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Learning to print on (wet) felt

Learning to print on (wet) felt

I’m learning to print onto felt so I thought I’d show you some work in progress.  I’m following Lindsey Tyson’s course ‘Transfer Printing onto Felt and other Fabrics’ so I’m focusing here on what I’ve made rather than how. Lindsey’s been printing on felt for some years and has developed her own techniques. She’s now moving away from felt-making and printing to focus on painting so has produced a comprehensive course to share her expertise. I first saw her work a few years ago and have been really intrigued ever since to know how she produces such lovely images on felt.

I do quite a lot of sales and exhibitions in my local area. I’ve long thought I’d like to develop some smaller decorative items I can make relatively quickly and so sell at a lower price than some of my other work (because it’s more time-consuming).  I thought printing might provide an opportunity to do this.

I hummed and hawed for some time before signing up as it involves quite a big investment – not only in the course itself but also in equipment, software, space (for the equipment) and time.  I’ve just had a milestone birthday and as my mother wanted to give me a milestone gift, I decided that this was it.  I do love learning new skills and developing ideas so I was pretty sure I’d love the course.  Thank you Mum!

My first venture was to source some free online images (this is covered in the course) and, along with a little oyster shell sketch I drew, prepare them for printing and print some samples onto scraps of felt.

Small test pieces

I was pretty pleased with the results. However, some of the prints had a rather plastic feel and very visible edge.

Lindsey was very helpful with her suggestions on how to improve – including highlighting that I’d overlooked one of the steps when using the paper I’d chosen, doh! That is now largely resolved though I’m still wrestling with myself about whether I should buy a new printer as I have an inkjet and apparently laser prints work better.

I made a little tea light holder cover using some commercial prefelt. I’ve never used bought prefelt before (I’ve always made my own) and although it produced a very lovely fine felt, I also managed to create a line in the cover where the sheet of prefelt joined that I wasn’t happy with.

I now know (from the course) that there’s a way round this but I’ve decided for the time being to stick with making my own felt from scratch rather than introducing new variables.

The course covers, in a lot of detail, how to design and manipulate images. It includes tutorials on using free software as well as paid-for software like Photoshop. I decided to buy Photoshop Elements ( a basic form of Photoshop with a one-off purchase rather than a monthly subscription). I have to admit I have not taken to it like a duck to water! Some of that is doubtless me (remember that milestone birthday!) but I’ve seen lots of reviews that agree that it’s not very intuitive and so not particularly easy to learn to use. Fate intervened with (as far as I know) my first dose of Covid-19 during which I confined myself entirely to staying at home for 5 days (as per our current guidance) and until I tested negative. After the first couple of days I started to feel better so decided this was my time to make Photoshop Elements work for me.  In spite of sometimes getting very frustrated, I actually quite enjoyed the learning and have to be impressed with the things I can now do with it (however slowly) let alone all the things it can do that I can’t yet.  There are some really good free YouTube tutorials too, which helped, and I have certainly put in the hours. Many, many hours.

Back to the felt-making.  I made two more little tea light covers – one from 2 fine layers and one from 4 fine layers of 21 micron natural (undyed) merino. I wanted to see how they’d look with a lit tealight inside. Surprisingly they were both OK.

By then I’d thought of using my own felted bird images which I expertly (!) extracted from their backgrounds. I like the redshank and curlew as they both have feet.  Often my felt pictures have birds (like the avocet) whose feet are in water or behind pebbles – both because that’s how I saw the wild birds they’re based on and because I find felting bird feet quite hard!

I then tried out 18.5 mic undyed merino and decided this was what I’d use as it has a lovely smooth surface, light colour and a fine translucent appearance. Perfect both for printing and for tea lights.

I started to dig into my vast collection of charity-shop-bought silk scarves and added silk strips to the lower part of the designs. This was partly because lit tea lights’ metal cases cast a shadow at the base of the cover (see the lit one above), partly because it adds to the decoration and partly because it can ‘ground’ the images – i.e. give those birds’ feet something to walk on.  Oh, it also eases my conscience about quite how many second-hand silk scarves I own.

Redshank with recycled grey silk scarf strip

And so here are some more of the results.  I’ve printed a design on the front and the back (apart from the one with a flock of birds – that goes all the way round). They also look nice as plant holders, ‘thought they’re not quite the right proportions for most plant pots so I have to add some small pebbles to the bottom of the glass container if I want to show them as plant holders.

Herons

Some of them are free images I’ve found on the internet; some are from my own large felted pictures and one (the honesty seed pods) is from photos I’ve taken of the seed pods and worked on in Photoshop Elements to create a composite picture.

And here are the first 6 I put in the gallery shop at Creek Creative in Faversham (it’s a gallery, café, shop and studios where I rent my studio), just over a week ago. Inside each there are comprehensive warnings about lit tea lights, some felt care instructions and the name of the image.

First shop display at Creek Creative

The redshank on the left sold within a few days – I don’t know about the others yet.

I’ve also made some cards – initially to use up all the little test prints….

Square cards made using test samples

…..and then some I made specifically to become cards

Long cards

And finally a couple of bigger purpose-made plant pots with metal pots inside, using 21 mic merino in green and white.

Next steps? I’m looking forward to a couple of in-person sales / exhibitions I have coming up so I can gauge people’s reactions. I will keep building a stock of tealight holders, plant pots and cards and developing new images so I have plenty of both stock and variety.  I will keep extending my knowledge and skills in both printing on felt and using Photoshop.  And I will definitely keep working through Lindsey’s excellent course and drawing on her extensive and generous one-to-one and group support to help me on my way.

Here’s a link to a promotional video for Lindsey’s course, in case you want to check it out.

Do you take commissions?

Do you take commissions?

This question sends a chilled shiver through my heart. 

 

My first felt picture commission was about 4 years ago for a friend who wanted a view of a mountain in France for her husband’s 60th birthday. They have a house there and love the views. I really didn’t know what to do. It was very different from the pictures I had made to date and not somewhere I know or have ever been. After some soul searching I agreed to do it. I think I let the flattery get the better of me. 

 

        

The request was to do something similar to this but ‘a bit snowier’.   

Things really did not go at all as I’d hoped. Firstly, the time I’d set aside to do it was taken up when my parents, who were staying with me, both became ill. Fortunately everyone recovered but I had to do lots of hospital visiting and home caring so wasn’t able to do any work on the commission. 

 

Then I realised as I was working on it that I really didn’t understand the mountain from the photographs I had. Which bits were shadows and which bits ravines? Normally I felt local birds and seascapes that I know and love.  I struggled. To cut a long story short I delivered the picture but so close to the deadline I don’t even have a final photo of it. This was it nearing completion ……

I really didn’t enjoy the process & I wasn’t that happy with the result. Fortunately my friend liked it & her husband loved it but I vowed never, ever again to take a commission…….I had learned my lesson…. hadn’t  I?, 

 

A little while later another friend who was travelling sent me a photo she’d taken of a pair of African penguins and asked if I could make a felt picture as a birthday gift for her partner. “OK”, I thought, “birds and a beach, I should be ok with this.” 

 

 

Learning from my first experience, I allowed loads of time. I made samples and did lots of planning. I looked at a lot of penguin pictures online as the penguin on the right was at an odd angle and I felt it needed a clearer head. I made lots of prefelt. It took a long time but I enjoyed it and was pleased with the result: I thought it was true to the photograph.  I was there when the gift was presented. There were happy tears; probably some of them were mine. 

 

 

Then came an email. My friend’s husband, who’d been so happy with the French mountain he’d been given: it’s now her birthday one year on and he’d like to commission a companion picture for her of the local valley view in France. “Noooo” I thought. “I vowed never, ever to do another commission after that one”.  I tried diplomatically to explain that I wasn’t sure I could do it justice but agreed to look at the photos and let him know. 

 

 

More soul searching and much wringing of hands. I really didn’t want to refuse, but I really didn’t want to go through the same thing again. On balance, I decided I probably could and should do it, so I said yes.  

 

 

 

I was happy with the outcome and my friend, and her husband, loved it. So, maybe commissions were ok. 

 

Next, someone locally saw a picture of a little egret I’d made for my mother’s 80th birthday and wanted something ‘similar’. 

 

 

My Mum’s picture was based on a bird she and I had enjoyed watching together at a Yorkshire nature reserve. I didn’t want to copy it. The commission would be based on another little egret I’d seen just up the coast from where we live. I quizzed the woman in great detail about what she liked about my Mum’s picture and what she wanted her picture to include. I described what I was going to do. But it made me realise how difficult it is to understand what someone else sees in a picture and whether I can understand it enough to translate into something I can make. Previously I at least had reference photos but there was no photo for this one. 

 

I decided to give this client the option of not buying the picture if she didn’t like the finished image. It was, after all, a picture I would readily have done anyway. It was the best way I could think of of getting round the struggle of making what I can and want to do and meeting someone else’s expectations. 

 

 

The client seemed very happy with it and did buy it though I’ve really no idea if it’s what she had in mind. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another local woman saw at an exhibition a more abstract sea picture I’d made.  She’d like something similar but smaller. Surely I could do that? 

 

 

Well, you would have thought so but I guess I took my eye off the ball. I’d been thinking a lot about how small waves break and although I used similar materials, it really didn’t come out very similar at all: the original being semi-abstract, the second being more realistic.  I’d allowed my own interests to take over and really hadn’t met the brief. I decided to show her the second picture anyway, explaining it wasn’t that similar to the first one, but I’d be happy have another go if she wanted. 

 

She thought the new picture was ok but preferred the original and decided just to buy that one instead. A fortunate outcome and I’ve since sold the waves one but it all felt a bit precarious. For me, commissions are tricky. I’m flattered by the request but not necessarily comfortable in the execution! 

 

I’ve asked three painters if they take commissions.  One absolutely does not on the grounds that she wants to pursue her own creativity and doesn’t want to be influenced by others’ ideas. She does give the potential client an early view of her new work but that’s as far as she will go.  Fair enough.

 

The second  said, “I do, but I don’t really like it. It’s so difficult to understand what’s in someone else’s head.”  I’m with her on that.

The third does take commissions but he charges more for the work, to reflect the fact that he’s working to their brief. He takes a deposit and, when pressed, said if someone decided they didn’t like the outcome he’d keep the deposit but not insist they buy the picture. Fortunately that has never happened. 

 

For me commissions raise a lot of issues. Does the client have to buy what they’ve commissioned? Would I want anyone to buy a picture they’re not happy with? How do I know what they are imagining? Do I enjoy making them? Does it matter? 

 

So, do I take commissions? Um, sort of. I’m still not sure. I’ve realised that when I watch my local sea birds and look at the sea, water and beaches there’s a lot going on. I look at where the birds are, how they stand and move, what they’re doing.  I try to capture the colour, light and movement of sea water and waves.  As I create the felt I have images, sounds, smells and feelings about the scene that I hope in some way influence the picture. I do work from photographs but I rarely copy them. So, if someone wants a particular view, location or bird that I know and can experience then probably, yes. Otherwise, I’d like to think I’d say no.  But then I don’t have a very good track record of saying no, do I?! 

 

What do you think? Would or do you take commissions? If so, how do or would you manage them?

Online Learning: the new and the unexpected

Online Learning: the new and the unexpected

The last time I posted here (in January) I described my plan to take various online felting classes. With all my sales and exhibitions cancelled or on hold I thought this would be a good way to keep me focused and motivated during our 3rd pandemic lockdown. Here’s the link in case you want to look back to January’s post.

https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2021/01/21/finding-focus/

This time I’m talking about my online learning since then, including how it has led me in some unexpected directions.

I was part-way through Teri Berry’s bag making class, which was great. I made my third bag, a backpack, and am very pleased with it. I’d definitely recommend Teri’s class. The instructions were clear and comprehensive and Teri was very responsive to my many questions, thoughts and comments. I learned a lot about bag making techniques, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Corriedale Backpack with Canvas Straps

Because two of the bags I made are large, relatively thick, and have to be fulled very hard, I admit bag-making was rather harder work than I’d anticipated. I rent a studio in an old industrial building that is largely unheated so maybe mid-winter isn’t the best time to be working so much heavy, cold, wet wool, but it’s a minor point. I had to use plastic gloves for the first time as my hands became so shredded and I often went home with sleeves wet to the armpit!

I’d planned to take 3 classes over January to March but was irresistibly drawn to a 4th: a 2-session live international felt-along by Aniko Boros (Baribon.Hu) learning to make her beautiful felted tulip pendant with pebble inclusions. Having signed up I realised it was going to be difficult to find the colourful 14 micron merino wool I needed. I only had white. I’ve never dyed my own wool before but I thought, why not have a go?

I already had some acid dyes so I started off with some 21 micron merino before going on to the finer and more expensive 14 micron. Then I tried silk hankies, Corriedale tops, mohair tops, silk fabric, alpaca & nylon …. nothing was safe. I had a blast. I had no idea how much fun dying would be.

Then it snowed and I thought ‘ooh, I could try snow dying’. That turned out to be great fun too. On the right are just a few of the snow dyed fabrics.

I had several colour choices of dyed 14 micron merino by the time Aniko’s workshop came around. The workshop itself was really interesting. A clear and detailed PDF was sent in advance and turned out to be very helpful on the first day when the sound or picture dropped out occasionally. It meant I could see what I needed to do next so was able to keep up. I’m pleased with my pendant (although I still have to add a fastener) including how the dyed wool worked, and feel I’ve learned techniques I will be able to use to make my own designs. Also, it led me into the entirely unexpected joy of dyeing.

Hand dyed 14 micron merino pendant with pebbles: Aniko Boros’ workshop

In the meantime I’d started Fiona Duthie’s online class Ink + Cloth. We practiced adding ink at various stages of feltmaking with loads of potential for using these techniques in future projects.

Above are samples of adding dye / ink before felting (on silk fabric) and on prefelt

These are samples of ink added in different ways to finished nuno felt with cotton and two types of silk. I’d found an image in the V&A museum online catalogue (a fantastic resource) of an early 20th century furnishing fabric with this style of lollipop trees that I was thinking of using for the 1st quarter challenge …but that’s a story for another time.

At the end of this I decided to combine various things I’d learned: to dye my own Corriedale wool tops for a bag and maybe to decorate it with inked or dyed pieces. This is still work in progress as I am not completely happy with it. I decided to let it dry and have a think before doing the last bit of fulling. After I’d laid out the wool I dithered over whether to add silk and prefelt pieces or not as I quite liked the wool as it was. At the last minute I added all sorts of bits and pieces without properly thinking through the design. I fear it betrays its history. A colleague who saw me rinsing it at the studio casually commented it was very ‘hippie, trippy summer-of-love’ which is absolutely not the look I was going for! I will come back to it soon. I included the strap in the photo to give an idea of what it will look like finished.

Now I’m part way through another class with Fiona Duthie: Fibre + Paper. It’s a fascinating process of combining specialist paper with wool. We started by making lots of samples: paper and felt, paper relief, extreme paper relief and paper with prefelt.

Above are samples showing different amounts of paper felted into 21 micron merino wool and bottom right combines prefelt and paper. They feel lovely and there seems to be so much potential to use paper with felt in different ways.

This week I made a vessel with paper embedded into the surface. It’s not perfect: I got a bit over-confident near the end and tore some of the surface (you can just see it bottom left, between the two ribs). I’ve been interested in shell shapes for a couple of years so I shall enjoy making more 3D paper & felt shell-inspired objects.

Paper felt shell-inspired vessel

In the coming week I will be trying out adding colour and surface designs with ink and paint plus making samples with some different papers. Fiona’s classes have been really enjoyable with excellent PDFs, photos and videos and lots of class interaction.

All the online classes I’ve taken have been great fun and very inspiring. They have given me lots of new skills and techniques that I will be able to use in my work. And they have definitely achieved my other objective: they have been really helpful in keeping me learning, focussed and motivated during what could otherwise have been quite a bleak time.

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