Monday, November 8, 2010


The first felting workshop I took was creating a seamless purse.  I remember Margarida explaining how we would use a resist and layer the wool roving around it. I also remember my mind balking at the explanation that there was "a front and a back to the inside and a front and a back to outside."  Working three-dimensionally stumped me for a few moments and then, looking at a sample of a finished purse, suddenly it clicked.  When I chose to make a second purse a month later, I told Margarida I wanted to put a pocket on the inside.  She looked skeptical until I explained how I would do it. Once she saw that I grasped the process for construction, she let me do my thing.  (I've been carrying this purse for almost three years now.)
Purse on left is second effort;  purse on right is first.
Since then, I have made a few more seamless purses, but have been content to mostly work with silk scarves and wraps.  I have found that what interests me most in making a scarf is how it lays. Can I get the silk to become a shawl collar?  If I lay the wool this direction, will it cinch in at the waist?  Inceasingly, this has led me to look into making seamless clothing.  The fiber artists I'm drawn to are doing long coats, little bolero jackets, dresses, vests, even theatrical costumes.  I've been sketching out a dress and a skirt I want to make and I know I have the mechanics down generally.  So it was time.  As much as I want to make that skirt, I knew I had to start smaller.  I decided on a vest.

I took a sleeveless top from my closet and measured it.  These projects shrink about 40 - 50% from the inital size of the design.  So I added 40% to the length and width and to the armhole openings.  I was so focused on the construction that once I placed the silk around the resist (a big piece of bubble wrap cut to size), I realized I had no design in mind.  I rummaged through my wool and finally decided on a pattern of purples framed in black sort of like stained glass.

Laying out the wool for the back side came first.  I added yarns and wisps of silk hankie to offset the solid sections of wool colors.  I have long learned that, once felted, mulitple colors can still look flat.  Then I did a little wetting down and brief felting, so I could flip it and lay out the front of the vest.  At this point I didn't know if it would remain whole and become a top, or if I would cut it and make it a vest.

I rolled it all up and rolled and rolled and rolled (periodically re-wetting it down and rolling from the other direction).  Several hours later, I removed the resist and began fulling it.  The rolling allows the wool fibers to migrate into each other forming a solid piece of fabric.  The fulling is how it shrinks and becomes felt.  I rubbed the entire vest by hand against a textured board (think washboard) until it no longer stretched anywhere.  It quickly became clear that I should have used a 50% increase in size, but I was still hopeful it might fit a small adult.  Fulling took a long time, rubbing in different directions to control the shape.  But finally it was done.  I hung it up to dry last night and took some entertaining self-portraits so I could display the finished product.  Yes, it fits me, but barely. My nine-year-old wants it.