Sunday, July 01, 2007
We felt groovy
This is a long overdue post of a felt making workshop that Fitzy K and I attended a few weeks back. It was at Virginia Farms at Annangrove, Sydney, a place where they run spinning, weaving, and felt making workshops throughout the year, and also sell unsprun, carded wool retail, with a small shop front or by mail order.
This particular workshop was on 'nuno felting'. Now last year when Fitz and I did our first feltmaking workshop on molded felt (ie seamless 3d constructions like bags and booties) we heard of the mysterious world of nuno felting, but actually misheard it and thought they were saying 'nano felting' which we assumed was because the processes of the fibre were all so small and not visible to the eye. Aaah. No. It's nuno.
Apparently, although this is hearsay and I stand to be corrected, the process of nuno felting is relatively recent - 'invented' as it were, at an Australian feltmaking convention back in the 90's. It involves attatching animal fibres (sheep wool, llama wool, alpacca, silk) to a finely woven fabric like silk chifffon or cotton gauze, and through the usual process of wetting and agitation of the fibres, allowing the fibres to fasten on to the underlying fabric, to 'felt' on, and therefore attach and make one textile.
It is used a lot for scarves and shawls, where patches of the underlying fabric are left exposed, and are sheer, and the felted area puckers and pulls the fabric around it, making some interesting textures. One of the benefits of this technique is that you have good structural strength supplied by the fabric underneath, and so don't have to apply such a thick layer of felt, you can do quite fine, flexible and subtle felting (yes, there is such a thing!).
This particular workshop introduced the technique of applying orbital sanders to agitate the wool fibres, simulating what you do by hand, but being much quicker. You appply the orbital sander directly to your wetted wool, and you (needless to say?) don't have sandpaper on it. Instead you attach a small swatch of rubber of some kind, like the 'rug gripper' rubber that is textured and soft and you can buy on the roll to go under large rugs. You apply the sander to one patch at a time, holding it still and not pressing down. You need to not use a sander which sucks in air to a bag though, as otherwise it will suck in water - not a good look to mix electricals and water. Otherwise it seems quite safe, the 'motor' bit of most orbital sanders is up in the handle region and the bit that touches the wet wool is inert (of course before trying at home, talk to your hardware puveyor, read the instructions, etc). Oh, and regardless, probably good to use a safety switch at the wall, just in case, we did in the workshop, the teacher was very strict about it.
The orbital sander works like magic, it does the prefelting process in a matter of seconds (as opposed to taking 10's of minutes by hand). At the end you still need to finish the felting processs by hand, by immersing in boiling water and cold water and by wringing it out and agitating teh fibres in all directions etc.
In one day of the 2 day workshop I was able to do quite a large piece, a scarf/shawl which is around 2.8 metres long and 50cm wide. I felted a soft mint/moss green onto same coloured fabric, and put busy scrolls and curlices down to contrast with the plain colours, leaving lots of fabric unfelted to show through. Fitz covered alll of her fabric, using multicoloured wool and putting swirls and lines on top, using the underlying cottton fabric for structural support, allowing for a thin, more even coverage.
The most obvious down side of using the sander for the process was probably the noise. I was still a bit seedy from earlier in the weekend and found that when there was mjore than one sander on in the room the mix of noises, along with people talking was a bit headache-inducing. I had to waer earmuffs and go out for breaks fairly regularly just to get some quiet. Also you can feel it in your hands after a while, and my memory of OHS studies reminds me that people who do a lot of jackhammering or drilling can get 'white finger', I suspect that wont happen in just doing a small piece, but if doing a lot of 'sanding' breaks are probably good for your circulation too.
Oh, and I suppose I also felt a bit like it was cheating, using a power tool to make something by hand, when felting is otherwise such a gently, hands on, tactile experience. I guess it just depends on your particular ratio of desire to engage in process vs need for output vs time available vs excitement at making finished things. And i suppose people use electric sewing machines, electric drills and saws etc alll teh time, so lots of things made by hand are helped by machines. Up to you realy, and definitely worth having both techniques up your sleeve if you want to enter the world of feltmaking :)
[Photos: First photo is Fitz's piece dry, before felting. Great colours huh?
Second photo is dry wool layed down on the fabric ready to be wet and felted.
Third photo is close up of my scarf after felting.
Fourth photo is looking down the felted scarf, still wet. When it dries the colours are much more similar.
Fifth photo is a close up of Fitz's scarf after felting.
Sixth and lucky last photo is looking down same scarf, and you can see a join, where she used a second piece of fabric to extend into a longer piece.]