for now and get on with the background. One of the many things I love about felting is that you can usually continue to work on it until you’re happy with the result.

Redshank body: wet felted with some needle felting added part-way through

Onto the background: I have bits and pieces of natural coloured prefelt that I cut into pebble shapes ready to form the beach.  The redshanks I’ve seen recently have been walking close to the water’s edge, either in the water or on the pebbles.  Thinking about the water experiments I did last year I lay out 2 layers of pewter-coloured merino for most of the picture with a white and rusty orange section where the wave and beach will sit.  I put long strands of blue tops in two colours running horizontally to represent the light reflecting off the water.  I leave a darker section near the top with some of the pewter wool laid at an angle as if there’s a small wave coming in there, though in the final picture you can’t see most of this because it’s behind the bird.

Next come the pebble pieces and finally the foreground wave, as it sits on top of both water and beach.  I haven’t tried using mohair for wave crests before so I run a wiggle of mohair tops along the water’s edge and onto small sections of the sea as if small waves are cresting there.  I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the water in my local sea / estuary so I know the colours and shapes well.  The water is often choppy like this with small waves.

Background layout, ready for wet felting

I wet felt the background then try out the bird body to see how they’re going to fit.

Background and Bird body – trying things out for size

I needle felt the redshank’s body onto the background then add the legs and beak which I’ve cut from the red/orange felt. Then I add the eye and fiddle for a while until I’m happy with the bird.

The final redshank picture ready to frame

The finished picture is about 50-55 cm square and will go into an oak veneer box frame that’s 64 x 64 cm. I took this photo in the evening, with electric light, so it’s a bit less yellow in reality.

As I didn’t take a lot of progress photos for my Redshank, I thought I’d add a few other things I’ve made recently. Like my felting friend Antje (who posted here recently) I took Judit Pocs’ milkweed pod workshop on 1 & 2 May. I direct dyed some 18 mic merino tops and some fine ponge silk for my pod.

It was a good workshop and I’m happy with the result. I got my dye ratios wrong which resulted in a lot of bleeding and dyed hands but thankfully it’s not a wearable so it shouldn’t now be a problem. I hope to use this silk pleating technique in future projects.

I realise the colours are very similar to the ‘hippy trippy’ Corriedale bag I was making when I last posted. It’s still work in progress but I’ve done some additional ink work on some of the silk patches and am part way through adding some stitching. I’m now adding some french knots in the rectangle near the top left. This combines some of the techniques I learned in Terri Berry’s bag class with some from Fiona Duthie’s Ink + Cloth workshop and my new venture into direct dyeing (using the Felting & Fiber Studio tutorial).

Previous picture on the left, current on the right.

As part of Fiona Duthie’s Paper + Fibre workshop I made a lamp shade (actually a sleeve that fits over a lamp). It’s interesting how the paper sections are barely visible when the lamp is off. I think I will make more lamps when I have time.

Finally, I’m making some smaller pictures to take the little beach hut gallery in Whitstable Harbour where I often sell my work. I’m in there from next Wednesday for 2 weeks. I’ve wet felted some mussel shells and am making backgrounds to set them into small box frames (without glass). They’re about 19 x 19 cm. Here’s one that’s nearly ready to go. The background is nuno felted with recycled silk and old curved lace. I just have to decide where to stitch the shell. What do you think?

Online Learning: the new and the unexpected

Online Learning: the new and the unexpected

The last time I posted here (in January) I described my plan to take various online felting classes. With all my sales and exhibitions cancelled or on hold I thought this would be a good way to keep me focused and motivated during our 3rd pandemic lockdown. Here’s the link in case you want to look back to January’s post.

https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2021/01/21/finding-focus/

This time I’m talking about my online learning since then, including how it has led me in some unexpected directions.

I was part-way through Teri Berry’s bag making class, which was great. I made my third bag, a backpack, and am very pleased with it. I’d definitely recommend Teri’s class. The instructions were clear and comprehensive and Teri was very responsive to my many questions, thoughts and comments. I learned a lot about bag making techniques, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Corriedale Backpack with Canvas Straps

Because two of the bags I made are large, relatively thick, and have to be fulled very hard, I admit bag-making was rather harder work than I’d anticipated. I rent a studio in an old industrial building that is largely unheated so maybe mid-winter isn’t the best time to be working so much heavy, cold, wet wool, but it’s a minor point. I had to use plastic gloves for the first time as my hands became so shredded and I often went home with sleeves wet to the armpit!

I’d planned to take 3 classes over January to March but was irresistibly drawn to a 4th: a 2-session live international felt-along by Aniko Boros (Baribon.Hu) learning to make her beautiful felted tulip pendant with pebble inclusions. Having signed up I realised it was going to be difficult to find the colourful 14 micron merino wool I needed. I only had white. I’ve never dyed my own wool before but I thought, why not have a go?

I already had some acid dyes so I started off with some 21 micron merino before going on to the finer and more expensive 14 micron. Then I tried silk hankies, Corriedale tops, mohair tops, silk fabric, alpaca & nylon …. nothing was safe. I had a blast. I had no idea how much fun dying would be.

Then it snowed and I thought ‘ooh, I could try snow dying’. That turned out to be great fun too. On the right are just a few of the snow dyed fabrics.

I had several colour choices of dyed 14 micron merino by the time Aniko’s workshop came around. The workshop itself was really interesting. A clear and detailed PDF was sent in advance and turned out to be very helpful on the first day when the sound or picture dropped out occasionally. It meant I could see what I needed to do next so was able to keep up. I’m pleased with my pendant (although I still have to add a fastener) including how the dyed wool worked, and feel I’ve learned techniques I will be able to use to make my own designs. Also, it led me into the entirely unexpected joy of dyeing.

Hand dyed 14 micron merino pendant with pebbles: Aniko Boros’ workshop

In the meantime I’d started Fiona Duthie’s online class Ink + Cloth. We practiced adding ink at various stages of feltmaking with loads of potential for using these techniques in future projects.

Above are samples of adding dye / ink before felting (on silk fabric) and on prefelt

These are samples of ink added in different ways to finished nuno felt with cotton and two types of silk. I’d found an image in the V&A museum online catalogue (a fantastic resource) of an early 20th century furnishing fabric with this style of lollipop trees that I was thinking of using for the 1st quarter challenge …but that’s a story for another time.

At the end of this I decided to combine various things I’d learned: to dye my own Corriedale wool tops for a bag and maybe to decorate it with inked or dyed pieces. This is still work in progress as I am not completely happy with it. I decided to let it dry and have a think before doing the last bit of fulling. After I’d laid out the wool I dithered over whether to add silk and prefelt pieces or not as I quite liked the wool as it was. At the last minute I added all sorts of bits and pieces without properly thinking through the design. I fear it betrays its history. A colleague who saw me rinsing it at the studio casually commented it was very ‘hippie, trippy summer-of-love’ which is absolutely not the look I was going for! I will come back to it soon. I included the strap in the photo to give an idea of what it will look like finished.

Now I’m part way through another class with Fiona Duthie: Fibre + Paper. It’s a fascinating process of combining specialist paper with wool. We started by making lots of samples: paper and felt, paper relief, extreme paper relief and paper with prefelt.

Above are samples showing different amounts of paper felted into 21 micron merino wool and bottom right combines prefelt and paper. They feel lovely and there seems to be so much potential to use paper with felt in different ways.

This week I made a vessel with paper embedded into the surface. It’s not perfect: I got a bit over-confident near the end and tore some of the surface (you can just see it bottom left, between the two ribs). I’ve been interested in shell shapes for a couple of years so I shall enjoy making more 3D paper & felt shell-inspired objects.

Paper felt shell-inspired vessel

In the coming week I will be trying out adding colour and surface designs with ink and paint plus making samples with some different papers. Fiona’s classes have been really enjoyable with excellent PDFs, photos and videos and lots of class interaction.

All the online classes I’ve taken have been great fun and very inspiring. They have given me lots of new skills and techniques that I will be able to use in my work. And they have definitely achieved my other objective: they have been really helpful in keeping me learning, focussed and motivated during what could otherwise have been quite a bleak time.

Finding Focus

Finding Focus

It’s the new year and here we are in England with what I’m calling the ‘new abnormal’: all non-essential shops closed; travel only if necessary; people working from home wherever possible and, for many of us, very limited direct contact with people outside our household.

If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d have liked a long stretch of time with few commitments that I could dedicate to felt-making, I’d have jumped at the chance.  Be careful what you wish for. 

Towards the end of 2020 I had several events to aim for so was able to focus on making things for those. Here are a few of my favourites: a succulent holder, nuno felt vase (with glass interior) and needle felted mince pie.

I have plenty of sales and exhibitions booked throughout 2021 but no way of knowing whether and when they will take place. I have notebooks full of ideas but feel I need to find some focus to direct my efforts and get the creative energy flowing. 

I really enjoy learning new skills and developing my felt-making in different directions. So, I decided at the turn of the year to sign up for some online workshops. I’m mostly self-taught as a felt maker but now I’m asking myself ‘why do I want to reinvent so many wheels?’.  I’ve long wanted to take Fiona Duthie’s workshop ‘Fibre + Paper’ so when I saw she was running the workshop in March 2021, I eagerly signed up.  I then find myself tapping my toes impatiently and thinking ‘I don’t want to wait ‘till March!’.

Fortunately, in February Fiona is offering another class I’d like to take ‘Ink on Cloth’.  Yep, I’m in for that too.  Still the toe-tapping: ‘what about January?’. 

The Felting and Fiber Studio to the rescue: Teri Berry was offering her bag making class starting 7 January.  Perfect! I’m in for another class.  Well, you can’t say I lack enthusiasm!

While I’m waiting for the class to begin (yep, still with the toe-tapping) I decide now is the time to retire an old friend.  One of the first things I felted for myself about 9 years ago is an iPad cover. I carry my iPad mini with me everywhere and the cover is worn out.  It has done a great job – it even outlasted the first iPad – but the corners have rubbed away and it’s looking very shabby.

I may have mentioned before (more than once) that I’m an avid charity / thrift / op shop enthusiast and have built up an impressive collection of second-hand fabric, mostly scarves and mostly silk. I have a dig around and fish out a very fine small silk chiffon scarf with leaf prints. Left – front, right – back, middle – action shot! I’ve carefully controlled the shrinkage so it fits snugly: it slides out when I want it to and not when I don’t.

I enjoyed working with the silk so decide to make some more samples.  One issue with fabric of unknown origin (and often even with fabric of know origin) is that you can’t be sure how it will felt. Here’s the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of each sample.

Some kind of velvet devore?

A woven cotton or linen?

A silk and cotton mix – I assume the background is silk and the slub lines are cotton

Definitely 100% silk (it still had the label in)

All are interesting. I chose a similar wool colour to the background silk colour as I want to focus on texture and print.  I particularly like the leaf print one and will definitely use that at some point. 

Next, my patience (!) has been rewarded and the bag class is starting.  First is an animal theme phone or glasses case.  I consult the interweb for animals that have big tongues and decide on a gecko.  I’m rather fond of geckos, though I’m not sure I’ve ever met one. 

I’m pleased with the result, although admit it looks rather more like a frog or an alien.  I was going to trim the tongue but decided to leave it as it is. I’ve taken to calling it my alien frog bag.  I made it to fit my phone but it’s actually a bit big so I’ve now added a thin green leather strap with some Chicago screws. Next time I’m invited to a ‘BYO alien frog bag’ event, I will be all prepared. 

On to the next, bigger bag, with integrated straps and internal pockets.  I have a fair quantity of nice natural grey Corriedale top and decide I’ll use that for the outside.  I’m on a roll with recycling the silk scarves so select a few with similar colours.  I’m not sure grey will be the best background so, in an unusual fit of sensibleness, decide to make some samples. 

I prefer the lighter colour behind them. The bag will be fulled very hard and I think I may completely lose the silk.  Little lightbulb moment: why not prefelt the silks with a light colour wool to help preserve some of their colour?

I prefelted some pieces of silk.  I even got a bit jazzy with the one with large spots, with fawn Corriedale and charcoal Merino.

On the left: the bag laid out with (nearly) all the surface decoration ready for wetting down. I did move things around a little afterwards but forgot to take a photo. On the right: the flap detail of the final bag

Finished bag

It’s not perfect (eg I put 2 pockets inside but they are on the front wall of the bag instead of the back and it’s a bit wider than I intended) but I do like it and will enjoy using it.

So, what next? The third bag is a backpack.  I’m wrestling with myself over whether to use wool I already have or wait for some I’ve ordered to arrive.  I have a studio full of wool but want to use a medium or coarse wool for durability and don’t have much of any colour or breed in sufficient quantity.  I made a sample yesterday of potential wool candidates but am a bit underwhelmed. There’s a black dyed Perendale batt, grey/brown Finnish top, light grey Swaledale top and natural white batt (can’t remember the breed) but I’d have to mix them and that’s a lot to have going on.

I decided too to make a paper template of the finished bag to help me work out the resist and stop making bags bigger than I intend. Ha, ha, I do hope I don’t start calling this my toilet seat backpack.  And that brings me right up to date.

All being well, I will have the backpack done to show you in my next blog spot in March, along with some makes from the Ink on Cloth workshop.

I’m enjoying the learning and Teri’s class is excellent.  The instructions are clear and detailed. She has been positive and encouraging and very quick and generous in responding to my extensive questions about clasps, straps, bag design, wool breeds….

Are you struggling to find focus, or maybe finding new ways to learn and different things to try?  I hope you’re able to do a little fibre work and I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and creative 2021.

Felting Beaches

Felting Beaches

In my last blog I looked at different ways I’ve tried to represent sea and water in wet felted pictures.

Felting Sea Patterns

Looking back at this link, I realise I sold the sea picture I used as the blog header this week. Happy times! A couple of people asked in the comments if I’d also show how I’ve made beaches, so here we go.

The beaches where I live are mainly pebbles, but there are sandy beaches a little to the east and I’ve used both types of beach in my pictures.

Whitstable West Beach: the pebble beach at the bottom of my road

Here’s a picture of two Sanderlings at Minnis Bay: a lovely sandy beach with chalk rocks embedded in places in the sand.  I’m starting with this as it was an early picture and the first time I thought of using a blue cobweb felt overlay to represent a wet beach reflecting the sky. It’s a technique I like and use quite a lot.

Layout for and final picture “2 Sanderlings, Minnis Bay”

There’s a pewter-coloured base for the sand and light prefelted sections and silk fabric pieces for the chalk with a bit of darker shading around them

Here’s another Sanderlings picture, also at Minnis Bay. This time I’ve used a few different sandy shades to add the idea of shade and texture in the sand.

3 Sanderlings, Minnis Bay

Pebble and shell beaches are more common in my pictures as this is what I see when I walk near home. There are quite a lot of variables in how I create them. Some choices are for ‘artistic’ reasons (how do I want this to look and feel?), some for experimental reasons (what would happen if?) and some are entirely pragmatic (what suitable bits of prefelt and felt offcuts do I have kicking around at the moment?).

This is a Big Wave picture that is now owned by a friend of mine. Here I have cut up felt and pre-felt into pebble shapes and put them on a base of several layers of sandy coloured wool tops. I then laid a bit of blue cobweb prefelt and silk over the pebbles nearest to the wave to give the impression of the remains of a previous wave over the pebbles before wet felting everything together

This is a similar picture where I’ve added more patterned silk scraps (recycled charity shop scarves) which are topped with wisps of wool to help them felt in.

Here I’ve taken a different approach. Whitstable is on the north Kent coast of the UK. It’s famous for oysters and has a very long history of oyster catching and farming. Empty oyster shells are piled up on the beach next to a local restaurant to be reused for farmed oysters. When it’s quiet, turnstones pick over the shells, ferreting out bits of left-behind oyster. I love the turnstones! You can see one in action in this video and hopefully see where they get their name from.

Turnstone picking over the oyster shells

I’ve made a few turnstone pictures. In this one I prefelted lots of oyster shells for the foreground then snipped up loads of different coloured tapestry wool for the beach as I wanted a more distant background impression rather than individual pebbles. The tapestry wool is all from charity shops: I really like recycling old and second hand materials.

It took a surprisingly long time to snip all that wool into a large plastic washing up bowl ready to mix it up and lay it out on top of sandy wool layers. It also made a bit of a mess as the felting threw up lots of loose wool strands because the fibres were very short.

“Turnstone Dining at the Royal Native Oyster Stores”

Another experimental approach was a picture I made earlier this year using pieces of recycled silk (cut from charity shop scarves, of course) on top of a couple of layers of wool tops with some wisps of wool on top for colour and to help attach the silk. This gives a different feel – more impressionistic – but still (I hope!) the impression of a pebble beach.

This penguin picture was a commission. Unusually I was working from someone else’s photo rather than my own observations and pictures. By necessity the felt picture is similar to the original photo (though I had to give the penguin on the right a proper head!). I custom made various sheets of light grey pebbly prefelt which I cut up to make this beach as there’s quite a lot of it so I couldn’t just rely on scraps.

And finally, I think this is my favourite beach so far (maybe apart from the oyster shells). It includes several of the techniques I’ve described. I pre-made some shell shapes and used prefelt pieces for pebbles. There’s lots of silk too – I think I may have put down a whole sheet of silk on top of wool layers then added the rest on top of the silk. This gorgeous ringed plover was standing on a shingle spit that juts into the sea just along from my house and I felt this was a good representation of that particular terrain.

Do you have a favourite? Or anything you don’t think really worked? I’d love to hear your views.

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