Archive for November, 2008

Felt Pincushions, Geodes and Balls

Our second SpiderFelt production party attacked from a different angle: the land of needlefelting. Armed with felting needles, foam and large piles of roving from Harrisville Designs, an intrepid group of fiber friends compressed wads of color for several hours. The group was mixed: veterans familiar with the technique to embellish their fulled creations, some familiar with three dimensional figures and complete strangers to the method.

Lora Shinn, photographer and friend, put away the needles after completing a project in favor of her camera; her photos capture the light spirits that evening.

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We poked and poked and poked. Together we created such an enormous amount of felt, that it took two felters five hours to finish wetfelting the sum of our evening work. Thankfully, Linda’s arms are much stronger than mine. She combined both strength and finesse to finish her pieces, resulting in the densest felt I have had the pleasure to hold.

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These colorful pieces warm me to the core. The collective imagination worked together resulting in a collection beyond the limits of my imagination.

Thank you to the friends who wielded the needle.

PS. Kits are now available in my shop for making felt geodes.

Felt Pebbles

While I spent most of the summer far from my felting studio, my hands were still full of wool much of the time. Wherever I went, I had some sort of project in a tote bag: colored roving, foam and felting needles for making balls at the beach, collecting beach rocks to wet felt outside at the cabin while the kids played.

There were lots of questions from curious neighbors out for a walk, kids coming over to play and strangers on the beach. What is that pokey thing? What are you making? Can I try that? How does that work? My children and parents were proud ambassadors, explaining the process to the fiber novices, initiating them into the world of needle and wet felt.

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The most entertaining project by far was felting pebbles collected on the beach at the end of the path. We made piles and piles of rocks, sorting them by size and shape, wrapping with roving, felting them outside standing on the patio while the kids played soccer in the grass or played games at the picnic table. When it was time to leave the island, my father packed up two plastic totes full of finished felt pebbles and beach rocks ready for felting at home.

The first batch of rocks went to Venue, the store in Ballard where I have been consigning for the last year. Before dropping them off, I photographed the collection on our front porch and posted the shot to Flickr. A fellow blogger saw the shot and suggested I post some to my etsy shop. I indulged her request, though I was trying to juggle completing several last minute projects at the same time. The listing sat and sat for several weeks with little activity and interest.

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When we returned from our holiday in New Hampshire at the end of August, the merchandising staff at Venue asked if I would make some large rocks, really large rocks. Intrigued by the idea, I bought one dozen rocks from a landscaping company, each weighing 5 lbs and measuring between 12-18″ across, felting them in the same way as the smaller rocks.

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The most difficult part of this process was moving them around for the photographs and getting them to the store: upstairs, downstairs, porch, driveway, car, store. I seriously strained the muscles in my right wrist, trying to lift and carry two at a time when I’m really not accustomed to that sort of awkward weight. Next time I will take more time, moving them one at a time rather trying to hurry the process.

To my surprise, Venue made a beautiful window display, featuring a big pile of rocks in assorted sizes. A few weeks after school started, one of my daughter’s third grade classmates rushed up to me in the hallway. “We saw your rocks in the window of a store when we were walking down the street on Sunday,” she said. We both squealed with excitement.

All of a sudden, the listing in my etsy shop started to attract attention and the pebble sets were moving. Really moving. Generating conversation. Two different people asked me if I could make small cushions that looked like felt pebbles, similar to those made by Ronel Jordaan.

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The first prototype was a hit with my son and his classmates who thought it made a perfect seat. After working on these miniature versions, I know that the originals are worth every penny charged. The South African cooperative employed to produce these cushions is providing an income for families. I support their work and would always encourage customers to buy the original.

What about felt pebble soap? I searched on etsy for a soap maker who was already making round soaps and pitched my idea. Surfhound Soap Company agreed to make 25 pebble shaped soaps in two scents: Coffee Mocha and Cool Water, now wrapped with wool felt.

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All along, the felt pebbles in my etsy shop were getting lots of attention. For a week they were on the wallpaper for Etsy’s Twitter page. They were featured in several treasuries and selling consistently in my shop. A columnist in a major newspaper asked me whether I would like to be featured in their holiday gift guide (more details once the issue hits the stands).

In the meantime, it was time to gear up production for a large, two day craft fair at our neighborhood community center. Many friends agreed to help felt soaps and pebbles at a production party, and my family pitched in with the process.

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The next iteration will be sea glass pebbles, as suggested by ms_curmudgeon. Using colored roving in heathered tones, the sea glass pebbles will be available in the colors most often found on the beaches around the world. We’re still working on assembling the colored sets, but the pile of finished pebbles in our basement is growing. At this point we have 27 dozen pebbles finished, with a goal of 50 sets complete before the fair in two weeks. Needless to say, we’ve used up all of the rocks my father carried with care from our island, and we’ve almost finished a 75lb bag of river rocks bought from a landscaping company.

Somewhere in here, I have to give credit to Moxie, who first presented this idea to me last November. She had begun editing a book about felt, collecting submissions from various authors. The publishers wanted someone to write a tutorial for making felt rocks, but at the time I was overwhelmed with holiday production and couldn’t work on the project. I shelved the idea until late spring as I was prepared to walk away from my studio and started searching for a small project I could do on the fly.

I’m not the only person making felt pebbles, soaps or cushions, nor can I take credit for the ideas, but as my friend Erin said, one of the distinctive aspects of SpiderFelt is the collaboration, taking suggestions and feedback from friends, students and my family to grow my body of work. Each project has been a lot of fun, and I hope to continue exploring the theme in the coming months.

Hot Rocks

This summer we spent two weeks at my parents’ cabin on Keats Island, a rocky paradise in Howe Sound between Vancouver and Sechelt BC. We played with the children of old friends, made new friends when the old left, discovered hidden paths through the forest, hiked to beaches we’d never seen, jumped off the floating dock, swam off the rocky beaches, and played hours of games.

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Many mornings we spent around the cabin reading, writing, and playing cards waiting for the tides to be just right for swimming. One morning when every game failed to entertain, we decided to try an activity I’d read on someone’s blog in the last year: coloring on smooth beach rocks.

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Collecting the rocks was half the fun. We had to find just the right buckets, skip down to the beach and scour the entire expanse for rocks that were large enough and smooth enough to become a canvas.

At home we washed off the seaweed grit and marine residue. Next we spread them out on an aluminum tray and put them in the convection oven to heat for ten minutes. While they were warming, we gathered all the small bits of broken crayon we could find behind the futon, on the bookshelf, and under the table. When they were hot enough, we carefully extracted the tray and carried it outside to the patio where we could safely spread out the hot rocks without damaging any surfaces.

Before long, it became clear that there was a magic moment in the lifespan of a hot rock, when it was hot enough to melt the crayon, but not so hot that it turned into wax soup. Letting the rocks cool for a minute or two was key, but we were forced to make several trips back to the oven for reheating as our imaginations churned away.

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It was a wonderfully idyllic time spent in a place that holds many fond memories. Thanks Mom and Dad for making it all possible.

Bartlett Cardigan Complete

My Bartlett and handspun striped cardigan, begun many months ago, is complete and cozy. So nice to have something warm and comfortable to throw on over any layer.

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The colors please me, though I wish I had put a little more thought into waist shaping. The boxy look is nice for around the house, but it feels a little dumpy to wear out on the street.

SpiderFelt Production Party

Saturday night, a great group of women converged at Space to Create, a wonderful art studio in Ballard for a night of good food, great company and felting. Many, many hands helped build my inventory of felt soaps and pebbles for the upcoming PNA Winter Craft Fair on December 6 & 7 and learn a skill at the same time.

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With soaps and pebbles pre-wrapped in wool, friends began felting at 6:30, stopping to greet newcomers and enjoy the great food. It was a party atmosphere all night, with seats shuffling and tables rearranging as people arrived and departed.

We turned out the lights at 10:15 with a stack of wet towels, 7 dozen felt pebbles, 90 soaps and lots of good cheer.

Thank you to everyone who came to work with sore backs, plates of food and wine, and many other events on their calendar. Thank you for sharing your time and helpful hands.

For those who missed out on the great time, but would like to learn some simple felting basics and take home a souvenir of the evening, we’ll be meeting again on Thursday, November 20th and Saturday, November 29th from 6:30-9:30ish. Come late or leave early, we’ll have the lights on for you, a warm seat and a glass poured. Cheers!

Thorndike Silk Scarf

While in New Hampshire, my mother and sister-in-law suggested we visit a flea market in the next town. This classic New England town has a wide grassy boulevard that divides the main street. On this particular Saturday, vendors set up tables around the perimeter of the granite-fenced greenbelt selling antiques, vintage housewares and to my delight a woman was unloading her fiber stash.

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I bought two small Harrisville peg looms, several skeins of beautiful heathered yarns and a small zippered pouch with two hand dyed silk caps. Beautiful, I thought to myself, I can use these for felting. On closer inspection, the pouch also had a printed insert identifying the source as Ellen’s 1/2 Pint Farm and a pattern for knitting a scarf directly from the silk cap. I’d never heard of this method, but since I was familiar with drafting silk and wool, the idea intrigued me.

Inspired by the Sea Tangles cardigan in Knitty’s summer issue, I decided to knit this with a deliberately non-traditional, meandering, undefined cable; sometimes pulling to the front, sometimes pulling to the back, sometimes inserting more than on e cable in a row and sometimes encouraging stitches to travel.

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Drafting the silk the correct amount took a little practice, but before long I was able to tease out an arm’s length at a time, knit a row and repeat. The rows I knit as a passenger on the way to Boston aren’t so great – you can tell my drafting suffered in the car, but overall the scarf is delightful. If you think knitting in public draws attention, trying drafting a big seafoam pile of fluff and knitting it with little ladybug needles to make heads turn.

Ombre T-Shirts

Can we just pretend that I haven’t been ignoring my blog for the last three months? That I didn’t sneak away for the summer and then turn my back on writing when I returned home? I’m sorry. I wish I wasn’t so easily sidetracked. Discipline is not my middle name. Whether it is exercise, writing or even sewing, if I don’t stick with the routine, I lose my momentum and then off I slide down the muddy slope.

So how do I make amends for being such a slacker and does anyone care? I’ll start by posting some of the projects I completed before leaving Seattle.

There are two very lucky boys in our family who have the good fortune of sharing a birthday, born within several hours of each other though we lived several states apart. Not only that, but both boys were born on their due date, and my son was born on his sister’s birthday. Crazy. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but these cousins are really tight. They like the same sort of play and seem to share part of a brain. In the past we have made freezer-paper stenciled shirts for their birthday, so I thought it would be nice to try something different.

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We tried a little ombre dyeing in a friend’s back yard, setting up several different containers with cold water and mixing in acid dyes. Dipping strips of fabric in the mason jars of dye concentrate, we gauged the relative shade of each color and proceeded to add them in small amounts to the containers. The middle shirt was dyed yellow, then placed in an orange bath with half the shirt hanging over the edge and half of the shirt floating in the dye. Once the color had started to creep above the water line, I reversed the shirt and dangled it into a red bath. I used a similar process for the green/turquoise shirt and the reverse flame shirt, though I skipped the overdyeing, prefering to use two colors instead of three.

We did loads and loads of dyeing that day: underwear, white crew socks, more t-shirts splatter painted, cloth diapers, some nunofelted silk fabric and a pile of woven cotton fabric. We let the kids paint, dip and play with the dyes (with supervision of course). Some combinations were more pleasing than others, but it was enormously fun to have the freedom to try anything and everything. Thank you Rima for opening up your home to us.


Flickr Photos

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