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"! 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 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

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 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 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 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 ( 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 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!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Working off the Stash...

It's been a while since I've posted. Time was hard to find this year. And, frankly, my usual enthusiasm and passion for all things fibers was MIA last year too.  I came back from the "5 sisters" trip to Gotland, Estonia & Russia so inspired, but somewhere along the line I lost focus. Well,  we all go thru those phases at some point so I'm guessing you understand that. 

But  taking a semester of millinery in the University of Vermont's Theater Dept. to fine tune my hat making skills and now some recent changes at the shop have reinvigorated my enthusiasm in a HUGE way. My creative mind is firing on all cylinders again and the project ideas are coming in at a mile a minute!

But where to start? So many bags of yarns, fiber and fleece surrounding me.  And I want to dive into them all!

But I have to start somewhere. So here it is!

This isn't the oldest much for FIFO!  Ironically, this is probably the ONLY fiber I don't even have a project in mind for!  I bought the fleece at Maryland Sheep & Wool in early May  - smitten at first sight with it's lustrous locks.  It is barely even dry from having washed it over the weekend!  

But it is the project that is out and on the table. So I may as well start here...after all, it occupies the work space so in order to start with something else I'd have to pack this away. And that's just an extra step!  

So the Cotswold fleece it is that I start with. This is from a lamb ram in California. It is GORGEOUS. I wish you could feel it. It is so surprisingly soft and fine for Cotswold. Anyway, I separated it into 3 basic colors (see photo above). The lighter is finest and most lustrous and the darkest is coarsest. In fact, as you can see from the photo here that some of the darkest is coarse and has a very different lock structure, so I think I now need to go back and sort just the darkest color into two categories.....the coarse (far right)  and not-so-coarse dark (3rd lock from the left). For reference, the lightest lock on the left is 6" long.

I'm thinking at this point that I will felt a project with the darkest/coarsest.....I'm thinking a yurt bag?  That way I get to see how Cotswold felts and, providing it felts well based on the sample I intend on doing first, I'll have a bag to embellish when Annemai Koenen is here from the Netherlands for some felting workshops in October.

The lighest grey and medium greys are so lustrous, soft and rich that I definitely plan on spinning the search for a pattern is on! I've had a classic pattern from an old (8 years ago maybe) Knits magazine dog-earred and it might be just right.