Archive for September, 2009

Revisiting Old Pieces

There was something about this piece that always bugged me. It didn’t fit on the chest where I really wanted it to be. The ends flared in an ugly way, the felt retained the imprint of the bubble wrap. In every way it just looked unfinished, like I’d whipped it out in a hurry without taking the time to work it fully (felt never lies).

As I have grown in my feltmaking skills, looking at this piece day after day irked me, but I left it there as a reminder of my progress, humility being important as an artist and parent. There was another part of me that was too impatient to return to a piece, however imperfect, when there was something new to try.


Because the chest sits by the front door, it is the logical spot to dump books, keys and bottoms (cat and youngest child being the primary perps). After picking it up from the floor for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t bare to smooth it out again. So I brought it back to the studio for a little extra felting.


After soaking it in hot water for a few minutes, I worked it on the glass washboard, giving special attention to the uneven edges, pulling them into line. When I started working on it, the runner measured 49″ x 12″. After just a few minutes of agitation, it started to shrink dramatically.


Now it measures 37″ x 10″, is mostly rectangular and fits pefectly on the chest. Last night I smiled as I looked at it across the room. The colors have faded as the amber fibers migrated further to the front, but I think it works better now. At least it gives me satisfaction instead of pangs of disappointment.

Felt Pebble Soaps

Back in stock at long last, the limited edition felt pebble soaps that were so popular at last year’s Phinney Winter Festival are in my shop again.


Made with pure olive oil soap, these unscented bars weigh just over 2oz each. Each bar is  unique, varying slightly in color and shape, just like your favorite beach rocks.

Flowers in Focus

Two experiments have given me great delight in the last two days (I sound like Jacob Two-Two). Working with a four ounce hank of handpainted merino roving from KnittyAndColor, I made six felt flowers, varying the petal shape and layers with each one.


Generally, I’m much too scattered to work an entire collection from one hank of roving. As I pull out the boxes and look at my choices, my mind is filled with the possibilities. This time I needed to create a portfolio for a group of artists meeting to discuss an upcoming holiday show, so I forced myself to work within the limitation of a single colorway.


It was astonishing to see how each flower developed on its own. As the roving played across my hands, I decided in that moment if the flower would have one, two, three or four layers of petals; which color would be in the center and how the colors would work together.


The second experiment began with a short exchange between Maya of Springtree Road regarding her beautiful product photography. As soon as I started to follow her on Twitter, her work stuck out head and shoulders above the fray for its striking shots. While the yarn is gorgeous, it is really her camera that makes the work sing.

When I brought the purple flowers to the meeting last night, they were greeted with a universal exclamation: “These are so much more beautiful than on your website”. Ugh. Okay, let’s try a little harder.

While picking up my camera from the repair shop today and returning their loaner, I decided to rent a lens for the weekend to see if it was worth the pricetag. Normally, I have a hard time plunking down hard-earned money. I listen to an iPod shuffle, drive a ’91 Volvo and my wardrobe is all thrifted. Can a photo add enough value to a product to justify the expense?

I don’t know the answer, but this lens makes me happy. Crazy happy. I was in love after the first shot. Oh, so this is what I’ve been missing, I thought to myself as I snapped, adjusted, reviewed, snapped some more etc… Come Monday, I think I’ll buy myself another birthday present.

Setting Intentions

During my first reiki appointment, I was inspired to create a special place to center myself. As she worked, Jean described the colors she saw coming from each of my chakras. Those that were blocked had muddy colors masking vibrant pools of color underneath.

Working on my Manipura or Solar Plexus Chakra, she saw a deep grey volcano, full of ash. As she released the energy the color changed to reveal molten amber lava, full of life waiting to flow. When I looked for more information at home, I found out at this chakra is salient to my ‘stuck’ places right now. Lifting the definition directly from the Chakra Bible by Patricia Mercier: “Key issues governed by Manipura are issues of personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion-formation, introversion, and transition from simple or base emotions to complex. Physically, Manipura governs digestion, mentally it governs personal power, emotionally it governs expansiveness, and spiritually, all matters of growth.”


Another chakra that emitted strong colors was my Vishuddha or Throat Chakra. She described the color as blue-green, but tight as if there was something I was afraid to say, or holding back. While it may be surprising to hear from some who know me well, I have a hard time expressing myself honestly. For the most part, I avoid confrontation for fear of hurting those I love. It is easier to simply swallow my frustration, make do and go along rather than openly address an issue. Again, from the Chakra Bible: “Physically, Vishuddha governs communication, emotionally it governs independence, mentally it governs fluent thought, and spiritually, it governs a sense of security.”


As an empathic person, prone to taking on the emotions of others, Jean suggested I would benefit from a centering practice using circular breathing patterns to discharge excess energy. I routinely absorb energy from the emotional outbursts I witness in my day which leaves me feeling overwhelmed. Her suggestion inspired me to create a pillow with the two colors of the Throat and Solar Plexus chakras. It would live in a  corner of my bedroom, the warmest and sunniest spot in our house, and the place I consider my refuge.

When I returned home that afternoon, I put aside my other projects to work on the flat felt for a meditation pillow. I specifically chose hand dyed blue faced leicester roving for the nubbly whorls left in the finished felt. There is something about the curly patterns in the wool that speaks to me.


For the stuffing, I used part of a fleece I’ve been cleaning for a couple of weeks. Bought last January with the intention of using it to stuff large pebble cushions, it sat in my garage ignored. The lanolin hardened with mud and muck, leaving a very dirty fleece resistant to normal methods of cleaning. After soaking and rinsing, soaking and rinsing multiple times, I decided to cut out the crusty locks and then wash the cleanest bits a fifth time.

While  the process is painstakingly slow, it was both meditative and therapeutic. More than half the fleece remains in the bag to be finished, but I love the wool I’ve rescued so far. It is soft, shiny and kinky. Suddenly, I understand why some people are compelled to process their own wool from scratch, though I don’t see myself doing it again any time soon. Still, for this purpose, it seemed like the perfect thing for stuffing a pillow that was full of meaning.


As I move forward, on the first day of my thirty seventh year, I am setting out my intention to walk thoughtfully and carefully through my day, taking the time to conserve my energy and discharge the negative in a safe way.

Mystery Package Birthday Contest

The mail carrier brought three packages yesterday. The contents of two were easy to identify: buttons ordered from MJ Boutique and two custom shirts and some poppy pins from ModestMaven (a birthday present from my mom).


The third package was a surprise from an old friend, the guy who lived in the apartment above ours during college. Mark was just the sort of guy you hope to meet in your early twenties. He was eccentric in a good way: interested in old movies, esoteric music, Paul Klee, typography, Indian cuisine and vintage cameras. While he majored in Art History, it was clear that his talent lay in something more creative. His keen eye for the overlooked beauty in a rusted factory led him into photography. I never get tired at paging through his portfolio.

Mark has always been fascinated by the marginalia of life: an abandoned refinery, vintage Elizabeth Cotton recordings or cans of condensed aged cheddar sauce. When his package arrived yesterday, I was delighted but not surprised by the book. Candy Jernigan is cut from the same cloth as Mark, picking up bits of ephemera from her wanderings to document her swim through daily life. However the other objects in the package, wrapped in a brown paper bag from an antique store in Texas have me stumped. What could they be?Measuring 10″ long, hollow with a brass tip.

This is where the contest comes in. Leave your best guess as a comment and I will randomly select a reader for a mystery package. The drawing will happen on Thursday, my birthday. Gotta share the love that flows so abundantly my way.


Maya of Springtree Road. Not only did Maya correctly identify the mystery object as textile spindles, the number one was selected by two different random number generators. A surprise package for felty goodness is on its way to Maya. Thanks for all the fun guesses!

Lessons I’ve Learned The Hard Way

There are plenty of times when we are so humbled by an experience that it is hard to admit that anything good came of it. Such was a felting workshop I took in May. Five days felting with an internationally renowned fiber artist, a good friend taking the workshop with me, staying in a home walking distance from the studio on a beautiful island. My hopes were very high, probably too high.

I haven’t written about the workshop before today because it was so hard to accept the disappointment I felt after it was all over. I carved five days out of my schedule, made arrangements to ensure that my family was taken care of in my absence, and paid the staggering tuition and materials fee; each of these steps was enormous and carefully considered. It was difficult to admit once it was over that I didn’t get what I wanted out of it. To make things worse, the director of the school told the five students who complained about the class that we were to blame because we were overachievers, the teacher was an Artist and we didn’t have the right to expect any more from her. Suffice it to say that we were deeply hurt and my confidence in my abilities as a feltmaker suffered tremendously.

Three months later, after exploring new ideas and giving myself the freedom to make some mistakes, I realize that I did learn several things during that week. The teacher specifically prohibited us from photographing the class, or blogging about the workshop. She seemed to be fearful that we would appropriate her scant materials (hand drawn schematics, not labeled in English, no written instructions) or try to knock off her designs.


Since I’m not going to name any names, and I paid bundles for the class, I think it is my prerogative to reclaim some of her power and talk about what I learned from the class (not necessarily what she taught).

I learned that I have a hard time focusing for extended periods of time, and lectures bore me. I forgave myself for not persuing a career in academia as I would be terribly ill-suited to that environment. I also forgave every wiggly child who has ever sat in front of me at a concert, puppet show or library story-time. It is really hard to sit still when you have nothing to do with your hands. Have mercy on us!

I also learned that I have a hard time creating under pressure. That is why I did such terrible work in my high school art class.  I wanted to create, but couldn’t come up with an idea and execute it with during a 50-minute class. My mother has asked me several times why all of this creativity suddenly surfaced in my late twenties. Now I know. Pressure crushed it and it took years for my confidence to grow enough that I could try again.

I don’t do well with spatial parameters are shifted. Our teacher directed us to create our pieces inside out: lay down the design elements first, then add buckles, belt loops, straps or bobbles, next add pockets and finally lay down the bulk of your piece. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I get dressed, the last things I choose are my accessories. Shirt first, then skirt, then stockings, then shoes and now I’m ready for either a necklace, earrings or scarf.


My first bag, looks lovely right? Except this was supposed to be the inside.  Lots of time spent color blending the roving with hand carders, but it doesn’t matter because the color doesn’t show on the outside. And the outside design shifted so much in the felting that it skewed right off the top of the bag. It isn’t even worth photographing. So the inside becomes the outside and the ugly slanted design hides inside.

If we took anything away from the workshop, our teacher stressed that we should make our felt speak of the wonderful things only felt can do: be seamless. Integrate your closure into your design. Think through the elements and place them strategically so they don’t need to be sewn on later. And do it backwards. That was the part that really stumped me. I love the idea of planning my designs, really I do, but I’m more of a trial and error kind of gal. That is the other bit I learned. Work it through, learn from my mistakes and then try it again.

The inspiration for the next design came to me over dinner on the second night (we spent the first two days listening to lecture and watching slideshows).


To her credit, our teacher did help me work through how to attach the i-cord to the bag and carry the icicle design down with the knotted cords. But the reason she had to walk me through it is because the whole thing was backwards again. The inner pocket is on the outer wall, not against the back. I planned a handle on the top so you could carry it if you didn’t want to sling it over your shoulder, but I had to cut it out during felting because it didn’t work or look right where it was. The whole thing is backwards because I designed it from the inside out without being able to turn my head around that way.


For the last bag, started on the fourth day, I decided to ignore her completely and work as if I was at home in my studio. I put on my headphones to block out the chatter around me and set to work. When a fellow student sent me this photo, I couldn’t believe how happy I looked because I thought I was miserable the whole time. Clearly, when I threw the monkey off my shoulder I can really let go and enjoy the process.


I borrowed another student’s template instead of sewing my own (she made us sew two pieces of bubblewrap together for a resist). I cut little slices of a sushi roll brought from home and embedded them in the top layer of the bag, then covered the pinwheels with more maroon roving. The pink bits are hand dyed silk cap I bought last summer at The Fiber Studio in Henniker, NH. Then I felted the bugger out of it. Start to finish, this bag took seven hours to make. It has a seamless nunofelt pocket inside (the silk gives the pocket extra staying power for heavy phone and keys). The bottom was pulled and stretched during felting so it can stand up without toppling over. It is the perfect carry-everything catch all bag.

A couple of additional techniques I learned, actual felting lessons:

  • Use needle-nose pliers to pull felt out from the middle in order to straighten the edges
  • Attach i-cord to a flat piece of felt by making a brush end

Finally, after reflecting long and hard I realized that I knew a lot more than I thought I knew going into the class. Though self-taught, I have spent a lot of time analyzing my process and looking critically at my pieces. I now felt a lot harder and longer than I did before the workshop, but I also appreciate the place I am in now. I do know enough to continue teaching, and I don’t think I send any of my students home crying (please correct me if I’m wrong on this score). I will choose future classes carefully, only after speaking to someone who has studied under that teacher and knowing ahead of time what I hope to get out of the class.

The best thing that came out of that workshop was meeting two fabulous felters and intrepid travelers who drove day and night from Nevada and the Oregon Coast to attend the workshop. We stayed up late sharing, consoling, griping and praising each other. For their company, and the company of my dear partner in crime, Linda, who suffered  through it all with me, I am eternally grateful.

For the Birds

When I went away to the cabin in July, I had a few things I wanted to do with my time:

read some books (check, Fifty Miles to Tomorrow and When the Body Says No for me, several Roald Dahl and L.M. Montgomery for the younger set)
felt some flowers and soap (check, twelve flowers and 72 bars of soap thanks to the many helpers)
make a baby gift for my sister-in-law

As I packed, I tossed in three onesies I had bought on a whim a few weeks prior, a Michael Miller fabric remnant bought on clearance and a package of Heat ‘n Bond Lite. Not sure what to do with my supplies, I ignored the project until the last week of the vacation when suddenly inspiration hit like a bolt of lightning, as it is wont to do sometimes.

One of the girls staying at the cabin across the path from ours was wearing a t-shirt illustrated with sweet little birds. Sitting at the picnic table in front of her house, idly passing the time with a bunch of girls, I sketched a few versions of those birds.


Then it was a matter of tracing my birds onto the wrong side of the fabric plus the Heat ‘n Bond Lite, cutting out the shapes, and ironing them to the shirt. That part was done in a couple of hours after the kids were soundly asleep. Then I packed some embroidery floss and the shirts with me to the beach for several days until each bird was outlined and I had added a beak, legs and an eye  (apologies to Lisa for any smudges on the shirts – they were clean when I bought them). Ta-da! Mission accomplished.

Flickr Photos