Needle Felting

Needle Felting

I have another article in Threads magazine! Woo Hoo!  This article is about Needle Felting: applying wool roving and/or wool batts to a wool fabric with a special barbed needle.

The contents page of Threads Magazine, issue 212, with a model photo of the Needle Felted jacket on the right.

Threads Content page

Here is a photo of the jacket I made to showcase Needle Felting, on the index page of Threads, issue #212.  (I forgot to take photos of the jacket when it was completed!)  The white wool is from Gorgeous Fabrics /gorgeousfabrics.com. The jacket pattern is from Fit for Art Patterns https://fitforartpatterns.com/. The wool roving and batts are from Big Sky Fibers Arts https://store.bigskyfiberarts.com/.

Needle Felting is a wonderful technique that was supposed to have a chapter in Creating Couture Embellishment. The chapter was cut because I exceeded the 400 page maximum and Needle Felting was deemed “too crafty.” In retrospect, I think my samples were not elegant enough to adequately represent needle felting. Thank you Threads! for letting me make new a Needle Felting sample to accompany this article.  I think “crafty” does not apply to this jacket!

The editors at Threads are wonderful editors; they took my over-long article and cut it down to fit into six pages with out losing the basic information needed to explain the technique. Being a good editor requires being able to see the big picture and being able to trim away all the extra bits & bob to get to the heart of the story. This is not something I can do. I get so excited about all the bits & bobs that I try every variation to see what how they all work. In the end, I know what works well and what doesn’t work but I’ve got twice the material that’s needed. I guess that’s why I’m a writer, not an Editor, with a capitol E. Good thing I’m associated with great Editors.

So now- to get back on topic- Needle Felting… I’ve assumed that you have access to Threads magazine and/or know something about Needle Felting, so I am not going though the basics of Needle Felting. Instead I will explain some of my designing process.

A white wool jacket is on a dress form. Blue painter's tape has been applied at the waistline and at the same level on the sleeves.

The plain jacket on my dress with blue tape making a horizontal line.

Pictured above is the basic shell of the Tabula Rasa jacket from Fit for Art patterns, partially sewn together and draped on my dress form. I placed Blue Painter’s Tape on the jacket to mark the waistline and the same horizontal line on the sleeves. Having a horizontal guideline across all parts of the jacket facilitated the designing of the needle felting.

If this design were for me I would have kept the jacket on the dress form for most of the designing phase. However, Threads uses models that wear size 8-10 and I wear a size 12-14. I was afraid that keeping the jacket on my dress form for too long would stretch out the wool along the neckline and sleeve heads; those areas were susceptible to stretching as the cut edges have varying grain lines. Additionally, in my studio, photographing in-progress garments is easier on a flat surface than on the dress form.

 

The white wool jacket laid flat.

The plain jacket as a canvas.

This photo shows the jacket laid flat. Threads cropped out the background for the article; you get to see the unedited version of this photo.  The side panels were sewn to the front panels and are at “the bottom” of the photo. Eventually the side panels will be sewn to the back panels. The sleeves extend out to the sides, with the underarm seams un-sewn.

Knowing the article was going to be in the Fall issue of Threads I ordered wool roving and batts in autumnal colors: maroon, dark red, medium red, pumpkin orange, yellow gold.

Initially, I was thinking of an ombre pattern, going from dark around the neck to lightest at the hem. That iteration was so far from what I imagined that I didn’t even take any pictures.

 

The white wool jacket partially covered in autumn colored blocks of wool batts.

The block version.

Then I played with blocks of wool batt.  This was not what I had imagined either.

Blocks of wool with twisted roving between them.

Blocks of wool with twisted roving between them.

I tried adding some twisted roving between the batt squares. The twisted roving didn’t help.

Back to the drawing board… I remembered this photo of Water Lilies from Pinterest.

Pink Waterlilies and green leaves in a garden setting.

Waterlilies

That led me to a William Morris coloring book (ISBN 978-1-62686-882-3), which led to me to a Victorian wallpaper book (ISBN 978-0-486-46135-9) and this design.

An intricate green Victorian wallpaper pattern.

An intricate green Victorian wallpaper pattern.

I simplified the design to create this stencil. The stencil separates into 2 parts: a negative stencil, where the design elements are empty spaces and a positive stencil, where the design elements are solid forms.

A grey and white stencil version of the Victorian wallpaper.

My stencil

 

The stencil cut into 2 parts: negative and positive pieces.

The stencil cut out with red paper behind to make the stencil visible.

The negative version of the stencil

 

The positive pieces of the stencil on a red piece of a paper.

The positive stencil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wool jacket with the postive stencil pieces laid all over.

The positive stencil pieces laid out.

I placed the positive stencil pieces on the jacket. Once I was pleased with the design I took a photo of the jacket so I knew where everything went.

 

 

A sampling of colors for the flower.

A sampling of colors for the flowers and vines.

I had to try some techniques and color combinations on a wool scrap before I started.

The first flower is started using the stencil. The stencil crosses the horizontal reference line.

The first flower started.

Starting: the stencil crosses the horizontal guideline.

 

The first flower and vine are completed.

Making progress

A completed flower, with a glimpse of the blue tape on the right.

The Needle Felting is completed. The jacket is laid out flat.

The Needle Felted jacket

 

This photograph shows the jacket nearly all felted. Of course, as I worked on the needle felting, the design changed. The vines on the lower left front of the jacket were shortened (on the bottom right in the photo.) A vine was added to the right side panel and more flower buds were added to the back.

I added fusible interfacing to the whole jacket. Initially, I intended to add fusible interfacing only to the main parts of the jacket, but the interfacing changed the color of the wool just slightly so I added the fusible interfacing to the whole jacket. The fusible interfacing added support for the jacket and locked the felted wool to the jacket a little bit more. Then I sewed the jacket together. The entire jacket was lined for comfort; I find wool very itchy.

I didn’t put the jacket on my dress form when it was completed because I was afraid of stretching it, so I only looked at the jacket from the front and then from the back. In retrospect, I wished I had felted more on the back. The back has a lovely light, curvilinear vine pattern, much like a Western shirt. The front has the same curvilinear vine but accented with the heavy Victorian flowers. A few more vines trailing down the back, with a Victorian flower or two would balance the jacket’s design better. Oh, the things we see after some time away from a project!

In closing, I want to show you the some work from two artists who also work in Needle Felting, Dawn Waters http://www.dawnwaters.art  and Lyn Slade  http://www.lynslade.com  

Aren’t they amazing?

Dawn Waters faces

Dawn Waters’s faces

 

 

Willie Nelson in felt

Dawn Waters’s Willie Nelson portrait

 

 

 

Falling leaves on black

Lyn Slade’s Falling Leaves

Wave in Needle Felt

Lyn Slade’s Wave

 

 

 

My work room

My work room is in my home. We have recently moved into this house (10 months ago!)  so my work room is still a work in progress. I have to think: where did I put those duck billed scissors? Or the fabric markers? Still it is lovely space: filled with light and beautiful fabrics.

At the top of the stairs from the front hall is large loft-like space; this is my workroom. Along the far wall of my room are west-facing windows that look out over the river near us.

The view from my work room at high tide

I have 2 industrial sewing machines positioned along the north wall: a straight stitch and a zizgzag machine. On the south wall I have a bamboo counter that holds a small ironing board and my industrial iron. The north and south walls also have shelves starting at 5’ off the floor and continuing up to 10’. On one set of shelves are my books of Fashion History and inspiration. On the other set of shelves are boxes of fabric that I hope to use soon.

Ellen, wearing a pin-tucked, green, corduroy shirt showing some ribbon flowers

 At my work table with some ribbon flowers

In the center of the room I have a custom made table that is 38” high and is 47.5” wide by 66” long with a dropped leaf to extend the table to 92” long. The table is topped by a large cutting mat as I prefer cutting fabric with a rotary cutter. As I work on a project I’m very good at covering every flat surface in my workroom with bits and bobs, so I try to start with all the flat surfaces cleaned off.

All of my tools and supplies have a home in a drawer or a labeled box. It makes me crazy to not be able to find something, so everything has a place to live—in theory. Of course there are a couple of boxes that have all the odd things thrown together: rhinestone setter, grommet setter, electric knife for cutting foam and a bead spinner are in one box.

I made the switch to an industrial iron and sewing machine many years ago. I was exasperated by my home sewing machine needing to be repaired all the time; I needed something sturdier. With the industrial straight stitch machine I can sew fine chiffons or thick wools with just a few adjustments of the tension discs and the stitch length. The zigzag machine is a little more complicated than the straight stich machine so I need to spend more getting the stitches just right. I also have a 3-4 thread serger. I dream of owning a cover stitch machine.

Last but not least I have a stereo in my workroom. I listen to the music, the news, audio books while working. I find the tempo of the music keeps me moving forward: Loreena McKinnett or Jesse Cook are good when working on complicated pattern changes, while Bruno Mars, Beyonce or Adele are good when working on more straight forward things.

The view from my work room at low tide

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On not writing

Instead of writing about sewing for this blog I find I am collecting other writers’ thoughts about interruptions while one is writing! Today’s gem is from the poet Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver: The Artist’s Task

It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia page about Mary Oliver:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Oliver

Ms. Oliver’s poetry is sublime; it speaks to whatever your point of view is at the moment.  I find many of her poems speak of Nature’s clothing.  Haha!  There are two snippets of her poems on the Wikipedia page if you have never read any of Mary Oliver’s poetry and there are full versions of selected poems on the internet.  I’m sure you’ll find her work says something unique to you.

If I am a sewing machine…

If I’m a sewing machine, what are you?

While floating in the swimming pool with Alice (of the re-fashioned Kimono) and my cousin Abby (donor of the Kimono) we were talking about our extended family. Abby was describing people for Alice in Abby’s unique way.

Juki sewing machine

 

One of Alice’s 2nd cousins was described as, “ felted wool sweater and hard cover book.”

2 hard cover books on a table

 

A distant cousin was described as “organic herbs and felted wool hat.”

Sage with some bug eaten holes.

Alice and I thought this method of describing people was very funny, accurate and hard to do. We tried to describe other members of our large extended family using Abby’s object driven descriptions and ran into problems. How many adjectives can be used to describe the object? Does the order of objects matter?

As we floated in the pool, I decided I was sewing machine: lots of potential for doing all kinds of stitches, but I need to be plugged in and turned On. To translate that: I can sew, I can write, I can organize, etc. but I have trouble getting started. Most of the time the jolt of energy from my morning coffee gets me going, but sometimes even the coffee doesn’t work; I get plugged in but the switch isn’t turned On. I’ll find myself reading all three newspapers on the breakfast table and think longingly about the novel I’m reading, instead of the challenging sewing on my worktable. I know that if I can get to my workroom and get started on the current project I will become totally absorbed in the work.

Once I get turned On I have trouble stopping- the Off switch is elusive. I will be totally and happily absorbed in my work and the hours will fly by – until my husband (or my grumbling stomach) reminds me it’s time to eat. My reply, “Yes, thanks for the reminder, I’ll be there in 5 minutes” and mean that. Somehow the 5 minutes turns into 30 minutes and by then I’m totally out of energy. Luckily, my husband knows this about me and compensates for my totally absorbed state/tardiness. So hitting the Off switch is as hard as hitting the On switch for me.

What about you? Are you an elevator? Moving from one floor/task to another as the people around you demand your attention? A tractor plowing through your tasks? Or maybe a weed whacker: capable of cutting through the weeds to expose the hidden flowers?

 

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