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Spinning Spirals and other topics.

Spinning Spirals and other topics.

A few years ago, while searching for an online textile workshop, I happened upon one that made me curious.  I was familiar with the tutor’s name, Ruth Lane, as her book “The Complete Photo Guide to Felting” was and continues to be one of my ‘go-to’ reference books.  Among its many attributes are two that I hold important, good writing and clarity.

At the time, Ruth was offering, among her courses, one titled   Nuno Felting with Paper Fabric Lamination.  This four week course is available under the heading Embellishing Felt With Surface Design Techniques – A Mixed Media Approach.

(https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/classes/embellishing-felt-with-surface-design-techniques-a-mixed-media-approach/nuno-felting-with-paper-fabric-lamination/)  Ruth lived up to expectations by providing concise instructions on her methods.  The smaller class size made the whole experience very personal and enjoyable.  It also provided a space where I, as a participant could interact easily with fellow students – it’s something personally I think important as sometimes on-line classes can leave me feeling quite remote.

I was absolutely delighted when Ruth asked me to write some posts for the Felting and Fiber Studio blog and when I finally decided to design and produce the online Spiral Workshop I was thrilled when it was accepted as one of the courses on the FFS workshop platform.  I feel so comfortable with the whole ethos of small class sizes and encouraging participants to engage with others if they so desire.

The Spiral workshop came about as a result of a challenge put to me by a fellow felter.  Once I had refined my technique I set about filming each step of the process.  I wanted clarity as, to a large extent, the videos needed to replace my physical presence in the learning space –  that said as with all courses offered by FFS, tutors are available to answer questions for the duration of the course.

Once the full course was recorded, I set about editing the material. This did not involve a lot of deletions.  Instead the videos were broken into smaller steps which would make particular elements of the process easier to locate for participants.  Each video has an accompanying PDF which again is broken into steps to match the videos.  These are available for participants to keep and the videos are available for the duration of the course (and a few extra weeks).

This will be the third run of the course which will start on 26th August.  Registration for it opens today (12th August) and numbers will be limited to make the experience more intimate.

Here are some photos of students’ work.  They are all so gorgeous and so different. I have included some of the reviews at the end of the video.

 

If you are interested in finding out a bit more, feel free to check out the following link:

HANGING FELTED SPIRAL WITH HELENE DOOLEY

 

Another Historical Sample

Another Historical Sample

I showed you a historical felt pattern sample recently where I used a water soluble stabilizer to create the pattern. Obviously, in ancient times, this product would not have been available. So I needed to try a more traditional method.

I decided to try a different design based on wings. The pattern was printed twice and put one over top of the other in a mirrored pattern. The paper design was covered with plastic so I could lay wet wool down on top of the pattern. This is the method that Ildi uses, thanks again Ildi!

Next, wool yarn was wet down and applied over the pattern. Pre yarn would work better, but this is what I have in my stash.

The colors chosen were two shades of blue, one leaning towards blue green and the other leaning towards the violet side of blue. The fiber was wet down and laid in place. Layout definitely takes time with this method.

Then another layer of the dark blue was laid out on top of the wet wool pattern. I didn’t need to add any water to this wool as there was plenty already available. Next on to felting. The piece was kept in between plastic for the entire felting process but then with fulling, the piece was rolled against itself. Big mistake as this caused the yarn to fragment and pull free in some areas. Sigh.

Here’s the piece after felting and the black was not a clean line. Again, this is partly from using a twisted yarn instead of a pre yarn but also due to the fulling method.

I shaved the black but it is still not as clear as I would like. The design also had very sharp points where I cut the yarn and the ends didn’t felt in as well.

This is the sharpness that I would prefer. These two pieces were made quite a while ago. I made all the felt, then cut out the shapes and appliqued (hand stitched) them down. I then couched a green yarn around the shapes. This is a traditional ram’s horn design that is seen frequently in the Central Asian areas.

Have you tried any traditional felt patterns? I would love to see your results. You can upload photos here.  Or you can show us over on the forum.

Second Quarter Challenge 2022 – I can’t do that

Second Quarter Challenge 2022 – I can’t do that

As soon as I saw what Lyn was setting as our next Challenge I thought “but I can’t do that”.  I have always stumbled when trying to understand Design because, although I can see pattern in a lot of things, I fail entirely in translating what I see into my work.  I am very literal in my thinking, and when I see abstract pieces (usually “modern” embroidery pieces) based on images of say, a broken brick, or the reflection in a window, or a rusty piece of metal, or a “fractal”, I think to myself “yes, very clever, but why?” and “what would I do with it?” and “I can’t see that on my wall” (and just occasionally “I wouldn’t give that house room!”).   This is why I tend to make my pictures or 3D sculptures as realistic as I can.

I was going to just not bother with this Challenge, and then I remembered that some years ago I had attended a course on Design – I had forgotten all about it and it is relevant to this Challenge.

In August 2015 the Association of Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers included in it’s week long residential Summer School syllabus a course by Alison Daykin – “Design for the Terrified” and I was lucky enough to be allocated a place – most courses were usually over-subscribed.  Here is the introductory list of available courses from the brochure for you to drool over!

The course was described as offering “help to ‘painting and drawing challenged’ weavers, spinners, dyers, or other textile practitioners, in understanding Design and using this in their chosen medium”.  The brochure went on to say: “This course will provide simple, but effective guidelines in design, without the student feeling overwhelmed by theory. The tutor will also leave plenty of room for participants to express themselves in their chosen medium.

“By the course end students will have at least one sketchbook and understand the basics of: colour studies; textural studies; shape; line/stripes.

“Students are encouraged to make samples appropriate to their own textile skills. They may choose to bring their loom or wheel with them, or to develop further sketchbooks if they prefer.”

Frankly this description of the course frightened the life out of me and I nearly didn’t apply, not least because I would be foregoing the chance to take the offered very interesting felt making course. (It’s headline description was “… an ‘adventure with fibres and fabrics’, combining colour, texture and layering to produce felted fabrics for decorative purposes or garments” and that was what I was most interested in at the time.) However after exchanging a few emails with Alison, and reading the three blogs which she sent out about the course I decided to bite the bullet.
The first blog post puts emphasis on your “Inspiration” and resulted in a further flurry of emails with Alison, since I had no idea what it meant or what my “Inspiration” should be in this context. She basically said that I should pick a subject which I found really interesting. I was undecided whether to plump for trees, which seemed a very big subject, or sea shells – almost as big but of which I had recently started a collection. In the end I went with sea shells.

Sea Shell collection with Sea Urchin “
skeletons”

The second and third blog posts and a “round robin” email from Alison encouraged us to bring along as many different types of art media as we might be able to lay our hands on, including different types and colours of paper and “mark making” equipment. In addition we were asked to only bring one image of our inspiration, but as many copies of it as possible. (As I hadn’t been able to choose just one shell my image consisted of most of my collection, which also included sea urchin “skeletons”.) We would also need to take a notice board (if we hadn’t already made a mood board – “Er …. what’s one of them?”) so that we could pin up various bits and pieces as we went through the course. We would also need the equipment and materials required to make samples in our chosen technique. As I didn’t know which shell would be my inspiration the “materials” consisted of most of my stashes of fibres, fabric & yarns!
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the saying “everything but the kitchen sink” – very apt, my poor car was groaning when I set off with all this stuff plus clothes etc., and I had yet to fit in the friend I was giving a lift to, plus all her stuff and her walking aid. (She was still a bit frail after an illness.)

The Summer School was based at Moreton Morrell Agricultural College in Warwickshire, where (after we got lost twice on the way) I met Alison and the rest of the class members. There were weavers, spinners, an embroiderer and a felt maker – me.
Alison showed us her own work, and took us through her process for designing woven fabrics for specific purposes, showing us her mood boards and pictures of finished fabrics “in situ”. Here is a much abbreviated view of how she followed one inspiration from an image of ancient ruins to cloth samples.

She then started us off on our own design journey. Alison suggested to me that I should pick my favourite shell from the picture of my collection and make an enlarged drawing of the shell, both in monochrome and in colour and using different media. I had a go at this, although my drawing skills are minimal. This was before she had found that we would be able to have access to the college’s print facilities, where we could get photographs printed, and colour and monochrome photocopies made on a copier, which was capable of enlarging. We all made great use of this facility – zeroing in on just part of our inspiration image and having multiple copies made on different colour papers as well as plain white – which enabled us to speed up our progress through the stages of the design processes that Alison had mapped out for us.

One of the “tricks” which Alison showed us was to take two images, cut (or tear) them into strips (leaving one side of the paper still intact, and then to weave the two images.  This did produce some interesting results.

We also cut strips across an image and used this to reference yarn (in my case fibre) wraps. Using this method enabled us to achieve a colour swatch giving combinations, quantities and placement of harmonious colours.

Showing the progress from picture strip to felted swatch

Once we had all played around with these ideas for a day, we were encouraged to get on and start creating samples in our chosen techniques, keeping in mind how we might use the finished work. As I was interested in making felt for clothing and accessories, I had brought with me copies of designs from specific sewing patterns and tried to pick the patterns that would best suit. I had by this time branched out to using as inspiration two different Sea Urchin skeletons, one Cone shell (and when no-one was looking I did a bit of crochet based on the end of a Conch type shell).

As you can see, I’m still leaning towards the literal/representational side of designing.

Alison also encouraged us to take our cameras and go out around the college grounds and look for more inspirations for design. At this stage we had all got used to looking beyond the obvious and came up with some unusual images. This was the one I chose to do something with – don’t ask me why – it’s just a picture of the wood surround (and my toes) to a raised flower bed outside the portacabin which was our workshop, where we all congregated for coffee, snacks and chat.

Being full of enthusiasm for the project, I cut down the photograph to a corner and then cut out the image of part of the surround.

which I then had enlarged and with several copies started to develop the design

This is the design I finally ended up with.

There are five versions in this picture, the basic design on top with four colour changes of the small “pops” of colour.  And here is the jacket pattern and a tracing of the design.

The last day of the course was mainly taken up with visiting the rooms where the other courses had been taking place for a grand Show & Tell. To this end, we had packed up all our equipment and materials and set up our notice boards and work tables as displays of what we had been doing. Here are mine

And here are some of the displays of other class members’ work.  Not all of them I’m afraid, I had camera shake by then so I’ve only included the less blurred ones.

The whole Summer School experience was great, with evening entertainments, a fashion show, a display of entries for the Certificate of Achievement “exams”, a traders’ market (I spent too much money as usual) and a trip to Stratford Upon Avon for a tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Theatre with a chance to see some of their costumes “up close and personal”. 

We inhabited a bubble, with little contact with the outside world.  (There wasn’t even a signal for our mobile phones, short of climbing a hill and standing in the middle of the road.)  A wonderful experience and I’ve enjoyed revisiting it.

I am afraid that by the time I got home again I reverted to type and have not made any fabrics, felted or woven, from any of the designs. I just did what I usually end up doing after returning from a workshop – I put everything away and forgot about it! So I still don’t have a 2nd Quarter Challenge piece to show you; though as a result of writing this post and after seeing some of the pieces which FFS members have posted, I do feel better about the possibility of designing from random observations and images.

I am looking forward to seeing what the next quarter’s Challenge will be.

Creating A Nogai Floral Design Using Sticky Fabri-Solvy

Creating A Nogai Floral Design Using Sticky Fabri-Solvy

As I told you in my last post about our trip to New York City, I visited the Met Museum’s Watson library. I am doing research on ancient felt making patterns in and around Central Asia.

This is one of the books that I found in the library and it had loads of illustrations with different patterns. But, the book was written in Russian. I went ahead and scanned the illustrations and hoped that I would be able to get it translated when I got home. It took me a few days to realize that I knew someone who speaks Russian, Galina! She is a member of The Felting and Fiber Studio Forum and will be teaching another Fantasy Fish online class soon. Galina kindly translated for me and also told me a little bit about the book. The book is about the Nogais, a Turkic ethnic group, who now live in the North Caucasus region. This is “next door” to Central Asia and since these were nomadic people, I think I will include their patterns in my research. The book was written by Fatima Kanokova and her doctoral thesis had a theme of “Decorative Art of the Nogais.” Thanks so much Galina for your help!

I took one of the floral patterns from the book and enlarged it. I then painted it on paper in the colors I was going to use. The colors were limited to what size and color of prefelt I had available. I used a very lightweight commercial prefelt and decided I was going to need at least two layers and then a backing piece of prefelt. I did try and do a little dry felting of the two pieces of prefelt so they would stick together during cutting. This wasn’t very successful. I would highly recommend using a thicker piece of prefelt to begin with and the cutting process would have worked better. Next, I needed to decide how I would transfer the design.

I was thinking of using the freezer paper method like Lyn used with her pigeon/rubber ducky piece but then suddenly remembered that I had some Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy that I had bought for free motion machine embroidery. I did not like using it with the sewing machine  or hand sewing because it gummed the needle up so much. But I hoped it would work with the prefelt.

The Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy has a paper backing on a sticky, water soluble fabric type stabilizer. So I traced the design and cut it out with a craft knife. I cut very carefully, so that I could use both portions of the design for the negative and positive shapes.

Here it is after cutting and you can see the negative and positive shapes that resulted.

Next was to peel the paper backing off and position the pieces on the various colors of prefelt.

Here is the prefelt with the cut shapes of Sticky Fabri-Solvy stuck in place. Now on to cutting them out. I tried cutting them with the craft knife but the two layers of prefelt kept shifting around. So I used a small, sharp scissors to cut out the shapes. Again, I was very careful so that I could use both the positive and negative shapes in the two different colors.

Here are the shapes after cutting. If you look closely, you can see the cutting wasn’t perfect. Again, this would have been easier with one piece of thicker prefelt.

Now to put the pieces together in an inlaid fashion. I used a piece of white prefelt behind the red background. If I had been thinking about it, I should have used a piece of red prefelt. Then you wouldn’t be able to see any movement of the cut shapes if it occurred during felting. But I didn’t have any white prefelt for the brown background piece. I decided to cut the edges of the brown piece and add a red background.

Here’s the brown piece after cutting and adding the red background. I didn’t inlay the brown into the red background, I just laid it on top.

On to felting everything. I covered both sides with a nylon curtain and wet the pieces down. Hopefully, you can see that the Sticky Fabri-Solvy mainly stuck on to the nylon curtain and then peeled off. I washed the remainder of the stickiness out of the nylon curtain and preceded with felting as I normally do. The little bits that were still stuck on the red prefelt dissolved. I’m sure the whole thing would have dissolved without pulling it off with the nylon curtain. But sometimes this type of water soluble fabric leaves a stiff residue and I didn’t want that to happen. So I was happy with it all peeling off easily. I had tried to peel if off before I wet it down but it would have damaged the prefelt. Also, I found that with the stabilizer in place, the pieces fit together easily and held their shape better than the other pieces that didn’t have any stabilizer. It didn’t really matter with the end result anyways.

And here you can see the two pieces after felting. The one on the right had a bit of ruffling edges since the prefelt in the center was thicker than the outer edge. But that didn’t matter because I was planning on trimming the pieces after felting.

Here are the two pieces after trimming. This method worked great and now I have a useful purpose for the roll of Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy that I have.

 

 

Monstrous Felting Retreat

Monstrous Felting Retreat

A few weeks ago I experienced the delight that is the Auckland Fun Felter’s Retreat, 2 full days of felting bliss! 🙂

We were 13 like-minded ladies at a retreat centre, tucked away in a quiet and leafy corner of west Auckland, we had the entire centre all to ourselves and were blessed with some lovely weather.

Jenny, our organiser extraordinaire, asked if anyone would be willing to teach / lead a short workshop on Saturday morning. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t had the chance to teach face to face since 2019 so jumped at the chance and then immediately panicked that I had nothing to teach this incredibly creative and experienced group (most of the members have been felting at least as long as I have!).

After several weeks mulling it over and talking to other AFF members I settled on “animal textures in felt”, I thought this would lend itself to a series of pre-prepared samples that we could discuss the potential pitfalls and then each member could incorporate one or two into their own project. This group is so experienced I couldn’t imagine any of them wanting to waste their precious felting time watching me laying out fibre over a resist.

We all arrived on Friday afternoon, settled into our rooms and started playing with our fibres in the main hall. After talking to a few members I realised not everyone would be happy for me to share some samples and tips on how to achieve different effects, they wanted a project to follow…. my heart sank, I hadn’t planned for this, how was I going to come up with a project that included, fur, scales, eyes and locks before tomorrow morning?!!

So it was that Fugly was born….

A little pod critter, with eyes, scales on his back, a lambs tail and an unfortunate ear-hair problem – for the record I would never normally recommend trying to cram so many different techniques onto one item but now he is finished I do find Fugly quite endearing 🙂

To my surprise most of the group also made pods that incorporated most or all of the techniques and we ended up with a ?gaggle, ?fright, ?laughter <insert collective noun of your choice here> of funny little monsters:

A couple of members applied to techniques to small bags with great effect…

This weekend was such a success we agreed to do it all again in just 6 months time! 🙂

We Need a New Door Stop

We Need a New Door Stop

Recently we have acquired a new bookcase for our living room.  It was actually made to fit in the space between the front wall and the door of the room.  However it has a sort of lip around the top, the corner of which was banged by the glass of the open door if we were not careful.

2 Views of the book case against the glass (with some of my menagerie in view on the book case)

Obviously we needed something to stop the door before it fully opened. After some thought I decided that it needed to be tall (so that we didn’t have to bend down too far to move it – the floor gets further away the older you get), but it needed to be thin too otherwise the door wouldn’t open far enough to let one of us safely into the room, especially with drinks in hand.

I wanted it to go with the colour of the carpet and I knew that I had somewhere in my stash a blue wool sweater that I had felted (on purpose) by putting it through the washing machine. I finally rooted it out and decided that I would use one of the sleeves, which had a pattern knitted into it.

The Other Sleeve – what’s left of it – the pattern looks a bit hazy but hang in there, you’ll see it later.

Initially I thought that I would make a tall thin pyramid shape to fit in the gap between the side of the book case and the door. I sewed up the cuff of the sleeve and, to make sure it didn’t keep falling over, I begged a piece of flat lead sheet from my husband which I fitted into the bottom of the stuffed sleeve, and then sewed up what had been the shoulder to make the base. 

Well it was ok, but I thought it needed a bit more interest and decided to turn the door stop into a cat.

Out came the felting needles and my scoured merino, which I use as core fibres. Then for the “top coat” I sorted through the blues in my stash – normally jealously guarded because I don’t have a lot now as I use them for sky in my pictures – and found some which almost matched the main blue of the sleeve. Obviously he wasn’t going to be a realistic cat so I tried to “cartoonise” his features, and rather than give him needle felted eyes as I might normally do I fished out some bright orange glass eyes from another stash which would go well with his dark blue face. I used some of the blue to make a wet felt sheet, out of which I cut his ears.

Having made his head, I attached it to the tall thin pyramid. It’s sewn as well as needled on, but even so I was concerned that if he was picked up by his head it might come off. I made a piece of blue cord and attached that as a loop behind his head so that he might be moved safely. And here we have him.

Smiley Door Cat

Not long after this, we acquired a new pinky-grey bathroom carpet and also new pink and grey towels to replace very tired old red ones. Until then we had been using the bathroom scales as a door stop – that door will slam very hard if the wind gets up when the window is open. So now I decided that we would need another door cat.

When we got the new carpet we did not change the basic colour scheme as we didn’t want the hassle of changing the suite (vintage Pampas) or the tiles. The colour scheme is essentially derived from the tiles, which are pink and grey with some crimson detailing. Originally we had a red-ish carpet and red and dark grey towels, but when I bought those towels I could not get a bath mat to match, so I made one by stitching two red hand towels back to back.

Bathroom Tile

As the new carpet shed fibres quite a lot to begin with I thought of making the new door cat out of that fibre, but after a little more thought I realised that that would not be a good idea. We would keep falling over a camouflaged cat in the gloom of a late night visit!

So I thought I might find another felted sleeve, but couldn’t come up with something the right colour. Then, because we still had touches of red in the room, I decided that I would deconstruct the old red bath mat and use one of the pieces for the cat’s body. I had already given away the rest of the old towels to my friend for her dogs.

I felt that a “loaf cat” pose would be best, less likely to tip over if the wind caught the door, but I’d need too much lead sheet to make it a suitable weight. So I visited the garden and found a triangular(ish) shaped piece of rock, washed it and wrapped it in a couple of layers of non-woven cotton towels, secured with masking (painter’s) tape. I made myself a paper pattern of the body and cut out two body sides and a gusset for the base and chest. I cut out the pattern pieces from the towel and stitched it all up (first inserting the wrapped rock and stuffing it with polyester stuffing.

I had seen a cartoon of a smiling cat, which had enormous ears, which looked really cheeky. I thought I’d have a go at making one like that. I started with the core fibre again and got the head substantially how I’d like it and then thought about fibres for the coating.

Head ready to be covered in “Top Coat” (for some reason enlarged umpteen sizes)

I did not have exactly the right red, so had to blend a couple of pieces of pre-dyed merino tops which seemed to work ok. I did the same to make a pinky-grey blend for the chest, face and inside of the ears. I had decided that I would make the cat’s chest a similar colour to the carpet which meant that I had to make a wet felted sheet of the pinky-grey batt to cover the original red towelling. I cut the felt into the shape of the chest gusset, leaving enough for a pair of large ears.

I needled some of the red onto the back of the ears, and this resulted in a darker pink on the inside where the needles had pushed fibres right through, which was actually a benefit I think. I needled the blended red on to the back of the cat’s head and neck, and the pinky-grey onto the face, attached the ears and gave him a darker pink nose. I “shadowed” the smile and blinking eyes and I also gave him some laughter lines.

Nearly finished head, along with my felting cushion and a trapped needle holder

Then I stitched the head onto the neck, and the chest piece over his front, catching in the head at the neck.  I covered the join with more needled fibres and, using another piece of towel, attached a handle to the back of his neck so that he could be moved without his head coming off.

Loving Blinks from the new Door Ward

My husband has already named him Yoda.  We each confessed the other day that we both chat to him (in fact I pick him up and cuddle him too – he just fits into one arm)

What about the poor tatty sheep at the beginning of this post? Well, many years ago now, when I was a fairly new needle felter, I decided that I’d like to make myself a door stop for my bedroom door. I had acquired from our Guild a Jacob fleece, which, as it turned out, was ideal for needle felting. It certainly wasn’t a lot of good for wet felting – it wouldn’t, whatever I did to it. I suppose I must have had an old ram’s coarse and kempy fleece palmed off on me, when I was too naïve to know what I was getting – no wonder it was cheap!

Anyway, I got a body shaped pebble out of the garden, and washed it, wrapped it in some of the un- wetfelted fleece and started in with a No.36 felting needle (I only had 36 triangle and 38 star needles in those days- oh and a No.19 which was so thick it wouldn’t really go through anything I had with any ease). I bust quite a few needles before the pebble was covered. I added a neck to one end and then decided that my sheep would need eyes and a pair of horns. At that time I did not know that Jacob sheep often have 4 horns and wear them as if they had put them on in a hurry in the morning whilst still half asleep!

I made the horns and eyeballs using pipe cleaners and white Fimo polymer clay, baked and painted with acrylic paints. At that stage in my career I had not thought of using PVA glue on needled fleece to make horns. I needled a head shape around the horns and eyes, and then attached it to the neck. It did not occur to me to strengthen the neck with the ends of the pipe cleaners, I had cut these short and just put the horns on either end, and did the same with the eyes.

Well it all worked and for years he sat by my door, getting moved when necessary with my foot.  Now he’s a sad old thing, but being sentimental I can’t bear to get rid of him, even though he’s lost a horn and is definitely the worse for wear.  Perhaps I’ll give him a “makeover” sometime.

Poor Old Jacob, grown old and infirm in service

 

 

Theatre Textiles – Intermission

Theatre Textiles – Intermission

I had intended that the next Theatre Textiles post would be about the costumes which I had made for us once we had transferred to our new venue. However in the meantime I had started work on part of a costume for our next Pantomime – The Little Mermaid. No, not the Disney version, but even so the Director has decided that the Sea Witch will be part human/part octopus (to be named Iphelia – pronounced I-feel-ya, which gives an idea of how our pantos appeal to adults as well as children!) and I have been asked to dress her. Other than make the designs and collect fabrics and accessories matching the palette of purple and “sludge” green, there isn’t much I can do until the part is cast.

The piece of the costume that I have started on is the necklace which Iphelia will wear when she takes full human form for part of the panto. So I decided that I should keep detailed notes and photos of what I’m doing so that I could tell you about it.
I have designed her “human” costume so that it will have as many references to octopuses (octopi?) as possible. I was inspired by a necklace which I saw on the BBC News website (can’t remember what it was about though) and I did a quick screen clip which I added to my “costume ideas” folder. The necklace is, I think, of a snake about to devour a cabochon stone. I had also spotted, some time ago, part of a piece which appeared to be a tentacle holding a sphere. Nothing like an octopus but the stone made me think of an octopus “head”.

I thought that the tentacles could issue from behind a large stone and form the links to the rest of the necklace. Since the necklace will be worn with a top which is asymmetrical and therefore has an off centre neckline, I wanted a necklace which was also asymmetrical. This would mean that it would have to be very light so that it wouldn’t keep slipping round while it’s being worn. I knew that I could make felt look like something other than wool – I had made the horns for my highland cow from just felt, plus lots of PVA glue and a bit of graphite from a soft pencil, so I didn’t see why I couldn’t make the necklace in a similar way.

cow horns

I want the necklace to look like proper jewellery from a distance, that is a large cabochon for the head with bead eyes, with the tentacles smooth and shiny.
Let’s see if I can do it.

Equipment, materials and design ideas

I decided that the best way to make the tentacles bendable would be to use a wire armature and since I still have a quantity of craft pipe cleaners I went for them. I would use my core wools – scoured merino – and some coloured tops for the surface layer.

Starting the tentacles

I carded some scoured merino and wrapped 8 half lengths of pipe cleaner, leaving an end uncovered on each. Then I made an octopus head shaped “stone” from the core wool and covered it in deep purple merino tops.

First body

I wet felted the tentacles, smoothing them out as much as possible. While the tentacles were still wet I curled up 3 of them and fixed them with light wire to help them “remember” the curves when they had dried – at which point I lost the curled up ones. (I blame The Borrowers.) As a result I had to make three more tentacles and, since they were to be curled anyway and I needed them quickly, I just made wet felted cords which were curled up.

New Curls

By the time these were dried the Borrowers had obviously decided that they didn’t want the original curled tentacles as they had reappeared. I tried various positions of body and tentacles to see how the necklace might look.

mock up of layout

That was when I decided that the octopus body should not be purple but green, looking a bit like jade, and that the tentacles needed to be purple rather than the muddy green I had pulled out to use. So I stripped off the purple tops from the body and replaced it with more carded scoured merino. Then I wet felted it and gave it a good coating of PVA glue, and I also PVA’d the tentacles.

Colour change

When they had dried I got out the metal nail file and the emery board. A good filing with these smoothed out all the ridges and bumps caused by the hairy surface under the glue.
I gave them a couple of coats of Chinese Evergreen acrylic paint on the body, and of Mulberry Cream on the tentacles. These were “match pot” paints which I had acquired from a local DIY store. I find that decorating acrylic paint samples are very useful, since they have very good coverage and a fantastic range of colours. When I have a project like this, I visit and select from as many of the local(ish) stores as I can as they usually all carry a different range and therefore different colour choices.

When the paint had dried I decided that I would give the tentacles a coat of metallic purple paint (which I had acquired some time ago from a branch of The Range’s artists supplies). If it turned out the way I hoped it should look a bit like enamelling. I liked the result and, with the addition of a coat or two of clear nail varnish, it could be said to resemble enamel.

More Paint and Nail Varnish

I thought that the “jade” body stone might look good with a little purple “marbling” so added a few fine lines of a lilac coloured acrylic match paint, rubbed it a bit with my thumb and then varnished that too.
Then I filed, painted and varnished the curled tentacles. Since I needed to have only two tentacles reaching up to each side of Iphelia’s neck, the rest would need to be curled around elsewhere. I thought that they could be grasping smaller pieces of “jade”, so I painted some wooden beads green and varnished those too. Having shaped the tentacles as I thought might be best, I gave everything another varnish.

When the varnish had dried I fitted the, now green, beads in the curled tentacles and stitched them in where necessary. One of them actually fitted over the tip of the tentacle and didn’t need stitching. I gave those tentacles a further final varnish to fix the beads firmly.
It then occurred to me that to make the tentacles look more like jewellery I could make use of some of the jewellery findings which I had accumulated. I found some cord tips and, having added them to the ends of the tentacles without beads, painted them with an iridescent nail varnish since their “silver” colour had deteriorated to dull grey.

Varnished parts and Tentacles before brightening the cord tips

As I was about to assemble the octopus I realised that it hadn’t got any eyes and, although it is possible to sew through the painted and varnished surface, I decided that I didn’t want to risk poking a needle through in the wrong place. I needed to glue something down, but I’ve learned not to trust glue on stage. It always lets go just at the wrong time. Belt and braces are best!. I remembered then that I had acquired some glitter glue some time ago and having turned it out (eventually)I decided to just use blobs of it as the eyes. If they came off I doubted it would be noticed. I also decided that a “setting” was needed for the “cabochon” so I added a little braid which was painted and varnished.

Next I had to find a piece of the right green ribbon which I would permanently attach to one side of the necklace, and with a hook on the other end which could latch round the opposite side. Since the necklace would need to be removed quickly during the quick change which the actor would have, I would need to find a fastening that wasn’t fiddly. I had some furrier’s hooks and eyes, which are large and wrapped with yarn. I used a hook which I painted with the Chinese Evergreen acrylic and stitched that to the other end of the ribbon. And we were done.

Here is the finished piece. Hopefully in due course you will see it worn by the actor in costume.

Finished necklace

A bit of this and that

A bit of this and that

‘Tis the season to show off trees! I’m no exception, so here is my contribution.

A few years ago I had the idea of creating a portable Christmas decoration to sell in my shop. I wanted something small, cute and as eco-friendly as possible. The solution? Needle felted mini trees.

The trees

Needle felted miniature Christmas trees by Eleanor Shadow

I think they’re rather fun, even if I do say so myself. The colours are bright and who doesn’t like miniatures?

Each tree has a wire frame to ensure stability. I needle felt the the larger components (tree trunk, copse and base) around the wire and the rest is made separately and stitched onto the main part.

It’s quite fun to felt the baubles, I used to take small amounts of differently coloured wool with me to doctor appointments and such and, whilst waiting, I could get 4-5 balls created. It was also a great conversation starter.

To finish things off nicely, I glue the whole ensemble onto a sturdy piece of locally sourced wool disc and, as they say, Bob’s you uncle.

They’ve been quite the success this year, I’m down to the last one at the time of writing!

Wreathes

Another holiday idea was to create a wreath that could be used over and over again. Have I mentioned I like reusable, eco-friendly things? 🙂

I had some needle felting foam that I regretted buying. It wasn’t the best quality foam and I found out I hated using them, so they’d been languishing in my stash for a couple of years. I didn’t want to throw it away. One day it dawned on me: I could cut and use them for something else.

Needle felted Christmas wreath by Eleanor Shadow. It has a donut shape with felted balls and a red ribbon wrapped around it. It has a green ribbon bow at the top.

I love these wreathes and each year I look forward to hanging mine in my front door. They’re not huge because I had to take the foam’s original size into consideration but isn’t it cute?

Sewing

It wouldn’t be a post written by me without some sewing fun. I felt brave and bought some jersey knit fabric to make a Stasia dress by Sew Liberated. You might know a lot of sewers avoid jersey due to its stretchy nature. My previous experience hadn’t been the best but this time I was determined to succeed.

Fun fact: despite my determination, for some reason I didn’t make a mock version of the dress beforehand. I just moved on ahead directly to cutting the good fabric!

The consequence of this is that my sleeves ended up a bit shorter than I’d wanted, so I think I’m going to cut them and create a ¾ sleeve instead.

Eleanor Shadow shows off her Stasia dress in yellow jersey fabric.

Can you tell I’m so happy with the result? The black dots and stripes on the fabric are just so cute to me. My poor mother still wonders how I ended up going from wearing just black to being obsessed with mustard yellow, but here we are.

Yellow Stasia dress. Pattern by Sew Liberated, made by Eleanor Shadow.

That’s it for today. Can you believe it’s already December? This is my last post for the year, so I wish you a great New Year, filled with fibre and other fun stuff. See you in 2022.

‘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? 

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