Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Feltmaking courses at Hesta Scene...

I recently went on a couple of feltmaking courses with a lovely friend from work called Sue and we had a great time! The courses were held in the studio at Hesta Scene, a craft shop/gallery in Caldbeck, which is roughly north of the middle of Cumbria. 'Hesta' is a Cumbrian dialect word meaning 'have you', so 'Hesta Scene?' is a variation of 'have you seen?'.

The studio is a lovely space (I always love being in a studio surrounded by wool!) and the other ladies on the course were so friendly. My friend Sue (on the right) had that happy smile on her face for the whole two days!
Felting workshop

The first course was beginners feltmaking... making a felted picture and a scarf in a day. I'm not really a beginner feltmaker but I'd seen photos of this kind of thing on the website...
Poppy felted wall hanging
and knew I'd be able to learn a lot from a tutor who's able to make such lovely felted pictures!

I took along a postcard for inspiration that I bought at an exhibition of Maggi Hambling's amazing wave paintings at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge last year. I was blown away by the paintings (many of which are HUGE and full of incredible colour and texture) and wished that I could have spent some time spinning or felting in the gallery, taking inspiration from the pictures. As it was, I just bought all the books and postcards that were for sale at the exhibition and felt slightly sad that none of them came close to reproducing the experience of seeing the paintings in real life :(

Anyway, enough moaning, this is the postcard that I took to the felt course...
Wave postcard
Its an oil painting called 'Rising wave'.

I laid out my fibres, mostly dyed Merino wool but with the odd bit of silk and a few Bluefaced Leicester fleece curls...
Wave picture before wetting
I loved how it looked at this point... it seemed a shame to get it wet!

But I carefully sprinkled it with hot soapy water and rubbed it through a net curtain so that the design didn't shift about. And then rolled and rolled and rolled it some more in the bamboo blind until I had this...
Wave picture after wetting and rolling
Its still quite wet in the picture above and I haven't got a decent dry photo of it yet. I'd like to get it framed so I'll get a picture of it then.

What I have got is a picture of it winning second prize at Lowick Show last Saturday in the 'item in any other craft not already specified' class!
Class number 79

Second place felt picture
I was really impressed that it got placed because I thought the judges might not know what it was, let alone think it was any good! :D

Anyway, back to the feltmaking... when we'd finished for the morning, me and Sue went to the Watermill Cafe just up the road for a delicious lunch and then came back to work on some felted lattice scarves.

Here's mine all laid out ready to cover with a net and sprinkle with hot soapy water...
Laying out a lattice scarf

And here's Sue doing the fun bit that comes after the rolling...
Sue throwing her felted scarf
The flinging! Very therapeutic! :D

Here's my finished scarf...
Lattice scarf
(Scarves are so hard to photograph well on a flat surface!)

All four of us on the course had such a great day that we wanted to do some more feltmaking as soon as possible, so we pestered Julie, our tutor, into putting on an extra nuno felting course especially for us! She was very obliging and organised one to take place just a few weeks later :)

In the morning we did some nuno samples on cotton muslin and silk chiffon so that we got an idea of how the wool bonded to the fabric and what the effect looked like.

Here's my cotton muslin sample...
Making a muslin nuno sample
I experimented with circles and lines made with some of my handspun yarn and areas of fleecy curls.

My silk chiffon sample was similar. Here are both finished samples (the silk one on top)...
Nuno samples
The crinkled textures in nuno felting are lovely. The wool fibres work their way through the weave of the fabric and then the fabric crinkles up as the wool shrinks during the felting process.

After another delicious lunch with Sue at the Watermill Cafe, it was time to make scarves. I must have been concentrating too much to take photos at this point because I only have one of my finished scarf, being modelled by one of the dress forms in the studio...
My nuno scarf on the dress form

I took another photo of it when I got home but it doesn't look as exciting flat...
Nuno scarf
Maybe scarf-making is a good excuse to invest in a dress form?! :)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Woad balls!

I've been meaning to blog about our visit to the woad centre in Norfolk. I'd read about Woad-inc in Selvedge magazine a long time ago (and wanted to check it out) but had forgotten about it until I saw it mentioned in one of the leaflets I picked up during our Norfolk holiday. Once I realised that we could take a little detour on the way home to call in, there was no stopping me!

Woad centre sign
Whoo! That's my kind of sign! :D

Woad is a natural dye plant that produces a lovely blue colour. There were some large self-seeded plants in seed outside the buildings (a good clue that we were in the right place!)...
Woad plant in seed

Inside the exhibition area were some beautiful woad-dyed yarns and fabrics and examples of finished articles of clothing dyed with woad (which I tried not to photograph closely because they are specially commissioned designs)...
Woad dyed yarns and fabric

There were lots of lovely shibori dyed silk scarves...
Woad dyed silk scarf
The silk seems to take the dye really well... each scarf was different but they were all stunning.

The people who run Woad-inc grow their own woad and make it into a dye powder using their own special method. They also make woad balls, which are intriguing looking things, a bit bigger than a tennis ball...
Woad balls

Woad balls were created as a way of preserving the woad leaf harvest for use when fresh leaves weren't available or just to store the woad conveniently until it was time to use it. In order to use them, the dried balls must be broken up (they're quite hard), dampened with water and then left in a heap to ferment for a fortnight. Apparently you only get the blue colour if the leaves are dried in a ball shape. Loose-dried leaves don't produce the colour. It must have been a real breakthrough when the woad-growers of the past found that out!

I was fascinated by a display of old photographs showing the stages in traditional woad ball production...
Traditional woad production display
Apparently the photos were taken in Lincolnshire, as quite a lot of woad was grown there.

This handsome horse with a cart-load of woad leaves is standing outside a thatched roller house, where the leaves were crushed using kind of rolling chopping machine, which was powered by another horse...
Horse and cart of woad by roller house

The balls were formed by hand from the crushed leaves and then stacked on racks, where they fermented slightly and then dried out...
Placing woad balls in drying houses

There's nothing like a bit of Lincolnshire-based textile-related history to get me enthused, so I bought some woad balls in the shop and was given a basic instruction leaflet and a website to check out for more information.

The website is Jenny Dean's Wild Colour, which is a great resource for natural plant dyeing. A quick search for 'woad balls' on the website pulls up several posts about Jenny's experiments dyeing with woad balls... I just need to have a read and then I'll (hopefully) be ready to carry out my own woad ball dyeing! I'll keep you posted on my progress! :D