Some Good News for February 2017

 

jccfs-projects-2017

 

This year promises to be a challenging one in a lot of ways, as we’ve seen already. And yet there are good things on the horizon too. Personally I’ve been looking forward to 2017 since about this time last year, when I found out I would be teaching at the John C Campbell Folk School this summer! At last my classes are up, I can tell you about it, and you can go check it out on their website. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m just thrilled for this!

I have two felting classes, a weekend and a week-long one, both of which will give students an opportunity to sink their teeth into wet felting. In the week-long one there will be lots of time for exploration of your own designs and ideas, with plenty of guidance of course!

The third class will be a full week of diving into printing with natural dyes, covering all aspects from preparing the fabric, making screens and designs, to printing and finishing. A longer workshop is really the only way to cover this whole process, and I’m really looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned over the past couple of years working on these techniques, and having the quality time to grow together with my students! Please sign up and spread the word.

 

healing-the-heart-of-democracy-coverOn another note, but related to finding the cracks where the light gets in and finding ways to come together, I’d like to recommend this book to everyone in America (and maybe in other democracies too), especially to anyone who is worried about the direction we’re headed in. It made me rethink what it means to be a citizen, and to live with people we disagree with, in a really good way.

Anyone else have good news to share?

 

Winter/Spring 2015 Workshops & Announcements

tasha's lupine cowl

Hello everybody! I’ve got some fun opportunities for hanging out with fiber folks and in-person learning coming up that I wanted to share.

I’m teaching felting again this year at the Fiber Retreat at Arcosanti, AZ, coming up this weekend (Jan 23 and 24)!  My class is full, but there are still spots in other classes, and overall it should be a good time, with vendors, a speaker, and lots of opportunities to just hang out and knit or spin.  If you’re in the area and you’d like a little more info, contact me and I’ll send you some.  (Their website is a little sparse.)

And, if you’d still like to take a felting class with me in AZ you may be in luck, because I’m also teaching at the newly revamped Flag Wool and Fiber festival this spring, May 30 & 31st!  I’ll be teaching felted flowers and 3D wet felting.  Details about the workshops should be up on their site soon.

A new year also means new classes at Purl in the Pines.  Beginning Knitting and Sweet Tomato Heel Socks start the last Saturday of January.  Coming February 21st is a class I’m quite excited about, because we’re knitting a pattern of my own design, which I put together just for beginning lace knitters!  It’s called the Lupine Cowl (pictured above).  Please contact the store for more info and to sign up.

I’m also talking with the folks at LocalWorks (Flagstaff’s maker space) about running some beginner sewing classes there, and hopefully I’ll have more info on that soon.

While we’re on announcements, I keep meaning to mention (for those of you reading via email) that I’ve been working on the site slowly, starting this summer, and it this point I think it looks about as good as it’s going to unless I break down and pay someone to help with it (what—people do that?).  There are now category pages which hopefully make it a lot easier to find what you’re looking for, and a bunch of hand-carved stamps and typewritten words which have found their way into the digital world, so if you haven’t been in a while, check it out!

I’m going back to preparing for Arcosanti now, but I hope to see you all soon, either in person or out here on the interwebs!

How to Felt Basics, and Felting FAQ Part 2:

Fulling, Felting Your Knitting, Felted Fabric, and More Questions Answered

 

If you read Part 1, you already know what felt is and how to get started making it by hand.  For Part 2, we’ll start with how to finish your handmade felt, or felt something you’ve knitted first.

wet felt bag exampleAn example of the bags I made.  These are made entirely by wet felting; they start out as fluffy wool like the example in Part 1.  As you can see, it’s possible to make complex sculptural shapes without any stitching or even yarn!  I formed the pockets by using resists to keep the two layers from felting together where I didn’t want them to.

 

What is fulling?  Or, how do I felt knitting or fabric or old sweaters?

Fulling is a term used for the second stage of felting, and for felting fabrics which are already knit or woven.  This makes sense because in either case, the fibers are stable enough to take some more vigorous agitation.  Although, when you’re felting something like your knitting by hand, it’s still a good idea to gently encourage the fibers to cling together at first, rather than rubbing them around as hard as possible.  Keep in mind that at any stage, gentle agitation can actually work better.  Try it and see.

There are lots of ways to full, or harden, your felt.  This is where the majority of the agitation takes place.  In Mongolia (where there’s an amazing heritage of felting, think yurts), the tradition is to roll a new rug up inside an old one, and drag the bundle behind a horse!

By Hand

When I’m felting knitting by hand, or fulling a felt piece like the one illustrated in Part 1, I have a bowl of water about as hot as my hands can stand.  I dip the piece into the water, squeeze some of the water out, and rub it.  Two effective motions are rolling, and scrunching the felt between your two hands.  You can also scrub it around on the bubble wrap, or even throw it against a hard surface to get the shrinking going.  Whatever you try, remember to keep your hands in alignment with your arms and wrists in good alignment.

 

felting motions drawing

The advantage of felting and fulling by hand is how much control you have.  The exact parts of your felt you rub are the ones that shrink, and they shrink dramatically more in the specific direction you are agitating them!  Try it by rubbing a corner in towards the middle of the felt, and you’ll see what I mean.  For even fulling, make sure to rotate the direction in which you’re rolling and rubbing.

Stop and stretch your felt (and your hands & arms!) from time to time, stretching out your work will actually help it shrink down further.

For felting my gloves/mittens, I put them on, dunked them in the water, and rubbed them all over and around each other, concentrating on areas that I wanted to shrink more, and alternating taking them off for stretching and rolling with more rubbing while on my hands.

natural dye felt color sampleIn this wet-felted color sample, you can see how fibers from each side of the piece worked their way to the other side with thorough felting.

 

In the washing machine

You can also shrink knitting, fabric, and even hand made felt that’s getting good and sturdy, in the washing machine.  Proving that agitation trumps any and all other factors, even though the fibers are swimming in water and the water may not be that hot, you can quickly get dramatic results.  The downside is that you don’t have much control over what happens.  I usually use the washer to help with fulling when I’m felting something big, but I check on it every few minutes, getting the felt out of the water and stretching or rubbing certain parts to help it take on the shape I want.  Top-loading washers produce the most agitation, and are the easiest to use for checking the felt frequently. Front-loading washers also work, especially if you are trying to felt something as much as possible, so you’re planning to leave it in for the whole cycle.

Set the water level for lowest amount that will cover whatever you’re trying to felt, and the most soil/most agitation setting, with hot water.  Put your piece in a zippered pillowcase, to prevent the wooly lint which some pieces shed a lot of from clogging the washer pump (ask me how I know about that!).  If your washer has a removable lint filter, you don’t need the pillowcase, just be sure to clean the filter when you’re done.

I don’t recommend felting large pieces of fabric in the washing machine, the agitation is just too uneven over such a large piece, and it will probably come out with some areas much more felted than others.  If you want to felt fabric for a sewing project, try cutting it into smaller pieces first (be sure to account for shrinkage when planning the size of the pieces, see below).  Even then, you’ll get the most even results if you can alternate being in the washer with stretching and rolling the pieces.

Some people use the dryer to felt as well.  If you’re trying to shrink your felt as much as possible, throwing it the dryer certainly won’t hurt.  Also feel free to experiment with putting damp felt in the dryer, and checking on it frequently the same way you would for felting in the washer.

 

 

orange felt with unfelted labelThe body of this sweater felted well, except where the stitches were held in place by the sewn-in tag.  Since those fibers weren’t free to rub against each other and felt, they still look the same as they did before going through a few hot washes!

 

Will felt keep shrinking forever?

No.  At some point, the fibers have locked down as much as they are ever going to, and you really can’t get your piece any smaller, even if you want to.

 

Can I decide that my felt is done even if it hasn’t shrunk/hardened as much as it could?

Absolutely.  As long as it’s sturdy enough for its intended use, you can stop whenever it’s the size and thickness you want.  Sometimes the maximum that your felt could shrink would be much too thick and stiff for what you intend, or just too small, especially for felting knitting and fabric.  On the other hand, if you are making hand-felted boots or handbags, you’ll probably want to plan on the maximum amount of felting you can get, so that as many fibers as possible will be locked in, and the finished item will be as long-wearing as possible.

 

How much will my felt shrink?

It depends on a dizzying number of factors, but there is one sure way to find out: test it, by making a sample and measuring it before and after, as I illustrated in my post about the magic purple mittens.  This method works for wet felting too, just measure the dimensions of the wool you lay out before you felt it. If you’re trying to get a sense of how much fiber you used, any dry felt weighs the same as the fiber used to make it.

Wool from different breeds of sheep felts dramatically differently, some from sheep raised for meat may not felt at all!  Even different individual sheep can produce wool which felts differently from the next sheep over.  The hat at the beginning of Part 1 is Churro wool, which shrinks a lot, as you can see from the pattern!

If you’re buying yarn or fabric to felt, unless it’s from a local herd, you may not know what type of sheep it comes from, but most quality wool will felt to some degree.  The yarn or fabric should be at least 50% wool, alpaca, cashmere, or other feltable critter, and not be treated (“superwash” etc.) to prevent felting.  Bleaching can be hard on the fiber scales that make felt work, so lighter colors often take longer to felt.  Like I said, there are a lot of factors, so if it matters what size the final felt is, test first!

 

felt breed samplesWhen I was looking for a wool to make my wet felted bags from, I made a lot of samples!

 

Can felt happen by accident, or with wear?

Definitely.  As you’ve seen by now, the conditions for felt are readily available in your washing machine, which can be disastrous if your nice sweater accidentally gets in there.  And, as I found out the hard way, even if it seems like a garment made from wool fabric is not felting, over many many washes, it eventually will (illustrations and happy ending here).

I also know from experience that a garment can felt as you wear it.  I have a pair of alpaca and wool blend fingerless mitts that, as they are exposed to warmth and moisture from my skin, and agitation as I wear them while I grab my keys, the steering wheel, etc., are slowly becoming more solid.  We shall see what the end result is.  This is something I’m really interested in at the moment, so stay tuned for more findings.  For now, my best advice is: don’t make an article that will be exposed to felting conditions out of a material that felts easily, or plan for shrinkage and felt it first.

 

What should I do with my felt when it’s done?

Let it go through the spin cycle, or roll it up in an old towel and squash it, to get out as much extra water as you can.  In this damp state, the felt is super malleable, so plan on doing some final shaping.  You can rub, tug, scrunch, stretch, and otherwise push the felt around into exactly the shape you’d like.  If you’re felting something like a hat, it helps to have an object to “block” (shape) it on, try a bowl a little bigger around than your head.  When you get you new felt shaped just as you would like, leave it alone to dry.  If the felt is thick, this can take  a couple of days.

Once the felt is dry, you still have another chance to shape and smooth it, with steam from your iron.  All wool responds especially well to steam (think about tailoring), but on felted wool steam is a minor miracle.  It can straighten out lumpy areas and smooth the whole texture of your felt.  Placing the iron right on the felt will also smooth and flatten the surface fibers, so if you don’t want that, hold the iron above the surface to fill the felt with steam, then put the iron down, and shape with your hands.

 

Don’t I need soap to felt?

My current experience says not necessarily, except under special circumstances.  Historically, all kinds of harsh chemicals were used in felting, to roughen up the fibers’ scales and speed up the process.  These were also highly toxic.  Most felters now just use a mild soap.  Olive oil soap and liquid soap are popular choices.  This soap doesn’t do much beyond decreasing the surface tension of the water.  Lately I have been felting mostly without soap, and I haven’t noticed a difference between using it and not using it in my studio.  You may find soap more helpful than I do, depending on your wool and your water.  Don’t add too much though, if the fibers are too slippery they won’t want to grab on to each other.

When you are hand felting, if your hands are sticking to the fibers rather than sliding over them, a little soap on your hands should help.  A mixture of solid soap and water can be a very effective “glue” if you are hand felting two things that don’t want to stick together.

If you are felting in the washing machine, you definitely do not need to add soap.  There will be enough left from the last load to make plenty of foam.

If you do use a soap that’s alkaline (most are), make sure to rinse it out thoroughly when you are done felting.  Animal fibers, like your own hair and skin, are slightly acidic, and being left in an alkaline environment for long periods can damage them.  Include a splash of vinegar or lemon juice in the last rinse, and let the felt soak in it for a few minutes to neutralize any remaining alkalinity.

 

sewn felt bag exampleI made this bag from felted wool sweaters.

 

Why would I want some felt anyway?

Felt is fabulous!  It’s a dream to work with.  As you sew it, you can ease in what seems like an impossibly large piece onto a small one, just using your fingers.   It doesn’t ravel when you cut it.  It wears like iron (assuming it’s tightly fulled).  It’s so insulating that I can iron the outside of one of the wet-felted bags, with lots of steam, with my hand inside, and feel nothing for minutes.  It’s breathable and odor-resistant and has all the other lovely properties of natural fibers.  Plus it’s beautiful, natural, and fascinating.  It can be sculpture with fiber.  It’s the perfect next stage for a sweater that’s been attacked by moths or pets, or just has cuffs too worn out to repair—felt it and make it into something else.

 

Finally, how not to felt

To care for precious article you’d rather not felt, basically do the opposite of what you would to felt it.  Hand wash it very gently: place it in water with a little bit of pH neutral soap.  Let it soak clean, press down gently to move the water through it, and drain the water off without agitating.  Keep the rinse water the same temperature as the wash (lukewarm is fine) and avoid letting the water run directly on the article.  Spin it out (spin only) in the washer, or roll in a towel and mash on the roll.  Reshape, and leave to dry flat.

 

Further reading

My favorite felting book is Uniquely Felt by Christine White.  It covers, in detail, methods for just about every type of wet felting you could think of.  Pat Spark, who I mentioned in Part 1, has been at the forefront of bring felting to the internet since the very beginning, and she has a ton of useful info on her site.

 

I packed as much as I could in here without going into exhaustive detail, so I hope it’s helpful and not too overwhelming.  If you have more felt questions, send them my way!

 

How To Felt Basics, and Felting FAQ Part 1:

What is Felt, and How Do I Get Started Making it?

 

felted hats with patternA hat I made early in my felting experiments (top) and a commercially felted hat.  The hats are sitting on the pattern I used to lay out the wool . . .

 

As I mentioned in the post about my magic purple mittens, felting is probably the fiber technique I have the most claim to be an “expert” on, and, until now, I haven’t posted much about it here at all.  Most of my deep explorations into felt happened before I started this blog, and as I’ve been digging into my research and photo archives, compiling what I want to say as an intro to felting, it’s clear there’s enough material here for a least two posts.

I’ve organized this roughly as a list of felt FAQ.  I could go on at length from any one of these starting points, but I’ll try to keep it concise.  The photos and illustrations here are necessarily going to be a little mishmashy, as they represent work over a big swath of time.  Click on the photos to enlarge for an better view of the felt texture.  Ok, let’s get started, shall we?

 

What is felt anyway?

The short answer: Fibers (for real felt these must grow on an animal: a sheep, an alpaca, a cashmere goat etc.) which have matted together into a permanent fabric.  It’s the scales on the fibers (like the ones on your hair, visualize the close-up from a shampoo commercial) that open up and cling together.  It doesn’t sound permanent, but if you’ve ever tried to pull apart a piece of felt, or un-shrink a sweater that accidentally went through the wash, you know it is.

There are lots of types of felt.  It can be made from combed fibers alone, or from fibers that have already been spun into yarn and woven or knitted into fabric.  In either case, as long as there are at least 50% feltable fibers in the mix, the fabric should be able to felt.  It’s easy to make felt at home (even by accident) and there are factories that make felt on a commercial scale.  I’d love to visit one sometime.

Wet Felt

When someone says their work is “wet-felted”, they’re probably talking about the seamless, stitch-less felt made from only fluffy brushed wool fibers (read on for how to make your own).  Below is a piece of my hand made wet felt, which I cut and sewed after it was done, to make the wallet.  The decoration was made at the same time as the fabric.

Most commercially made felt, whether starting from fibers or fabric, uses some kind of wet or steam process.  When you felt your knitting, recycled sweaters, or fabric, you’ll also use water and heat.

 

blue petal wallet 2

 

A couple of special types of felt that I won’t cover in depth, but wanted to mention, in case you’re curious:

Nuno felt

Nuno felt is made with thin layers of wool on either either side of a piece of fine fabric, usually silk.  We traded Bryan’s work for the totally gorgeous example below by Gina Pannorfi at one of our art shows this past summer.  (Lucky me, it’s just the loveliest thing.)  Because the silk provides some of the structure, nuno felt can be quite thin and drapey while holding together.

 

Gina nuno scarf

 

Needle felt

Needle felt is what it sounds like, made by pushing fibers together with a special barbed needle, or a collection of them.  Although it doesn’t make a sturdy, hard-wearing fabric the way that wet felting does, amazing detail is possible with needle felt.  Do a search for “needle felt” with your favorite animal name on Etsy, and you’ll see what I mean.  I made the examples below in a class on color theory for felters—with Pat Spark!  She has a whole bunch of good felting information and tutorials on her site if you’re looking for more felt info.

 

needle felt color studies

 

Fake felt

That slightly sticky, slightly glittery “craft felt” at the hobby store is usually made from polyester.  The fibers are punched together with needles and/or held together with glue.  It really has none of the lovely properties of real felt.  Commercial wool and wool-blend felt is more readily available than it used to be (at least in the US), so you may be able to find it at your craft store as well.

 

How do I make felt?

The short answer: Most importantly agitation, combined with at least a little moisture, and optionally heat, on wool, alpaca etc. makes felt.  There are about a million ways to apply these, depending on what you’re working on and what equipment you have.

I’ll start with a quick intro to making felt from just combed wool.  I think that way, the rest of the felting process will make more sense, and it’s interesting to know, even if you only plan to felt from knitting or fabric.

If you’re looking for to buy wool for felting, it’s usually sold as roving (a loose roll that spinners use) or batts (which are more convenient for felting, since you can pull off big thin layers).

These photos are from my felt flower tutorial, which will walk you through the whole process if you’re interested.

Step 1

Lay out thin layers of wool, with the fibers alternating directions.  Keep in mind that your finished project will shrink in as the fibers pull in toward each other, so make it bigger than you want (I’ll go into how much bigger in the next post).  The wool is very fluffy and will seem thick, but it will compress to almost nothing once it’s wet.  Use several layers for a cohesive piece of felt.  Squish it down with your hand to get an idea of how much fiber is really there.

 

dry wool layers

 

Step 2

Add a little water.  Dripping it from a sponge is a good way.  You want the wool to be all wet but not swimming in water.  You can squash on the wool gently with the sponge to get it all wet.

 

water from sponge

 

Step 3

Agitation.  Arguably this is the last step, but there are a few stages to it.  At first, you’ll need to rub the felt very gently.  You want the fibers to cling together, which they won’t do if they’re being shifted all over the place.  For wet felting small pieces like this, I like to use two layers of bubble wrap (the ordinary, small-bubble kind), one underneath the fiber and one on top.  The bubble helps spread and soften the motions of your hands.  Think about getting the bubbles to massage the wool, not about moving your hands on the bubble.

Important!: Felting by hand involves a lot of repetitive motion.  As you work, make sure your wrists are in line with your arms and not bent at a strange angle, to avoid injury.

 

bubble wrap rub

 

Rub for a couple of minutes, then lift the bubble and check on how things are coming.  You’ll probably need to rub some more.  As you practice felting, you’ll start to notice subtle changes in the texture of the piece that show how it’s coming along:

 

wet wool layersWet wool layers.

 

slightly rubbed wool layersThe wool is starting to cling together, but there are still a lot of loose fibers.

 

more rubbed wool layersAlthough still soft, this prefelt is now a cohesive unit.

 

Once your wool is holding together enough that you can pick the whole thing up and it stays together, it’s what felters call a prefelt.  A prefelt isn’t strong enough to be a finished object, and it has lots of fibers that are still ready to cling to each other or to other parts of your project.  You can check by pinching up a few of the top fibers to see if they’re attached to the ones below.  At this point, the felt is ready for whatever you have in mind for its next stage.  It can be easier to work with if you dry it off, by squashing it between two layers of an old towel.

 

prefelt

 

So, my wool is holding together, now what?  Read on to Part 2 for how to finish felt like the piece above, how to felt your knitting, more questions answered, and even how not to felt . . .

 

Convertible Knitted and Felted Mittens

In which I remodel my mittens to make them better than ever, and show you how to calculate shrinkage when felting your knitting.

 

purple mittens finished 2

 

My friend Tom once commented that many of my clothes have stories behind them, and these mittens are no exception!  In fact, I’m going to tone it down here, story-wise, and stick to only the most interesting and relevant of the many angles I could go for.

 

A Very Short History of the Original Mittens

I started knitting these as my take-along project on our trip to Italy in February of 2010.  I knitted the main parts from yarns that we dyed the first time I ever did natural dyeing, with my grandmother and a bunch of dear family members in 2008.  (I’m telling you, I’m skipping  a lot of stories here).  My goal was glove fingers for finer dexterity, that could also be covered by a mitten flip-top for extra warmth.  Typically for me, I consulted a few patterns, but didn’t end up really using any of them.  I didn’t have enough purple for the fingers and the flap, and because I love purple and green together (one of my favorite color combos for the hats) I decided to get green yarn.  No one else was impressed with this decision, and I can now admit that one of my students at the time probably put it best when she said they looked like “dead fingers.”  So, moving on, when I discovered that they were too slippery to drive in, I sewed on a bunch of patches from faux suede samples in different colors.  Ignoring whether or not this made the green fingers look any better, and also the fact that all the fingers had come out too short after felting, I wore them all the time, all over the place, skiing, shoveling snow, etc., through last winter.  By the end of that season, one of the fingers had developed a rather large (and cold) hole in the end.

 

purple mittens before

 

A Plan for New and Improved Mittens

When I got them out this fall for the season, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do more than just fix the hole.  You see, if I was going to fix the hole, it made way more sense to knit on a little more finger, so that it would be actually the right length.  And, it would be ridiculous to do that for only one finger.  And, if I did it for the rest of the fingers, I would either have more green fingers or an even more ridiculous color mash-up than before.  I decided to start over on the fingers, and this time, do the math.

As fate would have it, last winter I sent my blog friend Alessa some American patterns, and she sent me some yarn and other lovely stuff from Germany (these mittens really are more full of stories than average, even for me).  Thanks Alessa!  One skein of the yarn (on the left below) was a lovely variegated purple in 100% alpaca.  Alpaca felts like a dream, and is just as soft felted as not.  I saw it in my yarn bin and knew it would be perfect for new fingers.

 

package from AlessaIs that not the most-awesome-looking tin of chocolate?

 

How to Calculate Shrinkage for Felting Knitting

Lots of times I tell my students that knitting can either be all math; full of charts, calculations, and exact numbers of stitches, or no math at all; flowing along and decreasing when it looks right to you.  In my mind, the happiest mix is somewhere in the middle.  When you’re felting, it really helps to have a least a little math, which comes from making a sample in your intended yarn and measuring how much it shrinks, especially if you need it to come out a certain size.  (I neglected to do this for the first fingers, and you saw how that went.)

I started out with a tighter gauge, then decided to increase my needle size, because looser knitting will felt faster (you can see from the before and after that it also affects the percentage of shrinkage).  I’m using two strands of the yarn since it was fairly fine, and I wanted the fingers to be nice and thick and warm when finished.  You don’t have to take a photo, but do measure and draw around your sample.  Also make a note of how many stitches are in your sample, they will disappear into the felted texture and you won’t be able to tell later.  (This is about the smallest sample that will give you an accurate idea.)

Before felting:

purple mittens sample before

After felting:  (As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge if you wish.)

purple mittens sample after

 

Here’s the math part, it’s not too scary: divide the felted measurement by the unfelted measurement, to get the percent of the original measurement after shrinking.  F/U = %  I did this across my various measurements and got an average of 79% for the width, 84% for the height.  I wanted both, because I had noticed when felting the fingers the first time that they wanted to shrink more in height than in width, no matter how I stretched them out, which meant that I had not added enough extra knitting in that dimension.

Now that you have your percentage, apply it like this (there was algebra involved but I did it for you): the unfelted measurement (the one you want so that you know how much to knit before it shrinks) equals the felted measurement (how big you want it to end up) divided by your percentage of shrinkage (.79 or .84 in my example).  U = F/%  Clear as mud?  Try it, you’ll see what I mean.  You end up with a number a bit bigger than the felted/finished number you put in.  You can check it by putting it back in the first formula and see if you get the right percentage.

For my finished/felted measurements, I used the width of the previous fingers (by now chopped off), which I liked, and measured the height of my fingers sticking out of the mittens, adding a little extra for the thick knitted fabric to go over the top.  I calculated the unfelted measurements, then used the gauge from my sample to figure out how many stitches to use for each finger.  You can’t have a fraction of a stitch, so round up or down, whichever is closer or you want to err on the side of.  I knit until each finger was about the calculated unfelted height, erring on the side of a bit extra at the top, which turned out to be a good idea!

Just in case, I made one finger as test (the index finger on the right below) and felted it before knitting the others.  It came out great.

purple mittens unfelted fingersEven though the old fingers were felted on, I was able to snip the green stitches and pull them out, leaving the purple ones which I could pick up and knit from.  It helped that the palms never got totally felted.

Other Improvements

The thumbs were too short as well, plus worn mostly through in one spot from gripping.  And having only one layer of knitting (the part between the thumb and palm where the stitches tend to stretch open no less) meant that my thumbs were sometimes cold.  I fixed all that.  At this point, there was no stopping.  Since the thumbs were somewhat loose, I decided to knit inner layers for them.  I thought that I might need to slash the top of the mitten flap and extend it too, but after felting the fingers, it fit snugly over them, which would be warm, and I could add a bit of ribbing on the palm side for a little more length and to help hold the flap down.  Neither of these new additions would be felted, and both were small, so this was the no-math part.  I made adjustments visually, pulling something out if it didn’t seem right, and tried on the thumbs a lot to fit the shape to my hand.

 

purple mittens knitting extras  This may be hard to believe, but according to my notes, the wool I used for the new ribbing is the same as the original flap and thumb!  So it has definitely faded with sun and wear and washing.  Fortunately I like both colors.

 

A Minor Miracle of Purple Suede

Finally, I needed something for grip on the fingers and palms.  (I’m telling this story whole, it’s a good one.)  I want to be able to drive and grab ski poles and my keys, etc., and I didn’t want to go back to the multicolored bits of Ultrasuede.  I briefly considered using some light green suede elbow patches I got along with a sweater for recycling . . . and was fortunately dissuaded by friends.  What I ideally wanted was something that would match the mittens.

Almost on a whim, I dropped into a rather old-school shop downtown, which sells saddles and leather and a few seemingly random bolts of blanket wool and skeins of rug yarn.  I remembered that the last time I was there, over a decade ago, they had a bin of leather and suede scraps, and I thought if they still did, I might be able to find something close.  I was the only one in the little shop, not too long before closing, and the woman working said that no, they didn’t have any scraps.  I had the mittens with me, I showed her what I wanted to do.  Suede and leather started at half a hide for $24, there were black and green and red . . . and at the end of the rack, four smaller, scrappier pieces, all in dusky, slightly mottled shades of purple.  Not just purple, four distinct purples that each were so exactly what I needed that they looked like they were dyed to coordinate with the mittens, and left on the end of the rack by magic.  “Oh,” she said, “You could use those!  They’re $9 each.  We sold all the red, all the black . . .”  Hardly believing my good fortune, I picked the color I liked best out of the thicker two (two were quite thin), paid for it, and practically skipped down the street towards my car.  A few times, when I’ve been intensely searching for a supply I cannot find, probably which doesn’t exist, I’ve dreamt that I went into a shop and found exactly that thing, only to wake up disappointed.  This is the only time, so far, it’s ever happened in my waking life.  I have a rather large piece of somewhat smelly purple suede left in my studio to prove it!

 

purple mittens finished 5

purple mittens finished 3

 

I love love love these mittens.  I finished sewing on the suede over our family Thanksgiving trip, and just in time too, when we got back our town had a major cold snap, not getting above freezing at any time for over a week, unlike our usual mountain cold nights but mild days.  I’ve worn these cross-country skiing, I wore them to art walk downtown at night (during the below-freezing week), shoveling snow, driving, and never one cold finger have I had!  Felted alpaca is like little down blankets for your fingers.  I can easily wriggle my fingers out of the mitten top for fine tasks without using the other hand.   Having placed the suede patches where the wear was on the old fingers, plus the part of my palm that I use when I grip things—surprise!—they are in the perfect spots.  I recommend the inside of the thumb especially.

 

purple mittens finished 4

 

If you want to make your own version, I’d start with a glove pattern you like.  Either refer to a flip-top mitten pattern, or make up the flap as you go (Basically:  I picked up sts across the back of the hand, cast on across the front and did a few rounds of short rows for a curved shape, joined everything into a round and knit, decreasing following the shape of the fingers underneath).

I realize that I haven’t talked about the actual felting, in fact that felting is probably the thing I know the most about that appears the least on this blog.  Maybe I’ll do something about that in 2014.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about making mittens or felting in general, feel free to let me know!

Happy Solstice, everyone!

 

purple mittens finished 1

 

All’s Well That Ends Well, but Please, Don’t Put Your Wool in the Washine Machine

 

 

 

viola outfit 2

 

At one point, I considered not writing this post at all, because I’m pretty embarrassed about how this skirt got to the point where it needed remodeling in the first place.  But in the end, there was no way to not write about it, especially since I ended up wearing this once-shameful skirt to dressy Flagstaff event (maybe the only dressy Flagstaff event? We always joke that people here wear jeans to everything) . . .

I made this skirt, as near as I can figure, about 10 years ago!  This was a time before I knew much at all about wool, other than the basics; it comes from sheep, it’s been used since ancient times, people say it’s lovely, etc.  It may be worth pointing out that this was also years before I had felted anything, on purpose or otherwise.  You probably see where this is going.  I put a sample of the fabric though a normal cycle in the washing machine.  Nothing happened, the fabric looked just about the same as when it went in.  “Great!”  I thought.  I made up the skirt using the Folkwear Walking Skirt pattern, one I love and have used a lot.  And, I continued to wash it in the machine.  It never went in the dryer, thankfully, or what happened next probably would have been a much shorter process.  As it was, the fabric continued to look like nothing happened, for many years, for dozens and dozens of washes.  But eventually, all that agitation inevitably started the fibers felting together.  By last winter it was impossible to ignore.

 

pinstripe skirt remodel 1

 

Since I now know quite a bit about felting, once I could look past my obvious horror since I had ruined some lovely fabric, I found it fascinating that the places on the skirt where small parts of the fabric were stitched to each other (the waistband, hem, and back placket) were still unfelted, while the big skirt pieces were noticeably felted, thicker and fuzzier.  Actually, it was the contrast between the two parts that made the skirt look weird, especially the unfelted hem, which looked almost gathered against the felted skirt.  My current theory is that since the hem and placket fibers couldn’t move as much, they couldn’t interlock to felt like the others did.

The skirt sat in my to-fix pile until I figured out a plan, actually a pretty simple one, which I think is essential to not spending inordinate amounts of time remodeling something.  I would cut off the not-as-felted hem, waistband, and placket, fit the remaining felted skirt to a wider and lower waistband facing, make a new placket, and re-hem it.  Above you can see my chalk lines for what to cut in the back, I continued the line of the wider side of the placket down to the hem, and cut a symmetrical amount from the other side of center back, to keep the back pieces the same size.  I got little pieces of felted fabric to use for my new placket from the extra cut off below the old placket.

 

viola outfit 3

 

While I working on this project, I was also trying to figure out what I would wear to the Viola awards.  They’re Flagstaff’s yearly art and science awards for teaching, exhibits, and community outreach, and they throw a big Oscar-like party to give them out.  Bryan was nominated for one this year, for the exhibit of his In a Big World Wandering work, for which we also made the giant silk cyanotype.  I’d never been before, and I wondered what would everyone wear, what should I wear, should I borrow something, is it more like a costume party, should I wear something shiny?

I am not a shiny person.  In the end, I decided not even to go to my friend’s and try on formals to borrow, but instead to wear something that reflects who I really am.  Not only that, but I realized I could actually wear the lovely tailored skirt I was working on – if I went ahead and finished it!  I took the photos of my outfit right before we left, and I think you can tell I was pretty thrilled with my decision.  If what we wear tells everyone we meet a lot about who we are and where we stand, shouldn’t it be even more important, at an event where people are actually paying attention to my clothes, for me to wear something that shows my values and my heart?

 

pinstripe skirt and top

 

So I wore the rescued skirt, in it’s newly tailored glory!  Note the buttery folds.  And a nubbly cream silk tank top I made to wear to a wedding last year (same copied pattern as this linen one) which has proved more useful than I thought it might.  The shawl is something I started knitting for our wedding, realized would never be done in time, and eventually finished later.  (It’s a longer and wider version of the Fiber Trends Cocoon Lace Wrap, in a wool/alpaca blend lace weight yarn.)  It’s drapey and surprisingly warm, enough to keep me comfortable outside while I took the photos.  The pin holding it closed was my grandmother’s.  I didn’t make the tights or shoes, but I still love them . . . topped off with my winter coat, and I felt like I had stepped back to the ’40’s.

 

bryan and tasha viola photo booth

 

Proof that we went and I wore this outfit!  If you are curious what others wore, or what the event looked like, there are lots and lots more photos on the Facebook page for the organization.   We didn’t win (Bryan’s photo exhibit was up against the opening of the Discovery Channel Telescope!  And the winner, a recycled art exhibition that’s been going strong for 10 years here) but it was a really fun party, and I got lots of compliments, especially on the shawl.

 

pinstripe skirt remodel 2

 

But back to the skirt, and I might as well confess one more thing, I feel slightly guilty but I can’t help it; I like this fabric more now than I did in it’s new/intended state.  It’s so soft but with so much body, and it tailors like a dream.  In fact, making the new placket and waistband gave me the itch to sew with wool again, it’s just a pleasure to work with.  This has got to be the flattest-laying, easiest-pressed-in-place placket I’ve ever made.  And the buttonholes – I made them by hand with a single strand of waxed black cotton sewing thread, and it was as if I sealed the cut edges with a magic wand.  Not only can you not see the stitches here, I couldn’t see them in my studio while sewing in broad daylight.  Note the pockets!  Another benefit of me-made formal wear.

 

pinstripe skirt remodel 3

 

I also thought about how much I’ve learned in the last ten years.  I was able to add several refinements to this second round of the skirt, including using rayon ribbon on a lot of the edges to reduce bulk, adding a contoured waistband that fits my figure, and using catch stitches to secure the hem and placket so they wouldn’t show from the outside.  Now that it’s on a strictly hand-wash-only plan, the new and improved version should last me another ten years at least!

 

viola outfit 1

 

Morals of the story: please wear your heart on your sleeve, especially to formal events.  Sometimes a silk purse is lurking inside the sow’s ear of your mistakes.  And people please, no wool in the washing machine!

 

 

Announcing My First Tutorial!

I’m super excited to announce that my first tutorial is finished and available in my Etsy shop!  And, it’s also available as a kit with wool and practically everything else you need to get started.
I’m really happy with how it came out.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy on it, but 28 pages, lots of flowers, and over 115 color photos later (LOTS of photo editing), it’s everything you need to know to make your very own felt flowers, all from my brain, hands, and laptop!
Looks interesting, right?  Why not try it out!