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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

 

 

Update on Mr. Mer part 1

Update on Mr. Mer part 1

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

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1-2 Mr. Mer 2021

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

3 parts of the green fibre collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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6-8 upgrading Fishy-bits underway

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

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9-10  Needs a bit more

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

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11-12 Working on the tail

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

13 elevating the top line of the fish body

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

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

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15-17 Ann critiques him

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

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18-20  Mr. Mer is watching for Library patrons

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

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

Have fun and keep felting!!

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

You can never have too much felt art

You can never have too much felt art

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

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

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

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

But they didn’t quite feel right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatre Textiles Part 1

Theatre Textiles Part 1

After I had retired from full time work in 2006 I was finally able to join SNADS – our local amateur dramatic society. I live in a small market town in Dorset and SNADS was the main source of entertainment for our area at that time (as it had been since 1930, although newspaper archives indicate that it was around at least as early as 1883). I had seen most of the productions which they had put on since we moved there in 1999 and longed to join in, not only on stage, but behind the scenes. During any one year there are at least 4 productions – Pantomime in February, Spring Play in May, a Variety Show/Revue in the summer and the Autumn play in early October, and as soon as that was over, the round started again with preparations for the following year’s Panto.

We had a fantastic wardrobe mistress, but she needed help with costumes, especially at Panto time as there was so much to do.

My first foray into costume was to make a full head cat mask for the summer review. Two of our members were to sing Rossini’s Cat Duet and the director decided that it would be fun to have a disreputable tom cat watching them from the side-lines. I had recently learned to wet felt 3D items using a resist, so I made the mask from wet felted pieces and needle felted details. I didn’t want the actor’s eyes to show through and anyway, I needed to give the cat it’s proper “slit” irises. So I stitched into the eye holes a piece of doubled yellow organza and just painted the vertical slit. (It is quite possible to see what’s going on through organza if it is held close to your face.) How to give him a proper nose? I needled the correct shaped nose on the mask, then I painted on some artist’s gesso, let it dry and added some more. Gesso is textured so it was necessary to file the nose to make it a bit smoother, also the gesso is white, so I painted the nose with black enamel paint which I nicked from my husband’s paint store (he’s a model maker). After a couple of coats of that, Tom had a shiny(ish) black nose. Add some “bitten” ears and “wonky” whiskers and he was nearly done. The cat’s mouth was open – it allowed the actor to breathe and gave Tom naughty grin. Finally I gave him a pink tongue and white tips to his ears.

Disreputable Tom Cat

The next production that I was involved in was the pantomime Cinderella, written and directed by one of our members. I was asked by the wardrobe mistress if I would dress both the Fairy (“Fairy Nuff”) and Buttons’ dog, Beau. The director wasn’t quite clear about what kind of dog Beau should be, except that he was to be comic. So I did a sort of 3D needle felt sketch of the dog’s head as I saw it – black and white with one ear cocked.

“Sketch” for Buttons’ Dog

However I’d got it wrong – Beau was to be a black poodle. 

After some discussion with the wardrobe mistress, we decided that the actor would wear a black polo necked top, thick black tights and black gloves. I managed to find a piece of curly black faux fur to make a short jacket, with enough left over to make pompon for the top of the head and the end of the tail, the long dangly ears and wrist and ankle rings to simulate the correct style poodle cut. I was to make a full head mask. For this I made a wet felt hood using a resist and a further piece of flat felt incorporating some of the curly faux fur trimmed from the bought fabric. A lot of that moulted out though because it was nylon or polyester and very slippery. Enough was fixed in however to give the right effect.

I made a needle felted muzzle – again with the mouth open to reveal the red tongue and white teeth, and to allow the actor to breathe.  The nose I made in the same way as for the tom cat – shaped with the felting needle, gessoed and painted.  The muzzle was attached to the hood/face with stitching and felting needles.  Some of the flat felt was cut to represent the dog’s lips and attached by stitching and needle felting to the muzzle.  The “Disney-esque” eyes were again painted organza and were stitched on the inside of the mask. 

The ears and head pompon were also stitched on.  I added a piece of brown fabric and a belt buckle around the dog’s throat to simulate a collar and allow the mask to be firmly secured over the actor’s polo necked top.  I have worn this costume myself a couple of times in subsequent Carnival processions – great fun.

Beau

Since the actress cast for the part of Fairy Nuff had a figure which could easily cope with a glamourous costume, for the base I was given a basque that fitted her. She was to appear out of a compost heap at the edge of the stage, so I set to and made lots of autumn coloured leaf shapes – mainly oak – out of different brown bronze and gold metallic organzas. I sandwiched sparkly bits between layers of organza. I machined stitched around the edges and along the veins of each leaf and then cut out the shapes with a soldering iron. This sealed the edges and prevented fraying. Then, with the basque on a dressmaker’s dummy I attached large pieces of bronze organza for the tail, and then added the strategically placed leaves.

The wings were made from two lengths of flat wire (originally from a pop-up fabric laundry container) covered with more organza, this time creamy white but with sparkles and sequins added. These were attached to the back of the costume by stitching the wire to the shoulder straps of the basque and covering the join with some dark bronze/gold chiffon.

The crown was made from bronze Christmas decorations (that year bronze was in fashion over here – UK). I used bronze plastic icicles, some foil stars and some more organza leaves attached to a head band. I can’t remember what the wand tip was made from – possibly a bunch of tinsel.

I actually got a speaking part in this Panto – only a couple of lines but a step up from what I’d had before.
I don’t have a proper photo, this was before my husband had a digital camera, however I’ve managed to extract a clip from the video we had made of the show. It’s a bit fuzzy if enlarged but I think you can get the gist. I’m in the gold dress with my exclusive “Toilet Duck” perfume, and my punchline? “It drives the men Quackers!”

Guests at the Ball with “perfume”!

After this show, we had one final “adult” Revue and then we moved to where we are now based. Try this link it should show you the hall we left, Sturminster Hall, and eventually the Community and Arts building, The Exchange, which is now our home. https://stur-exchange.co.uk/about/
Unfortunately it seems that a second link, on the above page, may not yet be working – this is a new website in the process of being fully set up so here’s the brochure which was produced the year after it opened.

The Exchange Brochure 2008

The staircase balustrade is wrought iron made by a local craftsman and represents the river Stour which runs through our town. All the Rooms in The Exchange are named after rivers and streams running close by, and it is just beginning to open again to live theatre as well as community groups.

We at SNADS started off our return with an Adult Cabaret a couple of weeks ago, for once without a male Balloon Dance or a ladies Fan Dance, but there was a Pole Dance!

More about my exploits with SNADS (including an explanation of the picture of the wicked queen) later. Watch this space.

Connections: An Exhibition

Connections: An Exhibition

I’ve just taken down my work from a Made in Whitstable group exhibition at a local arts centre gallery so thought I’d tell you about the felt pieces I had in the exhibition.

Made in Whitstable is a loose affiliation of artists and makers who have a close connection to the town, on the coast in SE England.

With a diverse artistic group it’s not always easy to find a title that everyone is comfortable with. ‘Connections’ seemed to offer enough room for people to work with in their various styles and mediums.

This exhibition was postponed from Easter 2020 so it was great finally to get some work out there, and to catch up (albeit at a distance and in a mask) with people I haven’t seen for a long time.

As I’ve described in previous blogs, this year I’ve been learning from online workshops. I’ve long been interested in both seed heads and shells and these have both continued to feature in my recent work. Reflecting on this, I realise they are all forms of natural protective cases and although it’s not a snappy title, I decided it was a good ‘connections’ theme for me.

This is a picture I made specifically for the exhibition.

Recycling Oyster Shells: Turnstone at the Royal Native Oyster Stores, Whitstable

These photos show the oyster shells laid out, prefelt shells in a single sheet, then cut up and laid onto a background of white Norwegian batt (lower half) and tan Perendale batt (top half). There’s a recycled silk scarf laid over the tan batt layers to give the impression of a pebbled beach in the distance.

Layout for the turnstone, using a combination of merino wool and prefelt; fully felted turnstone and a trial with two birds. I decided to go for just one. I needle felted the turnstone into place then added the eye, beak, legs and a few feather details

I also made some smaller pictures along the shell & seed pod theme

Top left: mussel shell with recycled silk sea, cotton scrim wave foam and prefelt pebbles

Top right: Oyster shell with mixed wool and yarns and fabric barnacles on a recycled silk background

Bottom left: pink shell on a recycled silk beach with cotton scrim wave foam and mixed wool and silk fibre sea

Bottom centre: paper felt shell on recycled silk background

Bottom right: Corriedale, silk and yarn background with multiple-resist circles, hand stitching and a sycamore key

I also had various 3D shapes in the exhibition.

Left – based on a eucalyptus seed pod. I made this in a wonderful workshop by Gladys Paulus in November 2019. I covered that workshop in my first blog for the Felting and Fiber Forum. Various wool batts and mohair locks.

Top right – conker made in two parts (using the stem technique I learned from Gladys). Outer made from Perendale and Norwegian batts, inner is merino wool tops

Bottom right – based on a hazelnut, also made soon after Gladys’s workshop.

Here’s a poppy seed head I made this year after Fiona Duthie’s Fibre + Paper workshop. Mulberry paper is felted into the felt surface. The paper adds structure, folds and pleats well and can be drawn on / painted. I painted this with watercolours. I had to make the top separately so stitched it on. A local craftsman made the base; the pod is held on a piece of dowel attached to the base.

This nigella seed pod is also paper felt but made side-on with pre-felted ropes and thicker wool sections (not prefelted) to allow variable shrinkage (learned from Soosie Jobson). I had a reclaimed jarrah wood and dowel stand made for this.

Another paper felt shape, inspired by shells, with pleats and nobbles made as a result of Fiona Duthie’s workshop

And finally, I included a few plant holders and some earrings.

Here’s my display area – I did put the cards (bottom right) on a small table!

My display area

There were lots of good exhibitors. Here’s a small selection: top left fused glass by Irene Southon; middle left acrylics by Josephine Harvatt; bottom left watercolours by Sarah Louise Dunn showing local sites commissioned by Whitstable Museum to illustrate a map of the town; right, prints by Linda Karlsen. Work by Irene, Josephine, Sarah and Linda (Wearartworks) can all be found on social media like Instagram and Facebook. They and other exhibitors can also be found on Made in Whitstable’s Facebook and Instagram.

The footfall was rather disappointing and I would guess that sales were down on previous years, but it was really good to get some work out on show and to see what other people had been creating.

Utterly useless – a watering can that can’t hold water!

Utterly useless – a watering can that can’t hold water!

Inspiration: US Sculptor Rogan Gregory’s piece

Okay! I will admit it! I have a big thing about shapes.  Sometimes it keeps me up at night.  Over the Christmas between planning what to do with all the leftover turkey the dog hadn’t managed to steal (I had no idea he could jump THAT high) my mind got to thinking about book resists and how introducing a hole in the resist would totally transform the shape of the piece.  Then in the New Year I came across this felting challenge on social media (thank you Mia Hartgroves) which involved producing a wet felted interpretation of this watering can, created by the US Sculptor Rogan Gregory.  In my mind it ticked all the boxes.  I love the shaping around the handle and I reckoned the overall shape could be achieved with an asymmetrical book resist.  Plus I got to put a hole in the resist!

First was the sketching.  Not my strongest point but this year it’s on my to do list to practice more.  Normally I just do my calculations in my head and visualise (no wonder I’m awake half the night).  From a practical viewpoint I knew that I needed to get out the pad so I started small and grew the piece over a number of iterations.  Soon I had my pattern as the drawing had grown sufficiently to fit on an A3 page. I reckoned when designing the resist that it was important that a line could be drawn through the pattern so that each page would have sufficient area to accommodate the laying down of the fibre.  This was going to be especially important at the spout end of the design.  Also, the placement of the hole for the handle was important as I wanted to capture some of the curvature on the sculpture.  Once adjustments were made to accommodate these factors, I finalised the pattern and cut out the resist.  The resist has three pages; two to accommodate the bulk at the bottom and one at the top.  Therefore I cut the pattern twice, sewed along the centre of the resist and then stuck the two layers (where the handle was) together.  At that point I was ready to felt.  I chose Corriedale (grey) and I planned to embellish the piece with grey viscose.  Viscose has a beautiful sheen so I reckoned I could capture some of the shine of the original piece with this fibre.

Three page resist

I started with the bottom page of the resist as this was the one part of the project which could remain undisturbed once it was laid down.  First layer was laid north/south and second east/west as I wanted the top direction of the fibre to flow with the direction of the piece.  Viscose was then added and it was wetted down. Once a skin had formed on the fibre I covered it with some light plastic (decorator’s plastic) and folded over the page, making sure that the plastic remained next to the fibre.

The bottom of the resist ready for laying down the fibre
Ready for wetting out
Gently does it!
Turning attention to the top pages

Turning my attention to the top (handle) side of the resist, I set about folding in the excess fibre from the underside. To avoid build-ups I trimmed back some of the excess by pulling away and discarding the fibre.  I paid particular attention to the spout.  As the Corriedale fibres were long there was a danger that I would end up with a build up of layers at the top of the spout.  I did the unthinkable and cut back some of the excess with my scissors.  Then it was time to lay down the first layer of fibres.   Again in a north/south direction, I paid particular attention to two areas; I broke the long fibres in half so that I did not crowd (too many layers) the spout; I also took care when placing the fibres around the handle area – I laid the fibre on the bottom part of the handle and then tucked it into the other side of the resist.  Once that was safely tucked away I was able to continue to cover the rest of the side tucking in the fibre about the remaining section of the hole.   I laid down only one layer and repeated the process on the other side of the resist.

First layer paying particular attention to the hole
Wrapping the wool at the hole

Once both sides were covered with one layer of fibre I wet them down, tucked it in and set about working a skin on it.  Then it was time to decide where to place my fishing line into the felt so I scoped it out with pins, measured and added extra for the ‘overflow’ from the can.  I cut 6 lengths of fishing line (3 for each side) then tacked them down onto the fibre.  I made sure that they were symmetrical on each side of the resist.  I threaded the ends of the fishing line through a straw so that I had some control over them when I was tacking them down.

Scoping out the positioning of the fishing line
The tacking begins …
All secure and ready for the next stage

Once secured, I put the second layer on the top two sides of the resist.  I was once again mindful of the hole and the spout.  I checked to make sure that the spout end of the resist was still visible as I did not want this end to felt together. I applied the viscose fibre to the two top sections of the resist.   After that I felted the whole piece (placing decorator’s plastic on both sides of the top to stop the fibres being disturbed as I worked on each of the pages) and rolled it until it started to shrink.  Then I removed the resist.  I cut into the bottom section of the hole. I did not remove any of the felt just sliced through this section and then sealed it.  Once these were sealed I started the fulling process until I was happy with the size. 

Cutting the hole in the prefelt and removing the resist
Time to Shape

I wanted more definition on the curvature around the handle so I decided to stiffen the piece.  I soaked the can in a dilution (Golden GAC Medium-800) stuffed it and left it to dry. 

I’m pretty pleased with the end result.  If I was making it again I think I would use more fishing line in the piece, perhaps including it in the bottom section.  That way it might not look as if the line is flowing through the top section only.  At the moment the line (representing water) seems to be defying gravity. 

I thoroughly enjoyed planning and making this piece.  Next time I may try a hole in a symmetrical book resist just to check out the overall alteration in the shape of the structure. 

Happy felting!

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