Archive for February, 2008

Hot Wheels

Good guess Carrie! Yes, inside the crate was a 40″ Feltcrafts Rolling Machine.


This machine is designed to take the labor out of felting, rolling the fiber by machine instead of by hand. The fiber is laid out in the traditional manner on the blue bubble wrap, sprinkled with warm, soapy water, rolled up and then sandwiched between the pvc pipes.

The machine runs on a 115 volt, 1/2 HP motor mounted to the frame. Pulleys attached to the motor turn the bottom rollers. The handcrank raises and lowers the top roller. When the fiber roll is sandwiched in place, turn on the motor with the speed control and watch it roll. Varying the speed of the rollers and the amount of pressure applied by the top roller affects the felting action.


The key is learning the magic spot where there is enough pressure to simulate handfelting, but not so much that the fibers are prevented from agitating against each other. Another variable to complicate the equation involves the speed of the rollers. How fast should it go? Too fast and the felt tends to twist and warp, but run it too slowly and the piece will take hours to finish.

As long as the machine is on the floor, there is still lots of ‘work’ involved in felting. Every couple of minutes, you need to crank the handle to raise the top roller, remove the bubble roll, unroll the felt to check for skew and/or progress, roll it back up, load it in the machine and wind the crank to lower the top roller back into position exactly where you had it the last time (trying to remember how many times you cranked it when you removed it a few minutes earlier). I made two narrow scarves yesterday, spending two hours on each. I have yet to determine a systematic approach for finding the secret mix of speed and pressure; systems are really not my forte.

So far, it appears the blessing of this machine will be its ability to create very large pieces of felt, which I simply can’t muscle by hand. Since the distance between the rollers can be adjusted by the handcrank, it is possible to do very fine pieces of nunofelting or extremely thick horse blankets.

Since all big machines deserve a name, I’m announcing a contest with prizes for the best name suggestion. The winner will be announced on March 10th.

Big Things


The monster comes out of the box tonight.

The Intersection of Music and Art

We spent last weekend at our favorite musical event: Wintergrass, a bluegrass festival held at five venues in Tacoma, Washington, though most of the action happens in and around the Hotel Murano, formerly the Sheraton.


No matter where you go, inside or out, musicians of every age, shape and persuasion are playing together. Lest you think bluegrass is all about flat-picking banjo from the backwoods of Appalachia, this festival presents a wide variety of music ranging from free-style jam bands to the Ebony Hillbillies, from a zydeco/Acadian/French Canadian string band to a rockin’ quartet with a cello.


We arrived at 4pm on Friday and stayed until 3pm on Sunday, basking in the music everywhere. There is a Wintergrass academy for the smallest musicians and plenty of open space for organic groups to form and dissolve, playing whatever pieces inspire them in the moment.


This was the first year for my son, now five, as we were concerned in previous years that the demands of the festival would be too much for him. A budding musician, composer and performer, I suspected that this would be the right year to introduce him to the experience. We brought snacks and his basketball; we took breaks between sets to wander outside, play ball, hover near a group of jamming musicians, and most popular: make buttons in the kids’ play area organized by Wintergrass volunteers in the hotel fitness room.


During one of the sets, I was inspired to sketch the bass in a little notebook I carry around for just such an occasion. It occurred to me that this would be an interesting shape to create in felt. Sitting next to me, my boy asked if he could sketch the bass too.


No bluegrass band is complete without a banjo or a mandolin (the mando illustration was a combined effort).


Two days after returning from the festival, he woke up with a low fever and a little blister on his chin that looks like it could be a pox. To be on the safe side, I held him back from school, surmising he could probably use a little extra rest after our long weekend. As I began to organize the house, he pulled out some modeling clay.

Along with the taco, burrito and pizza, he made a pair of banjos and the handle of the bass (I hope someone will illuminate me with a little nomenclature). The bass is for Corey DiMario of Crooked Still (his blog gets high points for best title); one banjo is for Jamie Blair of the Cascade Mountain Boys because he has the coolest hair and best eyebrow expression, the other is for Jim Hancock of the Great Northern Planes because his band mates played a mean trick on him and wouldn’t tell him which song they were playing next (my boy is a softie).

I hope that each exposure to musicians great and small will offset the other idols he sees on big and small screens. Heroes walk among us, and the greatest carry an instrument case.

Flickr Photos