Vegetable Fabric Prints

My studio is located on the first floor of BallardWorks. The space I use was a printmaking studio for many years; now the printmakers work on the mezzanine behind me. They often pass through my studio on the way to theirs, stopping to visit along the way. Several weeks ago, Helen mentioned a project she’d done with her six-year old son. Taking inspiration from Bruno Munari’s book Roses in the Salad, they printed with vegetables. When I saw the book, I knew I had to try it with my own students.

I pulled out some heat-set fabric inks and cut pieces of muslin. Using a vinyl mat as a work surface for the inks, I demonstrated how to spread the ink with a brayer to get an even layer, and how to dab the vegetables in the ink before making a print on the fabric.

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Beware: mess ahead. It wasn’t long before someone stuck their finger in the jar of ink to get different colors on specific parts of the pepper. Before I could say ‘whoa’, students were using their fingers and hands to paint on the fabric.

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Art is supposed to be messy and fun, but fabric ink is expensive and not meant for hands. Next time I will spend more time explaining the difference between finger paint and fabric ink. The kids were having so much fun exploring, it was hard to pull back on the reins.

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This student had a plan from the beginning. Working with a pocket knife (and his mother’s approval) he started by carving a handle, then squaring the sides of his potato. Next he cut lines in the potato and made some test prints to get his design just right.

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His younger brother inked some evergreen fronds, bell peppers and onions, with his mother’s help. It was delightful to see the result of their careful and thoughtful work.

 

Felt a Monster, Sew a Puppet

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Our studio fiber class continued the puppet madness. Students needlefelted faces on pieces of felt cut from a fulled blanket I thrifted two weeks ago.

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After the details are put in place, the front and back are whipstitched together. This puppet has tiny black button eyes and contrasting patterned arms.

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This octopus puppet with felt dread tentacles is just about ready to be sewn.

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A reverse black cheetah gets his last yellow spots.

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Button eyes and embroidered features bring this puppet to life.

 

Do You Like My Hat?

This week our class sewed hats out of fleece fabric, some embellished with ears, others with pompoms.

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Before starting to sew, everyone made a bunch of pompoms, winding yarn around their fingers, then tying a strand of strong cotton yarn around the middle. The process was thoroughly engrossing, filling the studio with colorful yarn confetti. Two of the students decided to focus on pompoms for the whole class. It was so fun to see the different shapes made by small and big hands, with lots of trimming or not so much.

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After the measuring the circumference of everyone’s head, we marked and cut the fleece. The circumference ranged from 20.5-22″, with students between the ages of 3-12 years, though for grins I measured my own head and it fit right in the range at 22″.

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Students who wanted a slouchy hat with lots of room cut two pieces 10.5″ x 10.5″; those who wanted a more snug fit cut two rectangles: 10.5″ x 6″. Some students rounded the corners before sewing while others whip-stitched around three straight sides.

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We had one request for a tall, pointed hat. Drawing frommy experience trying to knit a stocking cap, if the decrease starts at the bottom, it will pop right off the head. So, we measured 5″ from the bottom before drawing the point; this was roughly the distance from the bottom of his ears to the crown of his head. How cute is this little gnome in his peaked hat and denim bib overalls?

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To keep the corners from sticking out, Cindy, my able teaching partner, had this student sew a tab of fabric on the inside from corner to corner. With this modification, the ears became more pronounced and the hat indented on the sides in just the right spot.

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Hugs all around at the end of class warm everyone’s heart.

Free Sew

With this group of super creative kids, I decided the best project was no project. Rather than teach a new skill or introduce new materials, I pulled out a bunch of felt, thread, yarn, needles and let the students do whatever they wanted.

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Things that were sewn today: a pair of butter yellow pants for a rabbit.

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We drew the outline of pants on a piece of paper, cut out two and then taped the edges together. We tried the paper pants on the rabbit to see if they fit. Then we traced the paper pattern onto felt, cut out two, pinned them together and started sewing. The waist was finished with a drawstring.

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One of the mothers helped her young son blanket stitch two felt rectangles together to make a pouch.

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There was a smaller felt pouch with a heart applique sewn together by another student.

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Boo has a new flannel coat with a felt heart applique and a purple button closure.

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This student blanket stitched a pouch with stacked hearts.

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There were sweet little drawings and notes composed for fortune cookies.

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Projects not photographed: some small stuffed round pillows, a doll dress and a super child-sized cape.

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This fleece cow is a bit of show-n-tell. I love it when students bring in work they’ve created at home to share. The cow is wearing overalls. Both the animal and his outfit were imagined and completed with fabric scraps.

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This is not a hat, though it appears to be on someone’s head. This was intended to be a container with a strap; it’s life as a hat is temporary. The exciting part is this student taught himself how to cast on, knit and cast-off by watching videos. The only thing he asked me to show him was how to decrease. I’m so impressed by the genius of these kids.

 

Felt Heart Pockets and Vessels

Today’s project was a lesson in creativity, ingenuity and humility. As a teacher, I’m sure I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.  Before class, I had a project in mind and I had worked out how it was going to proceed, but I had not created a sample for the students to see. Some would say this is the best way to teach because the students don’t have a preconception of how a piece ‘should’ look to skew their innate creativity.

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We started out by drafting two layers of roving over a heart-shaped bubblewrap resist. After wetting the roving, we flipped the bundle, folded the roving over edge of the resist and then laid out two more layers of roving. The bundle was flipped again, the edges were folded over again to create a sealed package. If you want more detailed photos of the process, there is a felt vessel tutorial I wrote here.

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The students folded their bubble wrap on top of the heart bundle and rubbed, gently at first and then more vigorously. When the roving started to hold together, they dunked it in warm water and then rubbed a whole lot more.

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This student project end up exactly as I had conceived it. After rinsing out the soap and giving it a dunk in a vinegar bath, the students cut a small slit near the top. They pulled out the bubblewrap to reveal a pocket. When dry, I imagined they would write a little valentine and slip it inside.

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The loop of single ply yarn (placed between the layers of roving when the batt was still dry) can be used to hang the ornament.

For one student, the bubblewrap resist shifted early in the felting process; her end result had three lobes and looked more like an anatomical heart than a typical valentine. She sliced it open, removed the plastic. Without skipping a beat she said ‘I wonder what it would look like if I turned it inside out’ and then did so. She pushed and pulled a little and suddenly it was a little vessel, perfectly sized for the turquoise felt ball she’d brought from home.

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It wasn’t long before the entire class had slit their hearts wide open and flipped them inside out. I didn’t grab a picture of the whole class set, but I have to admit they are much sweeter as little petal vessels than the hearts I had imagined.

Lesson learned: put down your expectations and step away from the table. You have no idea what power these children wield in their imaginations.

Felting Pictures

My studio fiber arts class created felt pictures this week. They started with merino batts from Opulent Fibers as a background then cut shapes out of the prefelt we dyed with Kool-Aid last week and added additional embellishments with small pieces of merino roving.

The merino batt allows novice students to skip the tricky step of drafting thin shingles of roving into an even layer. The batt arrives as a thick roll; once unrolled, it can be cut like prefelt and peeled apart to separate layers of the correct thickness for the project at hand.

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Once the details were in place, they squirted some warm soapy water over the felt. Since we didn’t want the wool details to move around, some students layered a piece of nylon tulle over their design. Other students folded over the bubble wrap to cover the felt, rubbing gently through the plastic.

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We peeked at the work in progress often to see how it was felting. The tulle only needs to stay on the surface until the layers of roving begin to felt to each other. Once the lines demarcating the cut edges begin to fade, the felt is firm enough to work directly by hand with a gentle rubbing motion.

While many traditional feltmakers roll the felt design and bubblewrap around a styrofoam noodle, then roll the whole package in a towel to accomplish a firm felt; I have found that it works just as well to vigorously rub felt by hand. In my experience, rolling felt in bubblewrap often causes creases to develop and skews the design. I rarely roll work, though there are exceptions to the rule. For the purposes of this class, it is unnecessary work and mess.

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Once the felt was holding together, we squeezed out the cold water and dunked it into a small basin filled with hot water. Then we bunched up the felt and rubbed it on the ridged mat covering my worktable. Using hot water causes the felt to shrink rapidly, so it should be used sparingly in the early stages to control the process.

To finish up the edges, we rubbed the felt with a glazed ceramic felting stone and a palm washboard. This helped smooth out the wavy ledges that don’t get as much attention in during the hand-felting steps.

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The students and parents were excited by both the process and the results.

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It’s hard to make out the details for all the grins here, but the picture on the left is a giraffe sliding down a rainbow on it’s back. The middle picture is an ocean floor seascape. The picture on the right is a herd of anatomically correct cows.

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To display work at home, thread a few pieces of yarn through the upper edge and tie to a pretty foraged stick.

Straw weaving

A family tradition dating back to 2005 is attending Wintergrass with my parents and children. We love the variety of musical acts and I love being able to knit for hours and hours at a time while listening to the concerts. This picture taken during one of the set breaks makes me smile from ear to ear. My 7 year old daughter was finger-knitting a mile of yarn. She’s also wearing a fantastic shirt sewn by my mother. I love her style.

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Several years later, at another Wintergrass, a stranger* seated next to me noticed that Sophie wasn’t engaged in her project, and that I had an enormous basket of yarn under my seat. She offered to teach Sophie straw weaving with some coffee stir sticks she pilfered from the coffee stand. It was a huge hit, consuming her attention and her hands for most of that year.

Gathering abandoned craft materials from the various corners of our house recently, I found a box with yards of straps woven that year and piles of cotton yarn. I kept the best pieces as examples and reclaimed the rest of the yarn.

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As we finished up our disc weaving project, some of my students saw a strap-in-progress. They wanted to know more, so I promised to create some sets for the following class.

I threaded several sets of straws with cotton yarn. Using a small hole punch, I punched a hole in the end of a drinking straw cut in half. I measured five 8′ pieces of yarn (the length of my workbench). Each strand is threaded through a straw and folded in half to form the warp (5 pairs of warp threads, each 4′ long). You can start with shorter warps, but my daughter liked really long warps. As she was more interested in process than product, she wanted to be able to weave until the end of time; the extra-long warp threads allowed her to weave without interruption. That’s where my work ended and the students took over.

A strand of yarn (the weft) is wound between the odd number of straws in an infinite pattern. When the weaving fills the straw, scoot it down to compress the weft. At some point, it will have to be scooched off the end of the straws. Be careful not to move too much off, as the weaving will disintegrate. Keeping tension in the woven bits is key. One student commented that at the beginning it looked like a mess that would never hold together but before long it made sense. When the weaving is finished, tie a knot in one end, pull out the straws and knot the other end. The finished product can be used as a belt or strap. Never mind, ask the kids what they think it should be. They will come up with a much better answer than I can imagine.

For more process pictures and shots of a small finished piece, check out this tutorial which describes the process from beginning to end.

*This woman was Mary Gobet, costumer and fiber artist extraordinaire. She had an incredibly intricate purse with her modeled after a Cotswold cottage. Doors and windows opened, half the roof was hinged to open. It made my jaw drop. Lesson leanred: You never know who will sit next to you at a random concert. Screw up your courage and make conversation with a stranger today.

Edit: February 12
A student brought in their finished strap yesterday. He had this piece of advice: don’t focus too carefully on the weaving. When you relax, the strap happens and when you’re trying really hard to make it perfect, the weaving ends up loose and floppy. Just wrap the yarn around the straws and it will come together.

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That seems like a good life lesson to follow.

Compact Disc Weaving

Recently my daughter and I spent the afternoon at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Among the many things we enjoyed was The Weaving Project a collaborative art project created by artist and teacher Stephanie Allgood. Two walls of a sunny room were covered by cds woven by students at various schools and visitors to the museum. We spent an hour weaving our own cds and helping a gaggle of young Girl Scouts who weren’t sure when they sat down if we were sewing or knitting. I had to make sure they knew this was neither, but something just as wonderful.

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This project embodies everything I love about teaching and art. By recycling materials that would otherwise become garbage and turning them into something beautiful, we are teaching ourselves to look at the world through a different lens.

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I introduced the project to two classes in the same week: the Handsewing and Fiber Arts 8-18 year old class at the Family Learning Program, and a new series of fiber arts classes running out of Spark Studio. Before class, my able assistant and I wrapped 11 warp strands through the center of cd. The students tied their first weft strand to the center of a warp strand and then started weaving. The pre-warped cds at the Bellevue Arts Museum had 19 warp strands. The key factor is to use an odd number of strands so that each row alternates the over/under pattern. Should there be an even number of warp strands, the warp will appear as a vertical stripe in the finished weaving.

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When the first color reaches the end, tie another piece of yarn to the first then keep weaving. Leave enough slack as you weave to that it doesn’t mound in the center (unless of course you like the volcano look).

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To finish the project, some students attached a finger-crocheted strand to the edge of the warp, thus creating a loop for hanging. As thematic enrichment, I read Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski, the story of a non-conformist sheep who weaves his forelock into the loom. Ultimately, he decides to teach the rest of the flock how to be like him rather than being like everyone else.

Kool-Aid Dyeing Pre-Felt

Teaching classes in my studio allows us to work on messy projects that require more elaborate preparation and/or clean-up. I imagined this project when I first started teaching classes to younger children off-site, but the logistics made it too complicated.

My goal was to take students through the steps to make their own colored felt. Rather than purchasing industrial wool felt for our projects, I wanted to show them how we could create our own. Since young children often struggle with the finesse required to draft fine shingles of roving sliver, starting with needlepunched prefelt allowed us a shortcut while still working with wool we could wet felt.

One type of prefelt is created in an industrial process using many needles. Wool is fed between two vibrating metal plates, one of which contains hundreds of tiny barbed needles. What emerges is a loosely held together fabric which can be cut, layered and wet felted to create sturdy felt fabric. Many feltmakers use prefelt to create custom garments with lots of drape without the weight or rigidity more common with thick felt.

Starting with an 80″ x 60″ sheet of prefelt ordered from Outback Fibers, I cut it in to 12″ x 10″ pieces. The total weight was a little over 8oz, so I purchased 8 packets of Kool-Aid unsweetened powder. Each packet was mixed with approximately 6oz of water in small mason jars. Kool-Aid is an inexpensive and non-toxic way to dye a small amount of wool as it contains citric acid. In order for acid dyes to bond with wool, vinegar or citric acid must be mixed with the dye. Buying the Kool-Aid packets saved me the step of calculating and measuring the correct dye/acid proportions.

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The prefelt was presoaked for 30 minutes in water with a drop or two of dishsoap added to help breakdown the surface tension. Some of the pieces were wrung out so they had very little water left in the wool, while others were sitting in standing water. Varying the amount of water in the prefelt affected the results we achieved.

Recalling my favorite sibling-annoying method of stealing sips, we used straws to pick up a small amount of dye from the jars. Stick the straw in the Kool-Aid, place your finger over the tip and lift. The vacuum created will keep the liquid in the straw. Drip on the prefelt. Leaving the prefelt slightly wet will allow for more of a watercolor effect.

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It wasn’t long before the students decided it was more fun to splatter and flick than to drop a single bead of Kool-Aid on their wool.

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Once the students were done with the wool, we put each piece in a separate ziploc bag. Towards the end, we used the last pieces of prefelt  as sponges to sop up the remaining bits of Kool-Aid in the trays. These pieces, which were various shades of mossy earth, were put together in a single ziploc bag. The ziploc bags were loaded into the two trays of a bamboo steamer sitting over a large pot of simmering water. We steamed the sealed bags for fifteen minutes. After the bags had cooled a little, we rinsed the prefelt sheets one at a time. For the most part, they held their color very well. Some of the prefelt pieces were thoroughly felted, as they had received so much vigorous attention during the dyeing process. If you plan to dip dye the prefelt in the jars, or submerge them in trays, do it with a gentle hand, minimizing agitation as this can lead to inadvertent premature felting.