Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Camellamangorayakalcashelmersilk Vest!

Maybe, if you are stuck on one of those projects you just can't seem to complete, this story will give you solace that you are not alone! We all have these stumbles.

In keeping with both my infrequency of posts and my desire to use this blog to record particular projects that were full of "learning" (you could read that to also mean "a pain in the neck"!), I have recorded here my journey thru the final Camellamangorayakalcashelmersilk Vest (I call it the CLG Vest for short).

May I never walk this path again!

About 10 years ago I made few sheets of felt as follows: 1 very fine layer of extrafine merino wool topped with a fine layer of either llama, alpaca, yak, camel, cashmere, or angora (moving from darkest to lightest, top to bottom) and then covered with some very heavy (I was into texture at that time, apparently) wisps of bombyx silk. I didn't take pictures of the pieces, just jumped into making a jacket from them.

Note to self:  don't be so heavy handed with the silk!

I was left with a bunch of scraps, not much bigger than what is pictured below. And at about that time, a lovely and very talented local quilter and teacher (Christine Fries of Loveabideth.com) took a nuno felting class here. In the course of talking with her about felt and about her quilting techniques, we decided she had a lot to offer felters with respect to using freeform machine stitching to create surface design on felt.

So we scheduled a class and in preparation for it she requested any scraps of felt I had so she could play with some different stitching/surface design ideas in advance of the class, which we scheduled for almost a year off.  I gave her some of the scraps from the felt jacket I made (honestly, thinking she was kind of crazy for thinking she could do anything with such small scraps!).

She came back to me a couple of months later with several examples for me to use to entice felters to the workshop. And on the side, she gave me a "reconstructed" new piece of felt from all the scraps of the CLG Vest. It was long and rectangular (should have taken a photo of it) and what she had done was use some creative stitching to stitch together all the little pieces!!! Here is a closeup that maybe will let you see some of the stitching. It is there, but is freeform and so adds to the texture and design of the piece!
 So, with a freeform attachment to my machine and inspired by both Christine's effort and the rug hookers and quilters of early America (who used every bit of viable cloth from old clothes to make rugs or quilts), I decided to take this piece of "refurbished felt" and do something with it.

Note to self: Not every piece of felt must "become" something useable. It's ok to take the learning from it and just throw the tangible part out.

About all I had enough for was a vest. And I didn't really even have quite enough for that. But since I hadn't given Christine all my ends from that project, I pulled out the rest and began stitching them to the piece she gave me. This allowed me to make a large enough sheet to make a vest.

While at the time I remember thinking that once I had cut out the fronts and back and stitched them together I was basically "done" (the hard part behind me!), it turned out that the journey had just begun. (this is the back of the vest pictured below)

Note to self: my ideas/projects are never as easy or as quick as I think they will be!

First, to strengthen the edges, I used some high twist reeled 100% silk thread to stitch a decorative chain around the front opening, neck edge and bottom edge. My intention at that point was to knit a collar using this gorgeous baby alpaca yarn that I had just started stocking called Eco Duo. You can see how lovely it matched the colors and "nature" of the fabric. So this silk chain stitch was not only going to reinforce the delicate edges of the felt, but also serve as a means to pick up stitches.

So I took picked up stitches all along the front neck edge and knit a garter stitch collar using short row shaping and it looked awful. So bad, I didn't take a photo to record it (some things are just so bad you don't need a photo record to remember!). Basically the yarn (a worsted weight) was just too bulky and heavy for the delicate fabric.

So after ripping out the alpaca yarn collar,  I decided that since "bulk" seemed to be the issue with the baby alpaca, I'd just use the 100% reeled silk thread I had stitched around the neckline edge with (see picture, right). I chose the slightly duller white (2nd from the top) to use. I picked up and knit a garter ridge and decided after about 6 ridges that maybe it wasn't  the "bulk" of the alpaca that had bothered me since I didn't like this either! I think I  just really don't like the combination of knitting with felt. I should have known this....I've never liked when weavers sew a jacket and add knitted sleeves, so why I thought I'd like this is beyond me.

Note to self:  remember that you just don't like garments that combine some knitted component with either weaving or felting...so don't go there again!

 Then in an "ah-ha" moment, I wondered why I hadn't made a nuno felted collar? Duh! It would be delicate, in keeping with the "felt" and the same fibers! 

So I nuno felted a collar (see photo right) and was totally underwhelmed by it. So I took that off.
 (BTW....those are safety pins marking where I planned on making a silk frog for the front closure)

At this point that I was so disgusted with the whole project, I let it sit in the shop without a collar for a while. My friend Lynn thought it was ok that way, but I was determined to have a collar.

So my next strategy was to  use a plain white silk chiffon fabric. Sew it on and maybe tuck/ruche it in a few places.

Rather than go thru the bother of sewing it on first and then ripping it out as I had with the 2 knitted collars and the nuno felt collar already, this time I tested the effect by simply draping it on the mannequin as shown below.

I liked that look basically, so went ahead and cut and sewed a silk chiffon collar and then tucked/ruched it here and there.

And hated it.

In disgust, I literally ripped  it off!

I was so frustrated with it this summer, that I remember tossing it into the workshop and deciding to go bake my favorite cake to feel better!

 This was the cake I baked to feel better...chocolate cake with swiss meringue (or as we called it growing up - marshmallow) icing.
It  gave me strength to go try a different silk fabric that Lynn had given me that, which instead of being as sheer as the chiffon was heavier and had a bit of a texture to it.  I didn't like that either and ripped it out as well....but somehow after a piece (or two) of cake, that failure didn't seem so bad!

So I hung the vest back up in its' unfinished, collar-less state in the store for the summer and I've been tempted a few times to sell it to a customer who has asked about buying it on several occasions. I should have just sold it to her so it would be out of my line of vision. But because I had this notion that the vest was "unfinished" and the challenge of figuring out the right collar had eluded me, I just couldn't let it go!

Note to self: Let it go! Especially if a customer wants to buy it! Let it go, let it go!

Around Thanksgiving time I relegated the vest to the back weaving room.There it hung all fall until over XMAS break, while getting out leather to work on my most recent eco-printed bag (putting leather trim on it-so excited about this project!), I came across a piece of white Tibetan lamb and in a flash, knew it was the answer to the collar dilemma.

I've sewn it on (a bit asymmetrically by design) now and FINALLY, am calling the CLG Vest done. Not sure why this version of the collar allows me to say "ok, done" (since I don't really think I like it...no, no, no... don't go there), but I'm not questioning it! It's Done. Fini.  Off my to-finish list. And it feels so good to be free to move onward wihtout this nightmare on my mind!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Quilt Felt Bag : Iteration #2

July has been a time to finish up some old projects, namely completing my 2nd iteration of the QFB (Quilt Felt Bag).
My first QFB (shown left) I adore. There are some messy things about it if you look closely and it was a nightmare to make since I was working out the design process on the fly. But I love the colors and each square's design speaks to me in some way. And, I got to use some gorgeous orange silk fabric my niece brought home for me from her stint in Bangladesh....so it is particularly special.
But as is the case when exploring a new design idea, the execution of this first one gave me all kinds of ideas for making the bag again....both more efficiently and neatly. 
So last year as I was stitching the felt for this first bag, I  felted up new fabric in some lovely neutrals and just this month finally got around to completing the surface design, lining, handles & assembly of it.
It went together SO much more neatly and efficiently than the first. But of course, working on it only gave me new ideas about another approach to the bag!

Since so many customers have asked me to offer this as a class, I plan on starting Iteration #3 (which I expect to be the best, when I return from vacation mid August.
The Quilt Festival must have had some impact on me as now I'm seeing everything in geometrics....
Here is a quick bag I worked up last Thursday night when I wanted a sample for the Silk Paper Making class showing how silk paper could actually be felted INTO  felt fabric and also how it could be stitched ONTO fabric.I'm still braiding the leather handle for this bag....the color of the leather matches the linen nuno felt strip at the top of the bag, perfectly.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Knowing when to hold 'em or when to fold 'em?

What a process this piece has been!

Usually when I take workshops, I'm not vested in the piece I make "being" anything. I don't have to be able to use it, wear it, even like it. I just use it to learn the techniques and explore the options.  I think that "frees' me up to just "play" since I'm not worried about it "coming out".

But for some reason, I felt differently about the piece that I worked on in Sachiko's class last year. And what a roller coaster that has made it!

Note to self - don't EVER AGAIN get vested in a workshop sample!\

At various points through out the year, this piece was in the trash can, the cabinet, the trash can a second time, pinned on a mannequin as a vest, in the trash can a third time and then relegated to a series of cabinets!

It all started as a double-sided,  orikiri and weft felt sample from Sachiko's workshop here last year, which at layout covered 2 tables! Note to self - make smaller samples in the future!

After felting, it measured about 7' x 5': so big I hated wasting it, yet so big and so busy I had no idea what I could use it for! I had learned a lot in the workshop, which was the point, so I should have just tossed the piece and moved on. But there were a couple of "elements" in it that I really liked. And it was so big I hated throwing it out.

Note to self: sample and sample small when exploring a new technique!

So I cut out the elements that I liked and threw away the rest. Now I had about half the fabric I started with!

I played with the saved "elements" thinking maybe I could use them in a bag, but one particular aspect that I had saved said "vest" to me. So I pinned the pieces all together on a mannequin and, pleased with the outcome, went to bed.

The next morning, I got a chuckle at what had the night before had looked good to me....

Could it have been the wine?

 Shown left is the back of the vest....asymmetric with 1 short sleeve off the right shoulder. The only part I liked was the bottom piece....the gold edge with the turquoise 3d flower!

Note to self: hold off on the wine when working thru a design process!


So I took it apart, cut away more pieces, threw them away and repined another vest before, with disgust, tossing it back in a cabinet. I was down to a bare minimum....

Wasn't it Ansel Adams that famously replied, when asked by an interviewer what his favorite piece of equipment was, "the trash can"!

The next time I came across it in the cabinet, I decided maybe a shawl/cape would be a better goal for the pieces. So having reduced the original felt rectangle to the pieces shown above, I took some time to play with various arrangements of the pieces on the table -next couple of photos.

 When I found one I liked, I diligently photographed the layout (since I didn't have time then to stitch it together at that point and knew it needed to go back into the cabinet once again until I had the time to pull it out and stitch it up .

But of course, when I finally found  time a couple of months later to stitch it together, I couldn't find the photos I had taken such care to record the arrangement with, so I was back to square one!

 Note to self: remember where you file photos!

So this  arrangement, shown left, is what I finally ended up with.... Not anything I could/would wear.  I suppose the process of cutting and throwing out, of  arranging and re-arranging, and of "trouble-shooting" some of the issues that came up when I finally pushed thru to stitching it together, taught me some things that I'm sure will come in useful on future pieces.  And in the end, I certainly like this shawl better than any of the earlier shawl arrangements and far better than either vest or the original 8 x 6!

Note to self: less is better, sometimes.

But in retrospect I wish I hadn't gotten so caught up in the outcome of the "sample" piece. Instead, all the time spent working on this piece could have been put into starting fresh and coming up with a piece I might actually be able to wear in Burlington.

Note to self: I work better if I approach workshops as a time to SAMPLE and EXPLORE and NOT CREATE.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

It's been a while!

I had just geared up with lots of new ideas and inspiration for the blog when a yarn rep was visiting and in the course of conversation said that "the people who blog need to get a life"!

And of course that brings me right back to how I felt about blogging when I rather begrudgingly started this, if nothing else, inconsistent blog about everything fibers! I couldn't imagine how I'd find the time to fit it in (and from the long lapses between posts, I obviously still struggle with that!)  and I certainly didn't know why anyone would care to read anything I had to say or share. But encouraged by customers, I launched it and now, probably just as interest in blogs has moved  to the latest  online/social media phenomenon, I'm getting back to it!

ANyway, if for no other reason than  my peri-menopausal mind forgets so much these days,  I feel like I need to record my fiber endeavors for my own sake so I have a record somewhere.  And in the process of  compensating for a bad memory, if  the learning I post from my own experiments is of any use to others, then great!

Lots of experimentation this last year to share, but I'm going to start with the quickest.
Dehairing Cashmere!

I love to felt and spin cashmere....a little goes such a long way and it is so soft and insulating (and if you're selling your finished goods, a bit of "cashmere" in the label goes a long way!). I've always worked from prepared cashmere.

But when in Iceland last month with my sisters, we visited Haafell goat farm, where Johanna has taken the last 4 remaining goats in the entire country and brought back a herd of about 140, preserving the unique genetics of these animals that were brought over and kept isolated for hundreds of years.

While Johanna has mostly focused on the meat, milk and soap side of the goats, she is starting to learn the fiber end of the business and had a bit of her first batch of yarn back from the mill in Norway.  She didn't have any for sale, but had some, no, it was lots, of fleeces piled on a table in the barn. So as my sister Roby (who teaches quite a few classes on spinning mohair) looked eagerly thru the piles for fleeces she might buy for upcoming workshops, she mentioned that some spinners dehair the cashmere themselves using the dryer and taking advantage of static electricity!

Having seen raw cashmere before and looking at the state of the raw fleeces on the table before me, I was skeptical to think that would work. But I was intrigued enough by the "dryer" method of de-hairing, I decided to give it a go.
So first I washed the fleece, primarily because I didn't want goat smell (and worse) in my dryer! After drying it, I put it in knee-hi's and some more open mesh lingerie bags.

I popped them in the dryer under NO HEAT and FLUFF cycle for about 15 minutes and took a peek.
Wow...at first glance, I thought it might be a success since the lint catcher was chock full of coarse hair (see photo above, right). There was a lot of guard hair still caught on the outside of the bags/knee his, but it was easy to pull off (see photo of knee his showing how the guard hair was pulled thru and then the photo of the mesh lingerie bag next to the additional wad of guard hair I was easily able to pull off the outside of the bag. I was pretty optimistic after cleaning the lint trap and pulling what I could from the outside of the bags off...there were a lot of guard hairs in those piles!

But after opening up the knee hi's and mesh bags, I still saw lots of coarse hair remaining. Definitely, the more open mesh bags had worked better, but still they had a ways to go.

So I took the cashmere out, fluffed, plucked and teased it apart so it was even a little more open, thinking the coarse hairs would have more chance to escape. And I tossed the mesh bags back in for another go round.

Again....the lint trap was full....but still so was the cashmere.
So I picked up the phone and called Stillriver mills in CT. They have processed yarn for me in the past and they just did a run of cashmere roving for one of my customers (I'll have that in the store soon) that was lovely. He was nice enough to share with me how the industrial de-hairing equipment works. It is not based on static, but centrifugal force. Apparently the de-hairing equipment is basically like a regular drum carder but that moves at high RPMs so that the finer downy fibers stay stuck to the teeth in the drum and the coarser, slicker & heavier guard hairs are pulled out by the centrifugal force.

With that in mind, I put the bags in for a third try in my high RPM Haier workshop washer....but only on the "spin" cycle.
That also worked, but still lots of hair remaining (see photo left of opened cashmere after 2 dryer runs and 1 in the Haier spin cycle).
I think with about another hour of high RPMs, dryer sheets and plucking out a bit of hair between sessions, I probably will have 90% of it removed and I'll enjoy spinning up enough yarn to knit a scarf or shawl as a remembrance of our visit to Johannas, but if given the chance to buy a "raw" cashmere fleece again, I think I'll adopt the attitude "been there, done that"!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Felting Challenge Invitation!

My sisters came for a Labor Day felting party and between the conversation, laughs, nibbling and Vana Tallin, I managed to share a couple of the techniques I learned in Sachiko's workshop with Wendy and Roby while Joany & I made bags for Anniemae Koenen's upcoming Felt Yurt Bag workshop here. The bag is incredibly dull....a perfect canvass for stitching....but it used up the last of a jet black Karakul lamb fleece I had. So I feel really good about "finishing something up"! Yeah....one less thing to store.

As a result of this Labor Day diversion,  I confess I haven't made a lot of progress on the two bags I'd been so focused on before...so still neither the Cotswold nor the Quilt Squares (shown left) is quite done yet. I did at least get a handle on it...but still a closure and some final stitching to do)!

And now I've got to turn my attention to the next "challenge" that my little felting group and I are working on.

Are there any felters out there reading this that are up for joining our "challenge"?

 I want to invite any of you who are felters to join our little group thru this blog! These 4 friends and I meet  monthly to motivate, inspire, show & tell, and  trouble shoot our felting endeavors  (and share a few laughs, catch up, eat!) . Plus, each month we pick out a "challenge" from a hat (which we filled with bits of paper listing all sorts of ambiguous felting ideas we wanted to explore). Then we reconvene a month or so after we've each had a chance  to explore/play with that "challenge" on our own. When we get together again we bring our sample challenge to the meeting and share our thoughts & experiences of the challenge with each other.

It's a great way to make yourself explore some new technique, design concept, color, or other element that you might not undertake on your own.  You know...stretch your creativity a bit. And for me, its a great way to force some samples....I have a way of jumping right into a big project because my time feels limited and this forces me to work samples, which is a good discipline.

Anyway, it occurred to me after some conversations at Sachiko's workshop, that other felters might like to participate - virtually!  So if you're interested, our "challenge" this month is

"6 inches square"

We're meeting on the 23rd of the Sept., so if you are so inclined to explore something within that challenge description, send me a photo of what you explored along with any comments you may have about it and I'll post it on the blog that following week along with the "live" group's challenges/comments.

And if anyone has any "challenge" topics to contribute, we're open to ideas. In the past we've done "texture", "self-portrait", "inlay", "interpreting photographs", "blue", "whats in is out"....just to give you an idea of the range of ambiguity!

 Anyway....if you're so inclined, we'd love to have you join us! Just email me your challenge at northeastfiberarts@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Go with the flow!

I'm generally one to "go with the flow" when it comes to my felt projects.  I always start with an idea or plan in mind....a color scheme and a basic form or project, an approach and an idea of the desired outcome... but then I usually feel free to go where the project takes me as it starts to take shape and develop.  Often this approach takes me down paths I didn't anticipate and I enjoy many happy little discoveries enroute. But I see felting friends who start with a specific idea and work thru frustrations and changes to make it come out how they envisioned, so I've often questioned whether my modus operandi when it comes to felt, was good.

So my  two current felt bag projects have been an interesting case study for me in this regard.  One of them,  the Cotswold bag, I've been approaching the way I usually do....an idea in mind and going with the flow. The other bag, by quilt felt bag,  is one I'm trying hard to see thru as my original design idea was envisioned. And what a difference between these experiences!

For this quilt felt bag,  I did have a specific visual in mind and I'm determined to see it thru!   No "happy little discoveries" here. I've definitely learned some things and am happy with certain aspects of the project, just as with my cotswold bag, but sticking to a hard and fast original idea makes what usually I think of as "happy little discoveries" feel like " pain in the neck roadblocks"! 

From earlier posts, you know the genesis of this felt quilt bag project....my attempts to complete it, continue! With a bit of angst.

Since 4 of the 29 squares I needed were MIA this spring,  I had to recreate them.

Then because I didn't think about how much shrinkage the zig-zag stitch (which  I used to attach the felt design squares to the background felt) would cause, I had to resquare the squares to a smaller size - now I'm down to 4.5" square!

Before heading to Sebago for a vacation, I was determined to complete the bag, so I pinned it all together and -ICH! It was too much on the eye!  I can be bold in my tastes, and I love contrasts (the pumpkin oranges and blues is not for everyone), but this was too too much!

I realized that there's no place to rest the eyes on my bag as originally intended!  Quilts use an array of fabrics and some of the fabrics allow the eye to rest. My bag was all of one fabric - true, each square is unique but the basic colors and arrangement are the same - and it was too much.

Determined to stick with my original idea, I decided to intersperse some solid blue blocks among the fancy felt squares to give the eye a place to rest. But that didn't really help, so I left for vacation thinking the 29 pumpkin squares for my bag were going to become 3 pillows and 2 coasters when I returned!

But I've decided I just need to see this bag thru as originally conceived.  So I stitched all my squares to a lovely piece of pumpkin colored silk fabric this weekend and I've pinned it together... again (photo above)....and tonight I'm tackling the handles and final stitching so I can cross it off my to-do list.   Maybe when all is said and done, I'll feel happy with this bag, but rigidly sticking with the original idea has been a frustrating experience for me. And this experience has confirmed for me that it's ok to start with a general idea and go with the flow! No need, if you're not filling a custom order, to stick to the original plan! The experience is more positive, for me anyway, if I can go with the flow....as I have on the Cotswold bag...

After all my excitement figuring out how to make the "tricky braid" (see starting piece of leather for a 3 part braid right and it's resulting braid top)  I've determined these handles are just not the right aesthetic for the bag. At first I thought it was just that I'd made the first set of handles using thicker 3 part braids (photo above right) so I made a set of finer 5 part braids (photo below). But that didn't do it either!  So I'm back to the drawing board on how to deal with the handles for that bag! But I have 2 sets of Tricky Braid handles for future bags!

When all is said and done, I'll be curious to see if the outcome is better with one approach than the other. Certainly from a process standpoint, I know I prefer the  "go with the flow" approach!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dad was right!

My father always used to say that time passed faster the older he got. In my teens, I'm sure I rolled my eyes...."sure Dad".  During my twenties and thirties, feeling invincible & as if time and the possibilities in life were limitless,  I smiled..."I know, Dad" (even tho' I didn't really "get it"). But in my early forties, I began to experience it myself! And now....WOW...where does the time go?
Or maybe time is the same and it's just that we're not as efficient & fast at things as we used to be that we can't accomplish as much as we think we should?

Well, whatever the explanation for this phenomenon,  I clearly need to adjust to it!
Having organized the workshop (yeah...now all 62 knitting, felting & spinning projects in the queue are neatly labelled!) I truly expected that in my free time last weekend I could complete 3 experimental felt bag projects I had in various stages of completion. Yet I finished  only 1 of them! And it's not like I sat around eating bon-bons all weekend (tho' I did get side-tracked reading an advance copy of the next Chief Inspector Gamache investigation by Louise Penney)!

Anyway, the freshly washed Cotswold fleece that I introduced last post was taking up so much room in the workshop, I split it into 3 color/fiber groups. The finest and most lustrous of the locks are a gorgeous silvery grey (see photo left). I packed the silvery grey and medium grey into a bin for a future spinning project. The coarsest and darkest fibers (far right in photo) I carded on the Petite by Strauch and this is what I felted with this week.

I still can't get over how fine this particular Cotswold ram lamb fleece is!  I guess this is why I enjoy trying new fibers I haven't worked with before.....I end up being surprised that the reality is different from my preconceived notions!
It felted SO quickly and densely...like many of the Scandinavian wools I've used (C1, Gottland, spelsau). Because I wanted to add leather trim to this bag, and I hadn't worked with leather in a while, I had to refresh my memory on some techniques so I don't have the finished bag to show and tell yet. But I can share a view of this little test handle I worked out. I'm thrilled to have figured out what is called a "tricky braid"....tricky because it is a braid formed with both ends intact! So I've now cut out larger lengths of leather and am making the handles for the Cotswold bag using this newly discovered braid.

But having conquered the "tricky braid" last  Sunday, I learned that the Vermont Quilt Festival was in town this weekend. So I decided I had to turn my attentions to a quilt inspired bag I started last year, just after the 2011 VQF! Where does time go?! Inspired by the quilts at the festival, I had designed and felted  27 unique squares, and then after taking Christine Fries machine stitching workshop here last November, I practiced my machine embroidery/stitching on the squares (while learning about my new machine). So this weekend, I pulled the squares out again, determined to complete the bag before the festival ends on Sunday. I felted a larger piece of felt in an interesting blue for some contrast and I  am stitching the original squares onto this so I will have bigger (5" sq) squares to work with in assembling the bag.

But I got so side-tracked playing with various configurations in which the different squares could be assembled, that I haven't yet assembled the bag!

So in the end, the only bag I actually finished was one that I used to test out a new closure that I'm stocking in the store. This bag I felted using a jet black Karakul lamb fleece on the inside (so it would be nice and dense) and a gently carded (I left some of the locks un-teased because I wanted a textural element in the felt surface) Border Leicester  cross that I had dyed a lovely gold. The bag design is not so special (tho' I love the surface color and texture of the felt), but I am very pleased with this closure, so am happy with the experiment's results. And glad to at least check one project off the "to-do" list!