I have been watching a fellow fiber artist now for a while. Nicole does amazing felt shawls and scarves. The other day she put up a shawl that she had “felted on a whim” the night before and my heart about stopped. OMG this was beyond stunning. I have been chatting back and forth with her about this particular piece and various felting ideas and she agreed to let me write about our conversation, this particular piece and to include some stunning photos. Are you ready?
1. What is your favorite fibers to use for felting and why?
My favorite fibers are silk and Merino. Specifically the 50/50 15micron Merino and mulberry silk roving that I use. It is so luxuriously soft and has the perfect shimmer. The high silk content is hard to felt with but the results produce a very beautiful drape in the finished product.
2. What fiber arts do you do and what draws you to each?
I am a felter and also hand dye almost everything that I create. My favorite is to take the white roving and turn it into a beautiful scarf or shawl.. then when the piece is done it’ll tell me what color it should be. Dyeing after felting gives me a better sense of control for where I want the colors to go and how they will combine.
3. What is your felting process. You mentioned that you use the dryer exclusively. Explain how you used to do it, what has changed and why. Folks that don’t felt need to know that hand injuries can cramp your style but a dryer opens your world back up. I struggle with hand and back injuries daily so that is important to me.
My first step in the felting process is laying out my bubble wrap. Next I lay out my fibers.. deciding if it’ll be a nuno piece, a cobweb, etc. After I am all done with the design I wet it down with cold soapy water, I almost always use cold since I usually use a silk/wool mix and you don’t want the fibers to felt too fast. Then I place a thin piece of plastic over my work.. I prefer this instead of netting, as netting tends to felt into the project. It is the rolled up in two towels and tied together with stretchy pantyhose then put into the dryer for four ten minute increments. I used to roll by hand, hundreds of rolls.. but as I have a bad back it was too difficult and I wasn’t able to produce as much or as fast as I’d like. The dryer has saved me back pain and time!
I understand not using the netting. I have always thought that the netting would end up being felted in and that was not something I wanted. I would use that plastic myself as well as I plan on using a power sander to do some of the fulling process and need that plastic barrier between the electric sander and my WET felt! haha
4. What inspired you for this whim? It is different than the other pieces I have seen on your page recently. I love it and wondered what inspired you to leave your comfort zone and try this?
I think I was inspired by the mohair itself. I was looking at it and wanted to create something very organic and decided that since I didn’t have enough to make a full length shawl, a capelet would be perfect! It was my first time making one, I am hoping to create more.. getting better with each one. Sometimes I have to push myself, even though you worry you are going to waste time and fiber (which I have done before) the only way to become a better artist is to consistently put yourself out of your comfort zone.
5. How long have you been into fiber? How long doing felt?
I started off crocheting in 2009, just the basic stuff.. and using the normal yarn you would find at a craft store. I wasn’t satisfied. It didn’t speak to me in the way that I really wanted it to. One day I saw a felted piece on Etsy and instantly fell in love. From that moment on I researched and watched videos.. anything I could get my hands on to learn how to create fabric with just wool fiber, soap and water. Two years ago I bought some supplies and have never stopped felting. It’s hard to describe what felting means to me.. it is apart of me now, part of my soul and it makes my heart so happy.
6. Can you tell me about banana fiber? What is it? Why banana fiber? What does it do or not do for felting?
Banana fiber yarn is made from banana stalks. It has incredible shine and is so soft, you can dye it any color you’d like, but you can’t use acid dyes since it is not a protein fiber. I really enjoy using it in my work, when it felts it scrunches up and gives great texture.
7. This piece from your description seems to be a medium to maybe a smallish large. How big is it when you start out?
Hmm, I can’t remember the dimensions exactly (this is what happens when you work late into the night and forget to write stuff down!). But, it did shrink quite a bit. At least 40%.
8. Merino from my own experience really felts up and shrinks. I sometimes have a 40% shrinkage on my warp when I just Full a piece. Does silk shrink as much? The shine comes from the silk, the soft as well but what does silk give to felting that just a different wool would not?
Yes, Merino does shrink a good amount, I have set dimensions I use for my shawls, but even following the dimensions they sometimes come out different sizes. Felt has a mind of its own! The silk that is in the blend will shrink with the wool, so I find the 50/50 mix will shrink just the same as if I used pure wool. The silk just allows the product to have a very nice drape, it allows the fiber to “bend” more and not be so stiff (As long as you don’t over-full). Also, when dyeing, the silk produces brighter colors so your over-all piece is more vibrant.
9. You mentioned that you do your felting by dryer, but your fulling by hand. Why can’t you full by dryer too? Can it all be done in dryer? Fulling by hand is still the rolling correct? What about those that are disabled and have a lot of pain. Is it possible to not do by hand or do you lose too much control that way?
You know, you might be able to do it all in the dryer. I have always fulled using my hands. After something is done felting I take the felt and rub it between my hands, sometimes smacking it down onto the table, as long as it’s not supposed to be a delicate piece. My technique is felting THEN dyeing. So a lot of the times I only full a little tiny bit because I find when I dye the piece after it’s going to full on it’s own from my moving it around in the dye pot and heating it up in the microwave. At the end when it’s all dyed up I take it and shock it in cold water, which again does more fulling for me. I have learned when to stop fulling and leave it be, it has taken sometime to figure it out though.
I would say for someone who really can’t use their hands.. maybe put it in the dryer for extra time, so it shrinks really well, then take it out and gently smoosh the felt in your hands and shock it using cold and hot water.
Thank you so much for you thoughts and insights on your creative process, the things you have learned and what you like to use for felt. I love this piece and it is currently for sale HERE in Parvana’s Etsy Shop. You can also find Parvana on Facebook and follow her there if you want to know more and see more stunning felt work.
For anyone that has ever admired, drooled over, and wanted to know more about felting but never thought they could… Nicole has broken it down and let us in on how she has adapted around her physical limitations. I know that I have been planning on felting for months now, have all my tools and fibers gathered and will be starting soon. I had a spin job that needed to be finished first and because I was a little scared. After chatting with Nicole, I think I am going to get over being scared and just go felt. You might even seen some creations here soon. Ta for now!