Making felt has never really appealed to me, it just looks like a lot of repetitive warm and wet work…. but the opportunity of recycling some old silk scarves and a much loved shirt that had beem ruined by a too-hot wash, overcame my reluctance. The technique for this fusion of felt and fabric is Nuno sometimes called laminated felt as the woollen fibres are felted into fabrics and is a comparitively new development of the age-old wet felt making.
I was shown a lovely colourful example of Nuno felted scarves, by Kirsten Hill-Nixon, that she had designed for a new workshop at Heart Space Studios and I could see endless possibilities for this technique. But with any new technique I have to experience it to develop and design for it. Teaching craft subjects via design-led software on a computer is not for hands-on makers….I want to feel the material, turn it in my hands and go through the whole basic process; get bored, frustrated and eventually assess how I feel about what I have made – and is it worth my while to do it again – differently or better?
Kirsten brought many and varied examples of her own Nuno felt and pieces that she has collected from her world travels to conferences and workshops.
The class members were really excited by these revelatory fabrics - it is so fascinating to see excellent examples of what you are about to begin to make. But first we had to choose the basic materials for a small sample to test whether our own fabrics would let themselves be felted.
I had selected a range of colours I knew would work together, even so it still took quite a while to decide which to actually work with.
and then which ones would actually submit to the felting technique? we made a small sample which we felted onto a strip of pre-felt.
I really wanted to felt the coloured lace as the colour is so vibrant and I imagined that it would produce unusual results. However…..
the lace just looked like purple scribble, the soft cotton refused to felt and the gingham organdie wasn’t adhering very well either. But the flowers on my ruined shirt looked really brilliant.
I laid out the workable fabics in large strips, about 2 metres in length and about half a metre wide. When I start any sampling process I usually work with stripes…I move on to checks and if things go well I do spots….stripes were sufficient for this exercise. However the 2 other students were much more adventurous.
Having carefully laid the pieces of silk onto the bubble wrap plastic sheet, overlapping the edges a tad to stop any gaps; we then had to get it very wet just spotting it by squeezing a sponge in drips and drops. Next we laid over rows of pulled wool fibre – in sheets as fine as possible, this takes a bit of practice, first one way….
then the other…
The colour of fibre will affect the finished fabric when seen from the silk side…Jane chose to put a multi coloured wool onto the back of her silk, Carole chose palest grey-blue
I chose stripes of course, first a coating of heather mixture all over for the first coat, then heather and mauve stripes – I feel that by experimenting with the coloured backgrounds in different patterns I could become fascinated by this technique.
Now to agitate the felt into shrinking and meshing the fibres into the fine silk woven fabrics. This we began by winding the lengths into large towels and simply rolling them backwards and forwards for about as long as I could stand it…. when the wool fibres had started to adhere to the silk, we took out the sheet of very delicate fabric and using warm water to heat it up, began to throw it at the table.
This took quite bit of courage on my behalf – but I was beginning to sense the real satisfaction to be got from this simple technique… the slooshing about with the wet soapy water over sheets of plastic (very sensuous) contrasted with the tedium of rolling that actually affords you enough time to think ‘how can I develop my ideas for the next time”? and last of all, the bashing – what’s not to like?
The result of this agitation process is remarkable; first the fabric has shrunk to about half its original size,
and now you have a whole piece of fabric in your hands - it is truly integrated, no longer just a patchwork of silk fabrics with a woolly backing but an complete length of fabric to do whatever you want to with – wear it, embroider it, cut it up?
Jane sent me this photograph of her scarf that she took home to dry – it looks like a jewelled snake with its large scale folds and creases…
So – Is it worth my while to do it all again? The jury is still out. I really really like the fabric I have made, it is rich and subtle in both colour and texture and as a scarf will tone with lots of my clothes – but that was the easy bit to get right, the textile designer bit. On the other hand, I don’t really like the feel of it, it is just too stolid. Maybe if it had been made in cashmere or a softer wool or maybe I need more free silk fabric with less felted areas?
But the one thing that may coax me back to doing this whole process again is the small sample of silver embroidery from an Indian cotton sari. It shines out of the soft background like a tiny jewel, very misshapen but luxurious and very precious…this may possibly become part of a metallic stitched piece of work that I have had on hold for some years now – waiting for an opportunity to redevelop my stitched metals, enamels and metallic leathers… maybe a patchwork of some description?????
PS i have had another finished scarf sent to me htis week