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Community Art Installation

Community Art Installation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of work in progress shots

And lots of happy felters with their beautiful creations.

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

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

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

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

Completing Montana Sunrise

Completing Montana Sunrise

Here is where I was when I left off in my last post about my latest nuno felted landscape. I decided the next step was to create more evergreen trees to add to the left hillside.

I used some green wool sandwiched between two pieces of water soluble fabric and free motion stitched some trunks/branches. These were then soaked in hot water and gently felted. I started adding them into the foreground. I decided I didn’t have enough so I went back and stitched more several times until I was satisfied with the volume. I also added in a few areas of lighter trees to give a bit of contrast. Once I had those arranged and pinned down, I started looking at the yellow brown area in the middle of the picture, part of the closest mountain. It seemed to have too much contrast and due to being the same color as the foreground, it “moved” that mountain too far forward.

So I added a couple of pieces of sheer nylon scarves, one deep red and one purple over the area. That’s better! I try a lot of different things as I’m working and take quick photos on my phone. I’m not showing all the photos as it is hard to tell the differences in some of them. But I use the photos to see how the piece looks from a distance and find any glaring problems. At some point in here, I added some sheer black fabric behind the foreground mountain as there were bits of black wool that were drawing my attention too much.

After I stitched down the trees with a variety of blue green threads and a bit of feather stitch, I started working on the foreground. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see the details a bit better. The grass is a combination of raffia, burlap and cheesecloth. I also was bothered by the “driveway” of green on the middle right. At some point, I tore some of the wool from the surface so that it wasn’t such a line.

I arranged the grass bits numerous times and then started stitching them down. The photo on the left has the “clumps” stitched but I was trying various pieces of raffia on the very bottom and had them pinned in place. I also decided the raffia was a bit too light so I colored it with a felt tip marker in light browns, greens and dark brown edges. The photo on the right shows the piece after completing the foreground. Next up was the sky.

I wanted to “move” the colors in the sky around a bit with some stitching. But how to do that? I first thought about couching threads to the surface. The photo on the left shows that idea being tested. I wasn’t happy with that but couldn’t decide what to do. So I reached out to Antje (who has authored posts here in the past), and she made several good suggestions. I decided to use running stitch. I used variegated colors and mixed several strands together to not have such a solid color effect. Click on the photo on the right to see the starting of the running stitch. The point of adding the stitching was to soften some of the harder transitions in the sky. Thanks Antje for your help!

Here is the finished Montana Sunrise (16″ x 30″). It definitely has a bit different feel using a mosaic type of nuno felt instead of one piece of dyed silk. I think it is much less abstract than some of my other recent pieces. Now I have to find the right fabric for it’s matting. What color would you use as the matte?

Brooches, bags, booties and other stuff: in search of the elusive bamboo mat.

Brooches, bags, booties and other stuff: in search of the elusive bamboo mat.

I decided to return to basics and take an introduction to wet felting course.  I am hoping to become a training mentor with the International Feltmakers Association and thought that rather than observe the interaction within this course; I would throw myself into it.  Despite felting for the best part of 10 years I will readily admit I am learning loads – happy days!  The course involves sampling various breeds of sheep for, among other attributes shrinkage rate and required finishing the fulling by rolling the sample in a bamboo mat.

I knew I had them somewhere in my workroom – you might be familiar with the process – one puts something away safely for use in the future and then one promptly forgets where it is!  My room was a disaster area after the Christmas holidays as it had become a dumping ground.  It was quite the miracle that I could even find the work table let alone the bamboo mat.  A tidy was on the cards.

As I started tidying, I uncovered a number of unfinished projects which I reckoned would fulfil the criteria of this quarter’s challenge.  Let’s just call it as it is, repurposing something stuck in the back of a closet into something a bit more useful.  Those unfinished projects started with great enthusiasm then put by when I ran out of steam!

First up was the unfinished silk throw which I started in June 2021.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I had inherited lots of fabrics from my husband’s Aunt Kathleen.  In amongst them were small lengths of beautifully coloured wild silk which I had cut into squares and sewn together.  I had gotten as far as putting wadding and a backing on to it so I added a binding and machine stitched (diagonally)  through the layers to complete the throw.  Sorry that I forgot to take a photo of the piece before I attacked it – just one of my work in progress and the finished throw.  I have to say I just love the richness of the colours!  I took the throw out into the garden to photograph but it was so windy it was difficult to catch so this photo does not capture the sheen off it.  You can just about see the pattern from the diagonal machine stitching.

 

Back to the presses where I discovered a pile of felt that I had made up – not sure for what reason – long forgotten.  Some of it was plain and I had experimented by nuno felting various silks onto another piece.  One piece was a beautiful red and it inspired me to make a heart brooch.  I cut out my shape and then put it through the sewing machine a number of times using a zigzag stitch on the edge.  I then sewed a brooch pin on the back.  Here is the result in time for Valentine’s Day (note the bottles of champagne in the background which still have not been removed from my workroom):

I then cut a rectangular shape from the nuno felted sample and zigzag stitched around this in a similar manner to the heart.

These were quick and easy to make (once the initial felting was done) and they have potential for selling at Christmas fairs or including in cards as small gifts.

I keep my handbags in my workroom.  I have a beautiful black leather bag that I paid a fortune for in the 1990’s and have worn it to death.  The colour of the bag is now nearly grey and it’s scuffed – it is normal wear and tear – I don’t believe in using something I love only on occasion.  I had enquired about having the bag renovated but the quotation from the one place I knew who did this kind of work was way up in the hundreds so I did not want to go there.  Instead the bag greeted me forlornly every time I walked into the room.  It was like it was pleading with me to put it back to work again.  I headed off to our shoe menders who said that there were no guarantees that any leather dye would work on bags (they are apparently specifically for shoes).  I decided to take a chance as I did not want to scrap the bag.  It was time to redeploy it.  I used two coats of spray on the bag and now it is as good as new.  I am so pleased.  Unfortunately I did not take a ‘before’ photo but this is how it turned out.

Back in the day when my daughter was at college, she worked in a high end retail store.  Like her mother she fell in love with a leather bag and spent most of her week’s wages on it.  Within a month it looked worn out as it scuffed easily and the colour came away.  So she talked to the buyer and got a replacement only to find the same thing happened.  Disappointed the bag was discarded as it was not fit to be seen.  She told me to throw it out as she felt she would not insult a charity shop by donating it.  Armed with my new confidence I headed back to the shoe repair shop and purchased another dye.  This time I opted for a paint rather than a spray on dye and got to work painting on two coats.  I left it to dry thoroughly for a couple of days and then presented it for inspection.  I have to admit I fell in love with it and I was hoping she might hate the slightly changed colour so I could keep it.  She loved it (secretly I am delighted as she is a fussy lady) and she is now never without it on her shoulder when she is heading out!

 

Then I found a cheap carrier bag that I had purchased while on holidays a number of years ago.  I remember that it cost €1 (which is less than £1 and around US$1).  The handle was torn and the zip, which was used to tidy the bag when not in use was broken.

It was a bit of a sorry sight but I liked the plastic coated fabric and the challenge of repurposing it.  First of all I removed the zip to see if there was any life left in it.  When I was examining it I fell in love with the rainbow effect of the colours on the teeth and made up my mind to salvage it if I could.  I then unpicked the outer pocket that housed the folded bag  and dismantled the bag by cutting away the side and bottom seams and the handles.  This left me with two pieces of material and I cut two rectangles from these, using as much of the fabric as I could.  My intention was to double over the material so that the bag was self lined.  In effect, the bag would be half the size of the cut rectangles (less seam allowance) and I would be sewing through four layers.

Next, I removed the broken tag on the zip using a pliers and I opened the little hook on the mechanism as wide as I could so that I could fit in a fabric tag as a replacement.

I hand sewed the top and the bottom of the zip, cut the zip to size and then covered these areas with remnants  of the bag fabric. Here’s a photo of the mended zip:

I drew a line at the centre of the rectangles of fabric  and sewed through the two rectangles using a big stitch in preparation for inserting the zip (as per Teri Berry).  Then it was time to tackle the zip so I did this using the method Teri outlined in her post of 12th January (thanks Teri, it worked a treat).

I then sewed the original outer pocket back on to one side of the rectangle.

I turned the bag inside out (you might recall that the bag is self lined so the material is the same inside and outside.  I used quilters’ clamps and pins to hold the pieces together and sewed through the material rounding the corners.

I then used my sheers to neaten the seams.

So here is the finished odds and ends bag.  I hope I have added value to it and it will sell for more than its original €1 price tag when it hits the charity shop.

Did I ever find that elusive bamboo mat?  Yes I did in the very last box in the room.  It was worth the search.  I am feeling virtuous (or is that a bit smug) with my finished projects, ‘new’ leather bag, happy daughter and completed upcycling project.

Oh yes and tidy workroom.  Bets are on as to how long that lasts!

A little post script which happened since I uploaded the post.  A friend of mine asked if I could help out with a handmade gift for a new arrival.  Something small, so in the end we settled on booties.  I wanted to keep the price as reasonable as I could for her so I searched through my stash of felt samples.  In the middle of it I came across a hat which I made in my early days and which was waaaay too small for my head.  So out came the scissors and I took over the role of shoe elf (part time).  Thankfully I could work during day time when the real elves were asleep.  I found a free pattern on Pattern Bee (https://patternbee.com/_images/free_stuff/FELT%20BABY%20SHOES.pdf) and got to work.  So here is the result.  I hope my friend and the new parents like them.

I will readily admit I spent quite some time out of my comfort zone putting together this post.  Cutting into things does not come easy to me and I have fabrics that I caress every now and again, afraid that if I make that cut I will destroy it.  But it was good to let go on items where I had nothing to lose if things went wrong.  New things created from old things discarded.

Have you anything that you recently repurposed?  Perhaps this post has inspired you to finish off a project that has lingered in the back of the cupboard.  Perhaps you make do and mend.   If so, we would love to see your work.  Here is a link where you can upload a photo and write a brief description of what you have done https://wp.me/P1WEqk-cJX .  The process is quick and simple and it’s just one click away.   I would love for my next post to feature our reader’s work.  Let’s get this conversation going.  We can all inspire each other.

Update on Mr. Mer part 1

Update on Mr. Mer part 1

For those of you who have not met Mr. Mer, here he is last year as I was working on his anatomy.

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1-2 Mr. Mer 2021

Mr. Mer was underwhelmed with how I had left his basic under-structure of his fishy bits.  I agreed with him that he was not quite as pike-like as I would like. The fish part of the body needed to be thicker and more muscular when compared to my photo reference. How can you fight snapping turtles with such a scrawny lower body?  I still liked the vestigial knees but felt the idea had not yet coalesced into a good integration between man and fish.  I will think more on this as I add bulk to his fishiness.

3 parts of the green fibre collection.

I dug through the greens I had been using, I was almost out of one of the colours I had blended and will have to blend more of it! I was using the large ball of “Olive” Corriedale as the base and adding other greens to mottle and create the colour for the under-structure.  The darker top that I was blending with the olive I am pretty sure some was the Superwash I had bought from the Black lamb.

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4-5 blending wool to build up Mr. Mer’s fish body and tail.

Since I needed a reasonable amount of fibre to build up his fish end I used the hand carders to partly blend the colours. (Nature tends not to have flat colours.) Although I usually hand blend small amounts for details, using the handcards or even dog brushes is easier on the hands and wrists than working with the same amount of fibre hand blending.  When I take the fibre off the cards, it is still quite a long staple. For the under layer and blocking in the basic shape this will work. However, as I get closer to the final shape I tend to tear the fibre into pieces from half an inch to an inch long.

Although I started with the armature and adding shapes build-up of fibre as per Sara’s instructions I have deviated well away from her original Mer-Maid design. She tends to work by adding formed shapes, but for this one, she added a wet felted skin layer to put over her under-structure. I have had more fun using a more blended approach of both additive and subtractive sculpture.  (Adding pre-formed shapes and felting them into place is a lot faster than what I tend to do with using layers and small amounts of loose fibre to sculpt into the desired shape).

You can see I have moved from legs with a tail shape Mer-Man to the beginnings of a more human-fish hybrid.

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6-8 upgrading Fishy-bits underway

I like the direction but need to increase the height and a bit more width of the fish section. I am investigating the popliteal space (the area behind the knees).  I like the angle of the intersection but want to raise the fish spine a bit higher.

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9-10  Needs a bit more

Oh no,  he is not going to like the way that tail looks, it’s a bit bear. I over fanned the armature of the tail and then added wisps of full-length staple. I added a bit to each side using a variety of needles and finally the punch tool (fake clover tool). so when I adjust the tail to the correct position the webbing should ripple like partly closing a fan.

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11-12 Working on the tail

That seems a bit better so I switched back to the body again.

13 elevating the top line of the fish body

I have made both the top line higher and am investigating the angle of integrating behind the knees. Tomorrow Is Library Day for the guild and I will ask Ann what she thinks. So it’s time for Mr. Mer to get into his project bag (not that I expect to have any time to work on him tomorrow) but I am sure he will enjoy getting out of the house and Ann will like seeing how he is coming along.

14  On Library Day, Ann Checked out  Mr. Mer’s Progress, she had a few suggestions.

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15-17 Ann critiques him

As we got the library ready for book pick up, Mr. Mer took up position on top of a small 8 harness loom to watch for guild members wanting their requested books.

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18-20  Mr. Mer is watching for Library patrons

 I noticed he was having trouble bending and has to maintain a push-up to allow him to look out the window.  I have to see what I can do to help him. I will start with an assessment of his ROM (Range of Motion) particularly at his waist but that will be in my next post.

I will hope you are not getting bored with the fishiness of my posts and promise to try to work on something different, but the next post will be part 2. There may be surgery involved!

Have fun and keep felting!!

I am running behind so…..

I am running behind so…..

I declare throwback Tuesday. I seem to have run out of time this week so I thought you might like to see this post from 2017. Jan posted some pictures in our guild group and it reminded me and I thought it was worth another look. I hope it and the links to the other 2 posts about it will give you lots of inspiration for your own work.

Ann

 

This is the 3rd and final set of pictures from this exhibit. http://mvtm.ca/?exhibition=colour-unboxed the first is here: https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2017/01/18/colour-unboxed-by-out-of-the-box/ and the second here: https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2017/01/26/out-of-the-box-part-2/ Again I apologize for some of the odd angles as it was very crowded with people enjoying the exhibit. In the last picture, you may find it hard to see but there is a very long weaving draped across the ceiling.

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First Quarter Challenge – Repurposing Sample

First Quarter Challenge – Repurposing Sample

For the First Quarter Challenge, I was intrigued by one of Lyn and Annie’s samples. It was chopped up bits of felt from an old piece added to a new one. Their piece was very colorful bits of felt on white wool but I was thinking in terms of florals in a landscape. I could try a small sample before I did a larger landscape that might not work as planned.

Here is the sample that I planned on repurposing. I made this several years ago and I can’t remember why I thought I should try this but it is wool with layers/ruffles of dyed cheesecloth. It worked but I didn’t really have any kind of plan on how I would use this method and it’s just been in a bin since then. But it had good California poppy colors so I thought I could chop it up into small bits to represent poppies in a landscape.

I only used a very small amount of the sample to chop into bits with my trusty rotary cutter. I have loads left if I decide to create a larger landscape with this technique.

Next I laid down a piece of green prefelt, covered it with a variety of small green bits of wool in a variety of locks, breeds etc. Whatever I had laying around, another way to recycle little bits of wool. Then I sprinkled the orange bits over the bottom portion for the poppies. Sorry for the poor photo quality, I took the photos in the kitchen where the light is poor. The sample size is about 6″ x 8″ or so. I was going for a small sample but one that I could perhaps use as a mini landscape if it turned out well. (You can always use these small samples for greeting cards or small framed pieces.)

Then I wet down the sample and felted as usual. I did lose quite a few of the small orange bits but I didn’t worry about that. I had lots on there and I thought it would still work with the majority of “flowers” that did adhere. This process reminded me of working with wool nepps which have given me some problems sticking to the felt in the past. I could have added a bit more fiber over the top of the orange bits but I wanted to see how they attached without it. Most of what fell off was cheesecloth.

Here is the final sample after felting and fulling. I am deciding whether I want to add any stitching or just frame this small piece as is. I like the “Van Gogh” look of the trees in the background and the orange stayed very bright and true to color without any wool on the surface. I feel confident that I could make a larger landscape with this technique and I can repurpose more samples this way. Thanks for the challenge Annie and Lyn!

Monstera

Monstera

Happy New Year to all!

At the Waltham Textile group we normally have a biannual exhibition of our work but, due to Covid, it was cancelled in 2020 rescheduled for 2021 and then had to be cancelled again. It’s now been confirmed for August but in the meantime I’ve sold my main “Leaf” themed piece so recently made this mixed media “Monstera” to replace it.

I’m also thinking of submitting this piece for the 2022 IFA online exhibition which has the theme of Flora & Fauna. I’m waiting to hear if a mixed media piece will be accepted. I can’t imagine it being a problem but, if it is, I can simply crop one of the images to show the felted leaf.

I bought a 40cm x 80cm canvas with the intention of painting Monstera leaves on it and then adding a 3D Felted leaf. After drawing a template onto paper and offering it up to plan the layout I changed my mind about painting onto the canvas. It’s not something I’ve done before and the surface appeared to be a bit too textured for the look I wanted to create. Instead I sketched the leaves onto a piece of white cotton fabric, outlined them with an Inktense pencil and added a little shading. The aim was for very simple, very smooth, perfectly formed leaves looking more like curved metal than the foliage on my cheese plant. I think this was influenced by the very smooth metallic looking Tyvek seed pods I’ve been making lately. The Monstera in our lounge has been a bit neglected, to the point that I couldn’t bring myself to photograph it for this post!

I don’t consider myself a painter but I do like painting on to fabric. If you need to paint precise lines a good tip is to use aloe vera (by far the cheapest) or acrylic medium instead of water when applying acrylics on fabric. This keeps the paint where you want it to be and avoids it bleeding into other areas. I managed to get a tiny bit of black paint on the lower section of the fabric but stopped short of starting all over again when I realised the felted leaf would cover it up!

My paper template for the painted leaves was 13” x 18” so to make the felted leaf I multiplied by 1.4 enlarging it to 18.5” x 24” to allow for shrinkage. Layer one was a very yellowish green Merino (might have been lichen but not certain). Layer two was a combination of various shades of grey with the yellowish green running down the centre. This was topped with a layer of dark green Merino and Ireland Viscose all around the edge and snippets of gold Viscose down the centre. These images don’t give a true representation of colours but you get the gist.

After wetting out I measured the fibres and found they had spread to approx 20” x 27”. At the fulling stage, every now and then, I put the original template on top to check for size and ensure I was keeping to the right shape.

Once it had shrunk to the correct size it was left to dry. The next stage was to add wires to the back of the leaf so it could be shaped. This could possibly have been done with directional laying of the fibres and lots of fulling but I wanted the option of posing the leaf once it was attached to the canvas and wires are a good way of doing this.

The wires were spaced out and attached on the reverse using a zigzag stitch which also formed the veins on the front side. You can see that bright yellowish green colour on the reverse of the leaf. Once that was done it was just a matter of cutting into the felt to form the individual leaves and the characteristic little holes of the cheese plant.

After attaching to the canvas with a few strategic stitches the leaf was given its final shaping. It’s now hanging in the lounge above my cheese plant where it will stay until the exhibition…..although if I do get the chance to sell it I suppose there is still time to make another!!

‘Tis the season to … make a Christmas tree

‘Tis the season to … make a Christmas tree

Given that it is already nearly the end of November, I thought I would finally indulge myself with thoughts of the festive season.  As I am sitting here writing, a few thoughts came to mind including how advertising for Christmas seems to get earlier each year.  Here in Ireland I have seen ads in August which, like the vampire seeing sunrise, causes me to turn quickly away, run in the opposite direction, and bury my head.

That said, we have a local and, until recently, privately owned supermarket who sells Easter eggs on Christmas Eve.  What started as a joke one year became a tradition locally.  The supermarket owner, sadly now gone to his reward, would hold an annual Christmas dinner for his elderly customers.  Every year each customer was gifted a shopping trolley load full of groceries which they got to wheel home from the party.  This kindness was not advertised.  It was not used as a form of promotion.  This is what made it so special.  I suspect this story is not unique.  There are a lot of kind folk in our world.  If you can lighten our hearts with a story like this one please feel free to share it in the comments section.

In the spirit of sharing I thought it might be fun to make and share a felted Christmas tree with you all.  It is made around a very simple book resist (only three pages) and takes less than 50g of merino wool.  I am including full instructions for anyone new to felting or to the concept of using book resists so if you would like to give it a try, here is what you need:

  • Your usual felting equipment (bubble wrap or equivalent, soap, warm water, vinegar, your hands, towel etc)
  • 50g Merino wool
  • Enhancements (eg silk viscose etc) – optional
  • Bandage cotton (or a piece of cotton with a really loose weave)
  • Heavy plastic for resist (I use under floor insulation material) also decorator’s plastic which will act as a protector between the pages of the book resist.
  • Ruler, marker
  • Pins, needle, thread, scissors
  • Kitchen roll holder (optional but good for popping the tree on to shape and dry)

Step 1 – making the book resist:

Using the floor underlay (resist material) draw an Isosceles triangle – draw a 40cm line and mark at 20cm.  Now draw a 60cm line up from that point.  Join the top to both sides of the 40cm line as in the photo:

Now cut out two of these triangles from the resist material and join them together along the central line using a needle and thread.  Also put a little stitch through the two resists (see the arrow in the picture).  This will create a three page book resist:

Step 2 the layout:

Next, cut out three triangles, the same size as the resist, from the bandage cotton.  Place the first one on the first page of the resist.  Since it is white on white it is hard to see in the photo.   Spray it with water to keep it in place.

Weigh out 3 x 15g of the merino wool.  Using approximately 10g, lay down the first layer of the fibre in a “criss cross” manner.  Now lay out the additional 5g and then add on embellishments.

 

Wet down and cover with a sheet of light plastic protector.  Wet the protector and rub the fibre through the protector:

Once the fibre is wet through, lift up the bottom of the protector.  Place a thin roll of fibre along the fibre just at the base of the resist.  Now fold over the excess of the laid out fibre over this roll.  Wet down and add a little embellishment to the base.  This will tidy off the base.  Cover with the protector.

Then turn the page to page 2 of the resist:

Next lay out the second triangle of bandage cotton and spray it to keep it in place.  Then, fold over the edge of the fibre onto the second page of the resist (see arrows):

Repeat the laying out process in the same manner as before.  Once this is complete, cover with another sheet of the protector and continue on to page three of the book resist.  Tidy in all the loose fibres around the edges:

Step 3 felting and fulling the tree:

Start the felting process, gently rubbing the fibres through the protector.  Take special care of the edges of the pages.  Once the fibres are secure, it’s time to roll.  Using the bubble wrap pool noodle and towel  and leaving the protectors in place roll approximately 60 times in each direction (north, south, east and west) on each page:

Once the tree has started to shrink, set aside the pool noodle and the bubble wrap and roll using the protector (leave the resist in place) 60 times in each direction on each page:

Then remove the book resist and the protectors:

Turn the tree inside out and continue fulling with the bandage cotton on the outside.  Check every now and again to make sure the tree surface is not felting together:

Work the bottom edge by rolling the edges (see arrow in photo):

Keep shrinking the tree until there’s 40% shrinkage (the tree’s height reduces from 60cm to about 36cm.  During this process, I warmed the felt up in the microwave (40 to 50 seconds on high each time being watchful not to burn the wool):

 

Step 4 – Getting scissor happy and finishing off:

Measure out spaces for slits and cut into each space at an angle so that the flaps are shaped like a V.  I graded these so that the bottom layer is 3cm deep, next layer up is 2.5cm etc.  In total there are 6 columns of flaps.  (Just be aware that the first and third photos here  show just one of three sides of the tree – I still have it shaped like the book resist is inside). Tidy up the bottom of the tree and seal all the cuts.

 

Rinse using some vinegar in the final rinse and roll in a towel to remove excess water.  Shape the tree pulling out the flaps along the way.  Leave to dry:

 

Looking slightly wonky when wet!

Here’s a view from the top of the tree to show how I chose to shape mine.

Here is the finished tree.  The 40% shrinkage has helped with stability despite its height.  I popped a set of fairy lights inside it to finish it off.  With the benefit of hindsight, I should have added contrasting embellishment to the tree as I found the ‘green viscose on green merino quite flat, especially when the light is turned off.  Examining the surface closely the sheen of the viscose has been lost, especially given the amount I used.  I think white would have been a lot more impressive.  Having said that, this will give me the opportunity to take fabric paint to the piece.  Gold or silver, what do you think?

Here are alternatives I made a few years ago.  These little trees were felted on ordinary resists using small, medium and large triangles.  Sorry the photos are not better but the trees are still in storage.  I embroidered silver stars on the red tree, inserted lights in the green one and sewed little baubles onto the white one:

I love hand made Christmas decorations.  It doesn’t really matter what they are made of – it could be fabric or felt or perhaps paper. Maybe crochet or knit.  I believe that the one thing they all share is that they are made out of love.  What do you think?  Do you have some favourite pieces that you would like to share?  Or perhaps this piece has spurred you on to making something – perhaps even a Christmas tree.  I would love for you to share them here.

Wishing you joy, peace, health and happiness this Christmas!

sending a virtual hug to each and every one of you,

Helene

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Some of the painted baubles

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silk and embroidery (hand / finger included for scale)

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

You can never have too much felt art

You can never have too much felt art

Since we moved to our new home in May we have been steadily adorning the walls with the pieces of art that moved with us, as we were deciding what to hang where, Mr TB pointed out that more than half of the art work on our walls is made from wool. I couldn’t disagree but still felt compelled to make a new piece to hang in the hallway, opposite the front door. Something colourful and cheery to greet any visitors. Much to my surprise, instead of complaining that we have too much wool on the walls, Mr TB helped me hang it…

I really wanted to play with a piece of silk purchased at Fibretron (a fibre festival in Hamilton, NZ), it has this wonderful wavy texture and can be peeled into fine sheets a little like silk hankies. I used some to decorate a large sheet of felt, layering and blending different colours as I went.

Once felted, I cut up the sheet into large petal shapes and continued felting them while shaping and blocking them, before laying them out to find an appealing arrangement.

At this stage I felt like the centre really needed something, a complimentary colour perhaps? So I had a play with some different colours…

But they didn’t quite feel right.

I have recently been playing with making different sculptural flower shapes and had one sitting on my bench. This looked much better, this is the piece after I had started gluing and sewing the petals together:

I tried making another central flower in the same blues as the large petals but it didn’t look half as good, it’s funny how some, unplanned, random elements just work together isn’t it? More on the blue flower at the end of this post…

Here is the final piece assembled and hanging on the wall:

It had been hanging on the wall less than a week before one the fluffy terrorists discovered that, if he jumped really high (4 feet off the ground), he could rip the petals off and add to his collection of toys. So far the hanging has lost 2 petals….

Floki with his “prizes” – if you look closely you can also see muddy paw prints on the wall

There were quite a few pieces of felt left over after making this hanging so I re-purposed them to enlarge the small blue flower I made with the intention of it becoming the centre:

Now I feel inspired to make a whole bunch of these to create an artificial flower bouquet….

Summer has finally arrived here in Auckland, I hope the weather is being kind wherever you are.

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