Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe

There’s a wonderful exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work at Tate Modern at the moment. She is best known for her flower paintings, which are indeed wonderful – you can almost feel the blossoms unfurling before your eyes, the strong lines offset by gorgeously subtle colour gradations.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed No 1, 1932
Jimson Weed No 1, 1932

(Interestingly, O’Keeffe always denied the interpretation that her flowers were representations of the female body. This idea came from her husband, photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, who tellingly wrote: “Woman feels the World differently than Man feels it….The Woman receives the World through her Womb. That is her deepest feeling. Mind comes second.” OK, this was written in 1919, but some might say that attitudes towards women artists (or indeed women in general) haven’t changed much since then. 🙂  )

But I digress. One of the new discoveries for me in this exhibition was her charcoal work. Two early pieces, Special No 9 (1915) and No 15 Special (1916-17) seemed to glow on the wall, while her Eagle Claw and Bean Necklace from 1934 just blew me away with its precision.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Special No 9, 1915
Special No 9, 1915
Georgia O'Keeffe, No 15 Special, 1916-17
No 15 Special, 1916-17
georgia-okeeffe-eagle-claw-and-bean-necklace
Eagle Claw and Bean Necklace, 1934

There are lots of other great works, but in the last room Sky Above the Clouds III (1963) made me think of ombre indigo, which inspired me to try making a nuno felt piece.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Sky Above the Clouds III, 1963
Sky Above the Clouds III, 1963

I started by making a small sample using ombre indigo dyed cotton scrim topped with natural merino. After making this I wondered how it would look in reverse, so I made another sample with the scrim on top.

blue and white nuno felt ombre samples

I then did a small straw poll on Twitter and Instagram, asking people which version they preferred. As so often happens, opinion was divided! There was probably a small majority in favour of scrim on top – but then one person said that they liked them both and couldn’t I join them together?

So after a bit of re-engineering, here is the final work in progress.

ombre-hanging-3

On a larger scale in a portrait format I didn’t think the elliptical shapes would work, so I went for a repeating grid of circles instead, despite misgivings about being able to make them regular enough.

blue and white nuno felt ombre wallhanging

I also added some white tussah silk to the plain white circles for a bit of extra texture, which you can just about see in the detail shot below.

blue and white nuno felt ombre wallhanging detail

Georgia O’Keeffe runs at Tate Modern until 30 October.

Nuno felting at West Dean

I do realise that by writing a post about another workshop so soon after returning from mud resist printing in Jaipur I am giving the impression of having nothing better to do than flit around the world attending whichever workshops I fancy, without having to worry about mundane matters such as earning a living. I wish! 🙂

In fact I booked this workshop on nuno felting for couture with Liz Clay at West Dean quite a while ago, after I was given some gift vouchers by some very generous friends, Anne and Lucy, for a significant birthday. The mud resist workshop, by contrast, was tacked on at the last minute to a holiday in India that had already been planned. The timing was unfortunate, but hey – you have to grab these opportunities when they arise!

The gorgeous gardens of West Dean
The gorgeous gardens of West Dean

So the last five days I have spent with Carol, my fellow felter from Women of the Cloth, in the bucolic surroundings of West Dean College in West Sussex. Of the 50 or so people attending workshops in this period, only two or three of us had never been before – and I can see why people return over and over again. The facilities are great, the food is plentiful, the bedrooms are comfortable, and the tutors know their stuff.

Liz Clay is a well-known felter who has produced fabric for Givenchy, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney, among others. Her book on nuno felt was one of the first I devoured when I first started felting at Morley College, so it was great to attend a workshop with her in person.

There were seven of us on the  course, with varying levels of felting experience. We started by making felt or prefelt samples and cutting shapes using templates provided by Liz. We then stitched these together and felted further (if using prefelt). Depending on the thickness of the felt and the shape of the templates, the result could be a vessel or bag, or an elegant floaty scarf.

crescent template 1 crescent template 2circle template

We also looked at other ways to add texture and movement, both through pleating prefelts and folding and crumpling fabric before nuno felting.

pleat 1 pleat 2 sample fabricsLiz also made a series of samples of different fabrics sandwiched together with fibre, which encouraged several students to make larger pieces to turn into garments.

Carol working on a large piece of nuno felted sari silk
Carol working on a large piece of nuno felted sari silk

After making a pleated sample I was noticed that when it was rolled up it resembled an oyster mushroom – perfect for an exhibition I am working on (details in a later post).

So I worked up a section of a sample neckpiece, which I then adapted before making the finished piece. The part that goes around the neck is inspired by bracket fungus, while the “clasp” is a toadstool. 🙂

sample neckpiece
Prefelted and stitched sample neckpiece
final neckpiece
Finished neckpiece

I now have something to wear for the private view, even though I haven’t made the work for the exhibition itself yet. Nothing like putting the cart before the horse! 😉

Our most mature student, Dorothy, also chose to make a pleated scarf, doggedly felting and stitching four metres of fabric! At one stage everyone joined in to help her get it finished.

dorothy wipdorothy finished scarf

Just time for a final group photo wearing some of our creations before heading home! One student, Jeanette, had to leave early, so is missing from the photo.

Back row, L to R: Amanda, Elizabeth, Liz, Dorothy, Carol. Front row, L to R: Kim, Kim
Back row, L to R: Amanda, Elizabeth, Liz, Dorothy, Carol. Front row, L to R: Kim, Kim

And now it really is back to the real world, nose to the grindstone! 😦

African pod vessels, nuno felt, and more scarves

Apologies for the silence since Lambeth Open. We seemed to get fewer visitors this year, but I sold several scarves and we had some nice comments about our work.

At the last minute I made a companion piece to go with my pebble hanging. This used up some of the very first arashi shibori samples I made when I was new to indigo dyeing. I think I shall call the hangings Water I and Water II. 🙂

waterII waterII2

I picked up an unusual African seed pod at a table top sale. The seller wasn’t able to tell me exactly which species of plant it came from, but the texture was irresistible, inspiring me to make a felt vessel.

african pod vessel

I also made one with larger openings, cutting away the felt above the resist, but I think I prefer the closed version.

african pod vessels

Carol, one of my sister Women of the Cloth, attended a workshop on nuno felting with Inge Bauer over the summer, and came back with some very impressive scarves, bags, cowls and fingerless gloves.

This inspired me to have another go at nuno myself, using a silk scarf that wasn’t suitable for overdyeing with shibori. I found it very satisfying, so I might make a few more for some of the Christmas sales I’m doing.

orange nuno cowl

Finally, of course, the indigo dyeing goes on – here’s another batch of shibori bits and pieces drying on the line. A couple of the scarves are already in my Etsy shop – more to come!

scarves oct14

Ombre indigo-dyed nuno felt

It’s been a busy couple of weeks – I’ve been trying to build up my stock of indigo-dyed scarves for Christmas, and also preparing for the big Makerhood event Making Uncovered, where I was showing people how to dye eggs with onion skins.

While I had the indigo vat out I did some ombre dyeing (dip dyeing) with unbleached cotton muslin, with the vague idea that I might felt with it. A couple of years ago I made a lot of indigo nuno-felted vessels, but this time I wanted to try something different.

So I made a simple flat panel or hanging, incorporating some flat beach pebbles. The bottom layers were made using white merino batting from World of Wool, which has just started stocking wool batts, though their merino is 23 micron compared with Norwegian Wool‘s 21 micron (short fibre merino).  It does make laying out so much quicker!

blue stones 1 blue stones 2 blue stones 4

Even ESP liked this, which is saying something given that a) he’s usually pretty sniffy about my felt and b) he always moans about having to lug home all the pebbles and shells I pick up on beaches when on holiday. Result! 😉

Adding texture

Happy new year!

My felting up till now has largely focused on form, whether vessels or origami structures. I’m not intending to abandon this, but ESP brought home a few gourds from the market (“the sort of thing you like”), which got me thinking about how to combine form and texture.

gourds

beyond-nuno-70-perc-fits-a6I was inspired by a couple of books I acquired recently. One was my Christmas present to myself, an electronic download called Beyond Nuno: A Guide to Using Fabrics in Wet Felting by Felt by Zed. As well as having her own blog, Felt by Zed, or Zedster, also contributes to the wonderful Felting and Fiber Studio.

The book eschews the usual project-based format, instead going for a systematic investigation of how different types of fabric react when felted, including silk, synthetics and cotton. Even better, there are great photos (including supermacro close-ups) of felt samples clearly showing the differences, and discussions about how the different properties might be used to create different effects in your felt.

Perhaps it’s my scientific background, but I like this approach – it’s like having a pre-prepared sketchbook of samples. 🙂 But it also made me want to go and experiment with different fabrics myself.


felt fabric designsThe other book is Felt Fabric Designs by Sheila Smith. It’s slightly more conventional, covering the basics of making felt before moving on to nuno and lamination, openwork and shaping edges.

There are a few projects, including scarves and waistcoats, but most of the emphasis (and photographs) is on sample swatches. I found the chapters on “Sumptuous surfaces” and “Hardwearing functional felt” particularly inspiring.

And there are some useful tips, such as how to make a nuno scarf when your working space is limited (ie less than 3 metres long!). I once made a vow never to felt a scarf again at home until I got a longer table – but I might be tempted to try again now.


Anyway, inspired by Zed, I did my own layered sample of different fibres and fabrics sandwiched between merino and silk chiffon.

The thing about nuno felting with chiffon, unlike other kinds of silk, is that it doesn’t produce much texture on its own, instead sinking into the felt. However, it’s useful for trapping other items on the surface of the felt.

So here is a quick set of layered samples trapped beneath a layer of chiffon (apologies for poor quality of the image – it’s astonishingly difficult to photograph).

texture samples

Top to bottom: wool nepps, synthetic slubbed yarn, pencil roving, stitched hem from silk scarf, rolled cotton muslin, felt offcut from iPad case. And in the bottom left-hand corner is a piece of jute scrim.

Of course, some of these items, such as the nepps, pencil roving and jute scrim, might be expected to felt in anyway, without being held in position by the chiffon (though I have had problems with nepps in the past). But the silk adds a little bit of extra texture, especially as this is a crinkle chiffon (which you can’t tell from the picture).

Now to try this in 3D format – to be continued…