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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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Literary, Knitterary!

Some time ago, I began keeping a list of fantasy knits from books and movies. I was thinking about knitted and crocheted items mentioned in stories and characters who knit or crochet. Good old Miss Marple!

So this is the beginning of my dream collection of literary knit and crochet designs. It’s okay to count movies too – or think of your favorite books that have been made into movies and remember the glorious period costuming! *Happy Sigh* Here’s my working list. What are your knitterary dreams?

1. Mrs. Bantry’s Hat (from the Queen of Crime’s Miss Marple mysteries) would be a cloche covered artistically with flowers–particularly “bluebells, daffodils, lupins and hollyhocks”, or “a kind of herbaceous border.” How I love Agatha Christie. Here is Gwen Watford as Dolly Bantry (pictured on left). Her hat is sadly untrimmed with flowers!

Mrs. Dolly Bantry of the Old Hall and Miss Jane Marple

2. Mr. Holmes’ invalid blanket (from Jeremy Brett’s tv series of Sherlock) — it’s a giant granny square!

“It won’t do, Watson!” He couldn't have meant his blanket, surely.

3. Mrs. Ramsay’s stocking. I do not care for Virginia Woolf, and I hated the book To The Lighthouse. But Mrs. Ramsay was knitting socks, so there’s a redeeming quality!

4. Ahhh, Ondine. Knitted minidresses, aran sweaters, fair isle sweaters, shawl collared sweaters, watchcaps, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous movie, and great story too! For those who love fairy tales and myth! Starting with In Bruges, I discovered that I really like Colin Farrell when he plays an Irishman (it was pretty fun to see him sing as an American country music star in Crazy Heart, too). Anyway, in Ondine, he plays Syracuse–a fisherman who lives in a small village on the coast of Ireland…I think you can see where I’m going with this. I was convinced that this movie would have some pretty gorgeous knits and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was elated!

Okay, love, love, love Ondine’s knit dress! Even with tattered edges, and though we never get to see it dry, it’s beautiful!

This is how I want to look after almost drowning.

Next comes Syracuse’s classic watchcap. The coloration of the movie is so beautiful and there are many deep greens in the costuming and scenery (truly gorgeous Irish coastline), I can’t quite make this color out, it seems, brown, green and gray all at once. I really love it.

One of the least geeky watchcaps I've ever seen.

And another shot of the garter stitch dress and an allover cable tweed pullover for good measure.

I'm not certain this needs a caption.

5. Sir Gawain’s autumn jumper. I mean, come on. Sir Gawain the Green Knight? Am I not supposed to think of an emerald green allover cable and seed stitch pullover?

6. Knitting with the Vengeance – A Tale of Two Cities. I envision this project as some sort of knitted flag/blanket. It would probably have to be as red as blood. Garter stitch, I’m assuming, since she manages to knit away so furiously! I suppose having her teeth filed into points helped her break yarn when the scissors weren’t handy.

7. Jo March’s blue army sock – “I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy; and it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman! And Jo shook the blue army-sock till the needles rattled like castanets, and her ball bounded across the room.” Please, Jo! You’re hurting us here…the dropped stitches off the dpns!

8. Greta Conroy’s shirtwaist – Anjelica Huston plays Greta in her father’s wonderful film, The Dead (a short story by James Joyce). I adore this film, and there is so much Irish crochet lace! I watched the movie years ago on loan from a college professor back when I was oblivious to cinematic crochet/knitting interest, so when I purchased it on amazon and popped it into the dvd player, the amazing beauty and care they put into rendering such a sentimental part of the very Irish-ness of the film. A very strong theme of the story is Gabriel (the main character), and his rejection of his Irish-ness and becoming a “West Briton” and the alienation he feels from his own people, and eventually his wife. It actually brought tears to my eyes; it was one of those moments where everything just came together and I loved it so much. I loved this story, I loved this actress, I loved this crochet!

Second lady from left and third from right both wearing amazing crochet lace...hard to see, so watch the film!

9. T.S. Eliot’s Typist. She is one of my favorite characters from The Waste Land; a modern young woman making her own way in sordid London of the 1920’s. Knit and crocheted undies — stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays. Combinations are one-piece underwear suits.

“The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.”

That’s all I’ve got for tonight, will be thinking about new installments!

My first bruschetta…an insight into the whole Italian cooking thing

There is this scene in Julie & Julia where Julie Powell and her husband, Eric absolutely devour a platter of bruschetta (thanks to our new surround-sound speakers, we got to hear every smack and munch). I have seen this movie twice and both times have been so afflicted with visions of fresh bread, tomatoes and oil that I can hardly stand it!

True to form, I watched the movie last week and couldn’t get it [the bruschetta] out of my mind…so, feeling ever so French, I stopped for a baguette and some fresh herbs on the way home tonight and thought I’d just figure it out on my own. Note: recipes often stress me out–I envision hours of standing over the stove, dirtying hundreds of dishes, working myself up into a state, and coming up with something that my husband wishes would just have been ramen noodles, so I thought, “I won’t look up a recipe!” in the spirit of EZ saying “‘Well then, I’ll do it myself!’ said the little red hen.”

Ingredients:
1 baguette
light olive oil – I used the light kind that is good for sautéing and baking
3/4 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced
3 cans tomatoes, drained – I used 1 15 oz. can diced, 1 10.5 oz can diced with green chilis, and 1 15 oz. can whole stewed (the idea is use whatever you’ve got!)
fresh basil, shredded (plus some extra for garnish)
fresh oregano, shredded
shredded mozzarella cheese
parmesan cheese for garnish
plenty of butter – listen to Julia! “You can never have too much butter!”
salt and pepper to taste

Make the topping:
Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a 10″ skillet and add chopped onion and garlic. Sauté lightly for about 5 minutes or until onions become translucent. Add all tomatoes; the diced go in as is, crush the whole tomatoes by hand as you add them to the pan. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes to reduce some of the extra liquid, then add fresh basil and oregano to taste. I found that a little oregano goes a long way for me – the fresh kind is more pungent than the dried! Stir to mix thoroughly and reduce heat to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to your own taste.

Toast the baguette slices:
Slice the baguette to 1/2 inch slices and butter both sides of each slice. Place on a baking sheet and put them under the broiler for just about a minute or less – watch them! When the edges are light golden brown, turn (tongs are handy for this) and toast on the other side until edges are light golden brown. Keep in mind that they will go back under the broiler to melt the mozzarella, so don’t let them get too dark now.

toasty baguettes!

Remove from broiler and top one side with a little mozzarella cheese. Return to the broiler and cook for another 1-1 1/2 minutes until cheese is melted. Serve the baguette toasts immediately and let your diners spoon warm bruschetta onto their bread! Keep extra shredded basil and parmesan cheese on hand for garnish!

bon appétit!

I must add that we had a little hearty burgundy with this and it turned out to be a divine, fresh, Springtime meal! It was 89 degrees in Philly today–too hot for meat or soup! I tend to enjoy “assemble your own” food, and I loved how we ate our dinner slow and savored it. The melted mozzarella underneath the sauce is delectable and using the can of tomato with chilis must have added some heat, which was unexpected but very welcome. I’m starting to get the whole idea of fresh, simple Italian cooking!

The Magic of Thrift

A recent happy adventure resulted in some new Spring clothes and an amazing knitterly find!

the colors of fields and sky

This appears to be a machine-knit (more’s the pity, but I take what I can get) vintage fair isle round yoked cardigan. It is made of cotton and ramie, how interesting and how green!

sweet patch pockets

I can’t believe how beautiful it is in person. I’ve never really owned anything with such detailed colorwork, and I’m getting bitten by the fair isle bug!

Gorgeous Fair Isle!

Already doing some heavy research on making my own!

Snow Day!

Snowed-in Saturday afternoon in Eastern PA…

"ooh ooh ooh, lookin' out my back door"

= cozy Saturday afternoon at home! [coffee not pictured]

my afternoon plans

Happy Snow Day, everyone!