Here we are in January 2021, with Covid vaccines being approved and hope for brighter, more normal days just over the horizon. January is traditionally a month for reflection and making plans for the future. This year more than ever and I have an additional reason to be focussed on the year ahead….. my partner has accepted a job offer from Aukland University, so we will be moving to New Zealand in March / April.
Part of me thinks, the middle of a pandemic has to be the worst time to make such a drastic move but then, is there ever a good time? At least New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world who have a managed to control the virus on their shores and, consequently, are leading a relatively normal existence.
We made the decision to move in November and have been decluttering ever since, I am horrified by how much STUFF we have accumulated in our 10 years in this house. In many ways it has been a lovely trip down memory lane, finding trinkets and photos that have languished in a cupboard or box for 10, 20, even 30+ years.
While my felt samples aren’t quite that old (the oldest might be around 10 years old) they did bring back many happy memories as I was sorting through them, trying to decide which ones to keep.
Some of them document some interesting ideas, techniques and experiments that I thought might be of interest to you too….
Colour blending techniques:
When we felt, we are encouraging the fibres to mix and mingle, so when we apply layers of wool in different colours, the colours also migrate and mix, a little bit like mixing paint. This first technique is something I try to get my bag class students to incorporate as it makes for an easy way to achieve subtle tint / tone graduation on the outside of the bag:
The more this piece is fulled the greater the effect the black and white fibres will have on the colours on the front. By adding a mid-grey between the black and white you can achieve a more subtle change of tone to the coloured side of the felt.
Mixing different colours is also possible and this is so much fun for anyone interested in colour-theory. For this next sample I laid out 2 fine layers of different colours of merino over a green base. Up close (if you click on the image it should enlarge), you can still see the distinct colours in a random marbled pattern but from a distance the colours blend and because I have used colours on the opposite side of the colour wheel, the resulting blends are dulling the top colours and edging them towards greys and browns.
This sample was made by nuno-felting some hand-dyed cotton muslin to merino wool. Then painting on devore paste, leaving it work its magic for a few minutes before washing the paste out. The paste dissolves / etches away the plant-based fibre (cotton) but leaves the animal fibres (wool) in tact, the grey wool can be seen where the violet / red cotton has been removed.
Layering different materials / fibres
This next sample is one of my favourites although the technique is nothing particularly ground-breaking, it is strips of hand-dyed prefelt, laid over hand dyed habouti silk on a merino base.
This is the back, I really like the way the prefelts on the front have created a subtle, embossed effect on the back.
Adding locks for texture
When most of us think of adding locks to a piece, it is to add lots of fluffy texture with the locks only attached to the base felt at their base but on a workshop I took with Heidi Grebb we explored laying out locks much as you would a final layer of tops….
By laying different coloured yarns (ideally different weights too), it is possible to create felt that looks a lot like tweed. If you use yarns with a high wool content, they will felt into the wool base on their own. If using yarns with a higher synthetic content you will need to add a very fine layer of wool fibre over the top to help anchor the yarns into place.
This last sample is my favourite, perhaps I should stop calling it a sample and think of it as a mini work of art instead… It is three, silk cocoons felted between several layers of Bergschaff.
I hope you found these samples / techniques interesting, if you have any questions about them, please ask!
As part of my mammoth clear-out I have a couple of items listed on Ebay that UK residents might be interested in:
A whole Wensleydale fleece, I am gutted to be leaving this behind but I know NZ border biosecurity will incinerate it on sight and that would be even more heart-breaking: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/333851163732
Like many of you, I belong to some textile groups that would normally meet in person but this year have needed to find alternative ways to work together. One such group is the Farnborough Embroiderer’s Guild (EG). This EG group is quite unusual in that rather than inviting speakers to talk about their practice, we all take it in turns to teach each other new skills. Three months ago we started meeting via Zoom and I have to confess in some ways I actually prefer it! We aren’t a large group but when we meet in person I often end up only talking to the 2-3 people I am sat nearest to, on Zoom the whole group shares the same conversation which is nice and feels very inclusive. The other advantage is the lack of commute, for me, this means I get to eat before we gather and I can have a glass of wine while we play together 🙂
Last month Sue took us through a technique to create foiled pictures; I don’t know about you but I can’t resist a bit of bling! As we are approaching holiday season it also feels very appropriate to share this with you now, I think it would make some wonderful textile Christmas cards and gifts. I hope you enjoy it and feel inspired to have a go!
Although I have played with foils before it was only as decorative finishing touches never as the basis to create a whole textile picture. Even so, I still managed to make every mistake in the book but was pleased to find foils are remarkably accommodating, if you make a mistake, it can (mostly) be rectified with layering more foil over the top.
Unfortunately it did not occur to me to take photos of the process until I was half way through my picture, I apologise for the lack of photos covering the initial stages of the process. The first few photos are where I went back and reapplied the bondaweb on the beak as my initial application had not transferred completely.
This was the reference photo I used for inspiration:
Some useful tips before you start:
set your iron on a low to medium (1 to 2 dots) setting without steam
always use a sheet of baking parchment to protect your iron
work on an ironing board
1: Cut a piece of medium weight, iron-fusible interfacing / fabric stabiliser slightly smaller than the background fabric and iron it to the back of your fabric. We used black cotton velvet but most non-synthetic fabrics will work (synthetic fabrics are best avoided for this technique as they might melt when heat is applied).
2: Draw out your design with a pencil on the paper side of a sheet of bondaweb. If you aren’t confident drawing freehand, you can trace the design from a printed image. Cut out your design, either as one solid shape or in sections if you plan to create a stained glass effect. For the hummingbird I cut out the whole bird as a single piece.
3: Transfer the bondaweb design onto your backing fabric.
If you are using the stained glass technique you might want to transfer one piece at a time, foil it then apply the next bondaweb shape.
4: Once cooled, carefully peel off the paper backing from the bondaweb.
5: Lay a piece of foil (coloured side facing you) over the exposed bondaweb and cover this with a piece of baking parchment, using the tip or edge of your iron, apply gentle pressure to the areas where you would like that coloured foil to appear.
Allow the piece too cool before peeling back the foil backing.
Tip: you can cut out pieces of baking parchment paper to mask off areas where you do not want that particular colour to appear.
If there are areas where the bondaweb has not transferred so well, or you have already applied several layers foils and want to lay a different colour over the top you can reapply the bondaweb but cutting a shape to match the area, I did this for the edge of breast where I wanted the purple to form a solid line:
If you want a sharp edge in a specific shape, it is also possible to cut the foil to match the shape you desire:
6: Continue adding different coloured foils to your design. If using cotton velvet for the backing it is possible to build up layers of different coloured foils without applying more bondaweb.
Tip: keep the scraps of partially used foils, they can be used to overlay different colours on top of each other very pretty marbled colours.
It is possible to “draw” lines of foil using just the tip or edge of your iron, I used this technique to create the feathers on the wings:
It is not very easy to capture foils in a photo, especially the holographic ones so I shot a short video that I hope shows all the different colours more effectively:
Our group met again last night to add some embroidery to our designs, this is how far I managed to travel in the couple of hours we had together.
…and a little sneak peek of my most recent foiled “painting”.
July has been another crazy moth, since the UK government announced almost everyone must wear a face covering in shops as well as on public transport I have had almost no time for felting. When I started making masks for friends and family in late April I never for a moment thought I would sell more than 1,000 and donate several hundred more. It has been a strange time but I hope my efforts are in some small way limiting the spread of this nasty virus.
In amongst all the furious cutting and sewing my online students have been keeping me sane, unwittingly allowing me to live vicariously through their posts, revelling in their felt-making while I could not make any myself. Thank you all, you have no idea how much solace and inspiration your beautiful felted creations have provided over the past few months.
I hope you all enjoy their works as much as I did….
I am frequently asked about how to make a concertina style witch’s hat so, finally, and long overdue, I got around to making one this week. I am relieved to discover the plan of action I suggested when asked how to make one does actually work in practice 🙂
A new set of class dates has just been agreed, you read it here first!
Registration will open on Sep 15th, with the first felting tutorial posted on Sep 24th and the forum will remain open for sharing, discussion and questions until Nov 15th.
If you would like to receive an email notification just before registration opens please email firstname.lastname@example.org indicating if you would like to hear about the concertina hat or the bag class (or both!).
Apologies to those who follow my blog and have already seen this post but it has had such a good reception, with many people commenting on how useful they have found it I thought it would be good to share it here and to be honest, I have been so busy making masks for the last few weeks that I haven’t had any time to make felt (and I miss it so much!).
There has been an overwhelming deluge of information and some confusion around the use of face masks to limit the spread of coronavirus in recent weeks. I thought I would put my science background (I studied coronaviruses for my PhD) to good use and try to summarise the deluge of new information into something more digestible to the lay-person, in particular those looking to make or buy a handmade face mask.
Please, if you take nothing else from this post, remember this….
Wearing a homemade mask alone will not prevent you from catching Coronavirus, hand-washing and social distancing are still needed but wearing a mask is widely accepted to help keep us from unwittingly spreading the virus.
What masks do most effectively is limit the spread of virus from people who are not yet showing symptoms to other people. While they make it more difficult for you to touch your nose and mouth they will not stop you touching a contaminated handle and then rubbing your eyes. Social distancing (keeping 2 m / 6 feet away from anyone you do not live with), avoiding touching your face while out of your home and scrupulous hand hygiene are still your best bet for avoiding this nasty infection.
Think of mask-wearing as an act of altruism, you are protecting everyone else from the virus that you might be breathing out without even knowing that you have the infection. Between 20 and 50% of people infected with coronavirus do not know they have it and there have been documented instances of asymptomatic carriers infecting other people (Mizumoto, Nishiura). Masks are most effective in limiting viral infections if everyone wears them in places where social distancing is difficult.
Most of the world has now adopted a policy of wearing masks in enclosed public spaces (public transport and shops are key hot spots where you might have close encounters with people you do not live with), so it looks like face masks are here to stay.
Please don’t rush out to buy an N95 mask or surgical face mask, our healthcare workers (from doctors to nursing home assistants) need these much more than we do. Another issue with the general public using disposable, medical-grade face masks is the environmental impact, they contain synthetic materials that will take centuries to degrade, piling up in land-fill sites for generations to come. Unfortunately, washing and reusing them is not an option for most of these masks, they disintegrate and lose their filtering integrity if you put them in the washing machine. Making or buying a reusable face mask is far more eco-friendly and sustainable for the planet.
Which materials make the best face masks?
There have been several papers submitted or published on this topic recently, some with very exciting results but I think we need to consider the data regarding particle size penetration of different materials with a healthy dose of scepticism. These data are generated in a lab with specialist equipment and as such are a useful starting point but do not take into account human behaviour or the “sticky-ness” of virus particles and the liquid droplets they are invariably carried in when a person talks, coughs or sneezes. The laboratory studies reported in the scientific literature are conducted by blowing particles of a known size through samples of fabric and then measuring how many particles reach the other side.
This area is a rapidly evolving topic of research, I fully expect mask material recommendations will be updated multiple times in the coming weeks and months.
What do N95 N99, FFP-2 and FFP-3 mean?
These masks are seen as the gold standard and are currently in short supply as they are are single-use items, desperately needed by front-line medical staff.
FFP-2* (Filtering Facepiece against Particles) and N95 meet equivalent standards, the materials of both masks will trap at least 95% of 0.3 micrometer (um) diameter particles.
FFP-3 and N99 are broadly equivalent to each other too, trapping at least 99% of particles.
As with all masks, how well they fit an individual will impact their effectiveness, this is particularly true in children (van der Sande).
While coronaviruses, measuring 0.1-0.2um, are smaller than the 3um particles used to test commercial dust masks and respirators they are expelled from the body (through talking / coughing / sneezing) in fluid droplets, and these droplets are typically 0.1-10um in diameter (Zayas), making these studies relevant to viruses as well as dust particles.
*FFP is most commonly used in Europe and sometimes you will see FFP2 / FFP3 abbreviated to P2 / P3.
When selecting a mask material there has to be a trade-off between breathability and particle filtration (how many particles will be let through). At its extreme, plastic sheet may give 100% protection against virus particle transmission but it does not allow the wearer to breath so is useless as a mask material. At the other end of the spectrum, cotton scrim has large open holes between the threads, it is very easy to breathe through but also allows even large particles to pass through unhindered.
Recommendations for mask material selection
Up until last week, I was making masks with good quality quilter’s cotton fabric (at least 80 threads per inch), which had been recommended by several research groups, and a layer of flannel (I suspected that the fluffy surface of flannel would capture more particles but at that stage had not read any papers that had tested it as a material).
Then, last week I stumbled across a very exciting paper. It was submitted on 24th April to the American Chemistry Society Nano (I know, not looking very exciting so far but bear with me…). This team reported on the effect of combining different materials to improve small particle filtration without sacrificing breathability (Konda). Some of the combinations they tested performed better than the surgical masks and were on a par with the N95 masks under laboratory conditions. This table summarises their most promising materials:
Clicking on the table will make it larger.
As mask makers, we are most interested in the left hand column, the less than 300 nm column. 300 nm = 0.3 um and if your recall, coronaviruses are roughly 0.1-0.2 um in size, so in aerosol form they will come under that column but in droplet from they would most likely be in the middle column for particle size, however, these larger droplets tend to fall to the ground quickly so you are less likely to be breathing them. The higher the number in these 2 columns the better, this reflects the percentage of particles that the material has trapped.
The column on the right is a reflection of how breathable the fabric combinations are, i.e. how hard you have to breathe to move air through the layers of fabric. Although slightly increased in comparison to the N95 and surgical masks the researches indicated mask wearers would be unlikely to tell the difference in practice.
I was disappointed that the researches did not share which type of “natural silk” they used, they do not appear to be aware that silk fabric is available in a very wide range of weights and unlike some of the other fabrics tested, they did not provide a supplier either. I am going to assume they used a medium weight (5-8 MM) as 4 layers of heavy-weight (12MM) silk would be quite difficult to breathe through.
The results for silk fabric are most exciting if you are thinking of folding a cotton bandana looped over 2 elastic bands to create a makeshift face covering, you might want to reach for a silk scarf instead!
Which shape mask should I make?
The Konda et al group were keen to point out that a poorly fitting mask significantly reduces its ability to filter particles, even the much coveted N95 mask only managed to filter 34% of particles if the mask did not form a tight seal. This seems rather obvious, if there is a gap between your skin and the mask, air is going to take the route of least resistance and flow through the gap rather than the material. Therefore, finding a mask shape that fits snugly is at least as important as choosing the right materials.
Thousands of different face mask designs / templates have been shared online in recent weeks, many with accompanying instructions on how to assemble your mask. I won’t list them here but if you Google “free face mask pattern” you will have hundreds to choose from.
The first design I tried did not fit at all well, it did not include a nose clip so gaped either side of my nose, and when I talked it rode down, almost exposing my nostrils. I had a play with a few different templates in an attempt to find one that fitted well and this is what I found:
Include a nose clip, this could be made from any bendable metal but aluminium or plastic coated metals are preferred since it will be washed and you don’t want the metal to rust, twisty ties are recommended by several makers.
I found the pleated designs offered enough length to wrap under your chin and not move around when you talk.
Make sure it is wide enough, the outer edges of your mask should extend beyond the outer corners of your eyes but not reach your hairline.
Elastic or adjustable straps will help to accommodate different head sizes.
Another important consideration is washability. Coronaviruses, are an enveloped virus (this means they have a lipid [fatty] outer layer) this layer breaks down when exposed to detergents (just like washing up liquid cleaning greasy dishes), without its lipid envelope the virus is inactivated. This is why hand-washing with soap and water is so effective. Washing your face mask with detergent will also destroy virus particles trapped within its fibres. Making your masks machine washable makes it easy to ensure you never need to reuse a dirty mask, you just pop them in the machine with the rest of your washing.
I make my masks from machine washable materials. If you want to use paper towel or coffee filter papers in your mask, I would choose one of the mask designs with a filter pocket.
Are some materials toxic?
Yes, you do need to be careful, especially with HEPA filters, some of which contain fibreglass, you really don’t want to be inhaling microscopic fragments of that!
I also strongly recommend machine washing any fabrics you plan to use, partly because they sometimes shrink the first time they are washed but mainly to remove any size and other treatments left on the cloth during manufacturing.
Using masks while caring for someone with Covid-19 symptoms
I am surprised by how little this is discussed in the press, while various governments request or instruct us to wear masks when in potentially crowded public spaces and that healthcare professionals should were them as PPE when treating patients there is rarely any mention of using them in the home if you are isolating with someone with Covid-19 symptoms.
Wherever possible, the sick person should isolate themselves in one room as much as possible, if they need to leave that room (to got to the bathroom for example) I recommend they should wear a mask. Similarly, if anyone needs to enter their room, I think it is a wise precaution for both parties to wear a mask, with the obvious exception of the sick person struggling to breathe, in which case you probably should be calling for an ambulance.
Homemade face masks worn in public spaces, where social distancing is difficult, will help limit the spread of coronavirus but they are no replacement for good hand hygiene and social distancing.
Include a nose clip in your masks to achieve a good fit.
The best materials for constructing your masks include, quilter’s cotton, polyester chiffon, flannel and natural silk. Layering a combination of different materials in the same mask is likely to produce the best filtration and may be on a par with N95 masks.
At least 2 layers of fabric is advisable but be wary of using too many layers, you still need to be able breath through your mask (not around it!)
Always wash and dry your mask after each use.
Please leave the medical grade masks for the medics and give yourself a pat on the back for not only helping them but investing in a reusable face mask that is better for the environment too 🙂
Abhiteja Konda, Abhinav Prakash, Gregory A. Moss, Michael Schmoldt, Gregory D. Grant, Supratik Guha. Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks. ACS Nano, 2020
Mizumoto K and Chowell G. Transmission potential of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) onboard the diamond Princess Cruises Ship 2020. Infectious Disease Modelling 2020. 5: 264-270
Nishiura H et al. Estimation of the asymptomatic ratio of novel coronavirus infections (COVID-19). Int J Infect Dis doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2020.03.020
van der Sande – Professional and Home-Made Face Masks Reduce Exposure to Respiratory Infections among the General Population, 2008
Zayas G et al. Cough aerosol in healthy participants: fundamental knowledge to optimize droplet-spread infectious respiratory disease management. BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2012, 12:11
Before we begin….I really hope you and your loved ones are safe and well, but if you are grieving for a loved one who lost their battle with Covid19, I am truly sorry for your loss, I can’t begin to imagine the pain of losing a loved one when you cannot be there to comfort them. Please don’t think for a moment that in this post I am comparing the anxiety many people are feeling and my own journey through this crisis in any way to the combination of grief and anxiety you are experiencing. My heart goes out to you.
Overwhelmed and impotent
We are just over 3 weeks into lockdown (in the UK) and the days have long since become indistinguishable from each other, some days drifting laboriously on, while for others (if I avoid the news) I can convince myself I am holiday and happily while away the day reading and pottering in the garden. I have lost all sense of time, what day of the week is this? Or what month!? Are you feeling the same?
Social media seems to be full of people enthusiastically telling us we need to use this time productively but, quite frankly, a lot of people, myself included, are just too exhausted from anxiety and worry to…. overhaul my website / clean the house from top to bottom / landscape the garden / make all my stock for Christmas *
*insert that overwhelming project that glares accusingly at you from your to-do list.
I know most of these people mean well but their posts really only serve to make me feel even more inadequate and impotent than this crisis already has. If this resonates with you, try to ignore them, mentally file these posts with the fake news and scam posts, they really aren’t worth your attention or energy.
I realised early on that my creative mojo was burrowing further and further into hiding the more my anxiety increased; the more anxious I felt (for myself, my loved ones and friends still working on the frontline), the harder it was to find that creative spark we all rely on. It took me a few days to realise this but just by limiting my access to the news to once a day and only grocery shopping once every 3 weeks I can (mostly) control my anxiety. Have you found a coping strategy? Did you lose your creative mojo too?
To begin with I couldn’t even face the prospect of starting a felt project, all the ideas usually overcrowding my tiny brain had flown away. So I set myself some quite mindless tasks, more to keep busy and distracted than with a goal in mind.
Tidying and organising the “wool room” (don’t be fooled by the name, like you, I have wool and other fibres stashed in EVERY room, but this room has almost nothing but wool and felting kit in it)
Painting colour charts for my watercolour paints (something I have wanted to do for a long time but never found time for)
Baking (if this keeps up, I will be too wide to fit through my front door by the time we are allowed out again)
Then Fiona Duthie threw down a felting gauntlet…..
Those of you that have taken one of Fiona Duthie’s online classes will know about her “alumni” Facebook page, on there she posted a “coronavirus challenge” on the theme, “Separate Yet Connected”.
I have taken part in one of Fiona’s previous challenges (you can see the publication here) and really enjoyed it, especially reading about how everyone else had interpreted the same theme in such varied ways.
But I was filled with nagging doubts, could I come up with an idea and be inspired enough to see it through? I really wasn’t sure. I went back to baking…. and comfort eating…..
A little known piece of personal history for you… I studied coronaviruses for my PhD. It was a long time ago (early 2000’s) but I still feel personally connected to this virus despite the havoc and devastation it is inflicting on us all. This connection and a desire to turn the fear and anxiety into something positive, or at least constructive, kept bringing my thoughts back to Fiona’s challenge but what could I make?
The name corona-virus, comes from a very fuzzy electron micrograph image of crystalised coronavirus particles that show a corona (crown) of spike proteins protruding from the virus envelope.
It was this micrograph that inspired a scruffy self portrait I drew a couple of years ago, where I applied the corona of spike particles to my portrait.
If you are wondering about my bizarre colour choices, they too were inspired by my PhD, I did a lot of confocal microscopy work that used fluorescent markers to highlight different cellular structures and virus proteins (even as a scientist colour was still a very important element in my work!).
Those who know me, know my favourite felt practice is sculpted, 3 dimensional wet-felting. It seemed like a natural step to translate the self portrait into a series of 3D faces.
I applied quite a lot of silk to the “spike proteins” expecting them to add a dash of colour but the fuzzy nature of Black Welsh wool has all but engulfed them.
I am still undecided about the eyes, leaving them hollow / white as they are now is quite haunting to look at and makes me reflect on the very, very many people who have lost their lives and those left grieving for them but to add eyes could make the masks more human and relatable, what do you think?
My plan is to make a series of “masks” with different ethnicities to reflect the global impact and arrange them as a wall hanging with a rainbow theme linking them all in what has become the global symbol of hope in this pandemic.
This one will be the caucasian mask:
I will post an update as this project progresses but in the meantime please be kind to yourself as well as those around you, this situation and the feelings that accompany it is alien for almost all of us but together we will get through it.
Last year I joined the Wey Valley Workshop, an exhibiting textile group based in west Surrey (UK). The theme for this year’s exhibition will be “re-use, recycle, re-purpose” and titled, “Adapt, Adjust, Amend”.
I have long considered myself (and most felt-makers) to be a Womble at heart, making this an ideal exhibition theme. For those who do not have childhood memories of these fictional furry beasties from the 1970’s, they were among the original recyclers, decades ahead of their time, collecting rubbish left by others and finding new uses for it. As I write this post the theme tune is running through my mind….
Underground, overground Wombling free, Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we….
Making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind.
By our very nature, using wool (a waste product of sheep husbandry) as our principal material we felt-makers are already up-cycling other people’s “rubbish” but many of us also scour charity shops for unwanted fabrics and felting tools (AKA children’s toys, massage tools and kitchen equipment), old rubber mats, plastic shelf liner… the list is endless, in our pursuit of textile happiness.
For my exhibition piece I wanted to highlight the growing issue of plastic detritus in our oceans. The impact of human activity on the wildlife in our oceans is truly horrific, I have been reduced to tears time and again by they photos and videos I encountered while researching this project. The impact of plastic affects all ocean-dwelling species, from the the larger pelagic species and seabirds found dead or dying from gut obstructions (caused by swallowing plastic carrier bags) or intestinal perforations (caused by ingesting shards of plastic), to turtles and fish entangled in the plastic rings from multi-packs of drinks and discarded fishing nets, down to the tiniest crustaceans ingesting micro-plastics.
I knew I wanted to upcycle some waste plastics into my exhibition piece and that it would have an aquatic theme so I put a call out for mesh plastics on local social media sites and to the Wey Valley Workshop members, I was inundated with donations, this is just a fraction of the plastic netting I received….
Many, many thanks to all the wonderful people who donated to this project, I will make sure they are put to good use and don’t end up in landfill.
My initial thoughts were that the netting would look like fish scales when felted into the surface but the more I pondered this exhibition piece the more I started to see possibilities in all manner of items that would normally go in the recycling bin and a few items I could rescue from the horrors of landfill. So I started collecting all manner of “rubbish” much to my other half’s bemusement. 🙂
Unusually for me, I refrained from immediately making the most complicated fish imaginable, instead sampling a wide selection of plastics, including food netting, carrier bags, drinks bottles, sweet wrappers, bread bags and the trays soft fruits are often sold in.
The sweet wrappers were a surprise, they feel like plastic but once they were wet with warm soapy water it became apparent that they were organic in origin; they became slimy and slowly disintegrated while I was fulling the felt.
Already impatient to stop sampling and start making, I started experimenting with different resist shapes for the fish, of course I had to start with my most complicated idea first…. 🙂 This is a yellow box fish, made using a book-resist and strips of deep purple carrier bag between the layers of wool. He is a bit of a disaster but with a lot more work he might still make it into the exhibition.
My next two “water babies” were a little more successful, this time using plastic mesh for surface decoration.
Plastic bottles and food trays have proved useful in my attempts to replicate coral (employing a fair amount of artistic licence of course).
I plan to colour the plastic and entwine it more evenly amongst the felt but I am mesmerised by how the shiny plastic and matt felt augment each other’s qualities.
Some of my other plastic bottles have the potential to be become jelly-fish, what do you think? Try to imagine this piece upside down with slubby yarn tentacles….
This just the beginning for this piece of work; looking forward, I hope to incorporate crisp packets (which invariably end up in landfill) into some fish and I envisage all of these elements (and lots more, yet to be made) forming a 3D coral outcrop that could be hung from the ceiling.
Has this post struck a cord with you? Would you like to do more to lessen your personal impact on the oceans? This link contains several helpful suggestions, some of which I expect you are already doing but there may be one or two you haven’t considered yet. Please add a comment your thoughts on this topic and any novel steps you are taking to minimise your “footprint”.
I know I have said this before, but it is worth saying again :). Every year I am left in awe of the beautiful colours that mother nature brings us each October / November.
While the British deciduous woodlands make my heart sing with their beautiful yellows, oranges and chestnut browns, this year I was lucky enough to visit Japan for the first time and was blown away by the intensity of the golden yellows and crimson maples against the dark green conifers.
The FFS fourth quarter challenge is all about creating a colourscape (which I interpret as creating pleasing combinations of colours). It seemed an obvious step to use some of the photos from this trip as my inspiration, but what to make? Felt can be notoriously difficult to work with when you want to place complementary colours next to each other, by its very nature the fibres (and therefore colours) want to mix and mingle and of course that will lead to muddy browns and greys where the two colours meet.
A few months ago, Fiona Duthie posted a video on how to make a double-walled vessel on her course FB page (it is only open to former students of her online classes). I have been having lots of fun with this technique as it provides an excellent solution to the colour mixing problem.
This is one of the first vases I made following her video, the double-walled technique lends itself very well to placing complementary colours adjacent to each other.
Feeling inspired by the crimson and orange acers (Japanese maples), I set about planning my vessel…
First to choose the colours…. for the inner wall:
And the outer wall:
Laying out the silk and wools:
While felting I couldn’t help but adore the colour transitions from the inside to the outside wall:
I could have cut the leaf shapes from the outer wall free-hand but given how fiddly they are I decided to play it safe and made myself a stencil.
I used water soluble crayons to mark where I wanted to cut the felt (these are really convenient way to mark up damp felt and they wash out easily).
Once the leaf patterns had been cut away I continued to shape the vessel and heal the cut edges, et voila! It’s not quite dry yet but I think you can still get a feel for the colour combinations even though the sheen on the silk can’t be seen yet. What do you think?
Autumn has definitely arrived in my little corner of the world, the trees are turning breath-taking shades of red, gold and orange and starting to fall to the ground.
This week I met with two friends who I normally meet every couple of months for a felting play-date but we couldn’t pass up the perfect opportunity to use the abundance of natural materials at our feet and have a go a botanical printing. Not something any of us are experts in but its always fun to try new things isn’t it?
I have been playing with botanical printing for a couple of years now, so I already had a selection of materials to hand (rusty water, logwood extract, a tea urn and fish kettle for steaming etc) but Janine and Nancy also brought materials (red onion skins, another fish kettle, hot plate etc) with them, along with the all important vegetation and mordanted fabrics.
After looking through some of my previous attempts we settled on a logwood carrier blanket for the first attempt. The leaves were dipped in iron water before laying on our fabric, covering with the logwood-soaked carrier blanket and steaming. These were our results…
Janine’s dye blanket was smaller than the fabric she was printing, I love how her leaf prints appear to be breaking free from their logwood “frame”:
I loved the greens Nancy achieved with jasmine and rose leaves:
This was my silk scarf part way through the reveal…. logwood blanket with leaves still stuck to it on the left, printed scarf on the right. I was a little disappointed with the eucalyptus leaf in the top centre of the picture, I have previously achieved some lovely orange prints from this tree but not today.
My silk scarf revealed….
Never one to make life simple, I added a previously printed nunofelt scarf to the other side of my logwood blanket. I was reprinting it because I did not like the original, insipid print, but I like the over-print even less! 🙁
Now it is dry it arguably looks even worse! Not to my taste at all. Yuk!
Next we tried a dye bath (as opposed to steaming our bundles), we mixed a sweet-smelling concoction of eucalyptus bark and red onion skins:
I thought most of the leaf print results from this batch were a little disappointing (only the cotinus appeared to work) although we did get some nice shibori style stripes. The colour difference between the alum-mordanted and unmordanted silk was striking, mordanting really does yield brighter colours.
We sprinkled dried safflower petals among the iron-dipped leaves before bundling and simmering for 90 minutes.
Nancy had better luck with a second piece of cotton in her bundle:
Finally we tried soaking our fabric in tea and using an iron-soaked carrier blanket, the tea gives a gentle yellow-brown colour but where the iron reaches the tea, it turns almost black:
I was quite surprised by how much the colour of the leaf contributed to the colour of the print, in previous tests I found the orange and red leaves gave yellow and brown prints, just like the yellow leaves…. this really is a craft that relies on serendipity!
Another surprise was the beauty of the iron carrier blankets, they really stole the show!
Nancy also had a promising looking result from a heuchera leaf
But when the leaf was removed the print underneath was a little disappointing…
Our final bundles of the day were arguably the best. Janine and I used some large fatsia leaves and I included some wisteria that Janine had brought, this gave one of the most beautiful greens I have ever achieved from a botanical print. We dipped the leaves in iron water and used a logwood carrier blanket again.
While I love the white silhouette effect of the large fatsia leaf on my scarf, I am in awe of the detailed print Janine achieved from hers…
Feeling inspired by the wonderful greens Nancy’s jasmine had given, I carried on after they left, pruning my poor garden far more than it really needed 🙂 However, while the maple and liquid amber leaves printed beautifully, my jasmine wasn’t as pretty as Nancy’s:
I included a nunofelted scarf on the other side of this dye blanket too and was pleased with the colours from the sycamore and oak leaves, I think the yellows work beautifully next to the blue-grey background:
I also put another bundle in the red onion and eucalyptus bark dye pot, but this time it was simmered for 2 hours, and I think the leaf prints were much improved from the extra 30 minutes of cooking:
Thinking of having a go yourself? You should, its a lot of fun if you like unwrapping presents! You can never really know what you will get 🙂
All but one of the scarves / fabrics in this post were steamed or simmered for 90 minutes, however, I found simmering in the dye bath yielded better results if they were left in for at least 2 hours. I know some botanical printers steam for a lot longer or leave their bundles to cool overnight before unwrapping, but I never have the patience to do that! 🙂
All the leaves were placed with the veins facing the fabric to be printed, in theory the stomata (the holes that the leaf “breathes” through) on the leaf underside should give a better print as there is more opportunity for the tannins to be released, but the prints on the iron blanket (they are printed from the top of the leaf) were equally stunning, I will leave it to you to experiment with that and see which works best.
In most cases (not when the iron blanket was used) we dipped the leaves in iron water before laying on the fabric.
All fabrics were gently washed after printing to remove the iron and organic material.
This may seem like a rather philosophical title for a textile blog but please bear with me, I wanted to share a new direction and body of work with you.
These thoughts and ideas have been slowly percolating through the recesses of my mind for about 20 years, since a fairly heated debate with a psychology teacher on whether humans are the only animals who possess cognitive abilities (perception, attention, memory, motor skills, language/communication and visual/spatial processing). She quite vehemently argued that only humans possess all of these skills, I was a veterinary nurse at the time and forcefully argued the opposite, taking it further and arguing that animals also feel emotions too.
This debate was recalled during a trip to India in January 2018 and a visit to a Jain temple. The Jains have an intriguing philosophy and what struck me most about the monks was the extreme lengths they go to in order to preserve and protect all life, they believe every animal is sentient and as such, must not be harmed by their actions (either directly or indirectly). Their vows of non-violence make them the ultimate pacifists, a stance which I thoroughly admire but have to admit, have no hope of ever attaining. They are strict vegetarians and do not eat after sunset for fear of accidentally eating an insect on their food, and the monks pluck out all their head hair rather than shaving it so as not to harm any lice that might be residing there.
While sentience is essentially another word for consciousness and it is relatively easy to argue that most animals, even the smallest, are “conscious” on at least some level, even if it is just awareness of food sources and potential mates. The idea that all creatures are sentient rekindled my thoughts about the cognitive processes and expression of emotions in animals.
I knew I wanted to explore this idea from a creative perspective but was unsure where to start. Researching colour theory revealed a wealth of information about our emotional responses to different colours and this led me to play a game of “abstract word-association”; starting with a one or two words that described an emotion I worked on small squares of water colour paper, trying to express that emotion with just colour and mark making, these are some of the results:
These little sketches were surprisingly cathartic to make, if you or someone you know is going through a challenging time and finding it difficult to talk about how they are feeling, asking them to illustrate, in an abstract way, a series of emotions (both positive and negative) from a list of words may be helpful.
Taking Gladys Paulus’ mask workshop earlier this year has given this topic, and my approach to it, a whole new lease of life, no longer confined to 2D work I have been having a ball making various animal sculptures, each expressing their own emotion. As each new personality takes shape on my work bench I am finding myself creating whole backstories for them.
I am thrilled to introduce you to 2 new, very special friends:
While the king of the beasts has a fearsome reputation, Lionel is really a very gentle, affable soul who likes nothing more than a good chortle at the ridiculous things humans do.
She isn’t quite finished, but will be a wall-mounted sculpture like Lionel when she is.
Margo is an old soul in a young body, she takes offence at almost everything and wears a permanent look of indignation on her face. She believes her purple spots are a sign that she is descended from aristocracy and therefore everyone is beneath her; if anyone is going to look down their nose at you, it should be the tallest of the beasts!
These two sculptures (and hopefully one or two more if can finish them in time) will be on display at the Art Box exhibition, at Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking RH5 6AA, UK, between September 23rd and 29th. If you are in the area please pop in and say hello, it is a beautiful place to visit and entry to the exhibition (with artworks in a range of media from 8 independent artists) is free.
Which animal and emotion would you like to see paired together?
Do you think I am anthropomorphising (applying human characteristics) the animal kingdom, or do you agree, animals do feel and express emotions, and perhaps some humans are too ignorant to understand when the animals around us try to communicate these emotions?
2019 has been an interesting year and we are only in June! A few unexpected / unplanned opportunities presented themselves with surprising results (good and bad), so as Surrey Artists’ Open Studios draws to a close this seems like a good time to chat about the pros and cons of trying to make a living from handmade textiles and to reflect on what went well and not so well.
As some of you may know, I gave up the day job 18 months ago to focus on felt-making full time. I knew the first few years would be financially hard so I saved diligently before taking that leap into the unknown. I am really glad I did, it is really tough trying to earn a living from textile art.
Contemporary Textiles Fair
The major benefit of no longer working for an employer is that I can be very flexible and consider opportunities that previously would have required me to sacrifice some of my annual leave allowance. One such opportunity was the Contemporary Textiles Fair in Teddington. This is a well known (in the UK at least), annual event, that generally gets good write ups, this combined with a business mentor encouraging me to take my one-of-a-kind products and bespoke commissions to “high end” fairs meant I was less anxious than perhaps I should have been about covering the £220 stand fee.
While I enjoyed the show, it was incredibly well organised and I met lots of really lovely textile enthusiasts, I didn’t sell enough work to cover the stand fee, and when you factor in the 3 days I spent at the show and the fuel travelling back and forth each day I made quite a substantial loss. Sadly, most of the other artists sharing my aisle reported the same. That said, I know some artists have been attending this event for years and are happy with their sales but I do worry that CTF will not continue for much longer if so few of the exhibitors are making a profit. Perhaps I should adopt the view of the stall-holder opposite my stand, she felt the stand fee was a reasonable price for the exposure / marketing opportunity. Personally I think a magazine advert would be better use of my time and money, what do you think?
The 3x Rule
Personally I use the 3x rule to decide if a show is worth doing again, if my total sales are at least 3x the value of the table / stall fee + travel and accommodation costs (if applicable), I will look to repeat the same event. Those sales should include commissions from people who saw your work but contacted you after the event too.
If my takings are less than 2x the table fee, I have effectively given up all the time I spent making what I sold and the cost of the materials, not to mention the hours spent setting up and manning the event to the organisers for free. That may be acceptable if you are just selling as a hobby but if it is your main source of income, it is utterly unsustainable.
How do you decide if you will repeat a fair or event again? Have you taken part in a show where you had poor sales but still returned the following year? Did you fair any better?
How do you decide which fairs and events to take part in?
In April I entered a piece into a local exhibition, up until now I have always shied away from exhibitions and galleries that charge a significant commission. In part because I worry that if I increase my prices to cover the commission no-one will part with that much money but also because if it doesn’t sell during the exhibition I feel obliged to keep it on sale at the inflated price. Galleries understandably don’t like it if you have similar (or the same piece) for sale in your own shop for half the price that they are charging. This means I will only consider entering pieces into exhibitions that are truly one-of–a-kind. AppART was a good choice for me, the exhibition site is less than 10 miles away and the commission fees were 35% plus a £10 hanging fee.
I entered my Tropical Reef hanging that some of you might recognise from earlier posts, and it sold! 🙂 What’s more, the lady who bought it found me in the Open Studios brochure and paid me a visit, how lovely is that! 🙂
This is one event I will definitely apply to again next year, I am already percolating ideas for felt sculptures to submit.
Working Outside the Box
Sometimes opportunities present themselves where the WIIFM* isn’t immediately obvious or you do something for fun or charity not expecting any reward.
A good example of this is a local art group (Pirbright Art Club) I joined a few months ago, I enjoy painting and drawing and while I don’t think I am good enough to make a living from it (60% of what I paint goes in the recycling or is cut up to make greetings cards) it has become my hobby now my other hobby (felt-making) has become my day job 🙂
When I joined I thought I might make a few friends and pick up some painting tips but was asked if my felt dragons, could be included in a dragon-themed exhibition, I had no idea when I made them that this event was on the cards. How is that for serendipity in action?!
No sales came from this exhibition but I did gain some more exposure, it was free to enter and Bunsen and Petunia had a fun day out together 🙂
Open Studio Events
I wrote a post on hosting an open studio event last year, I will not repeat the tips from that post but you can read it here if you are interested. This year I tried some new approaches, in particular, studio trails.
This is where a group of artists who live geographically close to each other (the closer the better, walking distance is ideal but not always possible) get together to create a trail map. They then encourage their visitors to visit the other studios on the map, including yours, a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” sort of arrangement.
While the trail worked to some extent, I had about a dozen visitors who said they were following the trail, I think the biggest benefit is from networking with other local artists rather than an increase in visitor numbers. This is already starting to present teaching and exhibition opportunities that I would not have been aware of without my new network of fellow artists.
I offered a few teaching sessions during the days when my studio space was closed to the public, strangely everyone wanted to make a nuno-felted scarf on the same day, I could have filled this class several times over but only had space for 2 students. Sarah and Pene were the quickest to book their spots and both did remarkably well with what is quite an advanced technique, Sarah had never made felt before!
Of course Bunsen and Petunia stole the show, although only one gentleman was brave enough to try Bunsen on while Petunia kept a watchful eye on her friend from the windowsill….
This was only my second year of taking part in Open Studios and it was even more successful this year; this event is definitely going in the diary for next summer!
What is your experience of selling face to face? Do you have any tips to share? How do you choose which fairs and events to take part in?