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Question: What needle is that? (Part 2)

Question: What needle is that? (Part 2)

When last we left off we had considered where we get our needles and the pros and cons of buying from the manufacturers or the resellers. We also reviewed the parts of a felting needle and the gauges we usually use (there are more gauges and shapes that we don’t tend to use too.)

Keeping track of your Needle Gauges

Usually there are a few ways to do something and you can decide which way works best for you. I do only have a few absolute rules about needles, here are two that I find useful;

  • -the sharp end goes in the felt and not in your fingers (this reduces the use of bandaids)
  • -an unmarked needle that has left the box (or original packaging) does not return to the box (It keeps the needles in the needles boxes from getting mixed so I am sure of what is in each box).

Now, let’s look at a few options on how to keep them organized once they have left their needle box or packaging.

Option 1 (one supplier or being extremely organized)

If you acquire only one colour system (use only one suppliers) or if you carefully kept track of each needle, use one gauge at a time, then return it back to its original packaging when you are finish using it, you will always know what needle you are using.  If this is working for you don’t change, unless it’s driving you mad. If this obsessive-tidy-neatness-technique dose not sound like you, we need a few other options. (I am not in this category)

Op.1 one supplier or

extremely organized

Pro Con
 For one supplier, It is easy to keep track of what needle is what gauge as soon as you learn the colour system your vender uses. You only have one place to buy needles!!! This can limit acquisition opportunities. (NO!!!!)

You have to be very organized, if you are working with more than one colour system.

Ann’s Option (2):

Re-colour to your own colour code. There are a number of ways to do this, the most common I have seen is Cheap Nail Polish (another reason to visit the dollar store). You may try warm (Red is a 32gauge) to cool colours (46Gauge is an Ice Blue). Or you could just go for odd colours that are on sail. Just keep track of what gauge is what.  Some of the holders do not suggest using painted or coloured needles with them.  If your favorite holder is one that does not like painted needles, leaving the needles un-coloured and just labeling the holder, may be the way to go.

Another ways to colour needles would be a spray paint for mettle like Tremclad or similar products. (Cover the working part and tips of the needles when you spray or you will reduce the effectiveness of the barbs.)

I have also seen a product described as “Tool Dip” used to coat the shank of the needle up to the crank. It was described as being more comfortable to hold than the thin needle on its own.

For my students I have used coloured kids hair elastics from the dollar store augmented by ones I have found on line. The best ones I have found were small circular ones that seem similar to the more expensive ones used to make bracelets. There are also hair elastics that are more plastic and less rubber that are larger but tend to brake quickly.(Try to avoid those.)  7 boxes of 500 needles each, with note stateing designation and colour of elastic that gauge/shape7) colours of elastics that go with each needle box I have presently.


Option 2 Re-colour

Pro Con
You chose the colour system o   Some colours chip, rub or flake off, leaving you guessing again, what the gauge is.

o   You need to acquire the colours of paint or dip and also have the mess and time of labeling each needle.

o   May not fit in all the holders after the colour is added.

o   Elastics will eventually brake and you are left with an unmarked needle (unless you can identify it by its lacking from the ones that remain.)

Option 3.1 (Grouping on work surface)

If you have Lots of unlabeled, unmarked or randomly coloured needles stuck into something waiting to be used (Yes that sounds like me.) I often use two similar working methods to keep my needles sorted when using them. On both my foam (pool noodle foam kneeling pad) and the thick wool pad, I keep track of my needles by where their located on the pad.  From left to right I have them grouped in course, medium, fine and extra fine if I have one.

sheep wispers in progress, working on pool noodle foam pad. the top end of the foam pad showing the parking sopts at the top for the various gauges of needles8-9) Working on the whispering sheep. Foam kneeling pad from dollerama. Keep working needles grouped by gauge in the top portion of the mat.  

If you have trouble remembering where each group is located, draw, sew or otherwise indicate the parking spots for your needles. Usually at the top of the mat is best, since it is not in the working area, you are less likely to accidently brake the needle by knocking it with your hand as you work. Try to be attentive to what your working style is and adjust the location to best suit you. (NB: if you have the pink, blue or red pen tool, which holds 1 to 3 needles. try not to stick them into the foam it is very easy to nock into them. Since they are taller than the average needle, they can easily snap when nocked by your hand or forearm). (Well, if you have an accident, at least that would mean you might be able to go shopping again!!)

For the firm felt pads similar to those sold as quilters ironing pads (.5inch thick) some are very firmly felted and can be resistant to needle penetration.  If you have one of the extra firm options please see “Option 3.2 (Adjacent storage)” for some suggestions.

When I am working, the needles are stuck in across the top of the working surface. For storage in my foam pad (foam like pool noodles), I again group the needles but move them to the top edge of the pad. Don’t leave them in the end of the pad when you resume working.  You can hit one of the stored needles and break one or the other, or both.

diagram looking from the top of the foam pad, with the needles in both a working and storage location.10) Diagrams showing the top end of a foam pad. The needles are first shown on the top for working (grouped by gauge), then the end of the pad for storage and travel. (Push the needles in so they don’t catch and brake during storage or travel. Remember to move them all back to the top surface when you want to resume work.)

option Pro Con
Op.3.1 Grouping on work surface Needles are close to hand

Works well on larger and softer work surfaces

–        Needles are safer if stored deeply in the end of a foam pad for storage or transport. (storing at the end doesn’t work for all surfaces)

Storing needles in the work surface Can accidentally brake needles off in the pad if not careful.

–         If needles are forgotten in the end of the foam pad, needles can be broken when work resumes.

–        Before you dispose of degraded foam, check for needles stored in it.

–        Not good for thin hard or side-less pads.(some have slopes rather than sides)

Option 3.2 (Adjacent storage)

When I am using my 6” x 6” wool pad, there is often no space on the pad to hold and store needles.  When I can’t store them on the pad, I have used half a foam pool noodle (on sale in the fall when outdoor water activities become chilly and challenging).  Again, pull out your permanent marker, and label where you will put each gauge or grouping (course (32g) / medium (36g-38g)/ fine (40g-42g)/ ex-fine (46g)).  if you need to, add a spot just past “course” for reverse needles.  That will help keep you from grabbing them by accident, (which could happen if you were storing them just by gauge).

half a pool noodle labled in sections to store needles by gauge11) Half a pool noodle derived in sections labeled by gauge.

If you want to upgrade the look of your studio or work space,(pool noodle may not be the accent you had in mind for your desk?- they do come in other colours and shapes and you can use English spelling instead of mine.) I have seen and admired very cute tea cups filled with wool that can also hold needles like a pincushion. I would suggest if you only use one tea cup, using sections of different colour wool to suggest where to store each gauge or using a needle and thread to mark out the parking spots. If you have a bigger work surface, maybe a selection of tea cups, one for each gauge and for specialty needles would work.

option Pro Con
Op.3.2 Adjacent Needle Holder Using an adjacent space allows more workspace on your pad or work surface. Not attached to work so may get separated (mysteriously wander off).

Option 4: Use a needle holder and label the holder.

I have a number of different needle holders.  The holders I have can hold from a single needle up to one that will hold 20 needles. They make work faster and most are more comfortable than holding a single needle.  Getting a collection of some of your favorite holders/handles shapes allows labeling each holder with the gauge in them. If you keep the needles not yet in use separately stored and labeled, then you can be sure to switch out the occasional broken needles with the correct one.  I know my fake clover tool has T-42 222’s. If I can find the 10 needles I just bought (found them!), the Twisted/Spirals 40g’s, I can label the other punch tool so I will visually know which is which.


If you securely use painters tape on the holder, than mark the tape, you can change both the tape/designation and set of needle you are using until you have enough holders for each gauge/shape you would like to have in them. The multi tools with closer needle spacing work best with fine gauge needles, whereas the wider spaced multi tools can accommodate courser needles. Remember if your holder can hold 7 needle, you don’t have to put all 7 needles in.


A selection of differnt needle holders, from sigle needle holder to the 20 needle holder.12) a selection of needle felting holders, there are examples of holders that can hold as few as one needle to one holder that can hold 20 needles.


Ergonomically speaking the single needle used directly in your fingers can become uncomfortable with extended use (muscle cramps and spasms can occur). Some felters will find it uncomfortable much faster than others will, especially those with finger and joint conditions such as arthritis.  Recently a larger version of the single offset wooden holder has become available which is, for most people, more comfortable than the thinner version.  If you do not find the pen shaped tools comfortable, then try the more nob shaped ones. The Nob shaped handles come in a couple sizes but usually have the ability to hold more than one needle, you can always decide to have only one needle seated if you need more control.

To reduce the likelihood of injuries, you can try to use larger muscle groups (larger muscles fatigue slower than smaller ones). Keep changing which joints are doing the primary work (shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers). Take brakes; drinking tea or water will have the bladder help remind you to take a break.  Slow down on the enthusiasm of both the rate and depth of stabbing the wool (remember working depth –the fiber is moved by the barbs so the depth of the barb is important.  Do not go deeper than you need to accomplish what you are doing.  Adding an appendage requires greater depth than blending a surface colour. A door mirror can be helpful if it is propped so you can glance at it intermittently as you work. Check if your shoulders are elevated or curled forward (protracted). When you are focused on felting you can forget about posture!

option Pro Con
Labeling holders You know what needles are in use as long as you




Ergonomics – most holders are more comfortable than holding a single bare needle and reduces hand cramping and muscle fatigue.

You need holders for each gauge and shape of needle you have purchased.  (Some of the holders are quite pricy)


Not all shapes are comfortable in all hands it may take a few options to find the ones that work for you.

Comparison set of needles.

A few of our local resellers have “sample or variety packs”. These are a group of needles in a variety of gauges and sometimes shapes. If you have an example of the main gauges you can compare the size of the working part from a needle you know the size of to one you are unsure of.  With spinning, there is a tool that allows you to check the size of yarn and the angle of twist. For knitting, there is a tool with different sizes of holes to determine unlabeled knitting needle gauges.  We don’t have a similar one yet for felting needles, hummm…. Let me think about that. If I could find my wire pulling plate that may be worth trying. (If only I could remember where what safe spot I put it in is… Drat oh well it might even be too fine!)

selections of labled needles from 3 different venders13) A set of needles from one of the china Resellers, Fibercraft has a larger sample pack but i didn’t find mine this is a smaller sample pack of star needles, Olive Sparrow has a set of needles in different gauges, and shapes.

Looking at the needles

I have a good ring light with a magnifying lens in the center. I purchased it for pulling guard hairs out of Quiviot fiber. It would also be helpful for those who are not as short sighted as I am, to look more carefully at their needles. Don’t just look at the gauge, sometimes there is an obvious difference between needles such as the 38g is a 333 barb needle the 40’s have the 222 barbs. While the 42 is a spiral 222 and the 46 is a crown needle so 111 barb designation. If you had a set like this, you could see the difference between gauges just by the barb number and working part shape.  There are also different barb spacing, so that may give you a clue as to which needle you are looking at. This requires you either, have the original specifications, or you made yourself a note when you bought them.

needles i have purchused but have not yet uised. they are in plastic tubes with screw top lids. there is a small lump of wool roveing at the bottom to keep the tips from dulling.14) Plastic vials with screw top lids. Add wool to the bottom so the needles don’t bang their tips on the end of the vile and dull.

Feel or palpate the needle (carefully)

You are likely also able to trust your fingers and carefully feel the working part of a known and unknown gauge needle. Palpation is a skill that gets better with practice but you can probably already tell the difference between course, medium, fine and extra fine. It is defiantly more of a challenge to separate the two fine gauges (40 and 42).  It’s also helpful to use the feeling (or end feel) as the needle goes into the felt. 42’s should feel smoother, and effect less fiber migration than the 40g, which is technically courser.  Palpation/Feel can mislead you on determining gauge; read the * in the “Con” column in the next table.

Another option is using a caliper tool

I bought a caliper tool for assessing armature wire as well as a couple metal plate wire gauges. (There are a couple of systems to size wire using the plates so it gets confusing. There is math involved when you look up how to use the info from a caliper with a wire gauge chart. Most of the charts I was looking at for armature wire didn’t get to the higher numbered gauges (40-46) which would cover our needles. If you have digital calipers that are fine enough to measure and compare to a labeled needle, with the unlabeled, then this is another option to sort our needles.  If you don’t find a fine measurement caliper already in your studio or workshop and suddenly want to acquire one, I found calipers on sail at Princess auto. One of the groups using them are sheet metal workers, to gauge sheets of metal (seems reasonable). You may have a friend who has one, check and see if you can borrow it to see if it would work for you.

Digital callaper in padded plastic box with instructions.15) Digital Caliper from Princess Auto

Ultimately, I can work just fine not knowing the gauge of a needle.  I can choose a needle by comparison of how they feel in use.  Is it moving the amount of fiber I want it to? if not, I will switch to the other one. That said, knowing what gauge you are handling is preferable since it can increase the speed of felting (no searching and testing needles each time you need to change gauges). It also lets you quickly replace a broken needle, ether in a tool or a loose one you were using. (This requires you to store spare needles safely, and labeled with some basic info; Designation: (ideally gauge, shape, barb number, length), the source so you can reorder when needed (their web address or store name), cost per needle or per group when purchased (it’s not necessary but it’s helpful to tack).

option Pro Con
2 groups of needles

-ones that are in use

-ones you have purchased and have not yet been pulled out to use. Labeled Gauge/Shape/# of barbs and where you got them (so you can get more)

You can compare the needle in use against the known gauges you have purchased.

Makes re-ordering easy

-Requires keeping track of your needle inventory

-Requires you write notes about each needle type (kept with the needle), where you got it and price.

-Requires that you find a storage option, that will be safe from humidity and prevent needle damage.

Look at the needle You may be able to sort some needles by shape or barb number if you remember their gauge. Memory….it can be a fickle thing…..
Feel / Palpation You can often tell from the feel of the working part or the way the needle enters the felt if one needle is finer or courser than another even if they look very similar. * You can get stuck looking at two T-40g needles that just have different barb number or spacing and not be sure if they are truly the same or different. (You may be feeling the difference in drag by the change in barb number or barb shape rather than the gauge itself.)
Wire Tools to assess the gauge Cool there is a tool that may help!!!

Digital calipers (can get expensive), see if you can borrow a pair if you are determined to use them to match mystery needles to labeled ones.

-Drat the plate versions I have don’t go fine enough for our needles!!!

-the really fancy fine calipers are not cheap, so look at the sale priced ones or “student quality” rather than Professional as long as they go fine enough (46ga).

I hope this gives you a few more strategies to sort out Mystery Unlabeled Needles or even better, Fabulous free gifts of needle from friends! I am sure you have tried or thought of most of them, but I hope I have something new for you to try too. Have I totally missed a brilliant solution that you use? Please let us know! It’s great to share ideas rather than having to find the same solutions independently. Let’s not have to reinvent Animal husbandry and selective breeding for fine fiber!!

Have a fabulous last long weekend of the summer, and the fall fiber festivals are just around the corner!!

my small clear box of tools, has multi tools, sizers and other usefull tools. the other needles are in another box if not in the foam or wool pad.16) My small travel box of tools I have the single needles ether in a second small box or in the work mat depending on what work surface I want to take with me.(yes the Smarties are candy coated chocolate and I am sure are valuable indispensable inspirational tools.)

Thick with Green

Thick with Green

I have been busy trying to get pieces ready to go to the framers and I also needed to create my tree piece for the 3rd Quarter challenge, summer trees. Here’s the piece I created called Thick with Green. I am sorry about the quality of most of these photos. Somehow, many are blurry but at least the final few photos came out OK, my apologies.

Sketchbook Page with Painted Birch Trees in Summer

I was thinking about a thicket of birch trees from a distance with green leaves. The sketchbook page above was created in one of my art and design classes. I used this as inspiration.

For the background, I used a piece of nuno felt. The silk is on the back this time. I had some white yarn that I decided to couch down to make distant tree trunks.

Then being inspired by the leaves Ann M. used on her summer tree, I decided to try some variegated green cheesecloth. I tore it into pieces and stretched it to give a more organic feel. Then I hand stitched it in place. The stitching disappears into the cheesecloth.

Nuno Felt Green and Blue Background with Birch Tree Trunks.

Then I added more tree trunks. This time I twisted two pieces of the yarn together and couched them in place.

Nuno Felt Green and Blue Background with Birch Tree Trunks and Stitched Pieces of Cheesecloth for Leaves.

More cheesecloth was stitched down on top of these tree trunks. Now what to do with the ground? I feel like I am always saying that about my landscapes. I never seem to plan the ground very well in advance. I don’t do much needle felting but I decided in this case, it would work the best. I felt like stitching would be too detailed since this was supposed to be a more distant landscape.

Nuno Felt Green and Blue Background with Birch Tree Trunks and Stitched Pieces of Cheesecloth for Leaves, Grass Needle Felted at Base of Trees.

Here’s the grass added with a variety of green roving and needle felted in place.

Nuno Felt Landscape with Summer Birch Trees on Green Matte Ready to Frame.

Then I found I already had some green fabric that would work for the “matte”. I stitched the nuno landscape down and laced it around card. This piece ended up to be 8″ x 12″ and it’s ready to frame. Now to take all the pieces to be framed and then send them off to the gallery. Check, another task off my list.

Calling Down from the Branches

Calling Down from the Branches

This is the final installment of my large nuno felted autumn landscape, it is finally finished and I have even stretched it over stretcher bars so it is ready to go the framer next week. It is my entry for the 4th Quarter Challenge  of the year long tree challenge. I’m way ahead this time. Yay!

In my last post, I was trying to determine how to handle the ground and prevent the background trees from “floating”. I decided to try leaf litter on the ground. I used the same fabric and paper that I used for the leaves on the branches. You can see on the left hand photo the first attempt. I had some leaves that were already cut out but these were much too big. It made the ground move forward since the leaves were the same size as the foreground tree leaves. Not the look I wanted. So I cut the leaves into tiny pieces and scattered them about. I didn’t want to bore you with all of the time I took arranging the leaves. You can see the progression from left to right. I had taken over 10 photos of this progression but thought I would show the first, middle and last photos. Perhaps you can tell a difference that way! Once I had the leaves where I wanted them, I glued them down with an archival gel medium. I don’t usually use glue but these pieces were so small, I thought that was the best option.

Next up was to determine the color of the “matte”. This is the fabric that I stitch the nuno felt down on to hold it in place for framing. I decided to go with the darker grey fabric. Then I stitched along the edges of the nuno felt to hold it to the background fabric. Normally, I would then lace the fabric over matte board or foam core but this piece is big and I decided to use stretcher bars instead. The stretcher bar frame is 23″ x 34″. I wrapped the fabric around the stretcher bars and stapled it in place. The hardest part of that process is getting the nuno felt landscape in the right position since you staple from the back side.

Nuno Felted Landscape with Autumn Birch Trees and leaf litter on the ground.

Here’s the piece on the stretcher bars ready to be framed. I will use my usual slim black frame. Did anyone notice anything else that was changed at the very end? Calling Down from the Branches is now ready to go to the framers and then off to the gallery.

Adding leaves to my summer tree.

Adding leaves to my summer tree.

The next step to do for my summer tree is to get it some leaves. I decided I wanted some texture so thought I would use some silk fabric to make some needle felted nuno felt.

I found some of my boxes of fabric and had a rummage for some green I found mostly silk and some stuff labelled nylon which is a very good imitation of silk.

The green and brown was my first thought but best to try them all.

I pulled out my sampling tree. The one that looks like a peg having a bad hair day. 😉

I then thought maybe I could put the dark fabric down and then add some other fibre on top. the dark fabric is the nylon. It’s a very loose weave so it pulls threads when you poke it.

I tried adding some loose threads but they just looked messy. I think they would make great vines in a swampy picture

I decided it was a waste of fabric to put the dark green down first It would be too hard to leave some showing properly and it would prevent any of the branches from showing.

On to the real tree, I did fiddled with the branches in the middle and it does look better naked. Not that much of it will show but still, it was good practice.

I tried adding it all as one piece but I couldn’t scrunch it properly. So I pulled it off.

I added the silk in small amounts

and all done, I left a few holes for the sky and a few branches peek through. I left the edged raggy to add to the texture.




And here’s the finished overall look. I like the overall look. I am going to have to fiddle with the roots. Combined with the slant of the land, they are making the tree look like it’s leaning over. I think a little poking in on one side and poking out on the other should fix it. I am going to have a look for the wool I used for the grass portion of the background to maybe put a little over the roots. I will have to do some googling for pictures of roots.

Next, I think I will add some rocks around the roots and maybe a few around the field in the thin spots. Then maybe some tufts of grass with stitching.  I may fiddle with the cloud too. I am still thinking.

Large Autumn Landscape – Adding Leaves

Large Autumn Landscape – Adding Leaves

I have been continuing to make progress with my large autumn landscape.

Autumn colored nuno felted background with silk paper birch trees, stitched branches and set up with thread, scissors, cut out silk leaves and reference photo.

I began by looking for silk fabric in the correct colors. I found a yellow orange and a yellow green. But I needed a lighter mid yellow. I didn’t have that in silk fabric but I remembered some rice paper that I had painted yellow and coated with matte medium. I could use that for leaves too. To prevent the silk leaves from fraying as much, I ironed a light weight fusible to the back side of the fabric. Then I cut out a variety of leaf shapes. The secret to making leaves look more natural is just cut them out freely by hand. The shapes will be all different and the sizes won’t be exactly the same but that is what you want. I found a photo online to give me an idea on how the leaves should look and used that for inspiration.

Autumn colored nuno felted background with silk paper birch trees, stitched branches and silk fabric leaves partially stitched in place.

When I was stitching the leaves down, I wanted some movement and the feeling of the leaves about to fall. Therefore, I only stitched them down with one or two straight stitches. This allowed the fabric leaf to come out from the background and be more three dimensional.

Autumn colored nuno felted background with silk paper birch trees, stitched branches and stitching more silk fabric leaves.

Cutting and stitching individual leaves takes a bit of time but I liked the result.

Autumn colored nuno felted background with silk paper birch trees, stitched branches and silk fabric leaves.

Here’s the piece after adding leaves. I may add a few more in a couple of places but I am evaluating now to see what else the piece might need. I haven’t cut off the bottom edge but I will be doing that shortly. I could add fallen leaves at the base of the background trees. Or I could add a bit of grass here and there. Or I could leave it alone. What’s your vote?

My idea for a name for this one is “Calling Down from the Branches”.

Large Autumn Nunofelt Landscape Continued

Large Autumn Nunofelt Landscape Continued

I have been continuing work on my large autumn landscape. I added the large tree trunk and branches and was planning on adding leaves to complete the piece.

Black machine made cord of yarn and thread on white background.

However, I decided it need darker branches on the larger, foreground tree. I had some black wool yarn that I decided to use for machine cords. I twisted three pieces of black yarn together and then zigzagged over them by machine with a near black thread. Some of the yarn pieces I left apart so that there were narrowing branches of either two or one yarn diameters.

Nunofelt autumn landscape with silk paper birch trees, one foreground machine cord branch couched in place.

Then to start stitching them in place. I didn’t have a specific plan as to where they would go, I was just winging it. I couched the cords in place and in the thicker areas, I used two machined cords couched side by side.

Nunofelt autumn landscape with silk paper birch trees, foreground machine cord branches couched in place.

Here’s the piece after I had couched all the machined cords in place. You might also notice that I have folded the bottom of the piece up to see what it would look like without the bottom four inches or so. I liked the look of it better. It feels like a better scale to me. I haven’t cut it off yet, but I think I will soon.

Nunofelt autumn landscape with silk paper birch trees, foreground machine cord branches couched in place and stem stitch smaller branches added.

Then I decided that I needed thinner branches coming off the thicker foreground branches. So I used the same almost black thread in size 12 (Sulky cotton machine thread) and stem stitched the other branches. Click on the photo to see the branches in more detail.

Next up is leaves for the foreground tree. I will be cutting those out of yellow, yellow orange and yellow green silk. My plan is to add fusible web to the backside of the leaves so that they will not ravel at the edges. Then I will probably add a bit of grassiness at the base of the backgrounds trees and call it good. But you never know, I will evaluate to see if it needs anything else when I get to that point.


Large Autumn Landscape Continued

Large Autumn Landscape Continued

Nuno felt background with birch tree silk paper trunks stitched in place in background.

I have managed to get some stitching completed on my large autumn landscape. The background birch trees were hand stitched down first. I want to do background leafiness before I add the larger birch in the foreground.

To add the distant leafiness, I looked through my stash for fabric that would work. The photo on the left shows painted nylon organza. The photo on the right is dyed silk habotai.

Nuno felt background with birch tree silk paper trunks and nylon organza background leaves stitched in place.

It’s a little hard to see but I have added the nylon organza at the top. First, I used a wood burning tool to burn out areas of the organza to give it a leafy appearance.

Nuno felt background with close up of nylon organza background leaves.

Here you can see the effect better in the close up photo. I hand stitched all the pieces down with very small stitches to hold it in place.

Nuno felt background with birch tree silk paper trunks, nylon organza background leaves and single silk organza leaves stitched in place.

Next I added some single cut leaves from silk organza. I had these left over from The First Leaf. 

The next step is to stitch down the foreground birch trunk and add foreground leaves. At that point, I will decide how many leaves might be on the ground. I don’t want to make it exactly like the smaller piece. What would you suggest adding to the foreground at the base of the large birch?

Using up supplies: investigating a new fibre

Using up supplies: investigating a new fibre

I was looking around my studio wondering what to write about in this blog. I was remembered Ruth Lane’s recent comment in her blog here about using up supplies. I have a carded batt of merino / A grade mulberry silk from World of Wool that’s been kicking around for a while. I can’t remember if I bought it for something specific that didn’t get made or if I bought it on spec. I was interested to find out how it felted and what I might do with it so I decided to make a small test vessel.

I cut out a circular resist using a small mat as a template then started laying out the fibre outwards towards the edge. Apologies that these pictures are mostly white on light colours – I was thinking more about the making than the photography. I laid the second layer in a circular pattern before flipping it over to smooth the overlap onto side 2. After 2 layers on the second side, I flipped back and laid 2 more layers on side 1, followed by 2 more on side 2. 

After wetting it down I spent a lot of my time working the edge by pulling the voile over the edge so I wouldn’t get a ridge around the middle of the finished vessel. It felted quickly and I was soon able to start fulling – initially without removing the resist.

Once I’d cut out the resist I found, in my vast collection of miscellaneous wooden objects, that the handle of a wooden pestle (as in mortar & pestle) was the perfect size for getting inside the vessel and working it from the inside.

I spent a while fulling it as I wanted it to be smooth and very firm.

I packed the vessel with strips of recycled bubble wrap that I keep for this purpose – you can see it green inside.  Looking at this green bubble wrap made me wonder if I could make a vessel with a coloured interior but retaining the pale colour outside.  I thought maybe if I used silk rather than wool to add colour I’d get less colour transfer, so I thought I’d give it a go.

While pondering this, I decided to try using the same resist as the test vessel but to make 2 small bowls rather than one vessel: so, cutting it in two around the middle rather than making a hole at the top to remove the resist. I dipped into my big boxes full of second-hand silk scarves bought in charity shops and chose a plain turquoise and a patterned blue one.

Supplies for making two small wet felted bowls on a single resist: merino wool and mulberry silk carded batt with two second hand blue patterned silk scarves: one dark blue patterned, one plain turquoise
Carded merino / mulberry silk batt & two silk scarves ready for recycling

I put a circle of silk on the resist and decided to run a small line of coloured merino tops around the edge: partly as I was interested to see how it would look and partly as I thought I might not know where to cut when I was ready to remove the resist and separate the little bowls – I’ve made that mistake before!

I put a circle of the blue patterned silk on the second side. The merino and silk fibre layout was the same as the previous vessel. This time I also remembered to do the circular layer first followed by the radiating layer – I’ve learned that one before and obviously temporarily forgot for the previous vessel. It makes following the resist with the circular layers much easier and I prefer to try not to overlap that layer if possible – again it reduces potential ridges and produces a better join if you only overlap the radiating layer, in my opinion.  I’m sure some of you will disagree but that’s one of the many things I love about wet felting: with experience everyone works out the techniques and tools that work best for them.

I was interested that I could see quite a lot of the inner colour throughout. I quickly began to suspect this was more about the amount of dye bleeding from the turquoise silk as about seeing the silk through the wool. I was getting a lot of turquoise in the felting water.

Again, I fulled them thoroughly. During the fulling, I decided I liked the silk on the outside better than the inside so here they are, still wet.

And here are the 3 items. You can see how green the wool of the little bowls is compared with the vessel. I’m pleased with the bowls’ blue rims  – I like this effect – but the vessel is my favourite. In each of the test pieces the fibre has felted beautifully: it’s very firm and extremely light – it has an almost papery quality about it that I find really appealing.

My imagination is now firing about what I could make next with this fibre. I have a dried poppy seed head sitting in a vase next to my desk. The felt reminded me of the texture and colour of the seed head. I’ve felted poppy seed heads before – one of my favourites. Another thing I have in the studio is some vintage cotton lace I was unable to resist when I saw it in a local second-hand shop.

I thought maybe that the lace would add a subtle surface texture so why not have a try? This time I made a small square sample using just 2 layers of the wool / silk mix batt with strips of lace in parallel lines.

Although it’s subtle, I really like the effect. As you can see in the close up shot, the batt has quite a bit of vegetable matter which in this case adds some interesting specks, enhancing the natural look. 

I was running out of time but decide to start the poppy seed head. The merino fibre length in the batt is very short which makes the layout quite slow but very precise.  In the first photo you can just see the strands of lace which I’ve laid out on top of 4 layers on the under side and are waiting for me to finish the final 2 layers on the top side before bringing them over. 

Circular resist partially covered in carded merino and silk batt
Work in progress: 3D wet felted sculpture with multiple resists laid out, wetted down and partially felted

The second photo shows how far I got yesterday before I had to stop. This is a multi-resist piece that will take a while to make. I’ll show it finished in my next blog.

I enjoyed letting the fibre lead my imagination in what I might do next.  I’ve done mostly production felting recently – making multiples of things for shops and sales – so it was great just to see where things led me and enjoy felt-making for the sheer fun of it.  I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio soon to finish the poppy seed head.

Making Silk Paper and Beginning a New Landscape

Making Silk Paper and Beginning a New Landscape

Having sold one of my larger pieces in the gallery, I had a request for a new large nuno felted landscape similar to The First Leaf. So if you are reading along and think that you are having deja vu, it is because this piece will be very similar, just a larger size. The new piece will be 19″ x 33″ and will use the same nuno background used in The First Leaf which is only 14″ x 18.5″. The first step was to make silk paper for the birch tree trunks. I had a little bit left in my stash but it was not big enough or long enough.

Silk paper birch trees laid out on netting and plastic with layers of white silk fiber and black accents.

Making silk paper is simple. You lay out silk fiber on to nylon netting, cover with another piece of nylon netting, wet down the silk and then paint on some type of acrylic medium. You are supposed to use fabric medium but I didn’t have any so I just used acrylic medium that I had. The photo above shows a portion of the layout of the white silk with black bits added on top. The nylon netting came in a roll so I could make a giant long piece of silk paper for my big birch tree.

Silk paper birch trees laid out on plastic with layers of white silk fiber and black accents and sandwiched between netting.

I made two lengths of silk paper. Here you can see one side laid out sandwiched between the nylon netting. The left side still needs black added. I actually think that the left side is not silk but perhaps viscose or other man made silk alternative. It didn’t feel exactly like silk but it was white and worked just as well as the real silk. I use up what I have before I buy more supplies, so other options of fiber will work for making paper.

Silk paper birch trees laid out on netting and plastic after being covered with acrylic medium.

Next you wet down the silk fiber sandwiched between the netting with soapy water. The soap helps to break the surface tension and allows the silk to accept the water more easily. You can spray it down or sponge it on, whichever works best for you. Once the silk is completely wet and there are no thicker, white spots left (air), then brush on acrylic medium mixed half and half with water. Flip the net and silk sandwich over and add acrylic medium to the other side too. Make sure the silk is thoroughly saturated with medium. Then peel off the top layer of netting and leave the silk paper to dry. You can hang it up to dry but take note that the water/acrylic medium will drip off and get on the floor if you hang it inside. I left mine flat to dry and it took a full day to dry.

Nuno felt background with birch tree silk paper trunks laid out.

I cut out my nuno felt background to size and played around with cutting the silk paper trees to different sizes to achieve some depth in the piece. These are the approximate layout that I came up with. Next on to stitching!


Stitching on Spring Birch Landscape

Stitching on Spring Birch Landscape

My spring birch landscape has been stitched and applied to a backing board so it’s ready to frame. I showed you the first stages of the landscape in this post if you missed it.

Felt landscape of spring birch with free motion machine stitching added.

I added free motion machine stitching to the distant shore. Whenever I start FME on a landscape, I always think that the first few areas where I have stitched look like it’s too much. But I keep going and usually, once more stitching is added, the initial lines don’t feel excessive.

Felt landscape of spring birch with free motion machine stitching added to rocks in foreground.

The next step was to stitch the rocks across from the tree. I considered adding some stitching into the foliage above the rocks but decided to leave it as is.

Felt landscape of spring birch with free motion machine stitching added to tree trunk and branches.

Then on to stitching the tree. I added the dark bits to the trunk and stitching through the felted paper was a breeze, no problems at all either by machine or by hand. The dark branches were added next and then decision time on how to add a few more leaves. I considered needle felting some smaller leaves on the dark branches but then decided I would hand stitch the leaves.

I then hand stitched leaves on to the dark branches using hand dyed lace weight wool thread and detached chain stitch. I added a few bits of grass at the bottom of the trunk as well.

Felt landscape of spring birch stitched to background fabric and wrapped/laced around board ready to frame.

The miracle is that I found a backing fabric, stitched the felt to that and then wrapped/laced the piece around matte board so it’s ready to frame. Since the piece is small (matte size 8″ x 10″), it went quickly and now I have two pieces ready to take to the framers. This piece counts for the year long tree challenge for spring. I have to think about the summer one as it wouldn’t really look different than spring, a few more leaves perhaps?

Nuno felt landscape of winter birch stitched to "matte" fabric and wrapped/laced around board.

The winter birch piece is also ready for framing. I used a darker gray hand dyed fabric for the winter birch as it felt “colder” that way. Now on to the next landscape as the gallery wants me to replace the one that sold last month. (Doing a little happy dance!)

This is the piece that sold called Remembrance. Yay!

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