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-cover

On 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?

 
 

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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 . . .

 

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!

Felt Flowers and Cookies (good combo)

 

Yesterday I held a wet-felt flower workshop.  Now that basically all the snow from our giant storm is melted, the weather is starting to truly feel like spring, perfect time to make some flowers!

I made these almond butter cookies for my students (/when some more people were around to help me eat them all).  They were amazing – almost like a macaron with just a little crispy shell of crust and a lovely soft interior.  And they happen to be flourless!  The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute 2 tsp of Amaretto for the vanilla (and decrease baking soda because I’m baking at 7000 feet).  This recipe was recommended to me by my friend Janice.  Not only does she make beautiful jewelry, she has great taste in food!

Don’t live near Flagstaff?  Want to make some flowers?  You may be in luck – I’m turning this workshop into a PDF tutorial!  If you would like to be a guinea pig and help me test it out, you’ll get the tutorial for free, and I may even send you some wool.  If you are interested, leave a comment or contact me.  No felting experience required!