3D multicoloured ribs

I noticed in my recent AFOT EUWA piece that the structure and texture of the “ribs” was more prominent when the piece was curled or bent, rather than lying flat. And with felt I have a natural preference for working on more sculptural pieces than 2D anyway. So the next step was to see how to incorporate the technique into a 3D piece.

This is the structure before cutting into it. Although it looks like a vessel, it has no bottom – I felted it round a resist left open at both ends.

rainbow ribs2

And here it is after cutting through to the coloured layers beneath. I experimented with cutting to different depths – the deeper cuts resulted in a wider opening with more of the “ribs” exposed than the shallower cuts.

rainbow ribs4

rainbow ribs9rainbow ribs5rainbow ribs7

There were several challenges with this piece.

  • Overlapping resists: Each of the colours was felted around a separate resist, which had to overlap with the adjoining resists. I normally use plastic floor underlay for my resists, which works fine in a single layer but becomes quite bulky when there are several layers, making the final piece tricky to roll and felt. I need to use a thinner resist.
  • Felting through several layers: I felted the colours lightly around the individual resists, but when I wrapped the dark blue wool around them all and felted them all together, some of the colours did not felt together as much as I would have liked.
  • Removing the resists: I removed most of the resists when I made the first cut, but this made it tricky not to cut too deep on subsequent cuts. In future it’s probably best to remove resists one section at a time.

Next challenge: to make a proper vessel!


Nautilus progress

I was lying in bed this morning, dozing (well, dozing as much as is possible when John Humphreys is hectoring a politician on the radio), when I had a eureka moment on my nautilus project.

Instead of adding successive resists on one side, as I have been doing, what about adding resists on both sides? This could add the chambers and felt the spiral at the same time.

At Liz’s request, I have taken a photo of the felting in progress, with the resists in place, but I’m not sure it will help much. 😉

It’s a bit complicated to explain. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it does work – up to a point.

It looks more like a rose than a nautilus at the moment – I need to look at the relative widths of successive resists and the distances between them as they get larger. But I think I may have cracked the basic technique.

Not quite nautilus

Inspired by a visit to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History a couple of weeks ago, I set myself the challenge of trying to create a nautilus shell in felt.

With multiple resists stacked on top of each other, I wasn’t sure how many layers it would be possible to felt in one go, so I restricted it to six chambers to start with.  Once the layers separating the chambers were firmly bonded to the  external “walls”, I removed the resists and rubbed the internal layers with bubble wrap.

However, the real problem lay in the distance between the separating walls. I couldn’t spiral the first shell I made because the width of the chambers on the outer edge was too short.

Soon the second shell I increased the width of the chambers, but the felt was too floppy and still didn’t spiral very well.

Nice organic shapes, but back to the drawing board as far as nautilus is concerned!

When things don’t work out

I was reading a post by Karen over on The Felting and Fiber Studio about a felt album cover she’s been making, where she keeps changing the design and unpicking the embroidery because she doesn’t like it. I know how she feels.

Before Christmas I made several manly scarves in various colour combinations, and they were very popular.

So I thought it was time to try some variations on the theme – but they haven’t worked out.

The first variation was using a preprinted silk scarf, using undyed merino. I didn’t like the result at all – the shapes and the colours just didn’t work together:

Then I tried using muslin with a more open weave. This was a bit tricky to work with, especially when it was wet, as it kept clinging to itself and  was difficult to keep flat in one layer. Also, I had a problem with the wool, as the colour started leaching out when I wet it. You can see a bluish tinge where the muslin has taken up the colour on the left-hand side of  the photo below:

(When I contacted the supplier about this, they said it was possible that an over dye had been used on it and that a small amount of excess was washing out. Has anyone else experienced this? It’s never happened to me before.)

The much more open weave of this muslin meant that with a bit of careful effort I could squeeze the plastic resists out through the muslin without cutting it (though it did leave a bit of a hole in some cases).  I rather like the more subtle spot effect; up close it looks quite cellular.

However, because the muslin is so loose I think it would catch on things quite easily and become very irritating.

So I decided that maybe it was time to move on and try something else. Instead of changing materials, I changed the shape of the resist. Although I originally intended it to look like tiger stripes, I didn’t allow enough for the muslin to shrink, and the nuno areas are smaller than I planned, relative to the stripes. But in these colours it reminds me of the opening credits of The Simpsons – so welcome to my Clouds range!

When things don’t work out, it can be a chance to review your technique or rethink your design. But sometimes it may just give you a gentle nudge in a completely different direction. Some of my most interesting work has resulted from pieces that didn’t work out as planned – and in textiles that seems to happen more often than not!

I went to a talk by Grayson Perry at the British Museum just before Christmas, where he said it can be heartbreaking to spend a week on a piece that just doesn’t work. So it happens to everyone!

More screenprinting with shibori

Yesterday at Morley College I continued with some of the experiments I started at the end of last term, printing with an open screen on fabric that had been stitched, pleated, or folded in some way, based on shibori techniques. I wanted to try some different resist methods as well as experimenting with two colours.

First, I repeated the pleating method I used last term, but with two colours. I started with pale blue and when it had dried shifted the pleats a bit (I also restitched a couple of lines) before overprinting in red. The red wasn’t quite the colour I had in mind: I wanted a deep scarlet, but it turned out more of a claret. Great if you’re a fan of Aston Villa or West Ham, I suppose:

Next up was a piece of linen stitched with circles of different sizes, with the threads pulled tight and tied off. Some of the “puffs” were above the fabric; others were below:

Here’s the result after printing the first colour:

Then I stitched some more circles and printed with a second colour:

I also tried using a piece of cartridge paper as a resist, cutting slits and pulling sections of fabric through. It looked a bit like a mushroom farm:

I did this twice with different colours, but there were still huge gaps. I need to make the slits closer together, repeat it more times, or pull more fabric through:

Then I repeated the pleating experiment but with far more lines of stitching much closer together. I decided to use only one colour on this from the outset, so I chose the darker blue. I love the marks this has created, and I think the red thread I used for the stitching looks really effective, so I’ll probably leave it in rather than removing it:

Finally, as the indigo vat was charged up, I also did a more conventional piece of stitched shibori dyed with indigo:

Quite a busy day, then – no wonder I was completely exhausted when I got home!

Audley Harrison’s shirt

Not being a sports fan, I had no idea who Audley Harrison was until he appeared in the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing. If you don’t know either, he’s a boxer who was the first British fighter to win an Olympic gold medal in the super heavyweight category (at Sydney in 2000). Oh, and he has size 17 feet, which is a bit of a drawback in a dancing competition – as he is discovering.

But I digress. To return to the point, in Saturday’s bout competition, Audley was wearing a very striking shirt. I couldn’t find a still photo on the BBC website – but you can see it  in the video below. So I thought I’d try to recreate a similar effect in felt.


I covered a piece of undyed muslin in slightly off-white merino, then put some plastic oval-shaped resists on top. I covered these with a layer of orange merino and wetted, rubbed and rolled. Then I fulled it against a washboard until the muslin was suitably wrinkled, and cut out the plastic resists.

I think this would make an interesting scarf, especially with some strands of beads at the ends (as on Audley’s shoulders).

Sadly, his groovy shirt didn’t help Audley dance any better. He came second from bottom, and was only saved from oblivion by Nancy and Anton being voted off.

Felt vessel with flat resist

I’ve tried making 3D felt vessels before using 3D resists, like a rolled-up piece of bubble wrap and a balloon. Neither method was hugely successful – it was quite difficult to get the wool to hold together firmly enough around the resist while felting.

I realise that I’m beginning to sound a bit like a Nicola Brown groupie, but her book From Felt to Friendship really is a great source of inspiration. And it includes a technique for making a round felt pot using a flat circular resist. It worked beautifully – much easier and quicker than trying to felt around a 3D object.

The other useful technique was felting inside out. As you can see from the photo, I incorporated some wool slubs on the outside. Previously I’ve had problems getting these to felt in successfully, but by laying out the felt from the outside in, they were no trouble at all!

So I started by laying out the slubs on one half of the resist and covering them with dark blue merino. I turned the resist over and covered it with brown Icelandic wool. The middle layer on both sides was a dark wine-coloured merino, and the final layer (which would eventually be the inside of the pot) was white Icelandic wool. I rubbed and rolled, cut a small hole to remove the resist, turned it inside out and blew up a balloon inside the pot to keep it nice and round. The slubs had felted in beautifully, so I firmed up the outside by rubbing against a washboard until it was all even and smooth.

The disadvantage is that you can’t see the pattern on the inside layer while you’re working, so you need to remember which is the top and which is the bottom to avoid cutting the hole at the wrong end! I did this by adding a small tuft of blue wool to the top layer to indicate the bottom side.

Starting real shibori

Last night in class we started experimenting with shibori dyeing, using cotton muslin and indigo. The indigo was already mixed up in a big plastic vat with a lid – which is important to keep on, as indigo oxidises on contact with air, turning from green to blue. You can see this when you take your cloth out of the vat – it’s actually green at first, turning blue in front of your eyes!

The indigo is mixed with various chemicals to help fix it, including caustic soda (though our tutor, Debby, assured us that it is at such a low concentration it doesn’t damage the skin). Despite this, indigo does apparently tend to run – rather like jeans when you wash them.

Essentially, shibori entails using various types of resist to prevent the dye reaching the cloth, so it’s a negative process – in our case the marks were white against the dyed blue cloth. You can use pretty much anything – string, thread or elastic bands, stitching pulled up tight, clamps or bulldog clips, wooden or plastic blocks – to block the dye from the cloth. You can also pleat the cloth or roll it around rope,  ruler or plastic tubing, or tie items like stones into it. The world is your oyster!

When using indigo it’s important to remember to wet the cloth before putting it in the dye to prevent the indigo “wicking” through into the dry cloth inside – run it under the tap until it’s thoroughly soaked and then squeeze out excess water to avoid diluting the indigo too much.

Below are some photos of some of my experimental results, with notes on what I did. I’ve brought some muslin home to do some more elaborate stitching patterns for next week, as they can be too time consuming to do in class.

Above – I put a piece of string along one side of the cloth and rolled the cloth around it like a swiss roll. Then I pushed the ends of the cloth towards the centre so that it was all scrunched up and tied the ends of the string together. As you can see, not much dye penetrated the inside of the cloth, but the edges have a nice honeycomb effect. Debby says that a thicker piece of rope is more effective, so I’ll try that next time.

Above – I pleated the cloth in concertina folds and then wrapped several rubber bands around it. Again, the edges look nice, but not much dye penetrated the inside. Perhaps fewer rubber bands would leave more space for the dye to soak between. Or irregular pleats that expose more cloth to the dye.

This was the most time-consuming sample I did. I marked out a grid of pencil dots on the cloth, then pinched the cloth at each point and tied a thread around it. This was a bit fiddly – but it was even more fiddly trying to remove the thread without cutting into the cloth after dyeing. I was wearing latex gloves when handling the dyed cloth to try to avoid turning my hands blue – but it was impossible to wear gloves while removing the thread!

However, I think the results are worth it. I really like the creases and pinched tips that remain in the fabric even when it’s dry, though I suppose they could be ironed out. They remind me of shells on a beach.

Finally, my least successful experiment – I did this in a hurry at the end of class! I folded  the cloth diagonally into eighths and clamped it – but the indigo dyed pretty much only the outside (and didn’t even get through to the other side of the cloth). I guess it might make an interesting flag!