Nunofelt Workshop at Pacific Northwest Art School

What happens when you bring fine merino wool together with a light, gauzy fabric? You get texture galore.

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From ruffles to puckers to subtle texture, there is endless possibility when working wool through fabric and then letting the magic of felting happen.

The weekend of April 26 and 27th, I will be teaching a two-day workshop at the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville on beautiful Whidbey Island. Students will spend time experimenting with various fabrics to achieve different textures. Once they have sampled, they will create a scarf, wrap or shrug.

Tuition: $255, material fee: $40, registration fee: $15

Register online at www.pacificnorthwestartschool.org or by phone 360-678-3396.

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.