Although Felting sounds like a craft, the dividing line between craft and art has never been so, well, so woolly as in Louise Nowell's superb demo of wet felting and needlepoint. We urge you to visit The Ceilidh Room website and to be astonished!
Part I: Wet Felting
This is a technique of laying down strands of coloured wools - often of gossamer-thin subtlety - in layer upon fragile layer and then wetting and matting the picture so that the wools become like felt. It looked a bit reminiscent of how we might use strokes of pre-defined colour when working with pastels in a picture and then we 'fix' it.
Louise explained how wool fibres have cuticle scales [of varying coarseness - baby camel wool is extremely soft!]. When laid crosswise in two layers the fibres catch each other when wetted and bind better, which is the secret of felting. The more that wool fibres are agitated the more solidly they interlock.
Colours are blended by making some very soft thin layers, sometimes adding as few as 5 or 6 filaments to create very subtle effects that may only get seen later on when the wetting down darkens and dulls the colours
Louise doesn't use big chunks of wool colour though other felters do. This is a stylistic choice (according to how they felt at the time?!)
Very fine filaments
She begins with a solid white 'undercoat' of wool, applied vertically in one layer and horizontally on the next. She uses marino wool. Because wetted wools of different sorts shrink at different rates it is best to use ONE sort. Silk does not shrink so a few silken threads of bright colour can become attractively wriggly as the wool shrinks
A cut-out felted moon disappears behind wispy cloud.
When finished, netting [net curtain?] is placed on the picture to hold it in place. Then wetting [water lightly sprinkled from a bottle] and applying olive soap gently opens up those wool cuticles [doing the opposite of hair conditioner!]. The flat layer is wetted with hot water, and rolled up - keeping it intact while the wool shrinks in one direction under a layer of bubble wrap which both keeps the moisture in AND acts like a load of little fingers gently agitating and binding the wool. The wool is rolled maybe 40 times, then rolled in the opposite direction [i.e. after turning the picture 90 degrees]. This process can go on for 90 minutes, but in best Delia/Blue Peter tradition Louise spared us by showing 'one I made earlier'.
Lightly grazing the fibres with olive soap
Roll up! Roll up!
Part II: Needlepointing
Look at those notches! That's the secret of needlepoint. The needle stabs into the wool and catches fibres dragging them into the mass, but the needle slips out again smoothly. Some needlepointers use a needle holder [right] and a finger protector. Don't needlepoint while trying to watch the telly!
Louise showed us how you can in effect draw with the wool by stabbing repeatedly into the background until the woolen strand is incorporated.
The finished picture
Part III: Working in 3D
We were shown how to needlepoint a felt 3D robin. A mass of wool can be jabbed and compacted down into a tighter ball. And if a ball of wool still has loose fibres deliberately left dangling [a robin's head, say] it can then be joined to a bigger ball, the robin's body. And so on.
Masses can be shaped since extended stabbing in one area will compact that part and articulate the form.
Here [left] we see the robin being developed.