Here we are in January 2021, with Covid vaccines being approved for use and hope for brighter, more normal days just over the horizon. January is traditionally a month for reflection and making plans for the future. This year more than ever and I have an additional reason to be focussed on the year ahead….. my partner has accepted a job offer from Aukland University, so we will be moving to New Zealand in March / April.
Part of me thinks, the middle of a pandemic has to be the worst time to make such a drastic move but then, is there ever a good time? At least New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world who have a managed to control the virus on their shores and, consequently, are leading a relatively normal existence.
We made the decision to move in November and have been decluttering ever since, I am horrified by how much STUFF we have accumulated in our 10 years in this house. In many ways it has been a lovely trip down memory lane, finding trinkets and photos that have languished in a cupboard or box for 10, 20, even 30+ years.
While my felt samples aren’t quite that old (the oldest might be around 10 years old) they did bring back many happy memories as I was sorting through them, trying to decide which ones to keep.
Some of them document some interesting ideas, techniques and experiments that I thought might be of interest to you too….
Colour blending techniques:
When we felt, we are encouraging the fibres to mix and mingle, so when we apply layers of wool in different colours, the colours also migrate and mix, a little bit like mixing paint. This first technique is something I try to get my bag class students to incorporate as it makes for an easy way to achieve subtle tint / tone graduation on the outside of the bag:
The more this piece is fulled the greater the effect the black and white fibres will have on the colours on the front. By adding a mid-grey between the black and white you can achieve a more subtle change of tone to the coloured side of the felt.
Mixing different colours is also possible and this is so much fun for anyone interested in colour-theory. For this next sample I laid out 2 fine layers of different colours of merino over a green base. Up close (if you click on the image it should enlarge), you can still see the distinct colours in a random marbled pattern but from a distance the colours blend and because I have used colours on the opposite side of the colour wheel, the resulting blends are dulling the top colours and edging them towards greys and browns.
This sample was made by nuno-felting some hand-dyed cotton muslin to merino wool. Then painting on devore paste, leaving it work its magic for a few minutes before washing the paste out. The paste dissolves / etches away the plant-based fibre (cotton) but leaves the animal fibres (wool) in tact, the grey wool can be seen where the violet / red cotton has been removed.
Layering different materials / fibres
This next sample is one of my favourites although the technique is nothing particularly ground-breaking, it is strips of hand-dyed prefelt, laid over hand dyed habouti silk on a merino base.
This is the back, I really like the way the prefelts on the front have created a subtle, embossed effect on the back.
Adding locks for texture
When most of us think of adding locks to a piece, it is to add lots of fluffy texture with the locks only attached to the base felt at their base but on a workshop I took with Heidi Grebb we explored laying out locks much as you would a final layer of tops….
By laying different coloured yarns (ideally different weights too), it is possible to create felt that looks a lot like tweed. If you use yarns with a high wool content, they will felt into the wool base on their own. If using yarns with a higher synthetic content you will need to add a very fine layer of wool fibre over the top to help anchor the yarns into place.
This last sample is my favourite, perhaps I should stop calling it a sample and think of it as a mini work of art instead… It is three, silk cocoons felted between several layers of Bergschaff.
I hope you found these samples / techniques interesting, if you have any questions about them, please ask!
As part of my mammoth clear-out I have a couple of items listed on Ebay that UK residents might be interested in:
A whole Wensleydale fleece, I am gutted to be leaving this behind but I know NZ border biosecurity will incinerate it on sight and that would be even more heart-breaking: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/333851163732
Like many of you, I belong to some textile groups that would normally meet in person but this year have needed to find alternative ways to work together. One such group is the Farnborough Embroiderer’s Guild (EG). This EG group is quite unusual in that rather than inviting speakers to talk about their practice, we all take it in turns to teach each other new skills. Three months ago we started meeting via Zoom and I have to confess in some ways I actually prefer it! We aren’t a large group but when we meet in person I often end up only talking to the 2-3 people I am sat nearest to, on Zoom the whole group shares the same conversation which is nice and feels very inclusive. The other advantage is the lack of commute, for me, this means I get to eat before we gather and I can have a glass of wine while we play together 🙂
Last month Sue took us through a technique to create foiled pictures; I don’t know about you but I can’t resist a bit of bling! As we are approaching holiday season it also feels very appropriate to share this with you now. I hope you enjoy it and feel inspired to have a go!
Although I have played with foils before it was only as decorative finishing touches never as the basis create a whole textile picture. Even so, I still managed to make every mistake in the book but was pleased to find foils are remarkably accommodating, if you make a mistake, it can (mostly) be rectified with layering more foil over the top.
Unfortunately it did not occur to me to take photos of the process until I was half way through my picture, I apologise for the lack of photos covering the initial stages of the process. The first few photos are where I went back and reapplied the bondaweb on the beak as my initial application had not transferred completely.
This was the reference photo I used for inspiration:
Some useful tips before you start:
set your iron on a low to medium (1 to 2 dots) setting without steam
always use a sheet of baking parchment to protect your iron
work on an ironing board
1: Cut a piece of medium weight, iron-fusible interfacing / fabric stabiliser slightly smaller than the background fabric and iron it to the back of your fabric. We used black cotton velvet but most non-synthetic fabrics will work (synthetic fabrics are best avoided for this technique as they might melt when heat is applied).
2: Draw out your design with a pencil on the paper side of a sheet of bondaweb. If you aren’t confident drawing freehand, you can trace the design from a printed image. Cut out your design, either as one solid shape or in sections if you plan to create a stained glass effect. For the hummingbird I cut out the whole bird as a single piece.
3: Transfer the bondaweb design onto your backing fabric.
If you are using the stained glass technique you might want to transfer one piece at a time, foil it then apply the next bondaweb shape.
4: Once cooled, carefully peel off the paper backing from the bondaweb.
5: Lay a piece of foil (coloured side facing you) over the exposed bondaweb and cover this with a piece of baking parchment, using the tip or edge of your iron, apply gentle pressure to the areas where you would like that coloured foil to appear.
Allow the piece too cool before peeling back the foil backing.
Tip: you can cut out pieces of baking parchment paper to mask off areas where you do not want that particular colour to appear.
If there are areas where the bondaweb has not transferred so well, or you have already applied several layers foils and want to lay a different colour over the top you can reapply the bondaweb but cutting a shape to match the area, I did this for the edge of breast where I wanted the purple to form a solid line:
If you want a sharp edge in a specific shape, it is also possible to cut the foil to match the shape you desire:
6: Continue adding different coloured foils to your design. If using cotton velvet for the backing it is possible to build up layers of different coloured foils without applying more bondaweb.
Tip: keep the scraps of partially used foils, they can be used to overlay different colours on top of each other very pretty marbled colours.
It is possible to “draw” lines of foil using just the tip or edge of your iron, I used this technique to create the feathers on the wings:
It is not very easy to capture foils in a photo, especially the holographic ones so I shot a short video that I hope shows all the different colours more effectively:
Our group will meet again online later this month to add some embroidery to our designs, I can’t wait to see what everyone else has created! 🙂
Every few months (before Coronavirus blighted our lives) I used to meet with a couple of friends for felting play dates, where we share what we have been working on, discuss ideas for future projects and teach each other new skills. Last month we had our first felting play date for more than 6 months. It was just so lovely to chat woolly gossip while working on our own projects, Janine all but had to throw Nancy and me out of her gorgeous studio at the end of the day!
During our show and tell Janine shared a gorgeous wrap-around shawl she had knitted, it was based on a traditional Danish design that is tied behind your back so you do not need a hand or shawl pin to hold it in place, ingenious!
I took one look at Janine’s shawl and knew I wanted to make a nuno-felt version.
As the pattern of this shawl is symmetrical, it was an ideal candidate for laying out over a resist. Unfortunately I did not have the foresight to measure Janine’s shawl but manage to fudge my calculations based on my own body measurements and created a resist allowing for 50% shrinkage.
I laid out a very pretty piece of blue and pink silk chiffon over both sides of the resist, wetting it so the fabric adhered to the resist and then trimmed the silk to the size of the resist.
Then I laid out 2 layers of merino on each side of the resist, adding a felt rope to each side of the pointed tip before rubbing and rolling until the wool was starting to shrink.
To remove the resist I cut along all of the curved edges, leaving only the straight edge intact.
Some more fulling and trimming later, this is the result:
It is far from perfect, I have a long list of changes to make for the next iteration but this design definitely has possibilities…. coming to an Etsy shop near you before Christmas! (sorry, I know I should not mention the C word this early in the year! 😉 ).
Speaking of shops, another piece of good news is that the Craft Coop in Camberley are hosting a mini exhibition of my work this week (on now until Sunday 20th September), if you are in the area please do pop in, we are in the Square Shopping Centre.
A friendly reminder that registration for the Concertina Hat and Felted Bags classes is now open. This will be your last chance to take these classes this year, please email me ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate.
More information on these classes can be found here:
July has been another crazy moth, since the UK government announced almost everyone must wear a face covering in shops as well as on public transport I have had almost no time for felting. When I started making masks for friends and family in late April I never for a moment thought I would sell more than 1,000 and donate several hundred more. It has been a strange time but I hope my efforts are in some small way limiting the spread of this nasty virus.
In amongst all the furious cutting and sewing my online students have been keeping me sane, unwittingly allowing me to live vicariously through their posts, revelling in their felt-making while I could not make any myself. Thank you all, you have no idea how much solace and inspiration your beautiful felted creations have provided over the past few months.
I hope you all enjoy their works as much as I did….
I am frequently asked about how to make a concertina style witch’s hat so, finally, and long overdue, I got around to making one this week. I am relieved to discover the plan of action I suggested when asked how to make one does actually work in practice 🙂
A new set of class dates has just been agreed, you read it here first!
Registration will open on Sep 15th, with the first felting tutorial posted on Sep 24th and the forum will remain open for sharing, discussion and questions until Nov 15th.
If you would like to receive an email notification just before registration opens please email email@example.com indicating if you would like to hear about the concertina hat or the bag class (or both!).
There has been an overwhelming deluge of information and some confusion around the use of face masks to limit the spread of coronavirus in recent weeks. I thought I would put my science background (I studied coronaviruses for my PhD) to good use and try to summarise the deluge of new information into something more digestible to the lay-person, in particular those looking to make or buy a handmade face mask.
Please, if you take nothing else from this post, remember this….
Wearing a homemade mask alone will not prevent you from catching Coronavirus, hand-washing and social distancing are still needed but wearing a mask is widely accepted to help keep us from unwittingly spreading the virus.
What masks do most effectively is limit the spread of virus from people who are not yet showing symptoms to other people. While they make it more difficult for you to touch your nose and mouth they will not stop you touching a contaminated handle and then rubbing your eyes. Social distancing (keeping 2 m / 6 feet away from anyone you do not live with), avoiding touching your face while out of your home and scrupulous hand hygiene are still your best bet for avoiding this nasty infection.
Think of mask-wearing as an act of altruism, you are protecting everyone else from the virus that you might be breathing out without even knowing that you have the infection. Between 20 and 50% of people infected with coronavirus do not know they have it and there have been documented instances of asymptomatic carriers infecting other people (Mizumoto, Nishiura). Masks are most effective in limiting viral infections if everyone wears them while in confined public spaces.
Most of the world has now adopted a policy of wearing masks in enclosed public spaces (public transport and shops are key hot spots where you might have close encounters with people you do not live with), it looks like face masks are here to stay.
Please don’t rush out to buy an N95 mask or surgical face mask, our healthcare workers (from doctors to nursing home assistants) need these much more than we do.
Another issue with the general public using disposable, medical-grade face masks is the environmental impact, they contain synthetic materials that will take centuries to degrade, piling up in land-fill sites for generations to come. Unfortunately, washing and reusing them is not an option for most of these masks, they disintegrate and lose their filtering integrity if you put them in the washing machine. Making or buying a reusable face mask is far more eco-friendly and sustainable for the planet.
Which materials make the best face masks?
There have been several papers submitted or published on this topic recently, some with very exciting results but I think we need to consider the data regarding particle size penetration of different materials with a healthy dose of scepticism. These data are generated in a lab with specialist equipment and as such are a useful starting point but do not take into account human behaviour or the “sticky-ness” of virus particles and the liquid droplets they are invariably carried in when a person talks, coughs or sneezes. These studies are conducted by blowing particles of a known size through samples of fabric and then measuring how many particles reach the other side.
This area is a rapidly evolving topic of research, I fully expect mask material recommendations will be updated multiple times in the coming weeks and months.
What do N95 N99, FFP-2 and FFP-3 mean?
These masks are seen as the gold standard and are currently in short supply as they are are single-use items, desperately needed by front-line medical staff.
FFP-2* (Filtering Facepiece against Particles) and N95 meet equivalent standards, the materials of both masks will trap at least 95% of 0.3 micrometer (um) diameter particles.
FFP-3 and N99 are broadly equivalent to each other too, trapping at least 99% of particles.
As with all masks, how well they fit an individual will impact their effectiveness, this is particularly true in children (van der Sande).
While coronaviruses, measuring 0.1-0.2um, are smaller than the 3um particles used to test commercial dust masks and respirators they are expelled from the body (through talking / coughing / sneezing) in fluid droplets, and these droplets are typically 0.1-10um in diameter (Zayas).
*FFP is most commonly used in Europe and sometimes you will see FFP2 / FFP3 abbreviated to P2 / P3.
When selecting a mask material there has to be a trade-off between breathability and particle filtration (how many particles will be let through). At its extreme, plastic sheet may give 100% protection against virus particle transmission but it does not allow the wearer to breath so is useless as a mask material. At the other end of the spectrum, cotton scrim has large open holes between the threads, it is very easy to breathe through but also allows even large particles to pass through unhindered.
Recommendations for mask material selection
Up until last week, I was making masks with good quality quilter’s cotton fabric (at least 80 threads per inch), which had been recommended by several research groups, and a layer of flannel (I suspected that the fluffy surface of flannel would capture more particles but had not read any papers that had tested it as a material).
Then, last week I stumbled across a very exciting paper. It was submitted on 24th April to the American Chemistry Society Nano (I know, not looking very exciting so far but bear with me…). This team reported on the effect of combining different materials to improve small particle filtration without sacrificing breathability (Konda). Some of the combinations they tested performed better than the surgical masks and were on a par with the N95 masks under laboratory conditions. This table summarises their most promising materials:
As mask makers, we are most interested in the left hand column, the less than 300 nm column. 300 nm = 0.3 um and if your recall, coronaviruses are roughly 0.1-0.2 um in size, so in aerosol form they will come under that column but in droplet from they would most likely be in the middle column for particle size, however, these larger droplets tend to fall to the ground quickly so you are less likely to be breathing them. The higher the number in these 2 columns the better, this reflects the percentage of particles that the material has trapped.
The column on the right is a reflection of how breathable the fabric combinations are, i.e. how hard you have to breathe to move air through the layers of fabric. Although slightly increased in comparison to the N95 and surgical masks the researches indicated mask wearers would be unlikely to tell the difference in practice.
I was disappointed that the researches did not share which type of “natural silk” they used, they do not appear to be aware that silk fabric is available in a very wide range of weights and unlike some of the other fabrics tested, they did not provide a supplier either. I am going to assume they used a medium weight (5-8 MM) as 4 layers of heavy-weight (12MM) silk would be quite difficult to breathe through.
The results for silk fabric are likely to be of interest if you are thinking of folding a cotton bandana looped over 2 elastic bands to create a makeshift face covering, you might want to reach for a silk scarf instead!
Which shape mask should I make?
The Konda et al group were keen to point out that a poorly fitting mask significantly reduces its ability to filter particles, even the much coveted N95 mask only managed to filter 34% of particles if the mask did not form a tight seal. This seems rather obvious, if there is a gap between your skin and the mask, air is going to take the route of least resistance and flow through the gap rather than the material. Therefore, finding a mask shape that fits snugly is at least as important as choosing the right materials.
Thousands of different face mask designs / templates have been shared online in recent weeks, many with accompanying instructions on how to assemble your mask. I won’t list them here but if you Google “free face mask pattern” you will have hundreds to choose from.
The first design I tried did not fit at all well, it did not include a nose clip so gaped either side of my nose, and when I talked it rode down, almost exposing my nostrils. I had a play with a few different templates in an attempt to find one that fitted well and this is what I found:
Include a nose clip, this could be made from any bendable metal but aluminium or plastic coated metals are preferred since it will be washed and you don’t want the metal to rust, twisty ties are recommended by several makers.
I found the pleated designs offered enough length to wrap under your chin and not move around when you talk.
Make sure it is wide enough, the outer edges of your mask should extend beyond the outer corners of your eyes but not reach your hairline.
Elastic or adjustable straps will help to accommodate different head sizes.
Another important consideration is washability. Coronaviruses, are an enveloped virus (this means they have a lipid [fatty] outer layer) this layer breaks down when exposed to detergents (just like washing up liquid cleaning greasy dishes), without its lipid envelope the virus is inactivated. This is why hand-washing with soap and water is so effective. Washing your face mask with detergent will also destroy virus particles trapped within its fibres. Making your masks machine washable makes it easy to ensure you never need to reuse a dirty mask, you just pop them in the machine with the rest of your washing.
I make my masks from machine washable materials. If you want to use paper towel or coffee filter papers in your mask, I would choose one of the mask designs with a filter pocket.
Are some materials toxic?
Yes, you do need to be careful, especially with HEPA filters, some of which contain fibreglass, you really don’t want to be inhaling microscopic fragments of that!
I also strongly recommend machine washing any fabrics you plan to use, partly because they sometimes shrink the first time they are washed but mainly to remove any size and other treatments left on the cloth during manufacturing.
Using masks while caring for someone with Covid-19 symptoms
I am surprised by how little this is discussed in the press, while various governments request or instruct us to wear masks when in potentially crowded public spaces and that healthcare professionals should were them as PPE when treating patients there is rarely any mention of using them in the home if you are isolating with someone with Covid-19 symptoms.
Wherever possible, the sick person should isolate themselves in one room as much as possible, if they need to leave that room (to got to the bathroom for example) I recommend they should wear a mask. Similarly, if anyone needs to enter their room, I think it is a wise precaution for both parties to wear a mask, the only exception is if the sick person is struggling to breathe, in which case you probably should be calling for an ambulance.
Homemade face masks worn in public spaces, where social distancing is difficult, will help limit the spread of coronavirus but they are no replacement for good hand hygiene and social distancing.
Include a nose clip in your masks to achieve a good fit.
The best materials for constructing your masks include, quilter’s cotton, polyester chiffon, flannel and natural silk. Layering a combination of different materials in the same mask is likely to produce the best filtration and may be on a par with N95 masks.
At least 2 layers of fabric is advisable but be wary of using too many layers, you still need to be able breath through your mask (not around it!)
Always wash and dry your mask after each use.
Please leave the medical grade masks for the medics and give yourself a pat on the back for not only helping them but investing in a reusable face mask that is better for the environment too 🙂