Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Assignment 4 - Project 8, Stage 2: Experimenting with Structures, Felting

During this assignment, I've been reading 'A Time to Weave' by Jane Patrick. I was initially surprised to find some felting projects included in the book.  However, having thought back to Felt Vessel Workshop and Assignment 2: Silk Painting, Batik and Wet Felting, I realised that yes, it is related to weaving because it's constructing a fabric or structure by deliberately interlocking fibres.  

In the case of wet felting, agitation and moisture, accelerated by heat and soap, create irreversible and slightly unpredictable matting of fibres.  Needle felting is using barbed needles to hook and bring down the top fibres to tangle them with the fibres in layers underneath to make a strong, dense structure.  Felting techniques take advantage of the barbs and kinks in the natural structure of animal hair; most commonly, the soft, lightweight finely crimped wool of the Merino sheep.

Felting is something I've enjoyed, so I was keen to explore it further. In contrast to handling the grainy, dirty rusty objects described in the previous post, using soft fibres, warm water and having clean feeling hands again sounded very appealing.  I travelled to Woolyknit in Diggle near Oldham, where besides having a fine cafĂ©, they sell a great variety of wool tops and on Thursday afternoons are happy to let you try both needle and wet felting in their shop.

This time, inspired by Valerie Wartelle, whose work I mentioned in my last research point, I decided to approach felting as a technique to make an image. I had brought a cropped down photo of one of my favourite rust images (same as I used for the yarn wrapping exercise 'analysing colour, texture and proportion').  First I tried wet felting.

Selecting wool tops and checking the colour back to the image 

I found that the wet felting technique was good for making large areas of colour.  All the agitating was dull and repetitive though, and hard work on the arms.  I thought this technique would be best for a background with stitching or needle-felted detail added in afterwards.

I was happy with the top area but it's difficult to add detail just layering fibre
Next I laid out the same coloured tops on one of the needle felting mats and used one of the multi-needle tools to matt the fibres together.  The resulting fabric was denser than the wet felted, and I was able to add finer detail using a single needle.

Multi-needle tool and fibres beginning to bond on a needle felting mat

The fibres are pushed through the back giving a fluffy, hazy effect.
Periodically, I turned the sample over and worked from the back.
Detail was added using small rolled up wisps of fibre and a single needle

I had another bash at needle-felting during a workshop at Brighouse Arts Festival. We were given pieces of bought pre-felt as a background, protecting the table using a garden kneeler, so this time I wasn't limited by the small size of a felting mat.  Working this way reminded me of Kaffe Fassett and how he describes his tapestry as 'painting with wool'.  I could blend very small strips of fibre to make new colours and add detail almost indefinitely to the top. There didn't seem to be a point at which new fibres stopped adhering. Unfortunately the cropped image I had brought (plasma ball taken from my design sources and inspiration) had a dark background but the fibres from the light pre-felt annoyingly poked through the front and mixed with the dark, so the colour contrast was not as dramatic as I'd have liked.  In future I would begin with dyed pre-felt or more likely, make my own wet-felted background which would also mean no harsh cut edges.

Needle felting an image onto pre-felt
Whilst at Woollyknit, I came across a small sample of nuno-felting which interested me.  This technique is bonding wool fibres onto an open-weave backing fabric.  The shrinkage that occurs during felting causes distortion that adds fascinating textures to the final fabric. I like the idea that glimpses of the background fabric can show through and I can imagine this working with my rust printed fabrics for my final piece.
Reading List
Patrick, Jane (2006) Time to weave. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press