Monday, 27 January 2014

Assignment 5 - Nuno Felting Workshop

One of my ideas for this final project, mentioned in Stage 1, was to incorporate my fragile rust prints into a nuno felted piece. This, I thought, could add enough strength and softness so the prints could potentially become wearable.  I was also excited to explore another new felting technique.

The Fabbadashery, local to me in Halifax, was running a nuno felting workshop this weekend.  Although I've been reading and watching online tutorials on the technique, for me these are no substitute for face-to-face learning with the opportunity to talk to the experienced tutor Val Hughes about the feasibility of my ideas, and maybe to generate some new ones.

Val had brought a selection of the wearable art she creates and one of her pieces that I found really interesting had items like raffia, pre-felt and thread trapped between layers of silk.  I've seen photos of double sided nuno felting before but these have always been an open weave fabric sandwiched between wool outer layers.  However, this piece was two layers of silk with a wool top layer and this created kind of bubbled viewing areas which I could relate to my ideas about circles, views and holes mentioned in Stage 2 and one particular image of a rusty ladder I photographed in Jersey.

The cropped image shows a similar blistered, bubbled surface texture, with cracks that I can imagine as threads trapped between layers of silk. My printed fabrics are not particularly translucent though.  Perhaps I could use one as a backing then have something less opaque on the top?  The fabrics will probably behave differently though during the shrinking process though so I'd need to try samples to see what might happen.  Maybe snippets of printed fabric are what is trapped and seen in the 'window' and I buy, and maybe dye or paint, one or both of the silks?

Onto making my first sample. We were given a piece of cotton muslin which we rinsed to remove any surface coating and left damp.  (I thought to measure this at 120 x 28cm to work out the ultimate shrinkage.  If I do this with all my samples it should give me a rough idea of the size I'll need to start with if I pursue with this for my final item.)  The colour selection was a bit limited, but I chose as near as I could, some shades from one of the schemes I'd come up with in Stage 2, to test how these might work together on a felted piece. Val suggested for a first attempt, using only the merino fibres that felt softest and experimenting with other wools later.  I did choose a few mulberry silk fibres to incorporate though, thinking they might give 'lift' to the sample. 

We were working in a group on one table so only had space to work on one section of our sample at a time.  I found that nuno felting uses the wool tops very efficiently compared to normal wet felting, as the fibres are laid down so thinly.  It they're too thick, or if warm water is used straight away the fibres will just felt to themselves rather than penetrating and attaching to the base fabric.  We only used very little washing up liquid in a spray bottle and the water was cool to lukewarm, at least at first.  Once the fibres were laid, a piece of synthetic netting was laid over the top, the surface sprayed and a crunchy plastic bag rubbed over the top to create friction.  The edges of the fabric we had were raw so I overlapped these with fibre.  Once these were more or less staying in place, I peeled back the netting and carefully folded and pressed them over the edges which would end up sealed when felted.    

Next we rolled up the bamboo mat with the fabric inside and rolled, and rolled and rolled.  Periodically I lifted the netting back and resprayed to keep everything wet,(but not soaking).  Although natural base fabrics like cotton or silk tend to be best for nuno felting, sometimes fibres can lock to synthetics.  When I'd reached a stage where I could feel and pull odd fibres poking through the back of the cotton muslin and the wool fibres appeared to be adhered and not lifting with a gentle pull, I could move onto the next area.  I had to be really careful to make sure that I didn't stick the sections together when I rolled them! By lifting up the piece with my fingers and thumbs at the edges where the areas joined, and having the first section facing me, I could roll it away from me and the net in the middle of the sandwich stopped it sticking.
Once the entire sample was covered, I could see wrinkled areas where my sample was just beginning to nuno felt after a good couple of hours of manipulation.  There wasn't time to complete the whole process at the workshop so we watched Val demonstrate the final stage - the fulling.  This happens very quickly.  The piece is rinsed in very hot water then folded and repeatedly thrown hard to the floor (or any other object on which you want to vent frustration!). This was the same technique I remembered from making my Roman glass inspired felt vessel during assignment 3.  The force and friction shocks the fibres and creates additional texture.
Back at home, before I started chucking it about, I felt that some areas weren't yet locked well enough to the base. I used a large piece of net and bubble wrap and rolled it around a swimming woggle.  This was a tip I fount on the Internet and which meant I could roll the whole sample at once and in both directions. (I've also read that nuno shouldn't be rolled but kept flat, but there was no explanation with this.  Maybe that's just in the very early stages after the fibres are laid?  Anyway I've read a lot of conflicting advice but this seemed to work for me.)  
After a good flinging, you can see below the wrinkling texture that resulted. 

Here's the other sections laid out with fibres and photos of how those area turned out.


The sample had shrunk to approx 98 x 18cm, so by around a fifth in length and a third in width.  However I felt it wanted it to go a little further and pondered how many more hours this might take and whether to chance it in the washing machine, as I wouldn't have control over when to stop it shrinking.  I concluded I would, as experiments are what samples are for and I'd recorded what had happended so far. However I did chose a gentle hand wash program at 40 degrees.  I also put a tumble ball and a couple of towels in the washer to add friction along with a little Ecover washing liquid.

It came out having shrunk to 90 x 15cm, three quarters of its original length and almost half the width.  However I was happy with the degree of texture now (briefly considered a boil wash but maybe another time!).  Here's how it ended up.

The raw cut edges were nicely and organically encased in the felt.  If some or all sides had been hemmed instead and a gap left around the border, I imagine this could result in interesting frilly edges that might work well for a scarf.   

In this close up below, you can just see the trapped silk fibre.  Only a fibre or two of wool placed over it was needed to secure it in place.  I'd like to try trapping some of the threads I've rust dyed.

Below I was trying circular shapes, imagining how I might highlight and frame a particular area of print. Though I like how the fabric in the centre has bubbled, these are actually my least favourite areas of the sample.  I much prefer the more subtle areas like the one above where there's more coverage but it's a very fine layer. Here the colours are blended and you have to look closely to appreciate the detail.

Next I'd like to try some ideas on a silk sample to see how differently it will behave to the cotton.

If I do go on to create a nuno felted final piece, and I think that there is plenty more potential in this idea, I will use a technique where I can lay out the whole piece at once rather than in sections like this to give the whole design more cohesion.  Now I understand the nuno felting process better, I'm ready to try out some more focused samples.


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