Stonehill 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.
I 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.
Color 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!