Previous work in this stage looked at gathering, pintucks, piping, slashing, pleating and moulding and quilting.
When I first started this project (in stage one, 13-May-2012) I considered the possibility of including some weaving or felting. The examples I showed didn’t fit with the study I’ve been doing, but I decided to try felting into my sample set of fabrics.
My basic process was:
*take a piece of study fabric roughly 42 cm square and lay down on a length of bubblewrap.
* lay on merino wool fibre, two thin layers with the fibre first horizontal then vertical, with a couple of areas of cloth left uncovered.
* wet down with warm water and olive oil soap.
* roll up bubblewrap, tie in a bundle then roll back and forward a few hundred times. Periodically untie, check, rotate, repeat. By the end of this the fibretips have wriggled around, some through the fabric, and everything is holding together.
* Unwrap everything and full the pieces, shocking the fibres by plunging into cold then hot water, kneading with more soap and throwing the work down hard on the worktop. The wool fibres twist tightly around the fabric and each other, compacting densely. The original fabric is pulled in by the fibres.
* Rinse, lay as flat as you can, and leave to dry.
There are lots of variations to this process – everyone seems to have their own magic (soap flakes dissolved in water, dishwashing detergent, an electric sander instead of rolling…).
Above is a detail and on the left is the full cheesecloth and wool piece. The final result is around 27 cm square, so the original fabric has shrunk (or actually crinkled) by about 37%.
I did the first four samples at the same time – cheesecloth and the three light silks. I was confident these would all felt well, in fact the cheesecloth was the only one I haven’t used in felt before. The results are superficially very similar, although in detail different in sheen/matt and to the touch. Overall the felts would be a bit heavy for a scarf – you’d want to leave more fabric exposed, but certainly light and drapey enough for a vest or light jacket. However for this particular study the most interesting parts are at the boundary of the main felt and the fabric “windows”. The wool to some extent overwhelms my study fabrics.
I decided to do second, smaller samples of the light fabrics, this time with a super light layer of merino fibres in one direction only. The goal was to see more clearly the individual character of my study fabrics. The cheesecloth version is above, only about 13 x 4.5 cm. The open weave of the cheesecloth allowed it to collapse very easily into the felt, and the result is very soft, light and airy. The photo isn’t brilliant, but there’s quite a variety of density in the piece, providing visual interest.
The tissue silk is the smallest final piece, having reduced to about 26 cm square (around 38% shrinkage). It feels slightly rough but soft to the hand and has a matt finish.
In the second sample it formed soft, rounded folds.
The paj silk has a sheen and glows. It feels soft and smooth to the touch – luscious. In the small sample it doesn’t melt and conform with the wool as in the previous samples. There are almost soft little puffs of fabric gently rising above the surface. Looking at the sample now, the windows of the exposed silk have a shine but are transparent. It would be great in a reveal/conceal application. Checking back with the other samples they have the same effect but I hadn’t focused on it previously – perhaps the paj shine is reminiscent of glass, calling my attention.
Above and to the left are the silk organza samples. The organza seems to reject the wool, springing away from it. No gentle moulding, it has to be captured by the fibres. There is a roughness or crispness to the hand, especially in areas with less wool.
As with all the samples, I wasn’t concerned about making the felt flat or square – that wasn’t the point of the exercise.
All the main samples above look pretty similar, despite my attempts to focus on their different properties. Originally I thought this would be all I had to show of felting. The other three fabrics – cotton, hessian and panne velvet – were poor candidates for nuno felt, being thick and heavy and in one case 100% polyester (even light synthetics being difficult to felt into).
Still, I was determined to give it a go despite my expectations, especially since I’d bailed out on the quilting. I took the precaution of pre-soaking the fabrics overnight in soapy water and did quite a bit of extra rolling. I thought it would be an exercise in frustration. I was wrong.
Above and to the left is the cotton. Actually I did think I had a chance with this – a mid-weight fabric, and cotton voile (and cheesecloth!) pose no problems in felting.
It has shrunk less than the previous examples, around 26%, but you can really see the shrinkage! The windows aren’t interesting as the fabric is basically opaque, but the result overall is much more in keeping with the purposes of this Stage, in being clearly a 3-D result.
As you can see above, this sample also has me holding it up and taking photos in front of the window again. Very nice patterning. There’s a bit of banding, which I expect is related to the way I lay down the fibres and the amount of overlap. If I wanted to go further with this I would card the fibres first (I have a drum carder), rather than just pulling the fibres directly from the purchased top.
The hessian sample is a funny little thing. I’ve run out of white hessian and no more in the stores I’ve tried (including two big chains), so just placed a few pieces near each other, layered on the wool fibre and hoped for the best.
Quite frankly I am amazed at these results – yet another reminder of the dangers of assumptions. The wool is well adhered to the hessian, in fact the sample is surprisingly soft to the touch due to the wool fibres coming through the fabric. The back view on the left above is interesting too, with little mountains of hessian protruding through the mists of the merino.
Of course I had to try the back-lit-at-the-window view. I like it a lot. The front, the back, the back-lit, the hand, the edges of the various pieces of hessian – I like it all and I want to use it in something. I actually think it would be not unpleasant to stitch into by hand. It would provide an interesting base to work with a variety of weights of thread. I’m going to have to watch out for an appropriate opportunity.
Finally we come to the panne velvet. The windows of exposed fabric definitely didn’t work. In the photo on the left the sample looks like some kind of woman’s undergarment with unpleasant sagging elastic. So focus back on the photo above. At least in large scale you can actually see the wool fibres coming through the velvet – I was careful to lay the fabric face down and layer the wool on the back. The wool softens the shine of the velvet. There’s still light and life and movement, but not so aggressive.
The back view is quite pleasant too. Dimpled, and most just the wool apparent. Quite different to the lumpy mess at the bottom of the post on slashing (5-Aug-2012). I wouldn’t want to make it the centrepiece, but it wouldn’t be a negative.
The back-lit view looks good as well. I find myself thinking about the possibilities of colour – the wool fibres and the panne velvet. It’s probably too heavy to throw shadows, but maybe a lamp-shade-like application would work. One would have to think about the impact and dangers of heat, but possibly wool at least has a reasonable rating on that.
This brings the experimentation section of this Stage to an end. With each technique I’ve noted more avenues of exploration, but it’s time to move on. Next is the final sample, so I’m going to pull out lots of sketchbook work, pile up all my samples from this stage, and ponder possibilities.