Monday, 24 June 2013

Felt Vessel Workshop

During this assignment I've been thinking about the Roman glass artefact drawings that I've developed for my applique design and how these could be interpreted as 3-D textile objects. I'd enjoyed learning how to make flat pieces by wet felting during Assignment 2 and thought this workshop led by Anne Brooke might give me some ideas.

The technique was not what I was expecting at all.  I assumed that we'd be moulding round a 3-D shape. In fact we began by creating a flat piece of felt with a plastic disc sandwiched in the middle. The plastic acted as a resist so that the top and bottom layers of felt could eventually be pulled apart.  First we cut a shape from an old clear plastic portfolio which was laid over a piece of net curtain and bubble wrap and chose wool tops that would be the internal colour of our vessel.  A layer of wool tops were spread out from the centre on top of the disc, with the fibres overlapping it by a few centimetres.  More net was placed over then we sprinkled hot water with a spoonful of soap flakes dissolved in it from an old fabric softener bottle with holes cut in the top.  With our fingers we rubbed the fibres outwards from the centre until the fibres just began to mat together. 

The net sandwich was turned over and the fibres folded inwards over the plastic, making sure the edges were tightly covered. 
In the same way, we laid further layers of wool fibres out from the centre, each time turning the disc over and folding in the wispy bits. After, I think four layers, we needed to decide which side would be the top, where the opening would be and consider the approximate size and position of the hole.  Then we could select colours and fibres.  I had no drawings with me, as I hadn't known what to expect, but I had in mind my blue polished stone.

I made a couple of blue background layers, then on my next layer added strands of mixed colours letting them extend further beyond the edge of the disc imagining they would cover the base and spread up the sides

Once all the fibres were in place, I emptied the softener bottle, replaced the contents with very hot water, and rubbed olive soap around the edges, working them really well between my finger and thumb with the net still over the top to make sure they were really well felted and sealed.  Then I sandwiched the whole thing in net, then bubble wrap, wrapped it around a rolling pin and rolled 50 times before turning it 90 degrees and rolling again. You could see the edges turning up as the piece began to shrink. I turned it over and repeated.  This carried on for some time until the fibres were starting to felt and then I could remove the protective netting and treat the piece more roughly.  No more soap was needed and I kept wringing out the excess water so it wasn't too wet and slippy and making sure any water I added back was really warm.

Once the fibres were felted so that I couldn't pick at them, I wrung out the excess water and used a small pair of scissors to cut a hole, revealing the internal colour.  (The hole grows quickly so it's best to start small - you can always make it bigger.) When it was about the right size, I pulled out the plastic disc and worked around the edges with olive soap and hot water again.  I made my hole biggish as it was much easier to shape the vessel with one hand inside.  I continued to felt the outside, sprinkling on the hot water and soap flakes and periodically wringing it out.  Finally I had a choice of letting my vessel dry as it was, or, (much more fun) chucking it repeatedly at the floor with force to shock the fibres.  This resulted in a slightly more variegated final texture.  

Finally I took my pot home to dry for 24 hours with a tea towel stuffed inside to help it keep its shape.

Now it's dry, I've looked back to my drawing and considered embellishing the pot.  I'd like to put the glass reference back in by stitching some clear small glass sparkling beads on the inner surface and some slightly bigger dark blue beads around the opening, which I could highlight with a white or light coloured thread.
I'm not sure that this technique would work for my Roman glass flagon.  I think I could construct the base in a similar way but the scale would need to be fairly large.  The flagon neck is comparatively narrow but it would be difficult to shape the base without being able to put my hand in the hole.  For the neck, I could maybe felt around a plastic tube and I could twist and roll strips together to create the handle, or maybe needle felt? But then I'd have the problem of attaching the sections.  Although I've really enjoyed making my pot and I'm pleased with it, felting is really time consuming so probably not something I'll have chance to experiment with much further during this course. 

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