Archive for March, 2008



Nunofelted Curtains

As the spring flowers start to bloom in the garden, I know warmer seasons are on their way and then end of scarf season in the Western hemisphere is nearly upon us (I’m counting on the Australians to keep my scarf business alive through mid-August).

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I ordered a bolt of silk chiffon from Dharma Trading after making this scarf in a fantastic class at Space to Create. We used a soy-wax resist to create designs on handpainted silk scarves; taught by Cameron Mason, an eminent fiber artist, this is a great class for anyone in the greater Seattle area (sign up for their mailing list to hear about the next session). Cameron provided us with two silk scarves for the class, and naturally my mind started to think about what I could do with a larger piece of silk. The idea of making delicate window coverings started to float around in my brain.

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My fabric order arrived on Tuesday in the middle of the felted egg activity, and by late Tuesday afternoon I finished my first curtain. I drafted small strips of handpainted roving and laid them across the width of the silk, then scattered some cutouts from my scrap basket. Some of the shapes were trimmed to be vaguely leaf shaped, but most were just triangles and random bits of felt in shades of dark blue and green. It took very little work to get the wool fibers to penetrate through the silk. A single wide hem along the top was enough for a simple cafe curtain rod.

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This small south-facing window is right above my desk, looking out into the backyard. Around noon, the winter sun shines in at just the right angle to blind me when I’m working on the computer, so a small sheer curtain is crucial for this window. Once the first silk curtain was finished, I wondered what would happen if I nunofelted the old curtain that was in the window.

Have you ever bought standard cotton curtains from IKEA? They are usually sold in 98″ lengths so they can be cut to size at home. We have at least four sets of these curtains in our house, and none of our ceilings are nearly tall enough to justify that towering length, so I have several yards of leftover cotton gauze which I’ve used for several different projects.

This time, I cut leaves out of a piece of gold felt shot through with burgundy and red; the strips are burgundy merino. When I hung it back up on the same curtain rod, I was astonished to see just how much it had shrunk in both width and length, despite what I already know about nunofelting (it gets me every time!). Heed my words if you decide to try this yourself: make sure your fabric is at least 10″ wider and longer than the finished dimensions you hope to achieve. The amount of time you work the fabric and the amount of wool you lay on the fabric will affect the size of your final piece.

There are at least four more small windows in my house that could use a similar window covering (bathroom, kitchen, two back doors). When I’m done experimenting with colors and styles, I’ll start offering them for sale in my etsy shop. In the meantime, sign up for my nunofelting class on March 26th to experiment with a variety of sample fabrics.

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March Felting Classes

The next two felting classes will begin soon:

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Felting 101 – Beads, Ropes and Flat Felt
Wednesday, March 19th, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Cost: $30 plus $10 materials fee
Class size is limited to 10 students.
A hands-on introduction to basic wetfelting techniques. Topics covered include creating felt beads, ropes and flat felt. Each of these building blocks will be used in subsequent classes to create more complex constructions. Students will complete two projects during the class time such as a three-tier flower brooch, a felt box or a neck cozy. Materials provided include 3 oz. of wool roving, bubble wrap, and a square nylon fabric screen.

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Nunofelting
Date: Wednesday, March 26th, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Cost: $30 plus $10 materials fee
Class size is limited to 10 students.
Students in this class will learn the technique of Nunofelting, which pairs merino wool with loosely woven fabrics such as cotton gauze or silk charmeuse resulting in a fabric that is both fine and flexible. Depending on the manner in which the wool is laid out, the fabric will constrict, pucker, crinkle or wave; finished products range from ruffled scarves to translucent window coverings. Students will test various methods for laying out wool on strips of silk, experimenting with form, shape and fabric. Prerequisite: Felting 101 or equivalent experience.

Both classes are taught at Venue, 5408 22nd Ave NW, between Ballard Ave and Market. Register by phone: 206-789-3335.

Rub a Dub Dub; Six Kids and Some Felted Eggs

Monday afternoon: Tera, mother of three and veteran homeschool goddess sends me an e-mail asking whether I had plans for our monthly AP craftgroup meeting on Tuesday. Could we felt Easter eggs? Sure! I love it when other people come up with the ideas. Providing the materials is the easy part.

Monday evening: I share with Lance my checklist of things I need to do the next day. First on my list, before picking up all the teensy toys with small parts, is a stop at the drugstore to get some plastic eggs. After a moment’s hesitation, he said ‘I guess I don’t need to hold on to this surprise any longer’ and plunged head first into his closet, emerging a couple of minutes later with a box of styrofoam eggs he’d picked up on clearance in May 2007, intending to surprise me this year with a set of felted eggs. I gulped and gushed simultaneously, apologizing for all the times I’d complained about his habit of hording and stashing seemingly useless ephemera.

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Tuesday morning: clean, tidy and organize the house in preparation for curious children and watchful (though forgiving) parents. Bring wool, towels, styrofoam eggs, nylon stockings, liquid soap, squeeze bottles, ribbon, scissors and needles upstairs.

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In the interest of time, I decided it was better to use solid forms for the eggs, rather than try to create an entirely wool egg. A couple mothers brought plastic eggs, which we wrapped with masking tape to give the wool some purchase; the rest of us used the colored styrofoam eggs.

We drafted small amounts of wool roving and then wrapped it around the eggs. It is challenging to get a round form evenly covered with drafted roving. The little hands needed help with drafting and wrapping their eggs to ensure there was enough wool and thorough coverage.

Once wrapped, we carefully stretched a nylon stocking to create a large enough opening for the egg, trying not to disturb the roving as we placed the egg at the toe. Once in place, we tied a knot as close as we could get it to the egg, then squirted hot water over the little package. Dipping our hands in liquid olive oil soap, we started to rub a dub dub.

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This is where the fun began and the tedium set in. Lots of kids like to dip their hands in the soap and love the suds they create, but after 30 seconds of rubbing, they start to wonder how soon the egg will be done. Realistically, it takes five to ten minutes of rubbing before the process is completed. I made one egg as a demonstration, and finished four eggs begun by the children.

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I found it more effective to remove the stocking after a minute or two of rubbing, once the wool was no longer slipping around on the egg so I could felt it on my hand, rolling around the shape, applying equal pressure to the entire surface. Both times I left my egg in the stocking, they grew little spikes on the top, which I cut off and then felted the cut edge.

The pink egg was my favorite. This mother was pulled away from her task repeatedly by her children, forgetting when she returned to it how long she had already spent rubbing, effectively felting it much longer than the rest of us. I’m always amazed at just how good felt looks when it is really worked for a long time (note to self: hang in there longer than you think necessary). Check out Carrie’s post for her description of the morning.

Tune in next week for the follow-up installment: felted bird nests with my daughter’s second grade class.

Nature Nut

We profited from unusually warm temperatures last weekend to break out a gift I bought for the family on Etsy before Christmas: a Backyard Bird Nest Experiment Kit from the TheNatureNut. In the last two weeks, we’ve seen and heard robins and  chickadees (and a red-chested bird I can’t identify) around our tree again, so this seemed like a great time to pull it out. I didn’t have to ask my son twice if he wanted to help hang them from the branches of our cherry tree; he was straddling a limb before I had found my shoes.

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The handmade kit comes with four wire cages stuffed with different materials: straw, shredded colored paper, yarn and dog hair; there is an experiment observation sheet where we record the nesting material, staring date, empty date and comments, as well as a second observation sheet for recording the types of birds inspecting or taking the materials. In addition, Kathleen provides information about ways to attract birds to your yard, suggested nesting materials, resources and instructions for recording and tabulating the results of the experiment. Children are encouraged to monitor the cages to see which material is used more than the others, and to look around the neighborhood for nests built with our stuffing.

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Browsing through her shop on a rainy November day, I couldn’t resist adding these maple seed butterflies to my shopping cart. They seemed full of promise for spring.

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Cleverly packaged with a styrofoam block and recycled water bottles turned upside down to provide a protective casing, these little butterflies sat on our windowsill for months waiting for the weather to turn. Now they sit in our garden as a sweet reminder that the real butterflies will be out soon enough.

Weft and Wight

The only workshop I paid to attend at Madrona Fiber Arts was a weaving introduction offered by Syne Mitchell, the talent behind WeaveCast, the weaver’s podcast and WeaveZine. Unfortunately, a little mix-up prevented me from attending the class, but the brains behind the event, Suzanne Pedersen, suggested that I assist Syne at the free weaving demonstration she was offering on Saturday in the rotunda.

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As students passed through the rotunda on their way to and from classes and the marketplace, they stopped to see the two looms Syne set up for the day. The first was a rigid heddle loom used by the students in class to recreate a simple weave pattern, reminiscent of a basketweave stitch. This small loom is a great starting point for beginners as it is small, portable and simple to warp. A four harness table loom was on loan from her son’s Montessori school, where she had been teaching the children to weave; it was warped with colored yarn used to denote standard number sequences in the Montessori method (1 is pink, 2 is yellow, 3 is light blue etc…). This table loom is outfitted with four moveable heddles attached to handles which are raised and lowered in sequence according to the pattern the weaver wants to create.

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Before long, I had decided the table loom was my preferred piece, so I parked myself in front of it to create different textures. By raising and lowering the heddles in various combinations, it is easy to create many beautiful weaves; my favorites were the twill weaves where the front and back of the piece show predominantly either the warp yarn or the weft. When I asked Syne how to remember the difference between the warp and the weft, she said the warp goes up and down, while the weft goes ‘weft and wight’.

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On a side table, Syne laid out samples of her new zine, and talked about her podcast. People who signed up for her mailing list were entered into a drawing for a weaving kit, generously donated by the folks at Just Our Yarn. Since I can count on one finger the number of prizes I’ve won in my life, I didn’t look very carefully at the kit.

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Imagine my surprise when Syne contacted me after the event to tell me my name had been chosen as one of the lucky winners. Even greater was my delight when I realized this was no ordinary kit: included with the pattern were two skeins of Caravan lambswool/camel yarn. Yippee!

Suffice it to say that I came away from the demonstration smitten by yet another fiber tradition, which seems a perfect compliment to the other skills I’m trying to master. As Syne has illustrated in her article on painted skein warps, this craft is perfectly suited to displaying cottage yarn (my term invented to describe all yarns spun and/or painted by hand) better than either knitting or crochet. Short pieces will stand out in a piece that is warped with a solid yarn for contrast. I left Madrona with two new skills under my belt and the perfect way to integrate them. In an upcoming post, I’ll write about our family adventures building and warping a pipe loom.

Spinner’s Delight

A few weeks ago, I decided I really wanted to learn how to spin, just small bits, but enough to use as a tassel or fringe on a felted piece. I bought a simple drop spindle and packed it with some roving when I left for Madrona. On Friday night, after everyone else went to bed, I pulled out my spindle and looked around the lobby for an unsuspecting spinner to get me started.

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Once I got started, I literally couldn’t put the spindle down. The first night I spun a very smooth 4 oz of merino into a chunky, slubby single ply. Saturday afternoon, I walked into the marketplace looking for some help plying my yarn. Ruth of the Dizzy Ewe was already giving Marisa some spinning and plying advice, so I listened in and then stepped forward with my spindle.

Later that night, after enjoying dinner with fiber friends, we retreated to the lobby again. I spent an hour fiddling with my yarn, trying to even out the thick and thin bits before plying.

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One of the coolest things about the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat is the bevy of experts sitting around, cheerfully offering (sometimes unsolicited) advice. There was a trio of women sitting in the same part of the lobby as our group. I’m not sure who was louder, but we were all clearly having a great time. After watching me wrestle with my yarn for an hour, Trish of Tanglewood Fiber Creations, stood up and said something to the effect of ‘you are doing this all wrong and it is killing me to watch you’. She took the spindle out of my hand and immediately started to correct my technique. Before long, she and her cohort (Sarah from Great Balls of Fiber and Bonnie from Tea Time Garden) had set me straight; they gave me some great tips and plied two lovely hanks of yarn (that was my goal all along).

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When I returned home, my spinning obsession continued. I spun all week, and then took spinning with me to Wintergrass, the bluegrass festival held at the same hotel the weekend after Madrona. By the end of that weekend, I had six bundles waiting to be plied, washed and wound. Lance built me a spiffy niddy noddy for winding the yarn into hanks after it was plied. Pardon the colors on these six pictures; I was using an old digital camera that has great depth of field but lousy color values. Each yarn is brighter than it looks, though I wasn’t able to color correct accurately. Counterclockwise from the top left:

  • the original bulky merino that I started at Madrona which is actually candy pink, royal blue and grass green;
  • a fuzzy wool blend sent by one of my roving sources as a freebie – it didn’t speak to me when I was felting, but I loved spinning it as the colors suddenly made sense – blue and yellow, orange and purple.
  • a short bit of handpainted merino roving with patches of very soft grey-ish blue, my spinning became a lot more even by the time I made it to this bit of roving
  • another short bit of handpainted merino roving with patches of light red and the same grey-blue; I love the barbershop striping of this yarn
  • a combination of Sophie-spun and mama-spun handpainted aquamarine roving
  • the same roving spun entirely by me

You can imagine that when I came home from Madrona raving about the cool things I learned, Sophie started to hop up and down, wanting to get her hands on the spindle. She spun several ounces of thick, slubby single ply, which I finished off with a more uniform batch; when I plied it, the result was an interesting mix that looked a lot like my first batch. Now that I’ve spun with four very different rovings, I’m amazed at how easy the handpainted merino is compared to the solid carded merino I tried for my first spinning.
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This is the same roving I used for the last two hanks in the mosaic above, but photographed with my normal camera. ahh. I love those colors. I bought 8 oz of this color from Dancing Leaf Farm. It makes such lovely yarn, I plan to spin it all.

One of the women watching me struggle to fit my super-bulky yarn onto my small top-whorl spindle suggested I should buy a Turkish spindle with a bottom-whorl. Besides being able to hold more yarn than a top-whorl, the pieces of the spindle can be pulled apart, leaving you with a center pull ball, ready for plying. After cruising around the marketplace with my guide, Francine, I fell in love with an Australian myrtle spindle from Crown Mountain Farms.

Now that I can spin a more even yarn, and I’m at home with easy access to my ball winder, I’ve found it is easier to use the top whorl spindle because of the little hook. I can get greater spin on it using the thigh spin (copying Sarah’s technique), and it is easier to wind on the bits I’ve spun without undoing the half-hitch each time. There is no denying that this bottom whorl is prettier than my first spindle, so I would like to learn to use it better. I guess it is time to start frequenting the spinner’s group at the Fiber Gallery too.

Fiber Debauchery

Two weeks ago, I attended a fantastic retreat with my 563 closest fiber friends at an über-mod hotel in Tacoma. This is the third year for several delegates from the Fiber Gallery in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. We met artists, writers, teachers and designers; celebrated a couple of birthdays; learned to spin, ply and weave; shopped, laughed, sympathized and commiserated, indulged and spent wonderful time in each other’s company.

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Open a hotel to a large group of women with fiber and watch the havoc ensue. As the hotel was undergoing extensive renovations, we rubbed elbows at the bar with several contractors unwinding at the end of their shift. Clearly making a play, one of the electricians leaned over to Loren, asking ‘what the most exciting new product was at this convention’. He tried vaguely to say he remembers his grandmother doing something with needles and tiny thread making little knots, confusing tatting with the knitting most people were carrying.

For me, the most exciting thing in the marketplace was all the fiber. Walking into that space, my eyes saw everything in a new light. I was a knitter last year, so my interest lay only in the yarn. This year, my eyes were drunk with all the different fibers on display. Since most of my roving has been bought online, it was a feast to see and touch the many color and fiber blends.

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I indulged in several expensive blends to expand my catalog of fibers and effects. The shimmering bundle of softness on the left is a 60/40 blend of merino and bamboo from Blue Moon Fiber Arts the saturated colors on the right are merino/tencel blend from Chameleon Colorworks. One of the women who bought merino roving from the Chameleon folks had already spun several ounces last week; she brought it to our knitting group still wet just to share the beautiful color with us.

As I walked around the marketplace, getting a lay of the land, there was one booth that attracted my eye over and over, though I didn’t stop to look at anything carefully until a friend started to fondle their sock yarn. As my vision narrowed to take a closer look, I realized it was the overall palette that appealed to me. Their products had a tone, much like a piece of music, that was both engaging and harmonious.

A moment later, one of the business partners spoke up: she knew me from something. We paused for a minute, searching our collective memory and then suddenly realized our faces were familiar because we read each other’s blogs: it was Maia of Maia Spins, now also partner in Tactile Fiber Arts.

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The dynamic team of Missy B and Maia use natural dyes for their fiber and yarn – read more at their store blog. Between Madrona and Stitches West, these two women have been very busy, so check out their blog for more pictures of fiber (the store should be open March 3rd, but we know how these things go). The golden fiber is a 50/50 merino/tencel blend; the plum fiber is a 50/50 merino/soy silk blend; the green fiber is blue faced leicester which felts very well and is more economical than merino.

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I couldn’t wait to try some of my new roving. The word around Madrona was that plant fibers add shimmer to the roving, but don’t impede its ability to felt. As soon as I returned home, I ripped the wrapper off the merino/soy silk to take it for a test run. True to legend, this scarf is soft, supple and slightly shiny. It was a little more difficult to lay out the batt because the fibers wanted to cling to my fingers instead of staying on the workbench; there are some thin spots as a result, but I will know for the next time I need to put down a little extra fiber. Ultimately, that means this scarf is not for sale, but something for my personal collection. I love it when things work out that way.


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