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Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Joy of Felt

I love making stuff.  I always have.  It's the sheer satisfaction of having something at the end of the day which did not exist at the beginning of the day.  Creation.  Production.  Marvellous.  My hands down favourite ever job was working at Cordwainer's College, as a closing and making technician in the footwear department.  I had to help the students (I'd only just graduated from the college, myself) to get their designs off paper, make them work three dimensionally, and still be functional as a piece of footwear.  It was immensely challenging, took a lot of skill (oops, was that my own trumpet I just blew, there?), and was not a little stressful - invariably, if I they'd ask me to do something for them, it was because it was incredibly difficult (or at any rate, beyond them), or they were worried about wrecking the work they'd already put into their extremely precious piece.  Hugely rewarding, though - many many things existing at the end of the day which had been mere ideas days, weeks or months before.  And I got to spend a lot of time making my own stuff, too.  Hang on - none of that is about felt.

Right.  FELT!  These days, I don't have access to a shoe factory, and shoes which are entirely home-made don't really do it for me - I like my shoes more Hermes than Homespun.  So I need to get my creative kicks elsewhere.  Really, more or less anything will do.  Cooking's always a good start, and extremely relaxing, assuming I don't get the "what's THAT" treatment from the little sods - sorry, I mean the children.  Luckily that is (relatively) rare.  A spot of light drawing is nice.  Doing Things With Shells, or just thinking about Things To Do With Shells that won't end up looking like "A Souvenir From The Seaside" (oh, those shell-encrusted crinoline ladies - shudder), has been known to fill a happy few hours.  Growing veg, making pots for growing veg in, writing recipe books, embroidering stuff and making dresses for the children will also do, along with all sorts of random crafts along the way.  Currently, though, I can't get enough of making felt.

There's the wet-felting method, involving towels, bamboo mats, net curtains, soap, water, soapy water, boiling hot water, freezing cold water, and lots of elbow grease.  And there's the needle-felting method, involving a book sized bit of foam (sponge-type foam, not soapy-bubble-type foam), a sofa (ideally, anyway - this sofa stuff is really growing on me), and a needle.  I love both in equal measure.

It's incredibly satisfying to run your fingers through a bag of different coloured merino wool tops, select some, tease them out, put them together as you like, and end up with something solid, which can carry stuff, or keep you warm, or just be beautiful.  It's magical, the way that the wispy, lighter-than-air wool tops felt together to form a solid, beautiful and practical fabric, just by rubbing them with a bit of soap, or stabbing them repeatedly with a needle.  And the colours are intense!

It's also unbelievably easy to do.  I really recommend it.  Go on, have a go, you know you want to!  It's really very cheap to get set up.

For wet-felting, you can use old beach mats (those woven grass ones) or cut down blinds made of thin wooden slivers - like those barbecue skewers, but longer - and old net curtains, or you can buy proper mats and kits online.  For needle-felting, any off-cut of furnishing foam will do for your felting mat, so long as it's thicker than the length of your needle or you will find yourself repeatedly stabbing yourself in the thigh.  Needles are available on eBay, and instructions are easily googled.

I would recommend this site, however:  http://www.gilliangladrag.co.uk/

It's a very beautiful website, for a start, but she also supplies everything you would need to get started, including full kits to make specific finished products, and day courses in all manner of fluffy things.  I did her slipper course in 2009.  What a lovely day, that was - 10 very happy crafty (in the nice sense) women around a table, surrounded by more felt than you could shake a (felt, natch) hat at, and we all went home proudly and joyfully clutching a brand new pair of hand made slippers (I know I said I didn't like homespun shoes, but the same definitely does NOT go for slippers).  Immensely practical in this weather, I have to say.  If you really can't wait to get started, I spotted some Gillian Gladrag kits in Hobbycraft the other day, but the website carries a lot more stuff.  Her first book is an excellent guide to getting started.  Her new book is proving very hard to resist....  In fact, it might just be worth getting up off the sofa to get my credit card.  Ah well, I need lunch, anyway....

A few felty creations
Bag with black and white stripes and Christmas Tree Fairy both from Gillian Gladrag kits.

2 comments:

  1. though.I agree, it's great fun. Haven't tried wet felting yet
    A tip, if you're going to do lots of needle-felting, invest in the brush. Foam disintegrates after a while and you get p'd off having to pick out wee bits of foam from your felt piece. ;)

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  2. Thank you, Liza! I may just do that! Sounds perfect for the freeform needlefelting, where you build the felt from scratch. Mostly what I'm doing at the moment is embellishing wet-felted stuff. The bit of foam I'm using at the moment is just the right size to stuff in the bags I'm needle-felting - like the robin one in the picture. As the bags are also lined, that is probably helping the foam not to get too knackered too quickly!

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