Friday, 27 February 2009

Merry Go Round

Jump on our merry go round and join a group of artists/crafts-women as they link hands around the world and tell you a little about their lives and art.

We are group of 7 women from all over the world
, we have got together in what would constitute an example of peaceful idea exchange and diplomacy, and agreed to come to our blogs once a month and share a bit more about ourselves.
We choose a question and all of us have to answer it in our blogs. It will be very interesting to read what each of us has to say, taking in account how much our lives and crafts differ.

This months question is:
"explain how you do your craft".

----My main craft these days is wet felting. I say "main" because I also draw, paint, weave, do ceramics and whatever else crosses my path :)

Felting is a millenary art, it is the oldest form of fabric making known to man. Remains of objects have been found in the permafrost in Siberia from 600AC. The problem with finding felt remains is that wool desintegrates with time. It is estimated that it was used waaaay before that (Turkey, 6500BC).
The art made with felt is typical of many nomad tribes from Central Asia: rugs, tents, clothing, household items. Kyrgystan exports the "felted" art.
In the last years it has resurged among artisans. Wool, it's main ingredient, is very versatile, soft and durable. And eco-friendly! There are many varieties of wool and the hair of camelides (camels, llama, guanaco, etc) can also be used for felting... any hair can be felted! I met a lady once who kept the hair falling from her dog and later on she made herself a hat with it! :) Tastes....

Anyway, there is a lot of info on handmade felt on the net if you really want to hear about it's history. I don't want to make this post tooooo long.

"How do I do my craft"? Well, for wet felting* you need wool roving (washed and combed wool but not yet spun into yarn), soap and warm water. A surface with some kind of texture like a bamboo mat or a bubble wrap or the lid of a plastic box... anything with a surface which can take water!
The process of felting itself happens when wool gets wet, it's microscopical scales open and by rubbing it with a bit of preassure, these fibers get interlocked. The soap acts as a lubricant so the rubbing and interlocking is easier. You know how you are not supposed to put a wool jumper/sweater/pullover in the washing machine? or else you end up with something half its original size? Well, that's because the wool has felted with the warm water, the soap and the movement and rubbing against other clothes inside the machine! By rule, when you felt something, you always have to take in account around 30% or shrinkage...

Anyway, I have made a small little piece of flat felt just to give you a better idea. I've tried to take some pictures to illustrate. Hope they explain this a bit better.

First you lay your textured surface, in my case bubble wrap. Get yourself some hot water. I turn the kettle off just before boiling. I like it really hot. The hotter the easier it felts, because the scales open up faster. Proof of the hot water is in my now roughed hands. Hot water and soap are not very good -daily and for a prolonged time- to your skin. However, each felter decides how warm the water should be. Whatever your hands can take would be the rule.

So, by holding the roving with one hand, pull very gently some small, thin puffs of wool with your other hand and place it on the bubblewrap:

You lay a couple of layers (one in vertical direction, the next in horizontal direction...and so on). How many layers and other details depend on what you will be making. But this is a rough idea.

Once you have done this, you will sprinkle well the wool with hot soapy water.( Don't pour water on it because the fibers will move all over the place and you will end up with a wooly mess! )
I then fold the bubblewrap over onto the wet wool and gently press down. Wool doesn't get wet very easily so one has to...insist! Another good thing about wool then, it's water proof! (to a certain extent obviously...).

Now you start rubbing without too much preassure. I first do it with the bubblewrap on top of the wool and a few minutes later y open up that bubblewrap-wool-bubblewrap sandwich and with wet soapy hands start working the surface. Again, you don't need strength, just patience! It takes a bit of time to do it and work it evenly.

There is a test (I forgot to take a pic, sorry!), call the "pinch-test" which tells you when the wool is felted (first stage) and you need to start fulling. The "pinch test" you do by grabbing the wool between your index and thumb, if it stays in place and doesn't come off, then it has passed the test and you can move on to the next stage. Otherwise, keep rubbing!

Stage 2: Fulling: fold the bubble wrap over and make that sandwich again. Then roll it up! And applying even pressure on the whole "package" you end up with, start rolling back and forth!

How many times you do it, depends on how big your piece is. 50rolls? open, check that everything is ok, roll back again and keep on going. There is a whole thing about trusting your touch more than your eyes with felting. You can tell better with your hands that something is well felted, than with your eyes...and also a bit of experience helps as well!

Some people also use a bamboo mat for rolling the piece and rubbing. It is quite effective but I find too that it can damage a bit the surface. Sometimes, I roll it in the bubblewrap and then the bamboo mat on top.

The more you roll and felt, the more it shrinks. And the more than happens the harder the fabric becomes. When you are done (this is more of a feel again, experience), you unroll and rinse with cold water.

Now, the following step is optional. Some people do the "vinegar bath". Chemistry here: wool likes a more acid emviorment and soap is a base (alcaline). So, by letting the felted item bath in a bowl with water and vinegar what you do is balancing the PH of the wool back to a middle - more neutral enviorment. This helps too to take the rests of soap out and hence getting brighter colors. Restoring the more balanced PH of the wool also ensures longer durability (soap eats up fiber slowly).

And now you let dry flat somewhere undisturbed.

There is of course the risk of water all over the place and making a mess in your house. Many people work on the kitchen counter. I have massive wood all over my house... so I have no scape than just be very careful and try not to spill too much water. Our oak dinning table has taken a beating with all the felting I've done on it..... sorry......

So, that's it. This was a very basic step by step just to give people a slight idea. It's not meant to be a super precise tutorial of anything like that. Experimenting is always how one learns, and later yarn, silks, bamboo, tencel different fibers much can be added, even fabrics for nuno-felt. But that is another post! :)

If anyone is interested in giving this a shot, these two lovely girls have great supplies at very cool prices:

Sara, from Sara's texture Crafts and Monika from Softfiber.

* there is also "needle felting, which is done by pocking the wool with especial, scaled sharp needles. This process does not require the use of water. Mainly used for wool sculptures and details on wet felting.

Do please check the rest of the girls from the Merry-go-round to learn about so many different techniques!


Easterya said...

Impressive and very interesting read! I had no idea about felting and the time it takes for a piece to be constructed... This makes me appreciate your work even more!!!

florcita said...

Hello girl!
It actually takes even longer if you are doing a more complicated piece like a bag, or something with colors, slippers... you know, this was basics!

meherio68 said...

I'll definitely have to bookmark this page.

I bet you are great at making maki too!

Ruth said...

I know when I tried felting I was surprised at how long it took and how tiring it was. Not that it's a lot of hard work - but it just goes on for a while! Great description. Feels like this is the start of a series for you! "Felting guides by Florcita".

Lily Pang said...

So interesting to me. It's so complicated, like making sushi.


painted fish studio said...

wonderful tutorial! a friend has been wanting to make a scarf with wool that we dyed last summer. i'm going to share this with her and we'll give it a try!

'fancypicnic' said...

Flo, this is fantastic! I have tried a couple of times, but like Ruth, I thought it 'went on' a bit...but this has inspired me! I want to have another go!!

Your pics were great too. I just need to have more patience and not try to rush it. I think I made it too wet, too....

Thanks for sharing! xx

luy said...

me encanta como lo as explicado
gracias por el tuto ,ahora estoy con un zapato , me encanta la lana cardada es muy agradecida

ArtMind said...

What a wonderful idea to share crafts all over the world like that! You've done a great job explaining felting! :) And what a happy result! :)

florcita said...

Oh Dear, what is maki??? GOOGLEE!!!! :)

Ruth, it does take a long time. It is a proof of patience really.

Lily! ahahah yeah, but sushi is yummy and can be eaten!

Fishy, that was a very basic step by step, if you guys have any questions...don't hesitate to ask please!

Charlotte, yeah, too wet...too soapy...I think I've just now after almost a year of felting have found the right balance in all of these. It is ver difficult to say "how much" one has to put on of water or soap... it's very unprecise thing this felting business! hahaha and yeah, it testes my patience too...which isn't that good either!

Luy, de nada. Si hay algo en lo qeu pueda ayudar... ya sabes donde encontrarme!

Mitsy, if you are interested in joining the merry-go-round... just let me know... we will be glad to add another talented artist to the group!

Andreanna said...

Wow taht is really cool!
Part of me wants to try felting and part of me thinks I have enough obsessions!

Pam de Groot said...

Good explanation! There are more steps than you think isn't there? Some of them are so automatic you forget when you are photographing. I did a quick one on hats and realised I'd left out some very important parts. I think people will be encouraged to have a go.

florcita said...

Andreanna... is there such a thing as enough obsessions?? hahaah not enough room in a normal house to keep everything!

Pam, it is true! I had written a much longer post with more steps and I came back and forth... it took me hours really! but then I thought, this can not be as long as a book, so...let's minimize it. But then again, I forgot about the pinch test, about screens, shock felting...and so many more things!

Sara's Texture Crafts said...

Thank you for the mention!
This was such a great introduction to wet feltmaking I wondered if you wouldn't mind me using it on Working with Felt, in the Learning centre? I will of course add a link to your Working with Felt page, so that people can find you and your work.
Email me and let me know,
Sara xxx

Anonymous said...

Marian, I just wonder, when do you do all of this different craft plus you blog so often??? Do you ever sleep? :)
Thanks for the link to my etsy! ox

florcita said...

Go ahead Sara!
Monika, no, not really. i don't sleep more than 5 to 6 hours a day... nto because I don't want but because my son doesn't...he is 2.5yrs old and has never slept more than 6 hours in a row... so...guess who gets up with the kid?

Anonymous said...

Oh, poor you!!! We went through this with the first one, getting up at 4.30 am... then I admire you even more! But - it WILL PASS! ox

reya said...

Great tutorial Mari!
Saving fur/hair from your pets isn't a crazy idea. Whenever my bunny molts in the summer I save his fur.
No animals were harmed, and I get incredibly soft rabbit fur for felting.

florcita said...

Thanks Monika... he is sleeping better these days...but not 10hours LOL

Reya, we all know you are crazy... leave Zoey alone!

Le Moulin Joly said...

QuĆ© buena explicaciĆ³n. Gracias por compartirla! Vengo de tu flickr y me encanta todo lo que haces.
Un saludo,


florcita said...

Hola Laura! Gracias! Ya te vi ahie n el Flickr... nos seguimos viendo entonces! :)

painted fish studio said...

my friend and i made scarves tonight using your tutorial, and we are ecstatic! they turned out perfectly. thank you!

Marian said...

you are welcome! :) glad I could be of help.

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emily howard said...

THANK YOU! My children and I went on a road trip to buy roving and dyes and had a harrowing but exciting experience dying with mason jars and a canner. This tutorial will take us to the next step of felting our roving and eventually making mittens for Christmas gifts!

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