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.
I’ve recently made a new felt picture of lapwings so I thought I’d show you how I went about it.
As you’ll know, if you’ve read my other blogs here, I live on the East Kent coast in the UK and am particularly fond of the local birds. I’ve seen some beautiful flocks of lapwings including at a small nature reserve just along the coast at Oare. I’ve not attempted lapwings before though they are really beautiful birds, so I thought I should have a go.
I’ve only seen lapwings in quite large flocks – I’ve never seen one on its own – so I thought I should have at least 2 birds in the picture. I did a quick sketch to help me decide on the size and stance of the birds
I started with the background. The birds at Oare were on the wet, grassy edges of a lake, very near the sea. Here’s the background laid out & ready to start felting.
I spent a while thinking about how to represent the lapwings’ lovely iridescent feathers and decided on lots of prefelt.
I had some blended greenish wool that was perfect for the main feathers though I had no idea where it came from or what it was. As I made some prefelt I tested out the shrinkage – mostly just to be sure it would felt rather than getting a specific shrinkage.
Then I set about prefelt for all the other lovely colours. The dark green sections are scraps of recycled silk from my favourite source: a charity shop scarf. The others are mixtures of different merino wool colours. I was particularly pleased with the dark section on the right which was a bottom layer of blue and top layer of charcoal grey. It was just the effect I was hoping for. With hindsight I should have used silk for the light green & pink / purple too as that would have given me more shine.
Here’s the prefelt cut up & arranged in a bird shape.
And here are the 2 birds once fully felted but still wet
And here I am deciding how to position the birds on their background.
I needle felted the birds into the background then added eyes, other face details, legs (using recycled tapestry wool) & head plumes. If you look closely you can see I also fiddled a little with the background: needling in extra strands of grass to soften the edges of the water.
The lapwings went straight into an exhibition with 4 other big pictures plus some smaller pieces at my local gallery: the wonderful Horsebridge Community Arts Centre in Whitstable. Here’s my display (not a great photo, sorry).
And I’ll finish with a quick shot of a beautiful painting I bought at that exhibition.I’ve been looking for something to hang over my bed for ages and I thought this was perfect.
Painted by my friend, the artist Josephine Harvatt. The title “When you wake up it’s a new morning”is particularly apt for over the bed. I love it. If you want to see more of Josephine’s beautiful work, here’s an Instagram link.
I’ve recently finished a felted picture – mostly wet felted but with needle felted elements. ‘How long did it take to make that?’ I’m often asked when people see my work. I find it difficult to answer precisely. ‘Quite a long time’ isn’t very helpful so I usually say something like ‘About four days’. I don’t really know if that’s true. It’s my best guess. As the felt-makers among you will know, most people have no idea how much work can go into making felt, so as I was making my latest picture I thought I’d try to document the stages and see how long it all takes. That’s what I’m going to show you here, plus take you on a little visit to the town where I work.
I’ve already decided to make a picture of a turnstone feeding at the water’s edge so I set about making prefelt sheets for the pebbles. I live on the North Kent coast and love watching the local water birds: how they look, move and interact with their environment. It’s mostly pebble beach on the stretch of coast nearest to my home so pebbles are a good place to start.
First a piece of natural grey merino prefelt. Then a piece of mixed browns
It takes a surprisingly long time to cut all the pebble shapes
Here’s the grey cut up and an offcut of nuno prefelt which I’m gong to add into the mix.
And finally a sort of orange / yellow piece.
I use prefelts as they give the pebbles more definition than if I just add blobs of wool. I’d guess all of the above is about a day’s work.
Now I can start the layout. This is going to be quite a big picture so will take up pretty all the space on my standing work desk. Here’s the first layer – natural white merino.
The second layer starts off with pewter for the water. While I’m working on the water section I add some dark blue low lights.
After I complete the second layer with more natural white merino, I lay out different coloured wool on top of the pewter and dark blue. I’ve previously carded pewter wool with a variety of light blues and greens using large hand carders. I haven’t even thought about adding that time to my calculations. I use this for the top layer of the water, mostly covering the dark blue which I want to add depth without being too prominent.
Here you can see that I’ve also added all the cut up pebble shapes to the bottom of the picture, plus some scraps of silk cut from old scarves, leaving a white section where I will add the wave.
For the wave I’ve chosen mohair because it has a slight shine and I hope it will be wiggly when felted. Along with the mohair I add lots of silk hankies and wool locks: I’m trying to get lots of texture into this section.
There’s also a piece of sort of knitted yarn that I picked up in a charity shop a while age. It’s meant to be knitted into a scarf (according to the label) but I lay a line of it under the wave, hoping it will look like the foam from a previous wave. I also pop some offcuts into the wave for more texture. I finish by adding a few locks to the water to look like small cresting waves and I’m at the end of day 2.
A couple of days later I start the wetting down. Because it’s large, I decide to work in three sections, starting with the pebbles. I like to use voile netting over and under the wool – which you can see in this photo.
I spend a couple of hours prefelting the picture, working both sides. Here’s the back. I can see the pebble outlines pushing through the white so can be confident the layers are starting to felt together. At this point I decide to take a break and go for a wander outside.
I work in a small rented studio in the historic town of Faversham, about 8 miles from where I live, in Whitstable. The studio is in a former industrial building (originally a late-Victorian brewery bottling plant) which is now a lovely not-for-profit gallery, café and shop called Creek Creative Studios. It also includes 32 small studios filled with a good variety of busy individuals including painters, jewellers, potters and glass workers on the ground and lower ground floors; writers, illustrators, stringed instrument specialists, web designers and other small businesses on the upper floor.
Faversham is a gorgeous medieval market town so wandering about at lunchtime (and of course checking out the charity shops) is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s a lovely sunny day so I thought I’d share a few photos with you.
Top left is the historic market place with its stilted guildhall. Top right is the Shepherd Neame shop: there’s a long history of brewing here and Shepherd Neame is Britain’s oldest brewery. Some days it does mean the town is rather ‘aromatic’. Second right is the lovely Yarn Dispensary. Originally an apothecary, the building dates back to 1240 and has a beautiful, separately listed wooden apothecary interior. It also sells a delicious selection of yarns. Bottom left is an old pub; next is the old water pump in the marketplace and a couple of the other buildings that surround the market place. There’s still a market here 3 days a week plus regular monthly ‘best of Faversham’ and antiques markets at the weekends.
Back at the studio I spend the rest of the day rubbing and rolling the felt until it’s fairly firm. Because it’s a picture and going behind glass it won’t endure much wear and tear but I still like to ensure it’s properly fulled. End of day 3.
I leave the background to dry and return to it about 6 days later, as I start to think about the turnstone or turnstones. Working from my own photos, I roughly sketch a couple of birds and cut them out so I can see how they might look.
Although I like the 2 birds they are a bit small (the waves round here aren’t that big) so I decide to go for one pecking bird but bigger than the sketched one. First step is to make some prefelt for the feathers.
Here it is as I’m starting to wet it down (left) and as a light prefelt (right – apologies for the poor quality of the second photo)
I cut up the feather prefelt and lay out a general bird shape. At this stage I am leaving the head large and a bit vague. I’ve learned that it’s better to make it too big and cut it to size later rather than trying to get the exact size and shape and risk having to add more wool or felt.
Here’s the bird felted and with a lightly trimmed head. Sorry it’s not a great photo as it’s electric light and I’m casting a shadow but I hope you can see it well enough to get the overall idea.
From layout decisions to the felted bird has taken most of day 4.
The next stage is to needle felt the bird into the background and needle in the eye and legs as well as refining the beak. For the legs I used some of the orange-ish prefelt I made for pebbles, adding strands of wool on top.
Using a broken needle I pick at the wave to raise some of the texture from the silk hankies and wool locks. I’m not sure whether it’s visible in this photo but it does make a difference in the actual picture.
I didn’t take progress shots of the needle felting but I’d say it took a good half day. It’s difficult to know when to stop fiddling around with it and declare it finished.
So, here is the final picture before framing.
And a shot in its frame.
Frame size is 63 x 86 cm (approximately 25 x 34 inches)
I used an adhesive hook tape – like the hook side of Velcro – which I stick to the mount board. The hooks hold the felt in place without impacting the fabric.
So, it looks like my 4 day estimate was a bit low. Next time someone asks how long it took me to make this picture I could say ‘About 4 ½ days, oh, plus the carding, the nuno prefelt and the framing….’ . Maybe I’ll just settle for ‘About 5 days’.
Do you try to work out how long you spend making things or just go with the flow?
A wonderful 4-week holiday in Australia, Christmas markets and hosting lots of family visitors mean I’ve done very little news-worthy felt-making since my last Felting & Fiber Studio blog. ‘Production felting’ is my own term for making lots of similar things for shops and markets. I did a fair bit of this in November and December: mostly printed tea light holders, printed wool ‘pebbles’ and Christmas cards. These were my 2022 cards: handmade felt with hand-printing. I extracted the tree from a larger, royalty-free, public-domain image and added the heart before printing onto fine flat felt.
I sold these through various outlets and sent a small number myself.
I’ve enjoyed making felt ‘pebbles’ for some years. Since learning to print on felt from Lindsey Tyson, I’ve been able to adapt photos of some of my Mum’s watercolour paintings to print onto the pebbles.
Alas, I left the base alone for a long time during a pandemic lockdown and it was attacked by moths. In a way, being eaten by moths was rather fitting: lifecycles in real life, but the moth holes meant I ended up cutting it up to make bookmarks (after some very hot washing). I did, however, recently sell the tree stump on its own and it now lives in Canada.
Pondering future projects for the tree challenge: I have a very tall, beautifully coloured ‘silver dollar’ eucalyptus tree in my garden.
The eucalyptus tree has potential for lot of other projects, including maybe using the leaves for eco printing onto felt. Eco printing is something I’d like to try, though whether I will get round to it remains to be seen. I don’t recommend any breath-holding for this.
Contemplating Caterina’s quarter-one challenge of making something practical that you can’t buy: one of my favourites is this case I made for my iPad mini. Nuno-felted with sections of recycled sheer silk scarf.
I know you can buy iPad cases but I like that this one is unique and fits perfectly without any fasteners. Because it’s an exact fit, the iPad stays put until you need it, then slides out easily. It’s getting rather battered now as I carry it around all the time so maybe it’s time to make a new one.
Felted vases and plant pots are also both unique and practical. Here are a few. I like that you can co-ordinate them to your décor, or to a specific plant or flower, or just go for colours and patterns you like.
And finally, here’s something that meets both last year’s challenge to complete some UFOs (un-finished objects) and this quarter’s challenge to make something that you can’t buy.
Here’s a pair of earrings that I started making a while ago using hand-dyed 14.5 micron Merino wool. I incorporated the earring post into the felt and some black sequin fabric inside using resists. These were inspired by the work of Aniko Boros and Judit Pocs.
As you can see, I got quite a long way along, but while I finished fulling the one on the left, I stopped with the right-hand one in the pre-felt stage. I’m not completely sure why: probably it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. But it surely can’t take more than about an hour to finish that one, so I’m promising myself here that I will complete that second earring. The world will be minus one small UFO.
I hope I’ve given you a few ideas about different ways of taking on the challenges. How are people getting on with them? If you make something in response to these or any of our previous challenges, please do post your photos on the forum. We all love to see and be inspired by what other people are making.
I taught a new wet-felted bowl workshop recently so I decided I’d share my thoughts and ideas about developing and running that workshop in this blog.
I’ve taught a few different wet felting workshops over the years. I really prefer people to start with making good quality flat felt before moving on to other things, but sometimes I bow to the pressure to do something else. I try to remind myself that I’m not the felt police and neither can nor should be in charge of how other people choose to learn. (But, of course, there’s still a little bit of me that would like to be the felt police. If the vacancy comes up I will almost certainly apply!)
This time I decided to go even more 3D and do a basic bowl, working around a flat circular resist. I wanted the workshop to be suitable both for complete beginners and those with some felting experience who were interested in trying out a 3D make.
I dug about in the studio and in my photos to see if I could find some old bowl examples and came up with a few.
I then walked my way through making a new sample bowl with a workshop hat on. By ‘workshop hat’ I mean focusing on what I think are the simplest techniques for inexperienced felt makers to achieve the best and most reliable results.
I decided on my layout: starting with a fanned-out layer from the centre then a second layer following the circumference of the circle. I intended the circular layer to overlap the edge as little as possible to reduce bulk in the middle, with the main overlap to connect the two sides on the ‘fanned’ layer.
I immediately realised I should have done the layers the other way around. It’s much easier to follow closely the edge of the circle if you can actually see it! I also realised it was better to start laying the wool around the edge and move inwards rather than starting at the centre and moving out.
I find it interesting how wearing a different ‘hat’ makes me think in a very different way from when I’m just making something myself. It’s a useful exercise.
I thought the sample bowl could demonstrate a couple of different surface design options so added some silk fabric, some locks and a little white wool to the grey area.
It’s not the most beautiful bowl but it did its job. The collection of bowls then got me thinking about the size of opening. I like a small-holed bowl to look at but it’s not necessarily so useful and it is certainly harder to full, being difficult to work from the inside. I decided that participants could choose.
I gathered together a range of tools and smiled at the weird variety of odd things I own. This is only a small proportion.
Something these tools all have in common is that not one of them was designed for felt making. My most recent purchase was a job lot of 15 small plastic rattles bought second hand on eBay. Actually, these worked remarkably well, especially for the bowls with small openings, and the quantity would come in very handy if I was teaching a bigger group. That was £5.35 well spent.
The workshop venue was the Horsebridge Community Arts Centre in Whitstable. The Centre has a lovely workshop area: really light and spacious with good tables and lots of sinks. Ideal for our purposes. After welcoming the 4 participants and a short introductory chat I demonstrated the layout. Jenny, Suzanne, Jane & Ronn then chose their wools and set about their bowls.
I had decided to go for 2 layers of wool rather than 4 as I find most people lay the wool out quite thickly to start with. 2 participants had some felt making experience and 2 did not. All of them went for quite thick layers.
We wet the first 2 layers down before flipping to the other side as I find this helps to get the wool tight around the resist.
Next I showed them how to start to work the wet wool: paying lots of attention to the rim of the circle and encouraging the wool towards the centre to reduce the chance of creating an accidental ridge.
Once they’d reached the prefelt stage we did some rolling using just the bubble wrap and towel. Then they were ready to cut the opening & remove the resist. Jenny went for a small opening, Jane and Suzanne a slightly larger one, while Ronn had something more organic in mind. She made 6 cuts out from the centre to create a sort of flower / leaf shape that would hold a plant pot.
Plenty of chat, a little music and lots of elbow grease later ……..
….here are the ladies at the end of the day, delighted with their finished pieces.
And here’s a better view of their bowls (plus the one I’d made alongside them to demonstrate the different steps – 2nd left). I was very pleased not to see any accidental midriff ridges as I think a smooth transition between the two sides is one of the hardest things to achieve when starting to work with resists. The bowls were felted really well, which made my inner felt policewoman very happy, with just the plant pot holder needing a little more finishing at home to fit around its plant pot.
I always ask participants to complete a short feedback form at the end of the workshop. There’s a bit of admin then 3 boxes to complete: ‘what did you like about the workshop?‘; ‘what could be improved?’ and ‘any other comments?’.
I also make mental notes for myself along the same lines. So, here are my own observations
We had a really nice day. It was a lovely group with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere: everyone seemed to enjoy making their bowls. Judging by the feedback forms, people found me adaptable, clear, knowledgeable and helpful throughout the session so lots of positives there.
What could be improved?
The participants didn’t have any suggestion but for myself I thought the timing was a little generous. I’d allowed 6 ½ hours (including a lunch break). We finished slightly early so maybe 6 hours next time, though that may be different if there were more participants.
I realised I didn’t give enough thought to / instructions on the interior of the bowl design. Because my sample bowl had a small opening the interior isn’t visible so I forgot to think that bit through. In fact all the visible bowl middles were good but definitely more luck than judgement on my part.
My making a bowl alongside the participants worked OK but I had to work very quickly to get it to the next stage while spending most of my time helping and advising the others. It would have been simpler to have pre-prepared another bowl sample to pre-felt stage.
All in all a successful workshop with some notes for myself on how to improve a few things if I run it again. Hope you enjoyed your virtual visit to our bowl workshop.
I had a few weeks of sales / exhibitions coming up and was rather low on felt pictures so I decided to go on a little picture-making binge.
First an oystercatcher. I’m particularly keen on square pictures but I know some people prefer rectangles, so last time I had a batch of box frames made for me by my friendly local framer, I ordered four large rectangular frames – two finished in oak & two white wood. (Frame size 84 x 64cm / 33 x 25”)
I’m afraid I didn’t take many ‘in progress’ shots of the oystercatcher. I’d wet felted the bird’s body a little while ago. I then wet felted the background to fit the frame using a variety of pebble-coloured prefelts for the foreground, some incorporating bits of recycled silk scarves. The waves are merino wool with lots of small locks and some sort of tube of knitted yarn designed for scarf-making that I’d picked up in a charity shop. The patches of sea foam are bits of cobweb prefelt and I also included some blue cobweb prefelt to suggest light reflected from the sky. These were added to two base layers of pewter-coloured merino with additions in green and mink.
I needle felted the bird into place then needle felted in the eye, beak and legs, using orange prefelt and hand-dyed fine merino wool.
I wasn’t sure what I’d put on the right-hand side of the picture. I’d considered a second oystercatcher with its back to the sea but there wasn’t really enough room. I live in Whitstable, in south east England – a town famous since Roman Empire times for its oysters – so thought oyster shells might work well for an oystercatcher. I wet felted a pair of 3D oyster shells using bits of different recycled wool and silk yarn on the outside and some pearl fibre from World of Wool on the inside. I like the pearl fibre as it adds a sheen and is presumably made from the insides of shells (i.e. mother-of-pearl) so it seemed appropriate.
I thought it needed another shell so cast about in my stock and found a wet felted mussel shell to add to the collection. I messed around with the composition a little then needle felted them into place before framing. I now use sticky backed hook strips (like the hook half of Velcro) when framing felt – the hook strip attaches to the mount board and the felt is held in place by the little hooks. The felt can easily be removed without damage or residue if I need to move it or someone decides to reframe it.
Next up I made a very lightly felted cobweb prefelt to use in the next three pictures.
When making cobweb felt I tease out a piece of wool roving rather than laying out separate tufts of wool in a single direction. This is part way through the teasing-out process. I prefelt it very lightly – in fact it’s scarcely more than wet wool – so I can stretch it out as I apply it to a picture.
I then started on Summer Sea. Again a pewter-coloured merino base but with lots of other colours applied in wisps on the surface.
Then a layer of blue cobweb prefelt topped with some white cobweb.
Here’s the final picture ready for framing. I’m happy with this, even though the wisps of colour aren’t quite as visible as I’d have liked. (64cm / 25” square)
Next picture is a single wave. I start with 4 layers of pewter merino for the sea area and two layers of natural white for the wave and beach. In the past I’ve forgotten to take into account how much extra material goes onto the wave and beach. If I have 2 layers for the whole of the base, the sea part shrinks a lot more than the rest.
First I added some lighter grey/blue merino on the sea alongside some strips of darker blue cobweb prefelt. Then some cobweb prefelt in front of the wave to suggest water from a previous wave. Next I layered on broken baby alpaca top, mohair, silk hankies, wool locks and wool burrs to create the wave itself. I’ve also put a few strands of silk on top of some of the background waves and the wet-look front area to create sea foam.
Here it is from the side so you can see how high that wave is piled!
And here is the final picture. I spent a while when it was dry picking up some of the wave elements with a broken felting needle to enhance the 3 dimensionality of the wave before framing it. (64cm / 25” square.)
4th and final picture was a smaller one (framed size 43cm / 17” square) called ‘Choppy Sea’. Base layout is pewter with highlights in green and mink, with sections of blue cobweb prefelt and silk hankies for wave tops.
Here it’s felted and dry, sitting on top of its frame waiting to go in.
Again, I’ve used a broken felting needle to tease up the silk hankies that make the wave edges to enhance the depth. And here is a view from a low angle to show the 3D.
So, that’s how I’ve been keeping myself busy recently.
To end with, a few shots of these pictures in situ in a gallery.
These pieces didn’t sell in this week-long exhibition but some older work did – which is a great result for me. I like to live a while with the new pictures so we get to know each other but prefer older things not to hang around for too long! However, the last week and a half I’ve been in the beach hut gallery in my local harbour and yesterday both the oystercatcher and the single wave found new homes, which made me do a couple of very happy ‘shop small’ dances.
If you sell your work do you also get that ‘I’m not ready to let it go’ versus – ‘ok, you need to find somewhere else to live’ feeling?
I’m learning to print onto felt so I thought I’d show you some work in progress. I’m following Lindsey Tyson’s course ‘Transfer Printing onto Felt and other Fabrics’ so I’m focusing here on what I’ve made rather than how. Lindsey’s been printing on felt for some years and has developed her own techniques. She’s now moving away from felt-making and printing to focus on painting so has produced a comprehensive course to share her expertise. I first saw her work a few years ago and have been really intrigued ever since to know how she produces such lovely images on felt.
I do quite a lot of sales and exhibitions in my local area. I’ve long thought I’d like to develop some smaller decorative items I can make relatively quickly and so sell at a lower price than some of my other work (because it’s more time-consuming). I thought printing might provide an opportunity to do this.
I hummed and hawed for some time before signing up as it involves quite a big investment – not only in the course itself but also in equipment, software, space (for the equipment) and time. I’ve just had a milestone birthday and as my mother wanted to give me a milestone gift, I decided that this was it. I do love learning new skills and developing ideas so I was pretty sure I’d love the course. Thank you Mum!
My first venture was to source some free online images (this is covered in the course) and, along with a little oyster shell sketch I drew, prepare them for printing and print some samples onto scraps of felt.
I was pretty pleased with the results. However, some of the prints had a rather plastic feel and very visible edge.
Lindsey was very helpful with her suggestions on how to improve – including highlighting that I’d overlooked one of the steps when using the paper I’d chosen, doh! That is now largely resolved though I’m still wrestling with myself about whether I should buy a new printer as I have an inkjet and apparently laser prints work better.
I made a little tea light holder cover using some commercial prefelt. I’ve never used bought prefelt before (I’ve always made my own) and although it produced a very lovely fine felt, I also managed to create a line in the cover where the sheet of prefelt joined that I wasn’t happy with.
I now know (from the course) that there’s a way round this but I’ve decided for the time being to stick with making my own felt from scratch rather than introducing new variables.
The course covers, in a lot of detail, how to design and manipulate images. It includes tutorials on using free software as well as paid-for software like Photoshop. I decided to buy Photoshop Elements ( a basic form of Photoshop with a one-off purchase rather than a monthly subscription). I have to admit I have not taken to it like a duck to water! Some of that is doubtless me (remember that milestone birthday!) but I’ve seen lots of reviews that agree that it’s not very intuitive and so not particularly easy to learn to use. Fate intervened with (as far as I know) my first dose of Covid-19 during which I confined myself entirely to staying at home for 5 days (as per our current guidance) and until I tested negative. After the first couple of days I started to feel better so decided this was my time to make Photoshop Elements work for me. In spite of sometimes getting very frustrated, I actually quite enjoyed the learning and have to be impressed with the things I can now do with it (however slowly) let alone all the things it can do that I can’t yet. There are some really good free YouTube tutorials too, which helped, and I have certainly put in the hours. Many, many hours.
Back to the felt-making. I made two more little tea light covers – one from 2 fine layers and one from 4 fine layers of 21 micron natural (undyed) merino. I wanted to see how they’d look with a lit tealight inside. Surprisingly they were both OK.
By then I’d thought of using my own felted bird images which I expertly (!) extracted from their backgrounds. I like the redshank and curlew as they both have feet. Often my felt pictures have birds (like the avocet) whose feet are in water or behind pebbles – both because that’s how I saw the wild birds they’re based on and because I find felting bird feet quite hard!
I then tried out 18.5 mic undyed merino and decided this was what I’d use as it has a lovely smooth surface, light colour and a fine translucent appearance. Perfect both for printing and for tea lights.
I started to dig into my vast collection of charity-shop-bought silk scarves and added silk strips to the lower part of the designs. This was partly because lit tea lights’ metal cases cast a shadow at the base of the cover (see the lit one above), partly because it adds to the decoration and partly because it can ‘ground’ the images – i.e. give those birds’ feet something to walk on. Oh, it also eases my conscience about quite how many second-hand silk scarves I own.
And so here are some more of the results. I’ve printed a design on the front and the back (apart from the one with a flock of birds – that goes all the way round). They also look nice as plant holders, ‘thought they’re not quite the right proportions for most plant pots so I have to add some small pebbles to the bottom of the glass container if I want to show them as plant holders.
Some of them are free images I’ve found on the internet; some are from my own large felted pictures and one (the honesty seed pods) is from photos I’ve taken of the seed pods and worked on in Photoshop Elements to create a composite picture.
And here are the first 6 I put in the gallery shop at Creek Creative in Faversham (it’s a gallery, café, shop and studios where I rent my studio), just over a week ago. Inside each there are comprehensive warnings about lit tea lights, some felt care instructions and the name of the image.
The redshank on the left sold within a few days – I don’t know about the others yet.
I’ve also made some cards – initially to use up all the little test prints….
…..and then some I made specifically to become cards
And finally a couple of bigger purpose-made plant pots with metal pots inside, using 21 mic merino in green and white.
Next steps? I’m looking forward to a couple of in-person sales / exhibitions I have coming up so I can gauge people’s reactions. I will keep building a stock of tealight holders, plant pots and cards and developing new images so I have plenty of both stock and variety. I will keep extending my knowledge and skills in both printing on felt and using Photoshop. And I will definitely keep working through Lindsey’s excellent course and drawing on her extensive and generous one-to-one and group support to help me on my way.
Here’s a link to a promotional video for Lindsey’s course, in case you want to check it out.
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/.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?