Carding with dog brushes

I’ve been thinking about buying some hand carders for blending wool and merino tops for more subtle colours. I have only a small amount of wool so far, as I’m still experimenting, but most carders I’ve seen seem to be around £30-40.

My tutor at Morley College mentioned that dog-grooming brushes could be a cheap alternative for beginners. So yesterday I bought a couple of ‘soft pin slickers for fine/medium coats’ from Pets at Home for £4.99 each. The size of the brush area is around 10 x 7cm, so it’s about half the area of a normal carder – but with the small quantities I’m carding at the moment, it’s not going to make that much difference. And the rolags they produce are fine.

dog brushes

‘Last Supper’ in lint

'The Last Supper' made from laundry lint (photo by Anthony Scipio, Ripley Entertainment, Inc)

Forget felt – lint is where it’s at.

Michigan artist Laura Bell took around 200 hours to recreate ‘The Last Supper’ in laundry lint (picture above), according to Ripley Entertainment Inc.  It took her another 700-800 hours doing the laundry just to get enough lint – apparently she had to buy towels in the colours she wanted. After Ripley’s bought the artwork, she treated herself to a new washer and dryer.

‘Ripley’s has several other lint art “paintings” from two other artists, but this is our first from Laura,’ said Edward Meyer, Ripley’s VP of Exhibits and Archives. ‘It is the largest lint art piece we have ever seen, and obviously the image is so iconic, we simply had to add it to our collection.’

Blue resist pot

Discovery of the day: Styrofoam felts. Unfortunately.

I’ve mentioned Creative Felting by Lizzie Houghton before as a great source of ideas and inspiration. One of the techniques she includes is for making honeycomb felt, where you trap marbles between layers of wool when you make the felt. Then when the felt is dry, you cut the marbles out, creating a series of cells that look a bit like honeycomb (left).

Lizzie notes: ‘It can be difficult to roll the felt because it has such a lumpy texture, and this is where a washboard can be very useful for applying friction.’

Well, I don’t have a washboard at home, so I wondered whether there was something else I could use as a resist instead of marbles. I thought I had hit on the perfect solution – polystyrene foam pellets. I knew that foam is often used as a flat resist when making felt bags, so I assumed they wouldn’t stick. And the pellets were squashy enough not to make it too difficult to roll the felt.

So I made another two-tone pot as before, but between the two layers of green wool and two layers of blue wool I incorporated five polystyrene pellets, folded in half. Then I rolled and rubbed as normal.

The rolling and rubbing flattened the pellets completely, so I realised that I wasn’t going to end up with 3D cells. Also, because they were now flat, it was quite difficult to feel where they were through the felt, so I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find them!

However, when the pot dried, the foam had gone very hard, and I could feel the flat discs very clearly through the felt. So I thought that I could easily cut them out, allowing the inner green layer of felt to show through the outer blue layer.

This was when I made the dreadful discovery that Styrofoam felts. Both the blue and the green wool surrounding the foam was stuck very firmly, and it was a real struggle to remove the discs. Luckily, I had made the felt quite thick, so cutting away part of the felt with the foam still left a thin layer of green felt intact.

Time to buy a washboard.

Foam pellets
Foam pellets - before
Felt resists removed
Foam pellets - after
Blue felt pot
Finished pot

Red felt pot

To keep motivated during the long scarf production process, I made another felt pot. This time I decorated the outside with some woollen yarn, looping it in an elegant pattern.

Of course, lesson 2 kicked in again – the yarn moved during the felt-making process to settle in its own random design. Despite being a self-confessed control freak, I’m surprisingly relaxed about this. Want to feel mellow? Make felt.

red and green felt pot

red and green felt pot

First nuno scarf

I haven’t written anything about what we’ve been doing in class for the past three weeks, mainly because I’ve been working on one project – a nuno scarf.

We all started with pieces of cotton muslin measuring about 2 x 0.5 metres, to create a nuno scarf or bag with merino tops and any other bits of fabric or yarn that we liked. Some students covered the entire piece of muslin with wool; others left gaps for the fabric to show through for the crinkled effect.

I wanted to create the main pattern using yarn in three different colours and thicknesses, to resemble tide marks left by the sea. I knew these would be difficult to felt to the muslin, so I had to cover them with thin wisps of merino to help them stick. On top of this I put some velvet circles of varying sizes, again covered in wisps of merino. As well as helping them to stick, I was hoping for a scrunchy ‘brain’ effect as the wool shrank, causing the velvet to wrinkle. At both ends of the scarf I laid merino strips at right angles to the main pattern, overlaid with some novelty ‘eyelash’ yarn and more wisps of merino.

The felt took ages to lay out – in fact, I hadn’t finished by the end of the first class (some students had completed their scarves by then!). Trying to keep the strands of yarn in place while I laid wisps of merino over them was tricky, and I had to keep stopping to card more wool. Also, laying out the scarves took a lot of room, and there wasn’t space for all the students to do this at once, so I didn’t really start until halfway through the class.

The second week I finished laying out the pattern, wetted it and started the pre-felting stage. Again, because the pattern is quite delicate and there wasn’t much wool, I had to spend much longer rubbing it between bubble wrap at this stage to ensure that everything was reasonably firmly fixed before moving on to rolling.

To roll it, I folded the bubble wrap package three or four times, so at least it was a manageable size. I took it home and rolled it a bit during the week, then finished rolling in class last night, before rubbing it on the washboard.

So was it worth all this hard labour? (One student managed to complete a couple of bags, including handles, and a necklace in the same time, while others produced two scarves and several cushion covers.) The result so far is below.

Nuno scarf


Nuno scarf

I have to admit that it hasn’t turned out quite as I planned. You can see in the photo that I had to baste the velvet circles in position in white thread so that they didn’t fall off when I rubbed the fabric on the washboard. This was because the orange merino that I carefully arranged over the velvet slid off to one side during pre-felting, so there was nothing to hold the circles on. It also means that instead of the ‘wrinkled sunset’ effect I was hoping for, they look more like strangely coloured ‘peacock eyes’.

So another technique is needed to ensure that the velvet circles are firmly attached. I’m going to try dry-felting some with the embellisher, but in the absence of wrinkling, I think it would be good to add some texture with machine or hand embroidery.

What have I learnt from this?

1. Wool likes to felt to wool. If you don’t use much wool, it’s going to take much longer to felt – and if you don’t have enough, it may not felt at all!

2. No matter how carefully you plan and lay out your pattern, chances are it will move or turn out differently. Accept it and go with the flow.

3. If it doesn’t felt, there’s always another way to fix it (I hope!).

Scaling up is hard to do

I’ve written previously about fusing plastic bags, bubble wrap, and Vilene to produce material that is flexible but robust enough to embroider. I’ve used it to make small items such as Oyster cardholders, spectacle cases (below), and smartphone covers.

Eyeglass case for spectacles
Spectacle case made from recycled plastic bags

Now that I’ve started making felt, which is quite a wet process, I thought I’d see if I could make an apron from this fused plastic. After all, it should be waterproof!

However, the size of the plastic fabric I can make is limited by the size of my domestic ironing board – 120cm x 40cm, or 80cm x 40cm if you exclude the bit that tapers. Now, I’m not huge, but for a butcher’s apron that gives reasonable protection I reckon I need a minimum size of 80cm x 50cm.

The other problem is that, when they fuse, the plastic bags and bubble wrap shrink. This happens very quickly when they are ironed. With small pieces the iron passes over the whole area almost simultaneously. On larger pieces, however, the part that is being ironed starts shrinking while the rest does not – which leads to unwanted creases and bulges.

Fused plastic fabric
Uneven shrinkage of the plastic and bubble wrap resulted in a bulging, curved surface

This is the result. I ended up with a bulging, curved material that’s not really suitable for a one-piece butcher’s apron.

I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Maybe I can cut it up into smaller pieces and use it as some kind of patchwork (or for making smaller items). I’ll leave it for now – perhaps inspiration will strike later!

3D felt vessel

Having managed to make a fan case using a plastic resist, I thought I’d go a step further and try making a 3D felt vessel.

I followed the instructions in this excellent Flickr tutorial, rolling up an old pieces of bubble wrap with tape to use as a resist. But I didn’t use a pair of tights – I just rubbed it in bubble wrap. I used four layers of wool altogether – two peacock blue and two white. The soapy water does tend to go everywhere as it runs off the different layers, so I understand why the tutorial appeared to take place in a child’s swimming pool!

3D felt vessel

I think it turned out quite well for a first attempt. Unlike the fan case, which used a flat resist, there was no risk of ridges here, but I still laid the last layer of wool horizontally rather than vertically.

I would have liked to have added some scraps of silk or novelty yarn for texture on the outside, but I was a bit worried about getting them to felt in. However, Zedster01 successfully managed it, so perhaps I’ll have a go next time. I’ll probably embellish it with embroidery.