Recent acquisitions and upcoming events

I’m just back from a few days in Wales, where we had the most glorious sunny weather (previous visits have usually coincided with rain, rain and more rain!). It was even warm enough to have breakfast in the garden on one day. 🙂

The main reason for the visit was to stock up on fibre goodies at Wonderwool Wales, and I think it’s fair to say I succeeded in this!

wonderwool haul

The range of fleece, batts and tops from different types of sheep was far wider than at the Knitting and Stitching Shows, and there were far fewer irrelevant stalls selling tacky knick knacks. It was also good to meet up again with Ruth Packham, who I met at the Andrea Graham workshop in Amsterdam last year, and discuss how we are using Andrea’s techniques in our work.

The large steamer in the photo above didn’t come from Wonderwool, in case you were wondering! I picked it up in a charity shop – it’s large enough to steam a small turkey! I’m hoping it will come in useful for steaming larger bundles when I’m eco dyeing.

Now I’m getting ready for three major events in May. This Sunday 3 May I’m taking part in the Intrigue Emporium Spring Fair at Shoreditch Town Hall. It’s nice to see my felt kaleidocycle featured on the flyer, though mostly I’ll be selling indigo shibori scarves.


Then the following weekend, 9 and 10 May, it’s Dulwich Artists’ Open House weekend – I’m teaming up with seven other artists and designer-makers in a lovely house in West Dulwich, including Gabriela Szulman, who will also be at the Intrigue Emporium show. There’s a private view on Friday evening – everyone welcome!

dulwich open house 2015

At the end of the month, on Saturday 30 May, Carol and I are running a Women of the Cloth felting workshop at the South London Botanical Institute as part of the Chelsea Fringe. Carol will be teaching people how to make a needle felted bird; I will be showing how to make a wet felted bird pod.

So we were thrilled when Gardens Illustrated magazine included our workshop and a photo of Carol’s needle felted bluetit in its feature on the Chelsea Fringe. 🙂


Works in progress

My stint at Sprout with Women of the Cloth is over for another year. With nine guest artists this year there was more variety than ever, and it was nice to spend time with some new faces and see new work.

The fun was tempered somewhat by a nasty chest infection/flu-like illness which struck halfway through, and which I’m still suffering from. As I’m doing the (outdoor) Herne Hill Christmas Fair tomorrow, I hope it clears up soon!

Copy of HHxmasfair_POSTER

When not serving customers I’ve been working on some pieces using the combination of needle felting and wet felting techniques I learnt from Andrea Graham. I started with some felt “diatoms”.

felt diatoms

Now I’m working on a couple of Miro-inspired figures. They’re not yet finished – one eye still in progress below.

miro wip1

And this one has still to be wet felted.

miro wip2

Finally, I’m also preparing a piece I hope to submit to an exhibition being organised by the South London Women Artists in February, on the theme “What is Urban?”. I don’t want to say too much about it at this stage – it’s literally under wraps. 🙂 Just to say that it doesn’t actually involve textiles! More about this next year.

11 dec 3

Felting with (live?) barnacles

How long can barnacles live out of water? The answer, I fear, may be longer than you think. More on this in a minute.

While I was at the pods workshop with Andrea Graham, I managed to finish one pod and start another. However, due to the pressures of work since I got back, I’ve only just got round to completing this second one.

This pod was intended to be another sample, trying to incorporate or improve some of the techniques I’d learned. One of these was embedding an object like a bead or a marble. I decided to try using a cluster of barnacle shells I’d found on a beach several years ago. (You can see where this is going!)

I don’t know exactly how long I’ve had this barnacle cluster, but it’s definitely a few years. I’m a city girl through and through, but when I’m on the coast I do love beachcombing, gathering shells, pebbles and other items that ESP regards as luggage-loading detritus. The barnacles have been sitting in a glass jar along with a random collection of other shells and bits of dead coral, waiting for the right project to come along. And this time I thought it had.

The shells looked perfectly innocuous, so I placed the cluster on top of my pod, put a plastic resist on top, and enclosed it in a nice coat of merino.

barnacles pod1

Then I wet felted it.

When I opened up the resist, the cluster looked different. Some of the shell plates inside the craters, which had been firmly shut when dry, now looked partly open. And there was a bit of a whiff of the sea.

barnacles pod2

There was nothing for it but to remove the cluster and extract what remained of the barnacles from their shells (I have to say that a felting needle is very good for this!). Then, after thoroughly disinfecting the rest (along with the felting needle!) I eased the cluster gently back in.

[Short digression here – please ignore if you are not interested in barnacle anatomy!]

I had assumed that barnacles were molluscs, but actually they are crustaceans. The diagram below shows how it resembles a shrimp lying on its back, with leg-like appendages that the barnacle uses to absorb oxygen and waft plankton into the mouth.

acorn barnacle

It also has a pretty long penis!

Ahem. As to the question of how long barnacles can live outside water, I could find no definitive answer. This article claims that one species can live for three years “with only brief submergence one or two days a month” – which my barnacles never received.

I only hope that the creatures were dead and that the opening of the shell plate in response to water was just a reflex action.

[/end digression]

Anyway, here is the sanitised end result. It’s a bit top heavy I think, but, as ever, it was a useful learning experience, in more ways than one. 🙂

barnacles pod3 barnacles pod4 barnacles pod6

Maybe I should just stick to plain ol’ felt barnacles.



Pods workshop with Andrea Graham

I’m just back from another fabulous three-day workshop at Atelier Fiberfusing near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The atelier is run by Dorie van Dijk and her family, and I attended a workshop by Lisa Klakulak there last year. It’s a fantastic space, with a huge table for each student and plenty of room to move about. Food is plentiful and delicious, sometimes unusual – I’ve never had sauerkraut lasagne before! 🙂 – and though the atmosphere is warm, friendly and laid back, underneath everything is extremely well organised. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My chosen workshop this year was with Andrea Graham, who makes beautiful sculptural felt. I’ve admired her work for a long time and at one stage wondered about doing a workshop by webcam. But then I saw she was coming to Atelier Fiberfusing, and that was all the excuse I needed!

I’d booked for the three-day workshop on making pods, but before I arrived, there had been two previous workshops on making jewellery and textured surfaces. The results looked really interesting.

pod jewellery pod texture

Andrea had brought along some examples of pods to inspire us.

pod andrea2 pod andrea3

We started by making the core and legs for our pods, then added features such as spikes and resists using needle felting. After covering with the base colour and adding more features we finally wet felted the whole piece.

With 14 students in the class, all experienced felters, the results were incredibly varied, as the photos below show! The first one is mine.

Andrea is a very good tutor. Because of her experience, she can point out where the trouble spots are likely to be in advance, hopefully preventing too much disappointment after a lot of hard work!

I learnt a lot on this workshop:

  • Having done very little needle felting, I now have more respect for what can be achieved with this technique. Not just through what we did in class, but because Ruth Packham, who was staying at the same hotel as me, is an avid needle felter and gave me some inspiration. I still prefer the texture of wet felting though. 🙂
  • I’ve never made spikes before – I equated them with making bag handles, which is a long and tedious process if you just use bubble wrap. But using a bamboo mat is infinitely quicker, as long as the mat is sturdy enough.
  • I’ve never felted with batts, but they are much quicker to lay out. The short fibre merino I got from New England Felting Supply was much admired for the gorgeous mix of colours, and it felted like a dream! However, being used to laying out felt as “shingles” using tops, I had some difficulty in judging how thick the final felt would be when using batts, so some of the prefelt I made was quite thin. Hopefully this will improve with experience.

And of course I made some lovely new friends! 🙂

group shot pods

Looking forward to next year already…

Batts vs roving vs tops

I’ve just taken delivery of some delicious short fibre merino batts from New England Felting Supply – very exciting! But why am I going to the trouble and expense of ordering wool from abroad when we have some great suppliers in the UK?

new england batts

The reason is that I’m attending a workshop on felting pods with Andrea Graham at Atelier Fiberfusing in a couple of weeks’ time. And in the list of materials she specifies “wool batt – not combed roving”.

I’ve never felted with wool batt – I’ve always used roving (or tops). And I now realise that this is because batts are not very easy to get hold of in the UK – most suppliers sell only tops.

(Quick digression: While  writing this piece I also discovered there is another whole discussion about the difference between roving and tops. It seems to depend on how well the fibres are aligned, which I guess is of huge importance for spinners, as it could make the difference between a smooth yarn and a lumpy yarn. As a felter, I need the fibres to be aligned differently to encourage felting.)

I rang World of Wool, my usual supplier, to ask whether they did batts, and the answer was no, though they said they are planning to introduce some this summer.

I found some Etsy sellers offering hand carded batts for spinning, but they tended to include other fibres such as alpaca and angelina, and they seemed quite small.

So what is the advantage of felting with batts rather than roving/tops? Coincidentally, Fiona Duthie recently published a post about this. It’s quicker to lay out flat projects with batts, as there are already several layers of fibres in different directions. By contrast, using tops gives you more control over the size and shape of your felt, as you can make it thicker or lay out fibres in a particular direction to influence shrinkage.

But if you use the same weight and type of wool and lay out the fibres to the same size, the end result should be the same, whether you use batts or tops. I’ll let you know how I get on!

And do let me know of any wool batt suppliers in the UK. Interestingly, Fiona’s list of suppliers were all outside the UK. Given the current exchange and postal rates, it was cheaper to order from the US than from Europe!