Inspired by the V&A

Every year the Victoria & Albert Museum holds an art competition, called “Inspired by”  for people on part-time courses. Entrants have to create a piece inspired by work in the collections of the V&A or the Museum of Childhood. Selected works are displayed in the relevant museum in October.

I’m planning to enter some of the indigo felted vessels I’ve made. The pieces that have inspired me are a stoneware sake set by Yamada Hikaru made around 1979, and a 17th-century blue and white porcelain sake bottle, maker unknown.

I love the organic simplicity of the forms of the vessels in the sake set, and I thought I would use indigo dye and shibori, both traditional Japanese techniques, to add the blue and white element.

You’ve already seen some of these, but here’s a photo of the final set. The two larger felt vessels are ombre dyed with indigo, while the five smaller ones are nuno felted with a different yarn or fabric, also dyed with indigo.

Larger felt vessel, ombre dyed with indigo
Smaller felt vessel, also ombre dyed with indigo
Nuno felt pot with silk velvet
Nuno felt pot with cotton muslin
Nuno felt pot with silk chiffon
Nuno felt pot with ombre-dyed crocheted lambswool
Nuno felt pot with cotton gauze

Just have to fill in the entry form now – probably the hardest part!  😉

Frosty the snowman

Back to Morley College today – and time to start thinking about exhibition ideas.

I have a couple of ideas, based around the work I’ve been doing on textures in 3D felt and shells – but I need to hone them down more and focus. I won’t add any more at this stage – just show you what I worked on today.

The first was intended to be a gourd shape, though it looks more like Frosty the snowman! You can’t tell very easily from the picture, but the top  sphere is smaller than the bottom sphere.  The “waist” needs to be more elongated – so I’m going to try using a single resist next time (this was made with two different circular resists felted together).

The second was a small velvet nuno pot. I used the same technique as for the silk nuno pot – but should have used blue wool, as the white coming through is a bit intrusive. But it’s the first time I’ve successfully managed to felt with velvet, so two cheers for that at least!

Now I’m off to Italy for a few days – hopefully for some warmer weather and good food! Ciao bellas – see you all in a week or so!

Felting with velvet

I had a couple of comments earlier this year about felting with velvet. Lord knows I’m hardly an expert – my only previous experience of felting with velvet was a dismal failure: I ended up using machine embroidery to attach the velvet to my nuno scarf!

Looking back, I concluded that the failure was probably due to two factors:

  • there wasn’t enough wool underneath the velvet to help it stick
  • it was probably synthetic velvet rather than silk (I just dug it out of the Morley scraps box, so didn’t know what it was made from).

However, after seeing Lisa Hawthorne‘s work at the Chelsea College MA Textiles Show, which included some lovely velvet felting, I decided to have another go. So I bought some silk velvet. As felting pots inside out seemed to help the wool slubs felt in more effectively, I thought it might work for velvet as well. And this was not nuno,  so there would be more wool that would also encourage felting.

Just to be sure, I checked in Lizzie Houghton’s Creative Felting, which suggested laying “a few wisps” of wool over the top of the velvet to help anchor the velvet. Of course, as I was felting inside out, this meant laying the woolly wisps underneath the velvet, which I laid out face down.

Unfortunately, in my excitement that it might actually work this time, I forgot about the wisps when I laid out the wool on the top half of the resist! What this means is that I ended up with a controlled test pot, the top half of which had no wool on top of the velvet, while the bottom half did.

The results, however, are inconclusive. Most of the velvet did felt successfully, whether anchored by wool on top or not. But the three places where it didn’t felt were on the top half or middle of the pot. So it seems that adding a few strands of wool on top of the velvet is useful but not always necessary for successful felting.

These “anchor” strands may also be useful to prevent the velvet from moving around – as you can see from the photos, the strips of velvet on the top half of the pot moved quite a lot from their initial positions (which I couldn’t see because they were on the inside layer).

However, I do find them a bit intrusive – they tend to obscure the lovely crinkled effect of the velvet that I’m aiming for.

Verdict: Better than my first attempt, but not there yet!

Edited to add that Nicola Brown of Clasheen has also been experimenting with felting velvet – rather more successfully!

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!).