December 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
And now, onto hats, which is really what I mean to write about last time.
See, I love hats, but I have a problem with them too. I have enormous dreadlocks, and consequently most hats don’t fit on my head. This is a constant source of disappointment to me.
I tried knitting hats once, and they all turned out funny shapes. Too big, too small, too short. And I find knitting frustrating, so I stopped and moved on.
Felt on the other hand, well. Felt is wonderful, and I have seen some fantastic examples of felt hats. So that is what I decided to do. Woolly Wild Things is expanding. I’m not just about small models of animal any more. I want to make art that people can wear!
And so I began, as always, with internet tutorials and a lot of experimentation.
My first hat I tried to make using a bowl as a mould. It was a complete disaster, and so embarrassing that I won’t even post a picture of it here (it was more like a floppy piece of bird nest than a hat)
Sorry, bad selfie (ugh I hate that word) but you get the idea. This was made flat, with a resist, a piece of plastic with the wool wrapped around, which is felted and then cut open and opened out. difficult to explain in words. The felt dries in whatever shape you leave it in, and finishes up relatively solid.
The hat shrank a lot from the original pattern and as a result, it does not ft on my head (typical) but in every other way it was a success, and proved that I can do it, and its not that hard.
The next hat I tried, I took pictures of the process. I have been using mostly merino wool for this, but soon I will run out!
So first, this is the resist. It’s a template of the hat, made out of thin packing foam, which the wool is then wrapped around. For my first hat I used a plastic bag as a resist, which mostly worked, but the edges ended up getting flattened out and producing a seam, so a thicker material is advisable.
I then placed the resist on a sheet of bubble wrap on top of an old towel. I covered the resist on wool, first doing the edges with wool overlapping, then covering the rest with wool all running in one direction.
The next step is to place netted fabric over the wool, soak it in soapy water, rub the surface with a bar of soap and then rub it all over with some bubble wrap.
Then flip the resist over, fold the overlapping edges in, and repeat the previous step on the other side.
For this hat, each side had 4 layers of wool, and for each layer the process is the same. I used cheaper undyed Shetland wool for the middle two layers as I am running out of merino.
For the final layer, I added the colours I wanted the hat to be, the same on each side
The next step is to role the whole thing in a towel, rotating it a few times and flipping it over as well.
As it is rolled, the wool will begin to felt and the fabric will shrink. Once the wool began to feel felted, I cut open the base, pulled the resist out and rubbed the inside of the hat and edges with soapy hands, and then rolled it several more times in the towel, constantly rotating.
Then I opened it out and started pulling it into shape. I coated the surface in soap and then rubbed it all over with some bubble wrap. this stage makes the felt go even firmer.
By this point the hat had shrunk to about a third of the size, and was to small for me to wear
When I finally felt it was ready, I rinsed it in a bowl of hot water and left it to dry in the shape I wanted it in.
Phew! A long process, quite exhausting, but I had so much fun. So much in fact, that the next day I made a new hat, which was actually big enough to fit me!
Here are both my hats drying. I will post photos of me wearing the hat soon!
My instructions are not really meant as a tutorial, it is more me blabbering about what I do, so if you would like to have a go at making 3D wet felt I advise you look here http://rosiepink.typepad.co.uk/rosiepink/how-to-make-a-seamless-wet-felted-purse.html This is a very comprehensive tutorial about how to make seamless felt bags, that translates well into hat making. For my second hat I used three layers of wool on each side instead of 4, and it worked just as well, but made a more floppy hat!
Expect more hats to come, very soon!
December 18, 2014 § 2 Comments
This week, I have been feeling a little melancholy, and I’m not sure why.
I feel sort of a little submerged in some kind of non-specific despair. Like my head is surrounded by fog and I can’t quite see clearly through it. I only have clarity when I am making something, and in between I feel restless, like I’m loosing something, or something is wrong. I don’t know what.
I get this sometimes. Its got something to do with creativity I think. Like I know what I want to be doing, and need to be doing to progress my art, and so every minute I’m not doing it I’m holding myself back. This is troublesome as I can’t make art all the time, I have to work, earn money, cook, eat, have some kind of social life, and yet in all those times I feel distracted and not quite there. My mind is somewhere else. I’m afraid of loosing ideas I have. Or not doing them. Letting it slip and just letting the need to make money so I can live take over. That would be easy, and hard at the same time. Easy just to do some mindless kind of job full time and not struggle to make money out of art any more. But hard because if I did that then I fear I would be restless and distracted all the time, anything I did I would not be 100% there. I do not create art in order to make money. I do it because I must. I can’t stop myself, and if I can earn a living out of it then that is a plus.
I’m rambling and I didn’t mean to. I meant to write a post about making hats, but this came out instead. I suppose I will write about hats next, because I have been developing hat making skills and it is a prospect that I feel truly excited about. It is what all my new wool processing skills have been working towards. So yes, hats next.
For now though, that is all.
December 17, 2014 § 1 Comment
When I first started felting, some 3 or 4 years ago, I had very little connection between the wool I was using, and the sheep that it came from. The wool I learned with was very clean, perfectly evenly dyed a rainbow of colours and packaged in plastic. After working with a material such as this for a few years, the idea of raw wool straight off the sheep was very daunting.
But I came to realise that if I really mean to make the things I want to, then I need a lot of wool (and I mean a lot) and buying it washed, dyed and carded of the internet simply wasn’t economically viable. Hence why I bought a kilo of washed mule sheep fleece off ebay – see my previous post here
But that fleece was still washed – not as clean as commercially bought wool, but still cleaner than it is raw.
And I was still slightly afraid of buying raw wool, but I knew I had to!
I browsed ebay for a few weeks, almost bidding on several raw fleeces, but I held back still unsure. Then I emailed Windmill Hill City Farm, the local community farm in Bristol where I live, just asking if the ever sell fleeces from the Jacobs sheep they keep. I received a reply the next day saying they had a whole bag of fleece lying around that they needed to get rid of ASAP. With nothing to loose, I hopped on my bike and cycled down to the farm to pick the fleece up.
I had brought with me only a small bag, unaware of how much fleece they actually had. Turns out the bag of wool there was huge, and I was told by the farmer there that they were going to throw it away on Saturday as they had nowhere to store it.
I took what I could, deciding to come back the next day for the rest. There was a lot, and I had no idea what to do with it, but I couldn’t let it get thrown away!
The wool was greasy, smelly and full of hay. When I had finally picked it all up, I weighed it and found I had 7 kilos! I now faced the mammoth task of washing it all. I decided to do it a bit at a time, as I have nowhere in my house really to dry it.
I have nowhere to store it either, and have been keeping it in bin bags, which is not good for the wool as it sweats and so needs to be kept in a breathable bag. Unfortunately if the bag is breathable then the smell can get out, and I live in a shared house, my house-mates already have to put up with wool everywhere, I want to spare them the pain of having a house that smells like sheep poo.
I washed the wool in the bath (when my house-mates where out) first picking out all the most pooey bits!
Boy was that wool dirty. The water came out dark brown at first. I rinsed each load several times, and left it to dry by the radiator, but it is still not completely clean and will all need washing again!
Drying wool on the washing line.
I have a lot of work to do before this wool is usable, and I still have not washed it all. But I am very excited about experimenting with it.
On my second trip to the farm I photographed the sheep that the wool had come from. It was nice to see them, and to be able to connect the wool to a particular animal.
Jacobs sheep have brown and white spotted fleece They are an old breed of unknown origin. Here is and extract from the Jacobs Sheep breeders association about the breed:
‘Jacob Sheep have graced the large estates and country homes of England for many centuries. Their impressive horns, black and white faces and spotted bodies have no doubt contributed to their popularity and survival.
Their actual origins are not known. However, documentation throughout history indicates that the spotted or pied sheep may have originated in what is now Syria some three thousand years ago. Pictorial evidence traces movement of these sheep through North Africa, Sicily, Spain and on to England.
There are many romantic stories about the Jacob Sheep being direct descendants of the flock of sheep acquired by Jacob during the time he worked for his father-in-law as mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 30), or that they were washed ashore from shipwrecks during the attempted invasion of the Spanish Armada during the reign of Elizabeth I.’
I like how these sheep have romanticised stories about them, and I really can’t wait to start felting with their wool!
December 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
Having now washed and dyed some of the mule sheep fleece, the next step was to try felting with it. This was the most exciting step, as I haven’t felted with that many different fibres (so far, mostly merino, with a bit of experimentation with corridale, shetland and alpaca)
I had dyed my wool shades of orange and brown, with the aim of ultimately making a fox mask. But so far I only had small experimental bits of dyed wool, so I decided to make a small model of a fox instead.
The mule sheep wool is quite course, and it needle felts really well, making a firm 3D felt very quickly. This is quite a contrast to merino wool, which I have made most of my sculptures out of. I find that merino takes a long time to felt, and it takes a lot of stabbing to make it firm. Though the finish is lovely and soft, the process seems to be a lot more difficult than I found the mule wool to be.
The finish of the fox is much rougher than a merino sculpture, but I really like it.
Here’s a couple more pictures
I am really pleased with this, mostly because none of the wool was commercially processed. I feel a lot more connected it it because I have been involved in a lot more of the process of creating it. It feels a lot more natural in a way.
The fox is currently for sale in my etsy shop
December 7, 2014 § 4 Comments
Live and let dye was also a big contender for the title of this post.
In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is about dyeing. Dyeing wool that is. Not dying. Turns out I have been spelling it wrong for months!
After buying my kilo of mule sheep fleece and learning how to wash it, the next logical step was to learn how to dye it, thus slowly marching my way towards being entirely wool self sufficient (The only way I can do that 100% is by having some sheep, but that ambition is still a long way off)
I searched the internet for information on how to dye wool, and found many helpful tutorials that told me I could dye with nothing more complicated than food colouring and vinegar. Great, thought I, and rushed off to the shops to get some.
The technique, apparently, was to soak the wool in water and vinegar, before simmering it on the stove in a pot of water containing the dye. I tried this. Nothing happened. I simmered the wool for about half an hour and still nothing happened. I could not work out what I was doing wrong. It was a very frustrating afternoon.
After much more trawling the internet, and a bit of detective work, I figured out my problem – all the tutorials I had read were american, and in America it seems the food colouring that is widely available is artificial (E numbers.) However, food colouring available in the UK in most supermarkets is now natural, the colour is an ingredient like paprika, rather than an E number. Dyeing with natural things is a completely different process in which you need a mordant (not quite sure what that is yet, something to help the dye stick) instead of using vinegar.
Encouraged, I ordered some synthetic food colouring from ebay, it soon arrived and I started experimenting to a lot more success!
I have dyed a lot more wool since first trying it and I have found a few things –
Wool will still dye if not soaked in vinegar, but the colour will not be as strong
I have tried dyeing carded and uncarded wool, and it dyes more evenly if the wool has been carded (I have been carding mine with dog brushes)
Interestingly, some of the colours stick better than others, red seems to stick to wool better than blue, so when mixing colours I have found it difficult to determine what colour the wool will come out as compared to what colour the water is. The water can look green, but if there is even a tiny bit of red in it then the wool will come out brown! I had trouble dying wool blue for this reason, as the blue dye I had seemed to have a bit of red in it. If I put too much dye in the water then the wool seemed to take all the red out of the dye and leave the blue behind. I managed to dye blue in the end by putting much less blue dye in!
There is a lot of trial and error at the moment, but I am really enjoying the process, I hope that I can dye most colours, and use entirely home dyed wool for my felt creations. I have learned to do my research very carefully, especially if using instructions from other countries, as products vary so widely depending on where you are from!
To avoid disappointment when dyeing wool remember – use ARTIFICIAL food colouring, not natural!
Thanks for listening!
December 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
I did my first market stall on the weekend, and I enjoyed it so much that I think will indeed do many more in the future.
It was at Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel and Spar, near Usk, not too far from where my parents live.
It was a really good opportunity to design what my stall was going to look like, as well as labels for my felted things, and business cards!
I did of course have to make a lot of things to fill the market stall, but I didn’t make as much as I had intended. Originally I had 3 weeks before free, just for making things, but then work and life got in the way, and I only ended up using a few of those days for making. Still, I did quite well considering.
I tried to make a few Christmasy things – and I sold this whole family of polar bears! –
I had quite a range of stuff actually, from badges, to flat wall hangings.
In all, lots of fun, and I’m looking forward to doing another one. It was a wonderful way of meeting new people, and talking to people about felt!