Ottoman, Hassock or Footstool

This post requires a little audience participation. What’s the difference between an ottoman, a hassock and a footstool? I posed the question yesterday on Twitter, to which I received the smart answer “one is an empire and the other is an umpire”. Since I don’t know my baseball from my basketball, I will have to accept that their may be an umpire named Hassock. But what other distinction could there be?

On Monday, I had two helpers in my studio: my mother, visiting from Vancouver Canada for our holiday weekend, and Jean-Francois a young man I met when I was freshly out of college working in Haiti for NPH. I was 24 and he was 10 years old. Now he is 24 and my son is 10 years old (this parallel continues to tickle me). He has been studying in English in Seattle since September, living with a host family and working with the NPHI Leadership Institute to become one of the next generation of leaders for this formidable organization. His schedule is pretty full with school, so I don’t get to see him very often. But every once in a while he surprises me with a studio visit, for which I repay him by asking him to hammer some nails.

Like all good projects, this idea has been percolating for longer than I care to admit. As my mother has many hours of upholstery under her belt, I decided to take full advantage of her visit. While I laid out a large piece of felt with romney locks and some odd spots of dark rambouillet cross, she ripped the old fabric and trimmings off an ottoman I picked up a few years ago, and unscrewed the plastic feet. When it was time to felt, she got her hands soapy with me, rubbing until it was time to move to the washboard where I finished off the piece.

A couple of hours, a few cuts, some staples and a few nails later we had a new piece of furniture, however you decide to label it. This piece will be on display at BallardWorks for the Ballard ArtWalk on June 9, from 6-9pm. It will be for sale in my Etsy shop.

If you would like to work with some wool locks, I will be teaching a class this Saturday from 1:30-4:30 in my studio. To register, leave a comment at SpiderFelt.com.

 

 

For the Love of Romney (sheep not politician)

When I first started felting, I bought some fiber at a farmer’s market from a farmer more interested in genetics than in making a profit from his wool. When I tried to work with the wool, I couldn’t get it to felt down into the firm, flat felt I had been creating with merino roving. From that single purchase, I swore I would never felt with romney again, and I instructed beginning felters to be wary of the fiber.

Comparing merino fiber to romney is like comparing my daughter’s silky golden hair to my bouncy, curly brown locks. Some may say that hers is prettier than mine, and I certainly wanted straight hair when I was her age, but over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the hair I have as special. Romney is valuable because of the way it differs from merino: the lustrous, curly locks which vary from tiny to loopy.

After felting several sheepskins with raw fleece, procured from the same farmer several years later, I have come around in my opinion. Romney sheep have a beautiful fiber, perfect for sheepskins and springy felt. I sent several batches to be carded into batts which I used as the base for my most recent project. Because the finished felt is not as dense as merino, it did not shrink to the same degree, though it is definitely as sturdy as my merino-backed sheepskins. Let the record show, I owe a great apology to sheep, farmers and fiber lovers everywhere for dismissing the fleece from Romney sheep.

This beautiful sandy brown romney sheepskin was felted last week with my studio-mate, Linda. She gave it to another artist in our building, as a thank you gift. It is hard to do justice to the combined skill and expertise this painter and her partner have between their four ears. They can customize, reverse engineer and build just about anything from shoes, to leather bags to engines.

Expecting this sheepskin would slide off the leather rocker in her studio, a couple of corner pockets and a custom belt were added to the back, ensuring it would stay firmly on the chair. I’m delighted they appreciated the sheepskin enough to improve it. They reported sewing through leather and the sheepskin was too much for their industrial sewing machine, so I won’t be trying this yet, but it may be the excuse I need to buy a leather punch so I can do some sewing by hand.

Becoming an Artist on a Mother’s Schedule

Several months ago I was asked to contribute an article to Beams and Struts, a magazine for hungry minds and thirsty souls, describing my practice as an artist and the roots of my work. After several rewrites and careful editing, it has just been published.

If you have the chance to look around the blog, I highly recommend it for the thoughtful writing. After I make a cup of coffee, I’m going to snuggle down in my couch to spend a little time with a lengthy piece by Chela Davison, Doing Your Work: your life, your calling, our world. This is the sort of thinking I need to do on a Monday morning.

Waterfall and Firefall

The allure of working with raw wool has consumed me since I first plunged my fingers into a bag of fleece fresh from the farm. There is something so primal about the smell and feel of wool in this state. The locks are coated in lanolin which feels a little oily and a little sticky. Burrs, bits of hay, thorns and twigs are entangled in the fibers, and if the fleece was not skirted at shearing time, the locks around the business end of the sheep may be crusty.

The biggest logistical headache was how to deal with the dirty water created in the process of felting fleece full of barnyard debris. The first time I tried felting in the grease, I spread a tarp in the backyard. There were many reasons for not repeating that experiment, the least of which was the difficulty I had adequately rinsing the finished piece.

When I moved into a studio space, I was no longer afraid of soiling my basement floors with farmyard sludge, but I still didn’t have a great solution. I placed a 4′ plastic sled under my table to catch the runoff. This sled had to be lifted very carefully up to the sink to drain it. You can imagine the precarious balancing act required to empty the full sled. The challenge led me to be very judicious in the use of water.

In November, I moved down the hall to a larger space with different possible configurations of work surfaces. Rethinking my method altered my relationship to this process entirely. Propping one end of a board on a shelf and resting the other end on the edge of my work sink allowed the dirty water to flow directly into the drain. The new system enabled me to use as much water as I needed without worrying about spilling it all over the floor.

I spent a couple of weeks creating panels using a single type of fleece for each piece. The only downfall of the new system was that I was now constrained by the width of the board, which was only as wide as my sink.

The lustre and loft between the breeds varies enormously; shiny, curly, downy, densely crimped were a few of the characteristics I saw in the wool used for these panels. It was thrilling to see the small stack of narrow panels with their contrasting textures. The variations in length are a reflection on the tendency of each wool to compact as they shrink. This juxtaposition added another interesting dimension to the process.

In a dream, I imagined the contrast between the individual panels set off by a vividly colored panel. Who knows where the inspiration originated, but I decided to explore the idea.  Not sure if I was satisfied with the arrangement, I tacked them to the wall in the hallway of my studio building to let them rest. However, I couldn’t leave them there for very long as our building hosts a monthly artwalk, and these pieces were due to be hung at the Fiber Gallery the same weekend. With an approaching an exhibition deadline, I started thinking about how to properly hang these pieces in another setting.

Another vision appeared of the felt hanging from a bound bundle of branches. Coincidentally, my husband and son did a little pruning of an ancient cherry tree in our backyard just when I needed them. I plucked the branches out of the yard waste container, then sprayed them with a couple of coats of fixative to secure the lichens. The colors and textures were so inspiring as the branches sat on my worktable waiting to be put in place.

It was a little more challenging than I expected to get the branches to sit flat. I wish they protruded more from the edges of the felt, but working with the materials at hand, I’m satisfied with the overall look. These pieces are now listed in my Etsy shop.

Now that this deadline has passed, I’m working on catching up on a little writing and resting the imaginative juices. Who knows what opportunities will present themselves if I leave myself wide open?

Color Contest

There was lots of discussion last night about the color of this nunofelt wrap.

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Neither blue, green or teal is quite the color to describe it. Mary Harris, owner of the Fiber Gallery and my business host for the Phinneywood Artwalk suggested Duwamish Tide (the Duwamish River being an urban waterway polluted by years of industrial contamination and vital to the region’s economy).

The peanut gallery sitting around at the end of the evening suggested naming this color would be a great contest.

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Leave a comment with your name suggestion here, or use the contact form at SpiderFelt.com. The prize will be a nunofelt scarf kit with instructions, silk, and merino roving to make a simple scarf in these colors. A winner will be selected at random in two weeks, on May 26th.

Edit May 29th: And the winner is CraftyB, selected by Random Number Generator. Many thanks to everyone who left a comment and color suggestion. I think I will add all of the color suggestions as tags in my Etsy listing.

Phinneywood ArtWalk

I’m thrilled to be showing two new pieces of fiber art incorporating luscious color and natural wool locks at the Fiber Gallery this weekend during the Phinneywood Artwalk. Have you seen the new space at 8212 Greenwood Ave N? Gorgeous! To see a full list of participating businesses and download a map, head over to the Phinneywood Artwalk website.
The finishing touches are being put on the hanging mechanism for these pieces, so I can only offer a sneak peek at the work in progress. I will also have a selection of brand new nunofelt scarves and accessories on display Friday night from 6-9pm, though the fiber art will stay through the end of the weekend.
Saturday night, I will be in my studio at BallardWorks, 2856 NW Market St, for the Ballard Artwalk. While I plan to be demonstrating in my studio, there is a photography exhibit by urban teens from Youth In Focus hung around the building. Several building artists will also have their studios open for visitors.
If you are interested in trying out a feltmaking class, or learning a more advanced method, my full class schedule through the end of 2012 is live at SpiderFelt.com. Leave a comment through the contact form to register.
Most classes are offered several times before the end of the year; if you are interested in a class but can’t make it on one of the listed dates, let me know. I’m sure we can work something out for you.

Felt A Little Flair

Tomorrow is your chance to work a little wool magic. Toss a little roving with a whisper of silk and voila, you have a whole lot of style to whip over your shoulder, wrap around your neck or tie around your waist.

Join me at my Ballard studio to create an original nunofelt scarf. Register by leaving a comment through my contact form. You know you’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this to knock on your door.

Interstitial – Felt In Between Spaces

Last fall, I was invited to create a piece of felt to hang in a brand new restaurant opening in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle. Working in a small space, the owners were trying to minimize some of the challenges in the front of the bistro. The walls were painted concrete and the drop ceiling had been removed by a previous tenant, creating a perfect scenario for the sounds of a lively restaurant to become amplified.

The original commission was designed to hang from the ceiling by two chains to provide a visual screen between the dining area and a restroom corridor. Anticipating a busy holiday season, I worked to have the pieces finished for a mid-December delivery. I was given a few constraints: use a deep charcoal grey as the background, avoid any representational imagery and stick with abstract designs in order to fit in with the modern aesthetic of the restaurant.

After working a couple of samples, I decided to use four layers of merino over silk chiffon. I wanted the back to have the textural interest that nunofelt offers, as well as the sturdiness of silk. Four layers of merino seemed to offer the solidity I needed for something that would hang freely from the ceiling. This was not intended to be ethereal, rather something substantial and solid.

As the deadline approached, I had only completed one panel. Covering my entire 8′ x 4′ work surface, each piece was exponentially more difficult to work than anything I had previously attempted. The combination of four layers of wool and a layer of silk chiffon meant hours of lay-out and hours of gentle felting to ensure the full penetration of wool through silk. Once school was dismissed for the winter break, my children accompanied me to the studio, where they ably assisted with each step of the process. Once felted, I sewed three pieces of very heavy nunofelt together to create an ensemble measuring 96″ long by 52″ wide.

Unfortunately, once the hanging was installed in the restaurant, it became apparent that it wouldn’t work as we had hoped. Obstructing the quickest path between the kitchen and the tables, servers had to walk awkwardly around certain tables to serve the corner of the restaurant closest to the corridor. The panel was removed after two nights and put into storage.

A couple of months later, we had the occasion to dine at the restaurant. As I sat facing the front of the house, my eyes were drawn to the bare ceiling, the exposed ducts and a strip of concrete above the windows. Slowly, a plan formed for putting the felt panel to a new use. A panel installed near the ceiling would absorb some of the reverberating sound, soften the hard angles and would cover both the unpainted wall and the ducts. Anchoring the panel on the wall above the window would echo the slant of a chalkboard mounted on the opposite wall used to display the wine list.

The handiest high school math teacher this side of Everett was called in to help create a frame to hang from the ceiling and wall. Together, we upholstered a plywood frame, stapled a backing fabric, and then the felt panel which had to be cut and stitched for the new spot. Cut in half, with some new felt added to create extra length and then stitched together again, the felt was stapled on the frame.

Now that the piece is installed, I’m pleased with the final orientation. The long, narrow shape and recombined sections suit the apparent randomness of the original felt, though nothing is ever random. The name ‘Interstitial’ refers to the fact that this piece serves to span a space, and is composed of several pieces which required additions to fill the 14′ panel. “An interstitial space or interstice is an empty space or gap between spaces full of structure or matter.”

As the installation happened on the last day of Spring Break, my son dutifully accompanied me to the restaurant, alternating between gopher and spectator. In the last hour, he edged toward the kitchen to watch the chef and his sous begin their food prep. This was definitely the highlight of his week. A budding chef in our home kitchen, my son watched with a keen eye. He has been angling for a chance to return there for dinner where ‘he will anything Chef Charles puts in front of him’.

Should you find yourself looking for somewhere scrumptious to eat, head quickly to the Blind Pig Bistro where Chef Charles Walpole and his crew will definitely make your stomach grin, giggle and gush with delight. Check out the slideshow of photos posted by the Seattle Weekly to see just the sort of goodies waiting for you.