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.

 

Needlefelting Puppet Faces

This week, students in both of my Family Learning Program clases began a project that will span two weeks.

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Using recycled or upcycled wool fabric harvested from fulled sweaters as their base, these students needlefelted Harrisville wool to create features for puppets. Harrisville is an ideal wool for needlefelting because it has lots of crimp and the fibers are not aligned, as in many rovings sold as a sliver. It also comes in a wide array of colors and can be quickly blended with your fingertips to create even more combinations.

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The students traced a cardboard outline onto two pieces of fulled wool, then cut along the contour lines. Next, they worked on adding faces to one piece of felt. This student is making a cyclops with a red mouth and fangs.

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This student preferred to be the set decorator, creating backgrounds for the puppets he overhead various students describing. The mixed blues were going to be an ocean for another’s mermaid. He offered to make a tree for my sample owl puppet and a cave for the cyclops.

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Adding surface embellishment to fulled fabric is an easy introduction to felting for young children. Working on a foam pad, they can keep track of where their fingers are, reducing the chance of accidental puncture or snapped needles. The best part for many children is the ultimate flexibility of the method. Don’t like that eye placement? Rip it off and put it somewhere else. Don’t like that color? Rip it off and choose another. Can you think of another medium better suited for those paralyzed by commitment anxiety? This is also a perfect way to allow children to experiment with color and texture.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Felting and Fondue Party

For my daughter’s twelfth birthday, we celebrated with a special party at my felt studio. It was the simplest and most fun birthday we’ve enjoyed together.

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Perhaps it was the fact that the girls were mature enough to chatter, sing and socialize with little wrangling on my part, perhaps it was the fact that my daughter has watched me teach so many times that she was able to teach her friends with no additional input.

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Several of the girls had experience with needlefelting, and a couple had tried making felt rocks at their elementary school. With little guidance, each girl felted her own set of feltilocks.

After felting for an hour, we took a break for chocolate fondue, probably the silliest alternative to birthday cake yet.

The girls weren’t ready to stop felting, so we pulled out some bars of soap to make felt soaps. The best part of hosting a party at my own studio is having the flexibility to change plans on a whim and indulge their flights of fancy.

It felt like we had reached milestone when my daughter was able to plan and execute her party from start to finish. What a success.

Bird in a Wooly Nest

The studio was bubbling on Saturday with the activity of six children and three mothers as we created nests, then birds and finally eggs.20130207-120021.jpg

We started with a base of willow branches woven together with yarn. Next we needled some clean wool locks in layers, building up the sides to create the soft part of the nest. This was the most difficult part of the day for some as it appeared to take a lot of very gentle poking before the wool held together. One mother designated herself official nest builder; she found the repetitive nature of the process meditative. There were bits of ephemera added to the wool: colored roving, ribbon, feathers and yarn to mix in the nest just as a bird might pick soft bits from the surroundings.

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Next we needled together a bunch of peeps. Again, one girl spent most of her morning focused on creating a single, perfect bird while others were content with a pile of fluff with eyes, a beak and wings.

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With an hour left in the workshop, we began wetfelting around styrofoam eggs. These two girls could have spent all morning working in the warm soapy water.

With children between the ages of five and ten years old, it was interesting to see which activity held their attention or captured their imagination.

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The mothers  wrote to me later in the day to tell me how much their children were captivated by their creations. Each family took home wool and kits to continue creating to their heart’s content.

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If you would like to join in the fun, there are four spots open for the next run of this class on Saturday, March 2nd. Send a message using the contact form to register.