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. ūüôā 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! ūüôā



Seashells revisited

Two of my favourite books are Art Forms in Nature: Prints of Ernst Haeckel and Albertus Seba: Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.

haeckel and seba

I could spend hours leafing through the intricately precise illustrations of natural specimens, marvelling at the wonderful natural geometry. They are a fantastic source of inspiration.


Earlier this week I was looking at the plates of shells in the Seba book and was reminded of my last attempt to make felt shells. Three years later, with much more felting experience under my belt, I had a eureka moment about another way to tackle this.

My first attempt didn’t go too badly, but the proportions weren’t quite right.

felt shell

So I extended the resist at one end, and also added some silk decoration on the outside.

felt shells

You can’t hear the sea when you hold it to your ear, but the view inside is rather lovely. ūüôā

felt shell interior

Blistering (felt) barnacles!

The weather was gorgeous on Sunday so ESP and I headed off to the Salvo Fair at Knebworth House to see if we could find some iron railings for the front garden. I’ve never been to Knebworth – open-air rock concerts aren’t really my thing – but in non-music-festival mode it seemed pretty similar to many other stately homes and grounds.

We had no luck with railings, but there were a couple of exhibitors with some lovely shell collections. Those of you who remember my ill-fated attempts to felt a nautilus shell will know what’s coming – ESP certainly rolled his eyes when I spent more time photographing and buying shells than looking at railings! ūüėČ

But with all the new ideas from Lisa Klakulak’s classes still buzzing round my head, I thought that some of these techniques could bring a new angle to my seashell obsession.

Here’s an example of a barnacle cluster.

shell cluster

And here’s a small test sample in felt.

felt shell cluster felt cluster2

I haven’t shaved, steamed or stuffed the piece yet, but I’m pleased with how it’s turned out.

One thing I am finding with this technique is that the felt be quite bumpy in places – you can see this on the photos. It’s not that I particularly mind this, as it adds more texture, but if I wanted to do a piece with very smooth felt I need to find out why. It’s not happened to me before¬†– any experienced felters out there have any idea why this is?

Felt snail shells

Here’s my first attempt at making some felt snail shells.

The resist was based on a logarithmic spiral cut from plastic, and I had to cut small holes in the back and poke my fingers in to open the inner coils. The coils in the centre were also not defined very well, so I added some stitching (paper string on the larger one and lambswool on the smaller one).

However, in the centre, the shrinkage of the felt has made it too tight, so I decided I needed to use a bigger resist. This time I stitched the coils, using wool, after prefelting and before fulling.

The difficulty with all these shells, however large, is getting access to the centre coils to open them up without cutting holes.

Yesterday my new prodder arrived from Niki and Niki, which may help in reaching some of the inner parts of the outer coils, but still won’t reach the centre. Ladies, can’t you make some kind of flexible prodder that will go around corners? ūüėČ

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!