I’ve recently finished a felted picture – mostly wet felted but with needle felted elements. ‘How long did it take to make that?’ I’m often asked when people see my work. I find it difficult to answer precisely. ‘Quite a long time’ isn’t very helpful so I usually say something like ‘About four days’. I don’t really know if that’s true. It’s my best guess. As the felt-makers among you will know, most people have no idea how much work can go into making felt, so as I was making my latest picture I thought I’d try to document the stages and see how long it all takes. That’s what I’m going to show you here, plus take you on a little visit to the town where I work.
I’ve already decided to make a picture of a turnstone feeding at the water’s edge so I set about making prefelt sheets for the pebbles. I live on the North Kent coast and love watching the local water birds: how they look, move and interact with their environment. It’s mostly pebble beach on the stretch of coast nearest to my home so pebbles are a good place to start.
First a piece of natural grey merino prefelt. Then a piece of mixed browns
It takes a surprisingly long time to cut all the pebble shapes
Here’s the grey cut up and an offcut of nuno prefelt which I’m gong to add into the mix.
And finally a sort of orange / yellow piece.
I use prefelts as they give the pebbles more definition than if I just add blobs of wool. I’d guess all of the above is about a day’s work.
Now I can start the layout. This is going to be quite a big picture so will take up pretty all the space on my standing work desk. Here’s the first layer – natural white merino.
The second layer starts off with pewter for the water. While I’m working on the water section I add some dark blue low lights.
After I complete the second layer with more natural white merino, I lay out different coloured wool on top of the pewter and dark blue. I’ve previously carded pewter wool with a variety of light blues and greens using large hand carders. I haven’t even thought about adding that time to my calculations. I use this for the top layer of the water, mostly covering the dark blue which I want to add depth without being too prominent.
Here you can see that I’ve also added all the cut up pebble shapes to the bottom of the picture, plus some scraps of silk cut from old scarves, leaving a white section where I will add the wave.
For the wave I’ve chosen mohair because it has a slight shine and I hope it will be wiggly when felted. Along with the mohair I add lots of silk hankies and wool locks: I’m trying to get lots of texture into this section.
There’s also a piece of sort of knitted yarn that I picked up in a charity shop a while age. It’s meant to be knitted into a scarf (according to the label) but I lay a line of it under the wave, hoping it will look like the foam from a previous wave. I also pop some offcuts into the wave for more texture. I finish by adding a few locks to the water to look like small cresting waves and I’m at the end of day 2.
A couple of days later I start the wetting down. Because it’s large, I decide to work in three sections, starting with the pebbles. I like to use voile netting over and under the wool – which you can see in this photo.
I spend a couple of hours prefelting the picture, working both sides. Here’s the back. I can see the pebble outlines pushing through the white so can be confident the layers are starting to felt together. At this point I decide to take a break and go for a wander outside.
I work in a small rented studio in the historic town of Faversham, about 8 miles from where I live, in Whitstable. The studio is in a former industrial building (originally a late-Victorian brewery bottling plant) which is now a lovely not-for-profit gallery, café and shop called Creek Creative Studios. It also includes 32 small studios filled with a good variety of busy individuals including painters, jewellers, potters and glass workers on the ground and lower ground floors; writers, illustrators, stringed instrument specialists, web designers and other small businesses on the upper floor.
Faversham is a gorgeous medieval market town so wandering about at lunchtime (and of course checking out the charity shops) is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s a lovely sunny day so I thought I’d share a few photos with you.
Top left is the historic market place with its stilted guildhall. Top right is the Shepherd Neame shop: there’s a long history of brewing here and Shepherd Neame is Britain’s oldest brewery. Some days it does mean the town is rather ‘aromatic’. Second right is the lovely Yarn Dispensary. Originally an apothecary, the building dates back to 1240 and has a beautiful, separately listed wooden apothecary interior. It also sells a delicious selection of yarns. Bottom left is an old pub; next is the old water pump in the marketplace and a couple of the other buildings that surround the market place. There’s still a market here 3 days a week plus regular monthly ‘best of Faversham’ and antiques markets at the weekends.
Back at the studio I spend the rest of the day rubbing and rolling the felt until it’s fairly firm. Because it’s a picture and going behind glass it won’t endure much wear and tear but I still like to ensure it’s properly fulled. End of day 3.
I leave the background to dry and return to it about 6 days later, as I start to think about the turnstone or turnstones. Working from my own photos, I roughly sketch a couple of birds and cut them out so I can see how they might look.
Although I like the 2 birds they are a bit small (the waves round here aren’t that big) so I decide to go for one pecking bird but bigger than the sketched one. First step is to make some prefelt for the feathers.
Here it is as I’m starting to wet it down (left) and as a light prefelt (right – apologies for the poor quality of the second photo)
I cut up the feather prefelt and lay out a general bird shape. At this stage I am leaving the head large and a bit vague. I’ve learned that it’s better to make it too big and cut it to size later rather than trying to get the exact size and shape and risk having to add more wool or felt.
Here’s the bird felted and with a lightly trimmed head. Sorry it’s not a great photo as it’s electric light and I’m casting a shadow but I hope you can see it well enough to get the overall idea.
From layout decisions to the felted bird has taken most of day 4.
The next stage is to needle felt the bird into the background and needle in the eye and legs as well as refining the beak. For the legs I used some of the orange-ish prefelt I made for pebbles, adding strands of wool on top.
Using a broken needle I pick at the wave to raise some of the texture from the silk hankies and wool locks. I’m not sure whether it’s visible in this photo but it does make a difference in the actual picture.
I didn’t take progress shots of the needle felting but I’d say it took a good half day. It’s difficult to know when to stop fiddling around with it and declare it finished.
So, here is the final picture before framing.
And a shot in its frame.
Frame size is 63 x 86 cm (approximately 25 x 34 inches)
I used an adhesive hook tape – like the hook side of Velcro – which I stick to the mount board. The hooks hold the felt in place without impacting the fabric.
So, it looks like my 4 day estimate was a bit low. Next time someone asks how long it took me to make this picture I could say ‘About 4 ½ days, oh, plus the carding, the nuno prefelt and the framing….’ . Maybe I’ll just settle for ‘About 5 days’.
Do you try to work out how long you spend making things or just go with the flow?