It’s the new year and here we are in England with what I’m calling the ‘new abnormal’: all non-essential shops closed; travel only if necessary; people working from home wherever possible and, for many of us, very limited direct contact with people outside our household.
If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d have liked a long stretch of time with few commitments that I could dedicate to felt-making, I’d have jumped at the chance. Be careful what you wish for.
Towards the end of 2020 I had several events to aim for so was able to focus on making things for those. Here are a few of my favourites: a succulent holder, nuno felt vase (with glass interior) and needle felted mince pie.
I have plenty of sales and exhibitions booked throughout 2021 but no way of knowing whether and when they will take place. I have notebooks full of ideas but feel I need to find some focus to direct my efforts and get the creative energy flowing.
I really enjoy learning new skills and developing my felt-making in different directions. So, I decided at the turn of the year to sign up for some online workshops. I’m mostly self-taught as a felt maker but now I’m asking myself ‘why do I want to reinvent so many wheels?’. I’ve long wanted to take Fiona Duthie’s workshop ‘Fibre + Paper’ so when I saw she was running the workshop in March 2021, I eagerly signed up. I then find myself tapping my toes impatiently and thinking ‘I don’t want to wait ‘till March!’.
Fortunately, in February Fiona is offering another class I’d like to take ‘Ink on Cloth’. Yep, I’m in for that too. Still the toe-tapping: ‘what about January?’.
The Felting and Fiber Studio to the rescue: Teri Berry was offering her bag making class starting 7 January. Perfect! I’m in for another class. Well, you can’t say I lack enthusiasm!
While I’m waiting for the class to begin (yep, still with the toe-tapping) I decide now is the time to retire an old friend. One of the first things I felted for myself about 9 years ago is an iPad cover. I carry my iPad mini with me everywhere and the cover is worn out. It has done a great job – it even outlasted the first iPad – but the corners have rubbed away and it’s looking very shabby.
I may have mentioned before (more than once) that I’m an avid charity / thrift / op shop enthusiast and have built up an impressive collection of second-hand fabric, mostly scarves and mostly silk. I have a dig around and fish out a very fine small silk chiffon scarf with leaf prints. Left – front, right – back, middle – action shot! I’ve carefully controlled the shrinkage so it fits snugly: it slides out when I want it to and not when I don’t.
I enjoyed working with the silk so decide to make some more samples. One issue with fabric of unknown origin (and often even with fabric of know origin) is that you can’t be sure how it will felt. Here’s the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of each sample.
Some kind of velvet devore?
A woven cotton or linen?
A silk and cotton mix – I assume the background is silk and the slub lines are cotton
Definitely 100% silk (it still had the label in)
All are interesting. I chose a similar wool colour to the background silk colour as I want to focus on texture and print. I particularly like the leaf print one and will definitely use that at some point.
Next, my patience (!) has been rewarded and the bag class is starting. First is an animal theme phone or glasses case. I consult the interweb for animals that have big tongues and decide on a gecko. I’m rather fond of geckos, though I’m not sure I’ve ever met one.
I’m pleased with the result, although admit it looks rather more like a frog or an alien. I was going to trim the tongue but decided to leave it as it is. I’ve taken to calling it my alien frog bag. I made it to fit my phone but it’s actually a bit big so I’ve now added a thin green leather strap with some Chicago screws. Next time I’m invited to a ‘BYO alien frog bag’ event, I will be all prepared.
On to the next, bigger bag, with integrated straps and internal pockets. I have a fair quantity of nice natural grey Corriedale top and decide I’ll use that for the outside. I’m on a roll with recycling the silk scarves so select a few with similar colours. I’m not sure grey will be the best background so, in an unusual fit of sensibleness, decide to make some samples.
I prefer the lighter colour behind them. The bag will be fulled very hard and I think I may completely lose the silk. Little lightbulb moment: why not prefelt the silks with a light colour wool to help preserve some of their colour?
I prefelted some pieces of silk. I even got a bit jazzy with the one with large spots, with fawn Corriedale and charcoal Merino.
On the left: the bag laid out with (nearly) all the surface decoration ready for wetting down. I did move things around a little afterwards but forgot to take a photo. On the right: the flap detail of the final bag
It’s not perfect (eg I put 2 pockets inside but they are on the front wall of the bag instead of the back and it’s a bit wider than I intended) but I do like it and will enjoy using it.
So, what next? The third bag is a backpack. I’m wrestling with myself over whether to use wool I already have or wait for some I’ve ordered to arrive. I have a studio full of wool but want to use a medium or coarse wool for durability and don’t have much of any colour or breed in sufficient quantity. I made a sample yesterday of potential wool candidates but am a bit underwhelmed. There’s a black dyed Perendale batt, grey/brown Finnish top, light grey Swaledale top and natural white batt (can’t remember the breed) but I’d have to mix them and that’s a lot to have going on.
I decided too to make a paper template of the finished bag to help me work out the resist and stop making bags bigger than I intend. Ha, ha, I do hope I don’t start calling this my toilet seat backpack. And that brings me right up to date.
All being well, I will have the backpack done to show you in my next blog spot in March, along with some makes from the Ink on Cloth workshop.
I’m enjoying the learning and Teri’s class is excellent. The instructions are clear and detailed. She has been positive and encouraging and very quick and generous in responding to my extensive questions about clasps, straps, bag design, wool breeds….
Are you struggling to find focus, or maybe finding new ways to learn and different things to try? I hope you’re able to do a little fibre work and I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and creative 2021.