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Gone Feltin’

Doing creative things makes me incredibly happy. By great good fortune I came to work at the library where I discovered a talented young artist. We quickly became friends, mostly because she’s a darling person and partly because we discovered a mutual interest in knitting, sewing, fiber, etc. Did somebody say Project Runway Obsession? CaptivationCollaboration, and her mom, Linda, who just happens to be a fiber artist. Funny how things work out, isn’t it? So last weekend she taught me to nuno felt. Preview:

A few months ago, we got together and I got my first lesson in basic felting from wool roving. Up to that point, I had only “felted” my knit and crocheted items in the washing machine. Felters will tell you that this isn’t felting at all, but fulling which is the strengthening and hardening process after your wool fibers have been locked together to make a piece, whether by actual felting from wool fiber, or by knitting or crocheting the yarn. Anyway.

I made some flowers and a nice piece of white felt, got very excited by the relatively speedy and organic nature of this medium and it was off to the races! Through my online meanderings, I learned about the work of Moy Mackay, a Scottish fiber artist who “paints” with wool. A-ma-zing. Anxious to try my hand at a fiber painting, I acquired some merino roving from my local knitting and spinning enthustiast’s shop, The Lamb’s Wool in Lansdale, PA, and spent several evenings in the kitchen drafting wool, playing with my arrangement of colors, enjoying the fluffy softness and the thrill of making something and then soaping, rubbing, rolling, throwing, and splatting my felt around in various sinks and bathtubs. It’s a really good thing my husband isn’t easily taken aback. He almost never asks about the odd things I am doing (unless I emit a cry of what might be pain), and patiently listens to me jabber like a jay when I’m thrilled by a new craft. I made this felt landscape that I turned into a clutch.

A week ago, we got together again and Linda walked me through the process of nuno felting. In my periodic Flickr crafty creep sessions, nuno felt had caught my eye as a mysterious and a beautiful art process that I have been dying to try. In fact, I did try it during the last bout of felting activity, but was unsure of the process, despite the aid of library books and online videos. As a result, I essentially gave up too quickly and my wool fibers never fused through the fabric weave, basically it got lightly felted on top without adhering to the pretty butterfly-print fabric I had ready to turn into a Thing of Outrageous Beauty. I was a little discouraged and put my felting things away in the closet for awhile.

Being a largely self and internet-taught crafter, I have become something of a crafting loner, and I cannot emphasize enough how nice it is to learn a new craft from an real, live person, especially one as lovely and generous as Linda. We had fun, I got to pet doggies and see gorgeous crafts all over their home (she’s given me the quilting bug, batten down the hatches, mateys, it’s going to get real serious here in a few weeks).

First, we discussed my selection of colors and fabrics to felt into. I chose to begin with a simple color and a more basic fabric, and went with a 100% silk chiffon (I think!?) in white. I had been imagining a nuno felted scarf based on a gradient of neutral colors, from black to gray to lighter gray to white. So, accordingly, Linda pulled out some of her stash for me to peruse and I began with a warm gray merino. I had this idea that I wanted to leave some open windows in my nuno felt to see the silk drape, so I began laying out wool in a cross-hatch pattern around the raw edges of the silk and then began on the panes. I had horizontal and vertical lines and with 9 rectangular “windows” spread over the silk. [I realize that this is one of those cases where a “picture is worth all of these dang words,” but I’m sorry, I was in the moment!] Then I went a completely different way with the colors, and added some black square middles to a few of the windows, then some royal purple outlines on the squares, then filled in the rest of those windows with a soft lavender.

Finally, I realized that I didn’t really want any open windows at all, and filled in the others with a sea green. Next we wet down the entire piece, using these nifty bonsai tree watering bulbs! The water was warm and mixed with an olive oil soap slurry.

After carefully wetting down the entire piece, we pressed the wool down to make sure the design wouldn’t shift any which way as we began the preliminary stages of felting the wool. Working from each side of the table, we used our bare hands to rub the layers of fabric in small, massaging motions.

Note: felting is oddly sensual, what with all the touching and feeling — it really takes me out of my comfort zone as a 4th generation Swedish-American.

Then I rolled up the entire thing, bubble wrap and all, and used extra-long rubber bands to hold the whole bundle together in a tube shape. Then I rolled 200 times. After that, we could see that the wool was beginning to felt gently together, but that it was not going through the silk at all yet. So I bundled it again and rolled a few more times. Then for about 20-35 minutes, we let the bundle roll on LadyFish’s super-cool felting machine. Then commenced the visit around the art gallery that is their home. Eventually we looked again at the wool and silk layers to ascertain whether any penetration had occurred. I told you it was sensual. Not yet! So we carefully re-rolled the whole thing in plastic wrap and I took it home like that–wet and soapy inside, but contained, and I stuck it into a plastic bag for the ride home. I got home feeling very tired and excited to see my felt come to fruition, yet also slightly dreading–what if I couldn’t get it to go through the fabric again? Ugh, rolling all night, and it still might not! I put on a few episodes of Rosemary & Thyme and and rolled and rolled and rolled. I rolled with my feet, I rolled on my lap, I stoop up and rolled on the table.

I unrolled the bundle periodically to check on the progress, and during one of the unrolls I noticed that my edges seemed to be drying, so I got out my own bonsai watering bulb and tried it out for the first time — LOVE that thing! Rolled and rolled and rolled and finally when I held it up to the light, I could see the tiny little wool fibers poking through the silk! Eureka! I had been ready to dry it out and admit my defeat (for that evening, anyway). Seeing those little hairs of fiber spurred me on to keep working into the night and I unrolled it again and rubbed, slapped, clapped on the fibers and they began to shrink and harden and tighten up!

I decided to do the throwing part now. I got into the bathtub and ran the water as hot as I could stand to touch and soaked the piece down. Then squeezed it a little and stood up, throwing it as hard as I could against the bottom of the tub. Bam! Bam! Bam! I’m sure the neighbors loved that. A little payback for making our apartment smell like an ashtray, heh heh heh… Rinsed it cold, then hot again. Bam, bam, splat! Time for a vinegar bath in cold water. 15 minutes later it was time for a clear bath in cold water. 15 more minutes later, I squeezed it out and hung it up to dry. I love it! The abstract design looks so much more interesting and purposeful than I thought it would. Since it is a shawl, the blocks of black and purple and the windows of lavender and sea green show up in a random yet balanced way. I’m thrilled!

Conferred with Linda at work on Thursday and learned that I need to full it some more. But I have pictures already and will show an update after I finalize the fulling process. Luckily, it’s not too late, you just wet it down again and keep working. “There are no mistakes in felting!”

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