Archive for the 'tutorial' Category

Felting a Sheepskin, Minus the Skin

There are projects and then there are projects that live in your dreams. Felting a large sheepskin, a fluffy felt rug, has been on my to-do list just about since I started felting. For one reason or another, I put it off. I was intimidated at the prospect of working with a raw fleece, full of vegetable matter and animals waste. But a trip to Lopez Island,  where I met Maxine of Island Fibers, followed by a peek at the work of a Dutch feltmaker was just the push I needed to get started*. I bought a  Rambouillet fleece in the grease, plus some shiny Border Leicester locks from Maxine.

I started with my largest piece of bubble wrap, also sold as solar pool cover, then laid down a small bamboo blind followed by a long sheet of 2mm plastic. I laid out a layer of fine merino top to create the base for my sheepskin. To keep the shingles of wool from blowing away, I sprayed down my work with soapy water every 15 seconds.

Next, I pulled out a bunch of Rambouillet locks. This must have been a very young sheep, or else a very tidy specimen because the wool was so clean the locks didn’t really hold together when I pulled them out of the bag. I was hoping to keep the locks intact, but there wasn’t enough matted wool.

Once the wool was wet and soapy, I folded the plastic over the top of the wool and then rolled up the bamboo blind, tying it together with three strips of fabric. Using my legs to roll, since I didn’t have a table set up outside, I ran out of steam pretty quickly. Two sessions of rolling for four minutes was about all I could handle. The bundle flattened out quickly and I was worried about the felt shifting inside the bundle. So, I unwrapped the package in order to work it flat for a bit.

Working it with my bare feet was the most glorious part of the process. If you don’t know the feeling of wet locks between your toes, you haven’t lived. It is better than sand, much better. The wet, soapy plastic was pretty slick; it crossed my mind that landing flat on my behind in a puddle of dirty water would be an inglorious end. It was tough to tell whether I was doing much besides washing the wool. From the color of the water puddling in the solar pool cover, it was obvious that a lot of matter was coming off the fleece.

After a few minutes of slipping and sliding, I moved inside. I rinsed the fleece gently in the laundry sink, then rolled it up in another piece of bubblewrap to work it in my rolling machine. After twenty minutes rolling slowly, I pulled it out to full it on my glass washboard. This took another thirty minutes, with lots of extra hot water and olive oil soap. I had just enough time to rinse and spin it in the washing machine before leaving to pick-up my son from school.

The resulting fleece was close to what I had imagined. I couldn’t stop fingering the locks once I made it back home. The locks are incredibly soft, impossible to resist. This is not a perfect piece, but it is a great start and I have lots of great ideas for the next iterations.

Next time, I will add another layer of merino, perpendicular to the first to give the locks a slightly thicker base. I was really hoping to get lots of long locks standing up from the fleece. Instead, I have patches of locks with patches of felt bubbles. My guess is that the long locks are from the dirtiest bits which were matted together with lanolin and dirt. The cleanest wool felted to itself, creating the flat portions. Seeing how well some of the wool felted, I will spread out the wool before I start to lay it out so I can separate the cleanest wool from the dirty locks, to create a middle layer of clean wool in between the merino wool top and the locks.

In the meantime, I have a lovely faux sheepskin to cover the cracked vinyl upholstery on the drivers’ seat of my Volvo wagon.

*In the interest of full disclosure, this is not intended as an authoritative tutorial as it was my first try working on something outside of my experience. I documented my process and examined the results to see what I could learn. I’m sharing my observations to encourage anyone else interested in trying. Inspiration and direction was gathered here and here.

*April 2011 update: after watching Tricia Stackle‘s no-roll method of felting, I’ve given up rolling my sheepskins in a blind or bubblewrap. Rub-a-dub-dub, it is all in the hands.

Stencil Day

Two weeks ago, I offered to teach the parents in our Attachment Parenting Craft Group how to create freezer paper stencils.

We started with graphics I downloaded from Stencilry; another source is Microsoft Clip Art.

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Jennifer had great success tracing cookie cutter animals and cutting out the image with scissors; she made nine shirts with her older son after trying unsuccessfully to get an image cutout with my dull Exacto knife blade.

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Freezer Paper is coated on one side, and plain paper on the other. It is available in most grocery stores.

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Tools of the trade: freezer paper, a wide sponge brush, and fabric paint. Versatex is sold at art supplies store as a silk screen ink; Artist and Craftsman Supply in the u-district sells a 4 oz bottle for $4.49. The ink is very thick, creating a nice opaque finish on a dark shirt, just be careful that it is applied in a smooth, even layer. Neopaque by Jacquard is a fabric acrylic; I found this 2.25 oz jar at Pacific Fabricsfor $4.99. It has a very thin, watery consistency, which seeped under the edges of my stencil, and dripped on the t-shirt when I tried to pour it onto my sponge brush; I wouldn’t recommend it, though if it is the only thing available, it will do the job. SoSoft by DecoArt had the best consistency of the three, though I had to apply several coats to get the coverage I wanted. The squeeze bottle made it easy for little hands to use, without risking a large spill. It cost about $1.50 for a 1 oz bottle at JoAnn Fabrics.

If you are just getting started, I would recommend SoSoft because you can get several colors with little upfront investment to see if you enjoy the process. Don’t forget to pick up some new blades for your Exacto knife while you are out.

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Alden chose a fish, which Rima traced and then cut out with the Exacto knife; Alina stayed close to her mom offering moral support and encouragement.

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When the design was cut out, Alden ironed the freezer paper to his mom’s shirt, and then ironed the negative to a piece of fabric. Make sure the iron is really hot, to ensure a firm seal on the inside edges.

He used a wide paint brush to move the ink around after squeezing it out of the bottle. We hung the shirts up to dry, and then two weeks later, peeled off the freezer paper. The ink should dry in less than eight hours, though the directions specify 24 hours. Fabric paints need to be heat set, so run the hot iron over them after you have peeled away the paper.

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Rima said she has the perfect shirt in mind for the fabric patch, and her well-love shirt just got a little brighter.

My apologies to any faithful readers who have seen bits of this process repeated on previous posts. A new mom to our group asked today if all of the info was in one place, and I realized I didn’t really have it collected in a single post. There you are Paola! You are ready to go!

Freeform Flower

I think this is one of those posts where pictures say more than 1000 words. This was my process for creating a 3D felt flower out of the scraps leftover after creating my first flower from a single piece of thick pre-felt.

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This is the base of the flower, upside down, since I’m forming the bottom of the batt.

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Lay some scraps on top of the tiny little batt.

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Add a little yellow for the stamen.

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Put the dowel in the middle, pour hot, soapy water on the middle and load up the bubble wrap.

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Wrap up the flower; roll, roll, roll.

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Unwrap often to check the progress; pull apart the leaves if they start to stick to each other too much. The petals of this flower look very wispy because I started with such a thin batt.

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Stop when it looks finished. I needle felted several flowers and some buds made out of scraps to a long, thin felt rope; then added some freshwater pearls and called it good.

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Forming Felt Flowers

I’ve started experimenting with forming three dimensional objects, specifically felt flowers. Following are some pictures from my work in progress:

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1. After creating a multi-layered batt, I squirted it with a solution of hot, soapy water, then rolled it in a rectangle of bubble wrap.

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2. I unfurled the bubble wrap after rolling it back and forth fifty times to check on the progress. Since I want this to continue felting in a 3D shape, I decided to stop before the piece of flat felt became too rigid.

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3. Needing a rough guide for cutting, I created a template out of a recycled cereal box and laid it over the flat felt.

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4. Cut away the shape.

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5. Fold it over a thin dowel and load it up with more hot, soapy water solution.

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6. Wrap it up again, this time securing it with rubber bands to keep the package secure; roll, roll, roll.

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7. Unwrap to check on the progress; the flat felt should start to become solid around the end, and the petals will start to stick to each other.

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8. Stop when it achieves the shape you like and hang to dry.

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To finish this piece off, I created a stem by wrapping roving around a piece of floral wire. A tip I read in Hand Felted Jewelry and Beads by Carol Huber Cypher suggested wrapping the wire in floral tape to help the wool adhere to the wire. Make sure you bend the tips of the wire to create a blunt end. The stem is attached to the flower with a little needle felting and voila!

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Making a Piece of Flat Felt

I recently posted pictures of a box I created from a piece of flat felt. It seems only right to show the steps involved in creating a piece of flat felt. My method is derived from instructions available on Pat Sparks amazing Feltmaker’s List FAQ. Variations on these instructions are provided in the first two books I picked up: The Art of Feltmakingby Anne Einset Vickerey and The Weekend Crafter: Feltmaking: Fabulous Wearables, Jewelry & Home Accents by Chad Alice Hagen.

Start by laying out a batt with alternating layers of wool roving. If you want a heavy, thick piece, try using a coarse wool like Jacob or Icelandic. I wanted my piece to be supple and pliable enough for sewing, so I used dyed New Zealand merino wool top. I also wanted it to be fairly thin finished, so I created two layers with my green base color, and then added bits of accent color and silk noil. Four layers of merino will give you a thicker fabric that is still very soft. Pat Sparks also has a great reference chart listing how well various wools felt.

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Pour a little hot, soapy water over your batt. I use a squeeze bottle because I can control how much water I add to the pile. You can’t really go wrong with soap, but in this very first round, you don’t want the fibers swimming in water as they won’t hold together as you’ve placed them.

With a sheet of bubble wrap under my batt, and a piece on top, I rolled it up using a wooden handle I stole from our croquet set.

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Roll this package back and forth until you are bored, which isn’t very long for me.

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Unroll the bundle to check on the progress. Tuck in the wispy ends if you want a clean edge, pull and tug it square if you are hoping for a uniform shape, and rotate it 90 degrees to ensure even felting throughout the piece. Add more soap and hot water to help the felting process along; the excess will squeeze out the ends of your bubblewrap bundle.

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Repeat the process several times until the piece feels finished. If you plan to cut out the felt to use as inlay, you may want to stop as soon as the fibers start to hold together.

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To achieve a firmer piece of fabric, you will need to spend some time fulling it, which for me, means just rolling it up and working it longer; other options include throwing or dropping the piece of felt, or rubbing it on a washboard. 

Flat Felt Box

What do you do with a big piece of uninspired flat felt that has been hanging on your felt clothesline for too long? Applehead had a great idea, but I wanted something that required a little less measuring and cutting, so I worked out this alternative. There are four straight seams, which can be done with a sewing machine or by hand.

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Trim the long edges as these will be your side seams. The short sides can stay wavy to give the top edge a sculptural look.

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Seam the sides, and then create two triangles on the bottom. This will take a little pinching and fiddling, but you should be able to get a nice triangle; the size of your triangle will affect the shape of your ultimate box. If you want something square, your triangle needs to be fairly deep; a shallow triangle will create a box that is more rectangular.

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You can either tack down the little flaps with a couple of stitches, or trim them off.

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The bottom and side of your box will look like a neat “T”.

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The Felt Box from the right,

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and the Felt Box from the left.

I love this shape so much, I plan to make many more pieces of flat felt just so I can seam them all up. These will make great project baskets to further clutter the area around my easy chair.

Orange Leaves Unfurl

I’ve had a few questions asking how to create the vase I’ve created in a few iterations recently. There is a tutorial here demonstrating the first seven steps which bring you to this point, where the vessel is ready for adornment with more felt.

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Once you have created the felt package using two batts wrapped around your cloth or plastic resist, you need to work the felt just a little to get the fibers to mesh together. Lay your package down on some sort of textured surface,

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roll it up and then rock it back and forth for a few minutes. Add hot, soapy water several times to help the fibers on their way towards felting.

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Cut out the shapes you want to layer out of a piece of loosely held together felt. This sheet of felt was created out of two layers of roving that were very gently agitated under a piece of rubber mat until they barely held together. You can also buy pieces of felt in this stage, sometimes called pre-felt.

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Place the cut-outs wherever you choose, then gently roll them up in the mat again, being careful to keep their position intact. Pour more hot, soapy water over the matt and rock back and forth for a few minutes.

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When you check on the piece, it should look like this. Notice the horizontal imprint from the mat.

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It is now time to cut open a slit at one end of the vessel and remove your resist.

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Slip a soapy hand inside the vessel and continue agitating from the inside and outside at the same time. You can rub the bottom of the vessel on a washboard to force it to shrink in a certain direction, but be careful of the layered elements. These should be rubbed with plenty of soap on your hand to keep them from being pulled right off the piece.

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When you can pick up the piece by any of the fibers, without them pulling away from the surface, you know you are done.


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