Felting for Embroidery

I have been attending my local Embroiderer’s Guild (Farnborough) for a year or so now, we meet monthly and our group is slightly unusual in that we focus on teaching each other practical skills rather than inviting speakers. Last month we made coiled bowls and before that temari balls.

Being a feltmaker it was no surprise when I was asked if I would teach the group to make a piece of felt that we could then embroider at the following meeting. It was quite a tall order, 13 ladies, 11 of whom had never handled wool tops before, let alone made felt and we only had 2.5 hours to complete our projects in…

Most embraced a landscape for their first piece of felt, rather fitting with the Q1 challenge although, of course they did not know about it 🙂

Deborah
Lindsay
Alison
Sally
Teri

Others took a more abstract approach….

Anne
Karen
Sue

Marion

I can’t wait to see how they look after the addition of some embroidery next month, I have great plans for machine embroidery on mine, it is going to be a lot of fun!

If you are local and interested in the Farnborough (UK) Embroiderer’s Guild we would love to hear from you, please email Sue and Anne at farnborougheg@gmail.com for more information

Biophilia and Felting Friendships

It is almost a year to the day that I gave up my day job of setting up clinical trials of new drugs for hospital patients to pursue my dream of making felt full-time.

Related image

A post on FB this week, prompted me to reflect on why I made that choice. One year in to my new adventure and the start of a new year, this seems like a good place to pause and take stock.

The post on FB asked us to choose the 3 main reasons why we chose to use our creative talents to go self-employed because lets face it, most of us don’t do it for the financial rewards, if economic security is top of your agenda, going self-employed in the creative arts is likely to be low on your list of employment choices.

This is the list of values to choose from but you are welcome to add your own, they came from Shannah Kennedy’s book: Simplify, Structure, Succeed.

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Which 3 did you choose?

Mine were:

Freedom and Health: being self-employed means I can go for a 2 hour run or a long walk in the middle of the day if I want to, being able to down tools and go outside when the sun is shining has made me far more physically active and the psychological benefits of spending more time outside, in our beautiful British countryside, means I am far less stressed. This also relates to biophilia (see below) which is also supported by working with wool.

I also love that I don’t have to get up a silly o’clock in the morning to sit in traffic jams with thousands of other equally miserable people trying to get to the office before 9 am. There’s a lot to be said for home-working!

Order/stability : I found working in the corporate world could be incredibly stressful, every 2-3 years we would have a new VP, none of them could ever accept that the systems installed by their predecessor worked just fine and so felt they needed to restructure the entire company in an effort to leave their mark, like dogs peeing on a lamppost. We were constantly working in a state of flux, trying to navigate new processes but never being allowed to do the same thing long enough to get good at it before a new VP would come along and change everything again!

I wouldn’t describe my life as particularly ordered; Einstein summed it up well, “If a messy desk reflects a messy mind, of what does and empty desk reflect?”. I am messy and proud! 🙂 But compared to the corporate world my current work-life does feel a lot more stable, my processes only change when I need them to, not because someone else is peeing on my lamppost!

Of course, one downside to being a self-employed maker is that many of us feel we have to take the work when it comes, this can lead to working 18 hour days but that is my decision to work long hours (not due to some arbitrary deadline set by a faceless manager) and if I don’t want to work that many hours, I can always refuse a commission or only accept it with an extended delivery deadline. There’s nothing to say you have to take on every piece of work that is offered to you, in fact I think there are some things you should always say no to, but that is a whole other post!

Biophilia: Not on the list I know, but I think it is very relevant for most of us. Those of you who make felt on a regular basis will understand the deep connection with nature and the past that it brings, taking natural fibres and thousands-year-old techniques to create beautiful works guided only by your imagination and what the materials want to do.

I recently discovered this connection with nature and the desire to surround ourselves with natural materials has a name; biophilia. It seems to be something of a trend in textile studies at the moment but of course felt-makers have been familiar with the concept (if not the name) for centuries 🙂

Felting Friendships

One of the respondents on the FB page also talked about how isolating it can be to be a creative working from home, she described how she has changed from an assertive, confident woman to feeling like a timid mouse. I felt so sad reading that but I can easily relate to where she is coming from. Working on your own, 7 days a week can be tough, even for introverts who are comfortable with their own company, I can only imagine it must be an impossible challenge for extroverts.

For me, while designing and making are where I find the most fulfilment in my work, I realise that attending fairs and teaching are what keeps me sane. I need that social interaction, while Pickle (my cat) is very chatty, his conversation is hardly what anyone would think of as intelligent.

If you mostly work alone, how do you find it? Do you have strategies for coping with the isolation?

I think we are social animals (even the introverts!), we need to connect with other humans and for me, I am finding I need to collaborate and share with others, Open Studio events and craft fairs are great ways to connect but are quite sporadic so I was chuffed to bits to spend a day with Janine and Nancy making winged vessels in Janine’s studio (she has a studio to die for!). I am already looking forward to our next play-date and hope this will become a regular event in our diaries. I have long admired Ruth’s creative textile gatherings and hope we can develop something similar.

These are what we made on the day:

Janine – green vase, Teri – cloche hat with rosette, Nancy – large winged pod

My hat after it was dyed:

Runniversay

Alright, full disclosure…. the observant may have already guessed this is not going to be a textile-related post, if exercise is a dirty word and weight loss / getting fitter aren’t on your 2019 wish list, I completely understand but please come back next week, I promise to have something more woolly to offer 🙂 If you struggle with your weight or maintaining your good intentions for exercise I hope you will find my story of interest….

Last January my GP informed me that my BP was on the high side, nothing to be alarmed about but something that could be improved with exercise. If I chose to do nothing about I would likely end up on medication. That combined with the weighing scales groaning every time I gingerly stepped on them and a family history of diabetes was enough to make me take some action.

So what to do about it?

When I was at school they made us run multiple laps around the rugby/football/cricket pitches two or three times a year. To say I HATED IT would be a massive understatement. I was always the last to finish (walking most of the route) and so became quite convinced I could not run, I firmly believed that for decades (amazing what they teach in schools isn’t it?!)

A few years ago I decided to challenge the label my teenage self had adopted so I started following a couch to 5k (3 miles) program, half way through the program I got stuck and just could not seem to run for longer than 10 minutes so I gave up and and a few months later tried a different program, and then another and another. You get the picture, and of course every failure was another confirmation that my teenage self was right after all.

Fast forward 6 years, to January 2018, and I found the One You C25K app, I’m not sure what changed, was it Jo Wiley’s (a well known UK radio DJ) chatty commentary in my ear, encouraging me to keep going, the nagging anxiety that my health would suffer if I didn’t do this or the structure of this plan? It was probably a combination of all three, all I can say is I am so glad found it. Out of the 6 or 7 C25K programs I have tried, this is the only one I would recommend, and unlike some of the failed programs One You is free, I have posted the link to the iPhone version above but I believe there is an Android version too.

It took me a little longer than the predicted 9 weeks but by April I was jogging (very slowly) for 30 minutes without stopping or walking. That was a major achievement for me! 🙂

Soon after posting my progress on Facebook a friend suggested I try a ParkRun. These are weekly, 5km (3 mile) events, held in parks and public spaces all over the world. Very conscious that my 30 minutes of jogging only covered 3km I wondered if I could really do it and would the teenage humiliation of being the last one to finish be publicly re-enacted? Part of me was dreading it.

I needn’t have worried, yes I was tediously slow, and out of a field of more than 400 participants I was among the last 10 to cross the finish line, but I wasn’t last! I later found out there are always some people who walk the 5km and there is always a “tail-walker”, a ParkRun volunteer who makes sure they are last to cross the finish so no-one has to suffer that indignity, no matter how slow they are.

Through ParkRun I discovered there is a very friendly and relaxed running group in my village. My first outing with them was something else I worried needlessly about. I was having nightmares about drill-sergeants shouting at me to run faster! Don’t be so lazy! etc etc. But the reality could not have been more different, Normandy Running Group are a wonderfully supportive group of people who welcome and accommodate everyone, no matter how slow.

Once I was covering 5 km, three times a week I needed a new challenge, so found a bridge to 10 km (6 miles) plan, and boy was it a challenge! It took a few tries but once I accepted that I didn’t need to run continuously for the whole 10 km I did it, I am now in the middle of a Half Marathon training plan, currently covering about 30 km a week. The big event is in March, wish me luck!

It is hard to believe how far I have come in just 365 days but if an non-runner like me can do it anyone can! I have lost 10 kg (22 lb), my BP is on the lower end of normal for my age and I look and feel so much better.

What do I wish I had known a year ago?

  • take it slowly, there’s no need to run fast and try not to be bouncy when you run
  • don’t be afraid to repeat some of the C25K runs if you don’t manage to complete the assigned run times, you will get stronger and it will get easier each time you repeat it
  • the rest days between each run are just as important as the running days, your muscles need at least 24 hours to recover
  • be brave, try new things, even if they are really scary, you’ll never know what you can achieve until you try
  • give ParkRun a try, its free and everyone is so friendly and supportive they will make you feel like you are Mo Farrah!

I still find running hard but but have gone from hating it to loving it.

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a relaxing holiday spent with loved ones and 2019 has got off to a great start?

After a very busy December with almost too many commissions I allowed myself a well-earned week off between Christmas and New Year but yesterday was a fun reintroduction to the world of work; I was teaching 10, ten-year-olds at a birthday party for twins, Niamh and Hester. They were a very lively group of young ladies and they all did incredibly well (8 had never made felt before), these were the wonderful wool paintings they made:

Hester made great use of the nepps, I know some experienced feltmakers who struggle to get these to stay where you put them!
Can you see the sequins Niamh added to her tabby cat’s whiskers?
lovely use of dyed wool locks to create textured pebbles on a beach

Didn’t they all do fantastically well?

Sketchbook Challenge 2019

I was a little late getting started with this, but Magenta Sky started a new, 30-day sketchbook challenge on Jan 1st. I took part in one of these last year and it was a lot of fun and a good incentive to make me doodle in my sketchbook every day. It’s free and you can sign up at any time (the daily email prompts start whenever you sign up), if you would like to play along you can sign up here: http://www.magenta-sky.com/online-courses/30-day-sketchbook-challenge/

These are my interpretations of the first 3 prompts but there is also a FB page for those who have signed up to join in where you can see literally thousands of other images….

Day 1 – Something small
Day 2- Shells
Day 3 – Bags (I went a little obscure and chose some folded paper bags)

Exploring Botanical Printing

A few weeks ago I spotted a last minute ecoprinting workshop that Kim Winter from Flextiles was running, this is a technique I have been curious about for some time so I jumped at the chance to go play with a lovely group of ladies. It turns out this is the perfect time of year (in the northern hemisphere) to be ecoprinting as most plants are at the end of their growing season and I don’t feel so bad about denuding my beautiful Acer knowing it will shed its leaves in the next few weeks anyway.

The workshop focussed on printing on silk, probably the easiest of fibres to print as it doesn’t need to be mordanted first. These are the pieces I made during the workshop, out of respect for Kim I am not going to share her methods here but I think most of what we learned is available on the net. All but the first piece were printed with an iron blanket:

Printed and simultaneously dyed with onion skin, note the repeat (ghost) prints as no barrier was used

Silk dyed with tanin and iron blanket

I also took a  few scraps of nunofelt along to the workshop just to see what would happen and was pleasantly surprised with the results:

Top piece was dyed with tanin before printing

Although I came away from the workshop with a good range of samples I wanted to test more of my local plants on both cotton and silk and with my notoriously hard local water. The cotton was mordanted with 10% Weight of Fabric (WOF) Alum (Aluminium Potassium Sulphate), rinsed and dried before use. Mordanting is a process that makes it possible for the dye to form a chemical bond with the fabric, therefore making the dye colours stronger and more light- and wash-fast.

For almost all the leaves I placed one leaf (on the left) with the veins facing the fabric and a second leaf with the veins facing up. In almost all cases the side with the veins gave the best print.

These are my results on silk, as you can see, some plants produce much better prints than others. Clicking on the photos should enlarge them enough to read my plant labels, I am ashamed to admit I don’t know names for all of the plants are, so some are just location labels for my own reference:

And these are my results on alum-mordanted cotton (the cotton is pink from a magenta coloured top included in the mordant bath, but had the unintended benefit of revealing which plants might discharge the dye):

In the next photo the leaves in the lower left corner clearly discharged the dye.

I also had a play with some natural dyes too, madder and logwood. My biggest learning is that madder loses its colour above 60ºC so printing with steam onto madder-dyed fabric causes the colour to fade. But how I love logwood! You can get anything from pale grey-purple through to the deepest indigo-purple colours depending on the strength of the bath and how long you steep your cloth.

Pre-dying cloth with logwood has opened up the option of discharge printing, a technique that relies on the ability of certain plants to remove the dye from the cloth. These are some of my test pieces, very few of the plants I tried removed any of the logwood dye:

Feeling brave I raided my local charity shops for pale coloured clothes with a high cotton content and these are the results of my first attempts, some I am really pleased with and have been wearing at every opportunity 🙂

This was my first attempt, I was a little disappointed that the large fern frond I placed on each side only left a pale smudge rather than a print but otherwise there were some nice geranium prints.

This was the offending magenta top that dyed my test cottons pink but I was really pleased with the subtle crimson prints it gave.

This one was initially shibori-dyed with logwood – that gave the barbed-wire effect across the top (best seen in the second photo) and then printed with sycamore and deutzia leaves.

This is my favourite print so far, it was predominantly sycamores and acer. The lovely orangey-yellows were from just one tree, it still amazes me how different trees from similar species give such different prints.

This shirt was dyed with logwood and then printed with sacred bamboo and sycamore leaves. Unfortunately you cannot see distinct leaf shapes from the bamboo, it looks more like I splattered the shirt with white paint, the sycamore leaves gave a nice crimson print though.

I tried reprinting over the white areas with some more sycamore leaves and some virginia creeper. I’m still not happy with it… perhaps I will dye it with logwood again and just print with sycamore leaves instead.

I found some very pale lilac jeans, they still had their original shop labels, clearly whoever bought them had second thoughts about them by the time they got them home. Initially I printed them with chestnut and geranium leaves but was really disappointed with the pale quality of the prints so over printed them with sycamore leaves, that added the yellows and greens you can see below. Some of the yellow patches were in some rather unfortunate places…

So back into the dye pot they went! This time I rolled the jeans up with more sycamore leaves and a few from my acer tree and put them in a logwood dye bath….

I was hoping the logwood would reach the groin area on the front as well as the back but I do like the way the purple plays against the yellow.

If you are interested in exploring ecoprinting, these are some resources that I have found useful:

Printing with Botanicals FB page – there are several FB pages dedicated to ecoprinting but this one insists that anyone posting their work shares the method they used – incredibly helpful for beginners.

Wild Colours  – a UK supplier of mordants and natural dyes but they also list methods and recipes on their website.

For natural dyeing I can recommend Jenny Dean’s book, Wild Colours, she provides recipes and methods as well as colour swatches to give you an idea of how alum and iron will impact the final colour.

If you are concerned about the toxitiy of mordants used in natural dyeing (that was my main reason for not attempting it sooner) you might find this post interesting: https://alpenglowyarn.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/mordants-and-natural-dyeing-the-great-debate/

Confused about the difference between mordants and chemical assists? Take a look at this:  http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/FAQ/mordants_and_assists.shtml

Have you tried eco-printing? What results did you achieve?

 

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