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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

Investigation of 6.5mm and 7mm aluminum wire (the heavy stuff)

Investigation of 6.5mm and 7mm aluminum wire (the heavy stuff)

I have been working on more samples for the study group, I hoped you might like to see some of my investigation of the heaviest gauge of aluminum wire (6ga/7mm) we were looking at. It has come to my attention that it is also Palm Sunday. (I am glad I had included Palms in my samples!)

1 Part of the 7mm samples

I know most of us will not be making armatures that would require this gauge, but if you are wanting to make something quite large or you need it to have very strong legs this may be an option for you.

For both the 6.5mm and 7mm wire, I found it helped to wrap the foot loop wire with a layer of wool before I started to build up the foot itself.

The twisting of the 7mm wire required anchoring with the large welding pliers. (These were a fabulous find at Princess Auto. Yes, in the welding section. Did they not know they are well suited to make ninety-degree corners in armatures so should have been in the felt section? Oh right they don’t have a felt section yet.)

Here are photos of the 6.5mm wire is being wrapped to form the support to attach the rest of the wool for the foot.

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4-9 foot development leads to a leg.

With the 6.5mm I used the wire untwisted with no augmentation or secondary wire. While I did not find this particularly challenging I do see that some felters may find the lack of grip on the wire a bit annoying. While the gastroc (calves) at this size were very stable and quite firmly felted the quads did have the ability to rotate slightly. This I did find annoying. I suspect this would not be as much of an issue if this appendage had a pelvis. So if you are making a shape that ends in a cylinder shape you may want to investigate other options than a plain wire.

I would investigate Sara’s wax products to give a bit more stickiness to the wire or try tacky craft glue. Other possibilities to investigate would be Pipe cleaners possibly paired with floral tape if the pipe cleaner was not gripping to the wire itself. I have not investigated the life expectancy of floral tape so I can’t guarantee its longevity.

For the 7mm sample, instead of the open foot loop, I folded back the lower section to make it doubled to the patella (knee). This made me thread the short section of roving I was working with through the foot loop to cover the wire. It was a bit fiddly but was worth it to have a base from which to build the foot.

The lower leg to knee was very easy to wrap. Remember when you are adding the wool in thin layers to make sure that when you start to get close to the end of the fibre spread it out so it’s quite thin and work back over what you have already applied. When you get to the end of the fibre keep turning the appendage as if you were adding more fibre while rubbing and smoothing the fibre you had just laid down. If your application is firm and built up in thin layers you will have very little needle felting needed to get this under layer to stick to itself. The preparation of the fibre will also make a difference, stripped batts work better than top but top will work.  it’s just a bit harder for this particular application.

When I had completed the appendage, I found that there was even greater rotation in the larger gauge wire. This may have been due to the under layer being a bit looser than I could have wrapped it. I did a second sample and yes the quad still had a bit of rotation but not as much as the first sample. So I suspect part of the rotation is a looser under layer.  I have made a sample with a pipe cleaner wrapped around half of the appendage and will see if that reduces rotation but I will get back to that one later.

12-13 next sample to address the problem in quad movement

Leaving the legs for a moment, I went on to the next sample, which was a hand with wool. This I consulted the bare wire samples I had taken for each gauge. After consideration, I started with the 20ga hardware wire (steel) from Dollarama for the fingers and 6ga for the palm and forearm. Unfortunately, that sample made like the hand from the Adams family and the thing crawled off. (I am sure IT will return the Thing shortly).

14-15 consulting the wire samples

To make the fingers I used Sara’s “Digit widget”. I have previously used my tapered mettle seed planting measuring guide for little fingers on my mice and the mettle ruler for the fingers on the Mer’s.

16 the finger former implements; mettle ruler, seed depth guide, Digit Widget.

My second ample was 20ga aluminum from AliExpress for the fingers and 6ga for the palm and forearm.

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17-18 Fingers

At this point, the weather outside had stopped raining and we had a break. During which I rushed (ok, slow shuffle) outside to attend to the overflow for the rain barrel that had come adrift as well as fill the bird feeders. (I got scolded by a chickadee as soon as I stepped out of the door!!!) . I got three tomato pots and one tree moved from the front garden, where the pots over winter, to the driveway.  Then my back said, Are you nuts? Did you just move a potted poplar tree? Well, we are not moving the next one!! We are not doing anything that requires sitting or standing for at least the next day!!! If we don’t decide to yell at you longer so I crawled back into the house took off my boots, by this point that was a big accomplishment and crawled into bed with a hand, one needle and a small baggie of wool. So, I apologize for not grabbing the camera, so it would be in reach to document the finger creating. Thus there is a bit of a jump in photos while I am adding wool to the fingers, palm and then to the wrist.

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19-21 (the Palms of Sunday) the wrist still needs a bit more work, but the palm is close

I am not quite happy with the hand yet. I think I would be having an easier time with scale if I had been building from the arm down as I usually do with full figure sculptures. This way I am trying to guess the forearm thickness to match the hand to. I found the aluminum is a bit soft but may be able to stiffen it a bit more by more felting. There is enough grip strength to hold the felting pen without dropping it. But I would like it to be just a bit stiffer. Therefore, I may investigate shifting to a stronger type of wire or a heavier gauge of aluminum since the fingers are still quite thin at 20ga aluminum. I will find the 18ga aluminum and try that next.

We had a quick trip out to Rona to look for pot saucers (no luck) and while there, I checked out their wire selection. I picked up a brass and a copper as well as another un-coated aluminum. The new wire seems to be hiding in the car may be under the big bag of potting dirt Glenn put in the back. Once I find them, I will make samples and add them to the collection.

The 6.5 and 7mm would be a gauge to investigate if you were building a 3D picture that needed a supportive tree trunk or branch something would be hung from. You will need reasonably strong hands to work with it especially if you are working with it doubled. If you have a desperate need, you may consider a bench vice and substantial pliers to assist you in the wire twisting (no wimpy pliers for this gauge!). Glenn has a cool blacksmithing tool called a bending fork but I do not think I want to stick the aluminum in the forge! He also has a couple of jigs for bending “S” hooks which might be fun to play with. There is also a large leg vice sitting by the “small” anvil.  I will let you know if I sneak out and play with his tools.

On a different topic, I just heard that “littlelaurelfibre” on Instagram, has tried to heat the bee-combs from Princess Auto that I was telling you about in a previous blog .  instead of an Oven, as was used in making plastic armour, she used a heat gun. (she has a great photo of the before and after on Instagram . The Heat gun did the trick perfectly! She was able to adjust the angle from the handle to the tines so it would better suit our needs (instead of the bees).  Now I will have to send Glenn to the “room of tools” in the basement and see if he can find the heat gun. I was sure we had one!

Have fun and keep felting!!


Shark-Boy! part 2

Shark-Boy! part 2

When last we chatted, i had consulted with Ann while topping up the butter tart supply.  She suggested looking at the integration zone, yes he is a bit skinny and needs to have a stronger transition blending the join between boy and shark.

I have made a stronger integration zone between shark and human by lengthening the abdominals into the under shark and brought the shark flanks up into the lats. i also added a dorsal line in the lumbar spine and the cervical spine. yes that looks better!

then it was time to add hands.

1-3 Floral wire from Dallerama unlabeled but probably 22 gauge

After adding the fingers.  I tried one of Sara’s tools for the first time, I had been using my mettle ruler and one of my weaving stick-shuttles successfully but this gives a lot of length options in one tool. I could do a similar thing with coroplast (a type of plastic cardboard) but I was interested in trying this out.

4 finger making tool, Stick shuttle and ruler

I used the floral wire from Dollerama (I think its 22 gauge since its unlabeled). I used an extra section of wire to reinforce the wrist. Rapping tiny fingers was a bit fiddly but went reasonably well. I switched to finer needles and started to work on the thenar and hypothenar eminences (those two bumps of at the base of the palm). I spent a long time poking both hands to get the shape to a place I was happy.

5-7 I was very pleased with the expressiveness the hands gave. You can also see more of the transition zone from shark to boy.

Yes, that took a week and it was a time to top up the butter tart inspiration!

 8-10 “those hands look creepy”

Success! Except I understand the hands look creepy. That might improve in the next step, On to Colour!!

By the way, it’s still raining.

I started laying in the base mid-tone grey on the hammerhead body then started playing with skin tones in the boy parts. (sorry I got distracted with adding the colour layer and forgot to go grab the camera)

 11-13 base layer, then adding wisps of colour

Just a sec, Ann just messaged me a tornado warning, got to go move hanging plants, drying wool and the 3 umbrellas!

Well, we made it through with odd-coloured sky and layers of clouds moving in different directions then a huge downpour.

The next morning I was a bit hesitant to check out how the side yard was doing. The studio, plants and wool survived so back to work!

14 Here is the wool that keeps getting extra rinses, this is just the first part of one of the two large rams fleeces I bought a couple of weeks ago. There is still a lot of VM  including burrs to clean-out. Now back to Shark-boy!

  15-18  wool and hanging baskets survived adding detail at the intersection and along the spine.

19 This summer Mrs. Crow and her family supervised me, as I have worked on the Mer family.  Today they all dropped by for a visit.

I started to lay in more thin wisps of colour over the base layers. I started with the human skin tones and the integration of the abdominal/underbelly. I also added a bit of the detailing along the colour change.

20-22 Adding more definition between belly and sides of sharks

I think he is enjoying how it is going and took a quick swim around the table.


Once I can catch him, I will continue adding colour to his hand and the rest of his body.

Have fun Felting!! Maybe it will stop raining at some point so i can get back to washing and drying the last of the fleeces.

Shark-Boy! part 1

Shark-Boy! part 1

I started this post a few weeks ago but wanted to tell you about the Flax study group first. so while the Flax is off at the spa having hydrotherapy treatments lets look back a bit.

I hope you haven’t become bored in my fishy endeavors this summer. (I am looking forward to starting a less wet oriented project once I have this one in hand)

I have decided the Mer’s need a son. However, I want to have him more strongly on the shark side of the family, hammerhead shark to be specific. So back to my notes to adjust the armature sizes from the original measurements suggested by Sarra in her you tube felt along Mermaid.  I reduced the proportions for the body and then considered the extended length of the hammerhead shark body.

 1   14 gauge aluminum wire armature.

   2 Using a second piece of wire to Stabilizing the arms and third for the body.

For this Mer I went with a much more fishy lower body, basing it on the hammerhead shark.  I again did a thorough search of images to find reference shots. Referring back to the diagrams,  photos, and a bit of research I found out there is a difference in fin alinement between adolescent and adult hammerhead sharks.  I extended the body armature, adding fins in appropriate places for a youthful shark.

  3-4 adding a fishy long shark body

I have tried various starting points while felting the Mer’s, this time I started with the head and worked down.

  5-9 Starting at the top and working down

I added wool, by rapping and adding layers of wool, continuing down the body to the first pair of (Pectoral) fins. I secured fiber to the lower back then worked out and back building up the fins and upper part of the shark body.

 10-11 Pectoral fins

Now on to the first Dorsal fin. I created a flat rectangle and felted the center line which will become the front edge of large fin.

 12-13 Dorsal Fin.

The fin armature was rapped with the white wool then the fin cover was added and felted in.

  14 -19 the Dorsal fin and blocking out the shark body

When working It is good to take pictures, not just to have a record of what you have done but also to get a different perspective on your work.  (It’s like holding a painting up to a mirror to help your brain see it more clearly) He is still looking a bit too skinny, he needs a bit of weight training. I am sure I can do something about that.

Yes it rained again. another extra rinse for the fleece. I am still dry under here, so let’s keep having fun!

   20 more rain, shark-boy starts weight training

I started to play around with the transition section and adding a bit more width to the body of the shark parts.

  21-23 transition between Boy and Fish ( i have to make the transition look integrated not like a shark is eating someone feet first)

  24 checking both photos and diagrams

Now to add the Caudal fin, which has a subterminal notch! And yes it rained again.

25 this is a cool tool, it unscrews by turning the nob. be careful not to get one that requires a screwdriver  to undo it from below (it can be painful if you slip)

Pause in the rain, time for a Tomato brake!

   26-28  Haratige, Low acid yellow pair, Sweet i millions

Yes I am still trying to wash and dry fleece so yes it rained again. I guess it needs more rinsing? OK, back to work!


Time to add the two Pelvic fins,

  32-33 shape both fins at the same time before adding them

It was still raining but not leaking in the covered dog area which is now my studio, Shark boy is keeping an eye on the weather while I make his fins.

34 will it ever stop with the intermittent rain?

  35 before adding the pelvic fins I need to add the Anal fin, but first checking the location on the diagrams and photos.

    36-37 make 2 so they will be balanced

Adding the pelvic fins between the pectoral and anal fin. As you can see, shark boy did not inherit the vestigial knees found in the rest of the Mer family.


Its time to pack up for the day. Tomorrow is the day to restock on Ann’s Tarts and get her impute in how this project is  going.

40 OK more rain.. time to pack up. tomorrow is Butter tart day!! (Saturday)

  41-43 Ann had her New poncho to show me! It looks grate!

The decision on shark boy was to keep working on the intersection between shark and boy. That will be next week but for now its time for butter tarts!!

Felting Alfresco (Outside! Its Summer!) On to Pet Two. Part 1

Felting Alfresco (Outside! Its Summer!) On to Pet Two. Part 1

Felting Alfresco (Outside! Its Summer!)

On to Pet Two. Part 1

So, this week the goal was to start on Mer-Pet number two. (Sharkette Needs a friend!)

As usual, I did some digging on the internet to find out about them. After a lot of browsing, looking at Spotted Eagle Rays, Bat Rays and Manta Rays I decided on Manta Rays. As I was Focusing on collecting many different views, I started to notice there were differences amongst the photos I was collecting. I think I need to look at words now too. <drat>  While looking for pictures of what a female manta ray looks like I tripped over a post with cool facts about manta rays.


Cool Facts About Manta Rays:

The name “Manta” comes from the Spanish word “Mantilla” or cloak.

  • Female manta have pelvic fins but no claspers (that’s a male thing). Females tend to be larger and generally more friendly towards divers than males.
  • Manta can be identified by their splotch patterns on their bellies. Each is different.
  • Manta and Mobula rays have the largest brains of all fish. They keep their brain warm by a counter-curent heat exchange system using their circulatory system. This keeps their temperature more even than most fish.
  • They are smart and use coordinated and cooperative feeding. They are also social and curious about divers.
  • Rays are in the same family as Sharks and Skates. In the ray family, (Myliobatidae), there are two species of Manta (Manta Birostris – Giant Oceanic and Manta Alfredi – Reef manta) and 9 species of Mobula devil rays. You can tell the two types of Manta apart by their coloration, location and size.
    • Birostis (oceanic) has a ‘T’ pattern and there is a distinctive black/white division on their back and almost no spots on their bellies. Tending to be larger around 7m wide and are more solitary. They can stand colder temperatures and are seen most often off shore. Manta have evolved from sting rays but Manta Birostis is the one who has a vestigial sting on their tails.
    • while Manta Alfredi (reef) have a ‘Y’ pattern fading into the black colouration on their backs and unique spot patterns on their ventral side. They tend to be smaller, around 5m wide and are found more frequently in schools around reefs and tropical islands.
  • The Marquesas Islands are one of the few places in the world where you can find both species.
  • I also found photos showing all black and all white manta as well as a definitely pinkish one. So we should keep watching and see if there is another subset of Manta are discovered.


Ok, time to get to work!

 1-2  I brought out the implements, armature, fibre and photo reference.


Here is the armature I created for the back of the Manta Ray.

I reinforced the leading edge and front scoops (cephalic fins). The black wire running through the body is to help support the posterior aspect, back, of the body. There will be a separate section for the anterior body/mouth. I used fine floral wire to help stabilize the tail extension which like the rest of the body is 14-gauge aluminum – thankyou Dollarama!


I started at the proximal (nearer to the centre or midline of the body) point, attaching with a few quick stabs.  Then wrapped fibre towards the distal (further from the centre of the body) end then back, securing it at both ends.  As you can see, I was able to leave a loop at the end of the scoops. This gave a good location to secure the fibre at the distal end.  (I promise there is no medical vocabulary exam hidden at the end of this post but I bet you would pass it if there was!)

 4-6 Wrapping the wire securing at both ends

I added a base layer wrap to the armature to give a bit more support for the fibre that would be added later.

 7-9 First layer of skin for the wings

I then began adding the dark split from a piece of the batt and then adding more to build up the midbody section.


10 Back or top of manta ray

  1111 underside of manta ray

This brings us to the missing bits. We are missing the inner mouth structure, gills and the rest of the abdomen/body.

(Manta ray Undercarriage armature.)

So its time to create an armature for the mouth/abdomen.

12 12 Armature for mouth gets measured

Glenn arrived home and I moved to working from the bench in the front garden. Glenn enjoyed one of the gravity chairs and was just falling asleep when we started to hear Harp music which seemed to be coming form the other side of the front hedge.

13-14 working in the front garden

1515 Yes that is definitely a harp being played next door!!!

Our neighbour was hosting his other neighbour on his bench with her Harp! (He likes his lovely green grass, unlike my front yard, which has almost no grass.)


 16 What a wonderful way to felt, to live music! (Usually in the summer she plays harp at weddings. I hope she will be practicing in the front yard again soon!)


We use to have someone who played bagpipes at sunset from somewhere behind our yard. He or she was also vary good. i always hoped i would find them and be able to request Alice Cooper or a bit of really old Black Sabbath. in more normal years we would heading down to the Ottawa Bluesfest and watch live bands, mostly Alt rock, old rock, techno, industrial, prog-rock and yes even blues but only once or twice. i usually brought my drop spindle or one of the portable spinning wheels. It was fun to see bands we had never seen before and some we had. Muse, Alice Cooper and Gretta Van Fleet were particularly enjoyable!

this summer will make us appreciate all the things we use to enjoy once we get to do them again!  so back to felting!!

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