Possible new Christmas products


OK – it’s still August, but I’ve been trying out some ideas for possible new products for Christmas.

The indigo scarves are always best sellers, and hopefully I may have some eco printed or rust scarves available this year too. But it would be good to be able to offer more felt products at reasonable prices.

I sold a fair number of felt iPad/Kindle pouches last year, though probably not as many as I would have liked, given how popular this technology is. ;-) Mostly I add interest by adding fabric (nuno felt) or prefelt cut-outs, like these Matisse-inspired pouches.

matisse ipad pouches

So I thought about adding more 3D effects.

3D ipad case

However, this takes considerably longer so I would have to charge more, which may not be feasible in the current market.

Verdict: Possible, but maybe when the economy is a bit stronger.

Scarves are always popular at Christmas, so what about some felt ones to increase my product range?

ruffle scarf sample

I tried a sample ruffle, but wasn’t happy with it. The colours of the sample don’t work together very well, but even if they did, I just don’t think I’m a ruffle person.

Verdict: No go.

Finally, I tried a scarf based on paper garlands I used to make as a child. You fold a sheet of paper in half lengthways, then cut into it from alternative sides before opening it out.

paper garland

I adapted the idea slightly and came up with this cutwork scarf.

cutwork scarf cutwork scarves

This was much more to my taste. :-) And by using different colours in each layer, you get a lovely sandwich effect when you cut through.

cutwork scarf cross section

Just have to make sure it’s fulled really well to avoid having to seal lots of edges! :-)

Verdict: I’m going to make a few of these and see how they go.

Let me know what you think – I’d be interested in your views!

Alien pod update


Last week I wrote about my first unsuccessful attempt to make some nested felt vessels, aka the alien pod project. :-)

Well, I had a second unsuccessful attempt at the weekend. I altered the shape of the resist to make the area where the two halves joined narrower, and after cutting the felt to remove the resist I turned over the thinner layers of felt and stitched them to try to create a firmer lip. But in doing so I inadvertently made the bottom of the resist slightly wider. The result is that the alien looked as if it was in a bathtub rather than a spaceship! :-)

alien pod1

I decided from this that my fantasy of having a completely smooth join was unlikely to happen, as once you cut the pod in half, each half will shrink slightly differently and they will never join up “seamlessly” anyway.

So this week I tried using separate resists for the top and the bottom, making the bottom slightly narrower so that the top can slide over it easily.

The alien now sits in a much more tailored pod.

alien pod3alien pod2

Just have to decide now how many layers to make!

Making Colour at the National Gallery


This exhibition opened in June, but I’ve only just got round to seeing it. Although it focuses on painting rather than textiles, it’s definitely worth a visit.

It begins with a brief introduction to the concepts of primary colours and the colour wheel, and how painters over the years exploited the combinations of complementary colours (those which are opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as purple and yellow, or green and red) to create striking visual impressions.

colour wheel

This is followed by sections on each of the main colours – blue, green, yellow, red and purple, plus gold and silver.

The earliest pigments were mostly from ground-up minerals. Lapis lazuli, or natural ultramarine, used for blue, was at one time more expensive than gold, so became popular for painting the robes of the Virgin Mary, as a sign of devotion. Red vermilion (cinnabar) was a mercury ore, green came from verdigris, while ochre produced yellow.

The Virgin in Prayer by Giovanni Battista Salvi

The Virgin in Prayer by Giovanni Battista Salvi

The Romans famously made Tyrian purple from shellfish, but their method doesn’t seem to have outlived them. However, other creatures used to produce dyes came to be used for paint pigments too, notably the “red lake” pigments such as cochineal, kermes and stick lac – all came from types of insects (madder and brazilwood were other sources).

Not all pigments were equally stable. Smalti, a form of cobalt used as a cheaper alternative to ultramarine, was not very stable, resulting in grey skies rather than blue in many old paintings.

Similarly, the red lakes derived from dyes tend to fade in light. Analysis by the National Gallery shows that the grey sheet on which Venus reclines in Velázquez’s famous painting was originally purple – but the red in the mixture of pigments he used has faded over the years.

The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velazquez

The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velazquez

The colour also depends on the medium used to mix the pigments. In Renaissance Italy they used green tempera, or egg yolk, as the base colour for flesh, with red and white highlights on top. However, the red and white have faded over time, resulting in some figures looking literally green around the gills. On the other hand, verdigris mixed with oil discolours to a dark brown or black, making landscape or trees look very dark rather than green.

The development of more stable synthetic pigments varies according to colour. Artificial vermilion was available as early as the 9th century (or possibly before), while yellow pigments were manufactured in Renaissance times from compounds of lead, tin and antimony, originally for use in making ceramics. Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Lady Elizabeth Thimbelby shows her sister Dorothy resplendent in yellow silk.

Lady Elizabeth Thimbelby and her Sister by Anthony van Dyck

Lady Elizabeth Thimbelby and her Sister by Anthony van Dyck

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that synthetic versions of ultramarine, emerald green, verdigris and purple (mauveine) were produced (although Prussian blue was available in the 18th century). No longer did artists have to painstakingly grind up their own pigments – paints could be mass produced in consistent colours and sold in tubes.

Greater accessibility to a greater variety of colours led some painters to change their approach to painting. As Renoir said, “Without tubes of paint, there would have been no Impressionism”.

There’s also a short film looking at the way we perceive colour, including a fascinating demonstration of chromatic adaptation (there’s a similar example here).

Making Colour runs at the National Gallery until 7 September 2014. I highly recommend it – you’ll never look at a painting in the same way again!

Hollyhock solar dyeing


Remember this?

solar hollyhock

This was the jar containing hollyhock flowers and water for solar dyeing that I set up at the end of last week’s natural dyeing workshop with Cordwainers Garden. It includes a small piece of stitched silk shibori.

I was intending to leave it for at least a couple of weeks, especially as the “solar” contribution has been somewhat patchy recently (feels like autumn already!). in fact, I’d forgotten about it completely. But yesterday I suddenly remembered it and thought I’d check it.

To my consternation, there was some white mould growing on the top.

hollyhock solar1

I’m not sure if this was because I should have been shaking it regularly, or because I didn’t fill the jar right up to the top. But it didn’t seem like a good idea to leave it for much longer.

So I removed the fabric and unpicked the stitches. The colour was impressively dark when it was wet – the same shade as the dye, and similar to the colour achieved by steaming in bundles. But by the time it was dry, it had lightened considerably to a sort of battleship grey.

hollyhock solar2

Maybe it would have been darker if I had left it longer or if the sun had been stronger, but I’m quite happy with this colour.

It also had quite a strong medicinal smell, but by the time it was dry this had faded.




You may have gathered by now that I’m occasionally(!) prone to madcap ideas. Lately I’ve been consumed with the idea of making a set of nesting felt vessels, like an abstract version of Russian matryoshka dolls or Japanese kokeshi dolls.

nesting dolls

As you can see from the photo above, the main challenge (apart from calculating the correct relative sizes) is finding a way for the two halves to connect. In wood, you simply carve a lip around the bottom half so that the top half can slide over it. But how to do this in felt?

Here’s the method I tried. I laid out four layers of red fibre around the main resist, then added another plastic resist strip where I wanted the “lip” to be. I laid another four blue layers on top.

When it was felted, I cut along the bottom of the strip resist  through the top four layers of fibre, removed the resist, then cut along the top of where the strip had been through the bottom four layers of fibre. (Sorry – no photos: I forgot! I realise they would help considerably.)

So essentially I ended up with a bottom half  made up of eight layers of fiber with a thinner lip of four layers of red fibre protruding from the top. The top half was similar, except the four layers protruding were blue fibre. Oh – and I’d added some felted yellow balls for interest. :-)

I was hoping that the lips of four layers of fibre, being thinner than the rest of the vessels, would shrink more when I fulled them, so that the top half would fit nicely over the bottom half.

However, it didn’t quite work out like that – the red lip on the bottom half actually stretched, flaring out. Not what I wanted at all!

Here’s the result.

felt matryoshka1 felt matryoshka2 felt matryoshka3

Back to the drawing board on this one for the time being. I guess I could always use it as an egg cosy. :-)

felt egg cosy

Talking of cosies, I’ve been promising for the past year to make a felt tea cosy for the Friends of Windmill Gardens to use in their café on open days at Brixton Windmill. I finally got round to making it this week.

tea cosy1 tea cosy2 tea cosy3

I hope they weren’t expecting one that looks like a windmill, or that will be AFOT EUWA no 3!

Natural dyeing workshop with Cordwainers Garden


I’m still finding my feet with this eco printing lark. Results are slowly improving – here’s a cotton bag, mordanted with aluminium acetate, bundled with peony leaves, coreopsis flowers (only two – the slugs ate all the rest!), eucalyptus leaves and some sycamore “helicopter” seeds, and put into an onion skin dye bath.

peony bag1

I dipped the peony leaves and sycamore seeds into an iron mordant before bundling. The sycamore seeds didn’t show up at all, but the peony leaves worked quite well. The first picture below shows peony leaves with the head of a coreopsis flower in the foreground (damn those slugs!).

peony bag2 peony bag3

So off I headed to a workshop on natural dyeing run by Kate Poland of Cordwainers Garden, a community garden set up on a disused piece of land belonging to the London College of Fashion in Hackney. As well as growing fruit, vegetables and dye plants, they are also co-ordinating a project called Grow a London Garment – trying to grow, design, dye and sew a linen garment from scratch, using flax grown in various locations across London. They are currently on the lookout for flax spinners, so get in touch if you know anyone!

The workshop was held at the fantastic Surrey Docks Farm in Rotherhithe, right next to the river. It was slightly surreal to be picking leaves from the dye garden with Canary Wharf looming just across the Thames!

dye garden

We started with some itajime shibori – folding pieces of silk before clamping or tying them, wetting them and then putting them in a madder dye bath for a couple of hours. Kate had dug up the madder root came from the farm’s dye garden, and ground it in a coffee grinder before simmering it in water. She took the pot off the heat before we put in our fabric.

madder bathmadder shibori

Then we went on to bundling, using leaves and flowers from the dye garden as well as a selection Kate had brought with her. Rather than getting clear leaf prints, we were aiming for a watercolour effect, using more flowers than leaves.

kate bundling

We steamed the bundles for about 20 minutes before opening them – the results were very successful.

steamed bundles steamed bundles2 steamed bundles3

The dark purple comes from hollyhock flowers, the orange is onion skin, and the yellow is dyers’ camomile. Below you can see a close-up of the onion skin.

steamed bundles4 steamed bundles5

I also used woad leaves, which were’t very visible when the fabric was wet. You can see them more clearly in the picture below, when the fabric was dry and ironed – the stalks are sticking up on the left of the picture between the purple hollyhock petals.

steamed bundles6

While all this was going on we had a curious spectator peering in through the window – love the haircut! :-)

rasta sheep

Finally, we set up some solar dyeing to take away with us. We each chose a single type of plant dye – hollyhocks, dyers’ camomile or Hopi sunflower seeds (which have to be boiled first to extract the kernels, from where the colour comes) – and put them in a jam jar with water and fabric to take home.

Here’s my jar of hollyhock solar dye – you’ll have to wait for a few weeks for the results!

solar hollyhock


Unfinished business


If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I have a bit of a butterfly tendency. One minute it’s felt, next it’s indigo, then it’s on to embroidery or natural dyes.

I’m sure I could achieve more by concentrating in depth on one thing for a particular period – but there are so many exciting ideas to explore! :-) And I do revisit themes and ideas, often from a new angle, having learnt something else in my wide-ranging explorations.

Anyway, when I was putting my stuff away after returning from the workshop with Maria Friese, I came across a piece of felt smocking that I’d stitched on commercial prefelt but not felted. (The holes you can see are – ahem! – moth holes.)

felt smocking1

This was from a while ago, when I was pondering the connection between smocking and origami tessellations. It led to some very interesting email exchanges with Jane Araújo, who designs amazingly complex lacy knitting patterns and came up with some very helpful suggestions about how I could pursue this further.

Needless to say, I got distracted by something else, but I was reminded of it when I was talking to Maria about origami and felt. I think I’d left it unfelted because the prefelt was very fine and I was worried that the lovely pattern and texture would just disappear and I would end up with an uneven lumpy bit of felt.

But of course it didn’t – it retained the structure very well after felting.

felt smocking2

And it looks even better with the light coming through – perfect for a lampshade or backlit panel.

felt smocking3

With the felt I also came across a couple of linen table mats I’d stitched, ready for dyeing. And as the weather has been a bit hot for felting I charged up the indigo vat.

This was also the opportunity to try another technique that I read about on the excellent Momiji Studio blog. I’ve never tried tesuji shibori because I couldn’t visualise how to bind the fabric onto a rope, but blogger Jessica gave a great explanation.

I used a rather pedestrian open-weave cotton scarf in a large grid of different colours – and it certainly made a difference.

tesuji shawl1

The discharge effect on the central orange section was interesting.

tesuji shawl2

And the mats came out OK too, though I think the stitching on the second one could have been a bit tighter.

mokune table mat1lace table mat 2

But given how long they’ve been sitting around, I should be grateful that the moths didn’t much through the thread! ;-)