Just Felt Like It

Recently I wrote about creativity and how seeing what my customers do with the fibres I sell often inspires me in return. I really want to show you some of these examples; it’s just been a question of finding time to sit down and write them, take photos and ask permission from others for using their photos. But I thought I’d start with this one first of all because I can tie it in with another set of blog posts I’d like to do on things you can do with the Haunui/Merino batts I make.

Merino is well known for being pretty much the best wool for felting with, it’s fine, felts quickly and easily to a hard sturdy but smooth soft fabric and is available in a vast range of commercially dyed colours. It’s easy to manipulate for fine detail in pictures, blend for complex colours and mould for intriguing structural shapes. And it’s readily available from multiple sellers around the world. It’s not the only wool or fibre suitable for felting however. the majority of 100% wool will felt given enough time and vigour although some felt more readily and some you’d be there an awfully long time and still not end up with great felt. As with any variety of wool, each has it’s own merits and that’s one of the glorious things about wool – there’s really something for everyone out there!

Other wools that are often used for wet-felting are the British breeds Bluefaced Leicester and Shetland, New Zealand breed of Corriedale and of course the Swedish breed Gotland which I keep here in Wales. And there are other suitable wools and fibres. Dry felting or needle-felting gives an even wider choice because of the way the fibres are mechanically locked together with barbed needles rather than by using water, heat and friction as with wet felting.

I’d seen comments about felt made with the beautiful Haunui New Zealand Halfbred wool I now stock but as a handcraft fibre it hasn’t been marketed specifically for felting. Although the breeders gave me useful feedback on this aspect, I realised I would have to experiment with it myself and make some test pieces before being able to offer advice to customers on using it for felting. Although the majority of my customers are spinners, I do have some felt-makers who buy fibres from me too and in a couple of instances where someone mentioned they were purchasing specifically for felt making I asked if they’d be kind enough to give me some feedback which they both did along with permission to use their photos.

The following waistcoat is nuno felted onto silk and includes “Still Waters” Haunui/merino gradient rovings in its fibre content. Nuno-felting is a relatively modern technique that involves felting wool fibres onto fine gauzy fabric such as silk chiffon or cotton muslin. The supporting fabric doesn’t felt itself but the fine fibres of the wool work themselves into the fabric weave and anchor themselves as they felt with each other. This adheres them to the non-felting fabric and draws it together into attractive puckers and gathers as the felting wool fibres contract and shrink. It makes a strong but lightweight fabric suitable for delicate garments. This piece was created by Faith Jenkins and you can see more of her absolutely stunning work on Facebook where she is known as The Artful Felter.

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And I think this is a separate piece of work but also by Faith using Haunui/Merino rovings in its construction.

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photos courtesy of Faith Jenkins

This next item is a wrap made by Gaynor Graves. She also used a combination of wool fibres and silk to achieve a light drapey fabric but using the more traditional method of wet felting the fibres to themselves rather than nuno-felting. She described her method of making this delicate “cobweb felt” in her email to me. The fibres were drum carded to make them smooth and achieve fine, even layers ready for felting. The one layer is of 100% Haunui NZ Halfbred natural undyed wool and the other layer is Rose Pouchong from my Tea Garden collection – this is a blend of merino, BFL, alpaca and silk. The leaf detail surface decoration are made from both Haunui and from hand dyed Tussah Silk from one of my Build a Batt Boxes (and I’m thrilled to see so many different BarberBlackSheep fibres in one item!) Gaynor tells me her aim is to make as light a fabric as possible without actually having any holes in it and her patient prep work on this paid tribute to this aim – you can really see how smooth and fine it is.

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Photos courtesy of Gaynor Graves

Gaynor gave me her opinion of straight Haunui as a felting fibre which was really interesting and useful. She said that the Haunui was really light and airy by the time it had been prepared on the drum carder and was harder to get wetted out than the merino and also takes longer to felt fully than merino. But the resulting fabric was soft and she thought that it was well worth the extra effort with the final result of the finished product.

The projects from both these dedicated felt makers really gave me food for thought and definitely left me wanting to try felting with Haunui and Haunui/merino myself. Mostly I’m a spinner but I do occasionally dabble in amateur felt making and I’ve always loved textiles in any form – I just feel drawn to textiles as a medium. I do have a large-scale felt project planned with Haunui forming large parts of it but that will have to wait for sufficient time and space to work on – in the meantime I will probably conduct test pieces which I may well show you – if they work OK!

But with the beautiful felt garments I’d seen and all the autumn colours appearing about me, a couple of weeks ago I had an idea and reached for some Turning Leaf Haunui/Merino batts and spent a happy afternoon playing with them.

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Because these batts are of a high percentage merino blend I knew they’d felt quickly and well, that I was going to do more with the felt after the wet stage and because this was purely decorative and not for garment use I could afford for this to be a very lightweight and fragile fabric so I did just two layers of fibre and lightly felted it in bubble wrap only – to what most people consider pre-felt stage. This is the half-felted fabric that you can then cut out and shape before felting onto your final piece so that it adheres well but has defined edges and colours.

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I aimed for vaguely leaf shapes and sizes but not worrying too much about the shaping at this stage and once each piece was done it was shocked by throwing onto a hard surface and several dunkings in piping hot and very cold water baths to thermal shock and tighten the felt a bit. They were then put out to dry.

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A week ago I felt like doing some non-spinning fibre crafts again and so pulled out my embellishing machine I bought some time ago but haven’t used much (that means “at all”… ;0) and spent a happy afternoon chopping up bits of silk throwsters waste, sari silk, synthetic organza and embellishing them onto my little pieces of felt along with wisps of hand dyed mulberry silk and coloured wool. I then threaded up the sewing machine and stitched free form lines suggestive of veins in stylised leaf shapes. I finally cut them out to trim away the excess fabric.

I’m really pleased with how they turned out. “Not bad for a beginner!” as our Phil would say! It got rather addictive actually so I can see myself doing more things like this during the winter months. I just need to sort out better lighting in that room…

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I think one of the things I love best about hand-made items – and this is especially true of textiles – is how tactile they are. When something is made by a hand it somehow wants to return to it and there appears to be something that emanates from it’s aesthetic that attracts us back to it. Time and again when I show something to someone that has been made by human hands the first instinct is for them to reach out and touch it – not to look, to touch. Whether it’s the limestone walls of my hand built home or the smooth lines of a wooden bowl hand-turned by my friend Matt or the polished unyielding but gentle curves of metal forged by my blacksmith friend Chris. Folds of hand spun fabric, lengths of hand dyed tops, hanks of hand spun yarn… And felt – formed, shaped, melded by hand – is no different.

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So thank you ladies for inspiring me. Perhaps some more people might be tempted to try making felt of their own? If you’ve experimented with Haunui or Haunui/Merino batts why not drop me a message, comment or PM via Ravelry to show what you’ve made to inspire us all!

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