Scaling up snail shells

My first major project of 2016 is to produce a pillow for an upcoming exhibition (more details on this in a later post).

After all the ecoprinting I did before Christmas I was looking forward to getting back to felting. I decided that my pillowcase would take the form of a snail, based on some experiments I did last year making felt shells. This led to three major challenges.

shell maquette

First up was shrinkage. The maximum size of the pillow had to be 60cm across. So I did what I very rarely do and made a sample piece to test shrinkage. 🙂 I wanted to use batts of Finnish wool, which is fairly hard wearing, so I laid out two layers of white and two layers of grey in a 32cm square. On top of the grey I added some strands of bamboo fibre in different colours.

After felting, the piece measured 24cm square, so the shrinkage rate was 25% (which is less than the 30% I normally get with merino).  I also decided that I preferred the white side with the grey migrating through, so when I laid out the pillow case the grey would be on the inside rather than the outside.

Grey side of felt sample with bamboo decoration
Grey side of felt sample with bamboo decoration
White side of felt sample, which I decided would be the outside of the finished pillow
White side of felt sample, which I decided would be the outside of the finished pillow

The next challenge was to scale up the resist to allow for shrinkage of the final pillow. I won’t bore you with all the mathematics, but I calculated that the length of the resist needed to be 1.2 metres. Here’s a picture showing the relative sizes of the resists.


And here’s the work in progress – the largest piece I’ve wet felted in a while!

work in progress

The final challenge was working out how to stuff the pillow. I wanted to leave the hole at the end of the spiral, so the stuffing needed to be contained or it would just fall out.

In the end I cut two circles of cotton and tacked them together to form a case, leaving a slit for the stuffing. I turned it inside out, pushed it inside the felt, and stuffed it with wadding. It took a bit of trial and error to get the right size of the inner case – I had to remove the wadding and pull out the cotton case to restitch it twice before it fitted OK.  Then I stitched up the gap through the hole in the felt, and moved the pillow round so the stitching didn’t show.

Here’s the finished pillow next to some of the maquettes I made, so you can see the relative sizes.

relative sizes

Because the pillow is for an exhibition, I asked a photographer friend, Owen Llewellyn of Cygnus Imaging, to take some decent shots for the catalogue (much better than my point-and-shoot efforts). In return I will be building him a website!

snail1 72dpi
Image by Owen Llewellyn, Cygnus Imaging
snail2 72dpi
Image by Owen Llewellyn, Cygnus Imaging



snail3 72dpi
Image by Owen Llewellyn, Cygnus Imaging

I’m off now for a few weeks, visiting Vietnam and spending Chinese New Year with my family in Malaysia. So wishing you all an early gong xi fa cai! 🙂



Published by


Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

8 thoughts on “Scaling up snail shells”

    1. Thanks Diane! I ran a workshop making felt bird pods at the South London Botanical Insitute last year as part of the Chelsea Fringe. Those were quite simple forms for 3D felting, but as you can see you can get quite complex forms! If you’re interested in a workshop let me know when I get back from holiday. 🙂

  1. Wonderful! I love it and you are right to get a professional photographer. We would love to have you do an online course of 3D felting on our Felting and Fiber classes site. Let me know if you might be interested.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.