This is a guest post by Cindy, our first reader to submit a photo for the 2nd Quarter Challenge. If you would like to submit a photo, you can do so here.
Hi everyone, my name is Cindy and I love playing with fibers – all the wonderful colors and textures. I sat down in the evening to relax and opened up Felting and Fiber Studio to enjoy the new posts. It is always like picking up a good book to read.
I was delighted that the 2nd quarter challenge was about noticing the little things – the details in everyday life. The project I just finished surprisingly enough was exactly that – a close up piece to resemble the ribs on a saguaro cactus. I decided to post the picture on the site for the challenge. Ruth reached out to ask more about it and would I share my process with the group – I happily agreed to do so – hope you enjoy.
I had been admiring the way the light and the shadows play on the saguaro cacti in my yard and surroundings. I started examining them – really paying close attention. I decided to make a few saguaro sculptures working on form and trying to get some texture as well. I had a shibori piece that I made on my desk and my thoughts meandered (as they often do -LOL) – wondering if this method would work to make the texture and ribs for a saguaro. I did not know if I would be able to keep the lines fairly straight to get the look I wanted or if they would scrunch up and be more of a zig zag like my other piece, which I love but not for this project. I thought it was worth a try. Here are a couple of my inspiration photos of saguaros in my yard that I was watching the play of light and shadows.
The inspiration photo on the right is a close up of the ribs of a cactus that I took a few years ago when we had snow in our area – which is a rare occurrence and that I enjoy immensely.
I set out to lay out fiber to wet felt – knowing that I would be pleating the piece for the ribs – I laid out the piece approx. 22” long x 9” high. I wet felt my pieces between a lightweight tightly woven fabric – assuming a polyester or such as it does not felt. I call it “slip” material because that is what I originally bought it for. You can see it under the fibers in the photo below.
The first layer is black core fiber. I knew I was going to have a few layers of colors, so I laid out each color pretty thin as I did not want the finished piece too thick. The picture shows the initial black core layer followed by the start of the 2nd layer – copper colored fiber.
Here you can see the 2nd layer of copper finished with all the fiber going in the same direction.
Next, I added some wisps of a tan core fiber as a 3rd layer. You can see that I did not cover it entirely – just wanted some lighter color for emphasis.
It was time to add a 4th layer of green, which was maori wool fiber.
I wanted more hues of green to add light and depth – so the next step was to add fine wisps of lima bean colored Corriedale wool fiber. I also added fine wisps of other greens – lime, Christmas, evergreen and olive – again to get light and depth in the piece. I decided to cut up some wool yarns in light, medium and dark browns to make the “spots” that I noticed on the close-up photo. Note: I would say that all of these blended in and I did not get the spots as intended, but they did add to the overall look of the piece. At this time, you can add any other embellishments that you might like. I enjoy color, so I added some purple and dark blue strands.
Next, I folded over my piece of “slip” material to cover the fiber and started the wet felting process – wetting with soap and water and rubbing and rolling the piece 30-50 times each side and direction to obtain to a prefelt material. My best description of prefelt is a soft material in which all the fibers and embellishments (if any) are interlocked together and are not moving loosely – it is basically a piece of soft fabric. When it reached that stage, I rung the soap and water out of the piece and gently rolled it in a towel to get out most of the moisture. I was impatient to start the next step and did not want to wait for it to dry.
It looks bumpy, but that is because the photo was taken just after I squeezed out the soapy water. Note: the blue shelf liner material, in the next photos, was under the bamboo mat for grip. Starting on the left side, I went in approx. 3⁄4” and made an upwards fold (1/2” – 3⁄4”) in the prefelt, I hand sewed a medium long basting running stitch at the base of this fold with black heavy-duty thread to make a “rib”. Note: at the beginning of the stitch, I knotted the thread at the back of the piece. When I finished top of each row, I left the thread long (approx. 3”) and loose. My theory was if it was loose, it would not pull, since I wanted the rows fairly straight. I sewed ribs all along the piece leaving space between each rib. I added a few “Y” ribs with my stitching. If you look closely at a saguaro, you see that where it changes shape from wide to narrow, the ribs form a Y. You may be able to make this out at the top of the close-up photo. In the spaces between the ribs, I decided to sew a running stitch. I left the thread approx. 3” long and loose on both edges. This was an attempt to get more dots that I was seeing in the close-up photograph.
In the photo below all the hand sewing completed and the piece full of ribs, it was ready for the felting/fulling process. I sandwiched the piece between the white poly/slip material. Added soapy water to the piece and began the fulling process by rolling it in a bamboo mat. I was always mindful of the ribs. I would open periodically to pinch the ribs to make sure that they were not felting together, and to keep them upright.
Once the piece was firmer and holding its shape, I rolled it up on itself with the ribs inside and then with them outside, alternating between both directions, and continued to roll it. I continued until I was happy with the size, texture and firmness of the piece. I then took a small pair of sharp pointed scissors and began to snip small lines and indents on the top of each of the ribs so that the tan, copper and black colors would be exposed to mimic the spines on the ribs of the saguaro. I was mindful of how deep I cut
with the scissors to expose the color I was after.
The stitched lines between the ribs had all but disappeared in the felting process so I carefully sliced off a very thin layer of felt at these areas to expose the stitches and my fun dots appeared! I decided to expose more of the colors underneath, so I carefully snipped away little areas here and there. I am happy to say the ribs stayed straight without the zig zag look I was afraid I might get when I made the cuts to expose the colors underneath. I believe that is because the thread remained loose, not tight, as it felted. I like all the colors and how they look together and the many hues of greens help with the light and shadow on the ribs. In fact, the right side looks brighter to me as if the sun is shining on it. I am very pleased with how this piece turned out.
Below is a photo of the finished piece on a white background with the lighting from above, so that you can see the colors and the fun black threads. Notice I cut all the way through the felt to expose the background color in just a few of areas.
I may trim a few of the long black threads. I plan to keep the threads exposed as they represent a continuation of sorts of the ribs on the background.
The final photo shows how it would look framed. I placed it on a copper felt background with a rustic wood frame with the strings tucked behind. As you can see, the light is coming from the right and happily playing light and shadows across the ribs.