Monthly Archives: April 2015

Creative FeltLOOM Ideas at All Sorts Acre

FL_Feltworks3One member of the FeltLOOM community is All Sorts Acre,   a sheep farm in Guelph, Ontario, Canada; raising grass fed lamb, producers of wool, and a talented fiber artist in their midst. With a flock strongly aligned to Shetland Sheep lineage, Shetland Sheep lineage goes back thousands and thousands of years in the Shetland Isles, it is presumed that they were brought there by the earliest Viking Settlers. They are known for their natural hardiness, lambing ease, longevity, and ability to survive under harsh conditions, they are known as primitive, short-tailed breed.
Did you know that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson grazed sheep on the White House South Lawn, selling the wool as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross? All Sorts Acre may not have “Old Ike” President Woodrow Wilson’s tobacco chewing ram, but they surely have a good-sized flock of Shetland Sheep bred for their beautiful and colorful wool. They also have a FeltLOOM!

“Our sheep can produce some beautiful colored fleeces. We love and appreciate the natural colors. It is hand washed, processed and dyed here at the farm. We use environmentally friendly soaps to preserve our water, and both eco-friendly and natural dyes. We also offer a variety of felted products from wool.”

Meet Jennifer Osborn, Sheep Farmer, grass-fed lamb producer, wool seller as well as fiber artist. Many producers have their wool processed into yarn, roving, blankets, or crafts and market value-added products.

Fleeces sold to hand spinners need to be of high quality. Feeding, housing, health care, handling, and harvesting; are all critical to the production of high quality wool. It goes without saying that fleeces should be skirted. Skirting is when the undesirable parts of the fleece are removed: belly wool, top knots, leg clippings, tags, stained wool, cotted wool, and short wool.AllSortsAcre2

All Sorts Acre Feltworks sells Jennifer’s felted fiber artwork, she uses a Lexi model FeltLOOM® to create her beautiful fiber artwork, from scarves, to clothing, to felted candle holders, and even sculpting little critters.

Jennifer shares her talent in workshops in needle felting, wet felting, sculpting, technical wet felting, dyeing, and home wool processing. And 2014 was packed with exhibitions and juried art shows where Jennifer’s art work was on display in galleries, art fairs and at market.

When asked what foundational experience comes into play when dyeing wool, Jennifer says,  “I have found my art training helps immensely. My original dyeing experience was using acid dyes. I found it quite fascinating, but often acid dyes have non-paint color names.  As a painter I used a limited color palette, around 10 colors. All colors were mixed using these 10 base colors such as alizarin crimson, cerulean blue, and cadmium yellow. I had no reference for the dye colors from a mixing standpoint.  I now create my own colours that I name myself.  If I am acid dyeing I use Greener Shades exclusively. I am in the process of developing dye formulations that are similar to paint colors.

When she began using natural dyes, Jennifer was struck by how similar they are to earth tone paints. Dyeing with natural dyes helped her make smooth and rich color selection. They all go together beautifully. “I love the idea of having the colors you are using reflect the landscape you are in.”

We wanted to learn more, so we interviewed Jennifer directly at All Sorts Acre:

allsortsacredyesFeltLOOM: When you weigh all the different factions of All Sort Acres (dyeing the wool, creating one of a kind artwork, felting, teaching, farming, etc.) if there any part that you like over the rest, or dislike over the rest?

ASA: It is the variety that I love so much. Being a part of a farm to fiber, education to art endeavor has given me an incredible variety of things I will do in a day, a week, or a year. It is incredibly inspiring. I never have the same day twice. I don’t like doing repetitive tasks, but the pattern and rhythm of the year I love. It is repetition on a longer scale. Touchstones such as lambing time, shearing, and color harvesting time all contribute to the creation of artwork. I imagine it would be similar to renaissance painters having to create their paint before even beginning a painting. Growing my fiber and color gives me a lot of time to be with my materials in a very meditative way. I think the sheep have influenced me that way. They are almost like little woolly Buddha’s.

I get immersed in the stages of the process of creation from shepherding to final touches. When dyeing wool, I am fully present in the activity. Playing with the color possibilities, techniques, experiments and mistakes is engrossing and then and there I am in love with color. When up to my elbow in sheep juices, trying to make sure a lamb will make it, I am in awe of the experience and I would rather be nowhere else on earth. I get so excited the first time a student sees what they have created from loose fibers. Creating artwork requires its own space as well. I need to be in that space fully, not thinking about what to dye, what fixing needs to be done, or if there is weeding to be done. I need to focus on my tasks fully. I feel I need to acknowledge the art and craft of each activity.

FL_Feltworks2I guess if there was one part I have decided I do not need to be quite so immersed in, it is the fibre processing. That is due to time and equipment constraints, and other people can do it faster and better. I now got to Ute, owner of Freelton Fibre Mill a couple of hours away. She is great.

FeltLOOM:   What interests bring you to your artistic creations (i.e. nature, color, etc.)?

ASA:  Life itself is inspiring, which can be overwhelming for an artist. When I switched media many aspects of my work changed. After many years of painting, I am rediscovering many things I chose to put aside when deciding to focus on two dimensions. Being able to incorporate sculpture, texture, and more abstraction into my work is artistically exciting. As a painter many of these things never felt right. As a fiber artist, it fits like a glove.
As a painter, subject was prominent in my paintings. I still like to depict nature in both realistic and abstracted styles, but I am also exploring the possibilities of material, technique, process, color, emotion, and viewer interaction.

Texture and pattern take on a whole different feeling when done in felt.  With every piece I have 20 more potential directions the next piece could go. I am deliberately focusing on exploring a specific technique, topic, or theme to see how far I it can go. Unlike modern paint which is often very consistent, using wool can be variable.

I am also inspired by the thought that a viewer will touch the piece. I try and encourage it when I am at art fairs. Painting is very much a hands-off activity; you look with your eyes. Felt is, well, meant to be felt. This is new and exciting to me.

Creative Inspirations and Felted Designs at Stonehill Originals

FL_StonehillPurpleStonehill Originals established in 2005 with the purchase of her initial 5 Alpacas, today owner Debbie Braunlich has a herd of 30 tucked away on a farm in Paarl, Cape Town, South Africa. All textiles are created from natural fibers, such as alpaca, merino and mohair which they mix with other natural fibers such as silk, cashmere and plant fibers; making truly original fabrics. We wanted to know a little more about Stonehill Originals, so we asked Debbie:

FeltLOOM: How do you select the fibers that you use for each project? And does it make a difference when you think about your final project and how you work with the wool on your FeltLOOM?

DB-SO:   Having been an alpaca breeder for just on ten years now, my main source of fiber is alpaca from my own herd but I also do buy fiber from other breeders as well. The alpaca fiber ranges from 16 micron to the really coarse in the 30 micron region. South Africa is also one of the largest merino wool exporters in the world and we have beautiful quality wool from 17 micron and upwards to choose from. When making garments, I use the finest quality wool ie 16-21 micron of either alpaca or merino or a combination. Other natural fibers are added for textural difference or accents, such as Tussah silk and mohair locks. Karakul is also used for the projects which require coarser textures, such as wall hangings, etc.
FL_StonehillRustI make hybrid (nuno) felt which is wool on another fabric such as silk or cotton for jackets, dresses and wraps as well as the more traditional felt ie pure wool only where this felt is used for items such as baby bootees, insoles, household products etc.

FeltLOOM: Do you think about the project first when you design your fabric, or do you think about the color and how it plays with other colors?  What is your creative process?

DB-SO:  Each project is different.  It all depends on what the final item requires : drapeability, texture, mood, size – a lot of different aspects.

Sometimes the final garment will require very simple, one colour felt that can drape which is one of the huge benefits of the FeltLOOM!   (For instance, the cream jacket wrap that you may have seen on my Facebook page?). Using silk or Indian cotton as a scrim (base fabric), I then lay out the fibre dependent on the density required. The FeltLOOM relieves the felt maker from a lot of physical work in that the ‘fabric’ then gets processed through the FeltLOOM very quickly (about ¼ of the time it would take to wet-felt the same piece). I do finish the process by wet-felting (a quick wet and roll) the fabric to get a really taut fabric but this is not necessary if the item is to be a wall hanging or similar where there is little wear and tear. Sometimes I envisage how the final product could look and then layout the fiber accordingly, for instance, adding embellishments or accents where I would like them to be on the garment. For example, in the one felted dress, I hand-carded brown, grey and black alpaca and lay this out on a cream alpaca background which, for me, is reminiscent of our beautiful stone that we find on Table Mountain and the Cedarberg here in the Cape.   Occasionally, I do work from photographs or pictures too to try to emulate a particular look or texture that a client may like.

FL_StonehillVerticalgrayColor is very important. The natural shades of the alpaca are beautiful to work with and I love creating combinations as seen in the blanket wrap on my Facebook page which is three shades of natural alpaca (cream, red-brown and grey) embellished with Tussah silk which just ‘pops’ the colors beautifully. With merino, besides the beautiful batts that we are able to purchase from Lanette, I also use hand-dyed rovings of South African merino and use these either in single color or blend colors together on my drum-carder.   I hope to be able to send photos of these items in the not too distant future!

FeltLOOM: Do you have a favorite fiber? Perhaps alpaca, wool, or another one?

DB-SO: I love both alpaca and wool– alpaca is gloriously soft and the natural shades are divine!  It is more of a challenge to get alpaca to felt than merino but the luxurious feel is amazing! I use merino where I need color as it lends itself to being dyed and makes a wonderful, taut felt – with the FeltLOOM, I can make a very fine merino felt now too!

FeltLOOM: What tips or techniques have you learned that you find especially helpful, that you’d like to share?

DB-SO: When the fabric is going to be used in a garment, I find it important to finish the process with a little bit of wet-felting to ‘pull’ the fibers together as the felt can ‘pill’ sometimes where there is friction for example, on the elbows.   It’s very quick – once the fabric is completed on the FeltLOOM, I lay it out on the table, wet it with warm (not hot) water to open the scales of the wool fibers, add a bit of natural soap and then roll it on a big PVC pipe – just a few times.   If there are any particularly stubborn patches, I rub those spots in a circular motion and do the final roll with the fabric on itself ie not with a pipe, this gives a lovely final finish.   I have done an online felting surface design course with Fiona Duthie, who is based in Canada, and some of her techniques are a huge bonus.  Once the fabric is dry, it is steam-pressed and then ‘Voila!’, it is ready to be turned into a garment or its’ original intended purpose!

It has been suggested that this process can be done in a washing machine but I’m not entirely sure that this is the way to go as it tends to shrink the fabric rather than ‘full’ it properly.   So I prefer the route I’ve chosen – the results are great.  And, with the FeltLOOM, it is still WAY quicker and easier than wet-felting an enormous piece of fabric!!

I still feel that I have an enormous amount to learn using the FeltLOOM and from other users.  Sometimes it is challenging being on the other side of the globe to FeltLOOM especially when I know they have conquered certain techniques already and I am muddling around, trying to find my own way! I know Judy Roberts in Australia has the same challenges however we are happily pioneering our own way into the felting world with FeltLOOM in our respective countries and support each other by email and phone calls!  Lanette and Dick at FeltLOOM are always just an email away when I’ve needed help, so the support is amazing! And now with Terri Stramba on board too, the response times are fantastic!