Nearly there

sewing onIt’s slow work but it is progressing. Bart’s felt covering was duly tacked back together and the final felting began. I’ve been rubbing him all over for hours each day and it is paying dividends as the felt shrinks down to his shape. The first area I felt unhappy about was the beak, I’d rubbed for ages and it still seemed way too long but this is now under control and is the correct length. It was easier once I’d thought about how the fibres were laid and took advantage of that to achieve the shrinkage I needed.

It’s been such a lovely day that Bart and I have been in the garden today. A bit of sunlight and high temperatures have helped me to keep him warm for the felting process. Shame that it doesn’t help keep him wet, as fast as I pour the water on it runs off! When wet, the felt is quite heavy and the seam began to pull apart as I moved Bart around and turned him over to work on him, so it was out with the needle and thread for an emergency repair.

Today, I’ve rubbed for over four hours but I do now have the shiniest smoothest hands I’ve had for some time. I do admit to using a net and plastic bag to rub him with. Swaledale fibres are quite coarse and there’s no way I could have worked Bart for so long had I used my hands, there’d be no skin left by now. I’m nearing the end and with luck I’ll finish Bart tomorrow which’ll just give time for him to dry before Monday

Moving on

BartI’ve been quiet on the diary front but I have still been busy on Bart and trying to have a family life as well over the bank holiday. Laying out the design took quite a long time because as you can see it is a large project. Bart takes up most of these two tables. During the laying out I decided that each flower should have yellow on it to help tie it together across the whole of Bart. This was all very well and good but I didn’t have sufficient yellow pre-felt and had to make two more lots before I could continue felting, and some green and some lilac. Good job I’d planned well – not. Bart matured during the design process and now has a hairy chest!

As I laid it out I had my first issue when I realised I’d left the tree out which I had intended to embed between the layers. Bart is such a strong shape that actually I began to think that it was probably for the best that it was omitted, and that the more I pared the design back the better it would be. A plainer stronger design would be more fitting with such a bold form.

Since then I’ve been spending two to three hours a day rubbing all over to set the design in place. When using pre-felts it builds up the layers of fibres and that means lots more rubbing if you don’t want the flowers to start lifting off when you begin rolling. I’d done a good job with the rubbing and I know this beacuse as soon as I did my first one hundred rolls the template began to buckle inside the fibres and it was time to cut it off. Scary.

templateI cut the template in two and removed the plastic. Imagine my distress when I discovered thin patches with the potential to become holes during the felting process. If it had been a smaller project I would probably have risked it but I couldn’t face it with Bart, I’d rather be safe than sorry. This has meant me turning the felt inside out and adding extra fibres in the areas giving concern. The two halves of Bart are now drying so that I can tack them together on him tomorrow. Being dried first will allow me to control the weight of the fibres whilst I do the tacking after which I will then rub to felt the two halves securely together. Troubles always begin when the felt comes off the resist, it looks like Bart is no different to any other project. Did I mention I’m supposed to have him ready to hand over by next Monday?


The chosen name is Bartholomew or Bart for short. Sorry I can’t remember who gave that suggestion, but you know who you are, well done. Since Bart arrived I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around the design and the practicality of felting him. I had expected him to have legs and to felt those as well but the legs will be fitted later. There may be a chance that he’ll come back to me after his legs are fitted for me to felt them however it seems a slim chance given the timescales.

I’ve spent about five hours so far carding fibres for the background felt and making pre-felts (part made felt) for the motif. Looking at the background colours, I’ve becomes uneasy about using the motif I designed last week and my gut feeling is that I should revert to a soft, rounded flower shape. Bart has such a strong shape in the form of his body that it really needs something different on him.


It was necessary to dye some more fibres and thanks to Yvonne for explaining that it was the use of magenta in the mix that caused my pink problem earlier. Apparently it’s a strong colour which is grabbed more quickly by the fibres and the blue is left behind – at least I’m not the only one it’s happened to. I’ve also calculated the size of my resist for Bart and it will be huge – 171cm from beak to tail and 89cm from head to undercarriage. Bart will be the largest, most oddly formed 3D shape I’ve ever felted. There’s going to be fun ahead.

guinea pigP.S. Katharine has confessed to crocheting a penguin holding a snowball and wearing a stripy hat. To the right is a picture of Kate’s crocheted guinea pig – brilliant.

Photographing felt

My husband Simon has been a great help in photographing my felt items. However, it hasn’t always been plain sailing especially as felt can look fuzzy even when it’s in focus. Simon has written an article on his blog about the approach he takes and the things he feels are important for photographing felt. Please take a look and give some feedback. We hope you find the article useful but please give feedback either way. If Simon can improve the article, he will.

New arrival

Angela with curlewI collected the curlew on Wednesday afternoon and thought if I held it you’d get a better idea of the size of the bird. As you can see he really is quite haughty and the names suggested so far include: Bertie, Dale, Heath, Julius, Mooree, Hector, Bartholomew, Cornelius and Dave. There’s still time to put forward your own suggestions. I was disappointed to discover his legs will be added later as I’d planned to felt those as well, however it will make it easier to felt around.

Now I’ve been able to take a good look at him, I’ve decided the best way to lay it out and achieve my design aspirations is to make it on one huge resist which I’ll cut in half later and stitch back together on the bird. This will ensure I obtain the flow and that colours don’t look patchworked.

I’ve also been working on the flower design to come up with my own stylised flower motif. Initially I played around with a few traditional flower shapes but it wasn’t working so I began playing with the shape of the curlew. As you can see in the pictures below I started with the shape of the bird in flight and worked on taking the wing shape forward. The curls on the ends of the wings are quite attractive but then I wondered how it would look with the wings going back towards the tail. This is my favourite shape, it’s simple, stylish and can be easily replicated in felt. The thick dark line denotes an outline felt in a different colour and helps to give it a retro feel.


Samples for colours and textures are in production but I wanted to share with you an email received from my husband this week whilst he was in a humorous mood. This made me howl with laughter, I hope it does the same for you. I quote:

Instructions for felting an enormous fibreglass curlew

You will need:

  • Enormous fibreglass curlew
  • A herd of sheep, any breed to suit, preferably capable of swimming 4 lengths of the pool in their pyjamas
  • A small sponge
  • Several buckets of water
  • A firehose
  • Small pair of nail scissors
  • Garden shears
  • Lawn mower – the ride on type will be ideal
  • Some industrial standard road digging equipment, preferably the sort that is now illegal within the EU
  1. Measure your curlew carefully from top to bottom.
  2. Using a small sponge, moisten your sheep gently, working from the head backwards.
  3. When this has no appreciable effect, try emptying your buckets of water over the sheep
  4. After this has failed, get the little b**gers with the firehose. That’ll show them what you can do with opposable thumbs. Ha!
  5. Learning from your previous errors, discard the nail scissors and the garden shears and go straight for the lawn mower
  6. Mow your sheep in an orderly manner, paying particular care to ensure a smooth stripy finish.
  7. Wrap the fleece from your herd around the enormous fibreglass curlew
  8. Equip yourself with protective scarf and steel toed carpet slippers and gently massage your enormous fibreglass curlew with illegal road digging equipment until well felted.

Safety note: Under no circumstances should you attempt this if you :

  1. think you might be pregnant
  2. suffer from any of the following: sheep allergies, inability to complete simple questionnaires (including those designed by idiots)
  3. have any family history of sanity

Freeform Crochet

I took up crochet again about two years ago and a chance encounter with a book in the library introduced me to freeform crochet. This is exactly what it says it is, crochet done without a pattern and freeformed to be pleasing to the eye. It looks so fantastic that I really wanted to have a go but just didn’t get around to doing much about it and didn’t get very far on my own. My work often contains pieces of crochet but they’re always produced to a pattern and I like the idea of something unique.

I forgot about the freeform for a while then I came across the site of Prudence Mapstone and this crocheted reef. My interest was sparked again and as Prudence was running a workshop in this country I decided to go along.

Wow – that’s what I thought when I walked in. On every surface was crochet and knit in every colour imaginable. I was like a child in a sweetshop, I wanted them all but didn’t know which to try first. Below are a few images re-produced with the kind permission of Prudence.


The photos don’t do them justice. They are incredible works of art produced using a combination of knit and crochet and they’re 3D as well as 2D. Once I got going it was easier than I thought to create my own form but Oh, the decisions! Which colour? Which yarn? Knit or crochet? Which stitch? 2D or 3D? I found the day quite tiring but very good fun and it was a lovely bunch of people there too.

firstscrumbleYou can see my first scrumble to the right. It’s not a lot for a whole day of effort is it? I’m obviously a slow worker. Interestingly, I didn’t much care for this when I’d finished it but when I got up the next morning I found it had grown on me. When I have the time I will continue to play with this form of crochet and I think you can look forward to seeing some of it appear in my work.

If you’re really interested there are lots of sites and groups on the internet for crochet and knit. One of the best known is Ravelry an online community for knit and crochet. Plus you really should take a look at this sculptural crochet, talk about 3D.

Birdless in Ilkley

Despite the lack of an actual fibreglass curlew I’ve continued to plan for this project. I’ve jotted down lots of ideas and finally got quite a lot of them straight in my head. Early on I thought it would be a good idea to include a leaf shaped flap which, when lifted, would reveal a flower underneath. This has been discounted along with the thought to hide lettering on the curlew and to include a barn structure on the background. There will be no fabric on the felt and no found objects such as buttons or hardware. All the texture and colour will be created through use of different wools and how they’re felted.

I’m not going to tell you yet which ideas I’ve left in but I have been considering how I will felt the curlew. Fibreglass is a mixture of glass and plastic resin so it will be non-porous and very slippy. It’s a large, odd shape so it can’t go in a washing machine or be rolled. Guess I’m left with lots of rubbing! I’ll start the felt flat but transfer to the curlew whilst it’s still very soft as it’ll be easier to felt on and be completely seamless (wouldn’t want anyone removing all my hard work). Keeping it wet and warm throughout the felting process will also be a challenge and I’m contemplating the use of lots of bowls and a large covered area to keep the water under control or the use of my bath. If you’ve any other suggestions please send them in.

dyed wensleydaleAfter speaking to Ladka and others with more natural dyeing experience I have decided to use chemical dyes. The main reason being the time available, I have to complete the curlew in time for it to dry and be handed over three weeks today. Natural dyeing takes more time and I would need to check each recipe for colour fastness which also takes time. So natural dyeing will need to be a project on its own.

So, I’ve had a lovely day dyeing Swaledale fibres, Blue Faced Leicester roving, silk throwsters waste, silk chiffon and muslin. Well, there’s no point in wasting all that dye, is there. You can see the results for yourself. The Swaledale isn’t a pure white wool and as you can see it takes the dye differently from the Blue Faced Leicester (BFL). Some of these colours look quite bold but flat at the moment however, when carded together and mixed with the ready dyed BFL they’ll be great..

bfl rovingTowards the end of the day I made up a purple dye bath and put in: Swaledale fibres, muslin, roving and some Wensleydale curls and the strangest thing happened. With the exception of the muslin,which came out blue, everything came out pink. As I rinsed the fibres the excess dye washed out was blue. This has never happened to me before. I’ve checked that it was an acid and not a fibre reactive dye but that’s not the reason. Anyone with an explanation – please let me know. Meanwhile, it will all have to be dyed again and hope that when I come to produce some more greens that I don’t have the same problem with the blue.

Whilst I’ve been writing this I’ve had a call to say that I can collect my curlew – yippee.

P.S. My friend Kate has admitted to crocheting 3 guinea pigs, does anyone else feel the need to confess?

Sorting sheep

Grimwith ReservoirToday I went for a walkabout at Grimwith Reservoir with Karen and Catherine from the YDNPA. As you can see from the photo it was a little grey and what you can’t see is how windy it was. My face is glowing from wind burn but it’s such a beautiful spot that I don’t mind. We were lucky enough to see a couple of curlews but they flew off before I could get the camera out, however we did see a deer. A good walk.

So many ideas now. From a design perspective it would be great if the bird were bigger, from a felting perspective, I’ll probably be glad it’s not. I’m thinking about: mixing more colours into the greens to represent flowers, including structures from the locality e.g. the stone ditch border on the right and the crests whipped up by the wind on the water. I was surprised to discover that there’s been coal mining in the area. There are 17th Century buildings and even one with a heather thatch.

stoneThere are lots of ideas bouncing around in my head, it makes meI feel as though I have a large pen full of sheep in there and each time I try to sort them they dash off in different directions. Then I get sidetracked by one particularly interesting one and forget which sheep I was looking for. This is the point at which I need to take a deep breath and start reining it all back in or there’ll be so much on the curlew it’ll be in danger of being spoilt. It probably doesn’t help that I’m baking a cake, listening to my daughter recounting her day at school and writing this at the same time.

It is possible to obtain the fleece of a Swaledale sheep but time is marching on and I need to start dyeing so I’m going to use commercially available tops. I’ve also decided (as I write this) that much as I’d like to use this opportunity to learn more about natural dyes, the important aspect to me, on this project, is to use Swaledale wool and I will use chemical dyes if it becomes necessary to obtain the colours I need within the timescale.

Writing this is helping my brain to settle and focus, I’m off now to jot down a list of design ideas so I can start paring it down and refocusing on my original idea.

First Samples

As I’m now meeting Karen at the reservoir on Friday, it leaves today free to make some samples and to research and play with a few dyes. Swaledale sheep are traditionally hill sheep and the fibre is, as might be expected, a stronger, coarser fibre than the merino that many people use for felting and which means it will take longer to felt. The fibres are pale grey / black in colour which means that when dyed, you don’t get a solid colour. Depending on what project you’re doing, this can be good or bad – I think it’s going to look great on the curlew.

My first two samples are to check how the Swaledale fibres felt and how to achieve the shape of a leafless tree within the felt. The inspiration for the tree came from a photo I saw in the Mediastorehouse. I have boucle yarn which I’m keen to use to give the tree a little more texture so I’ve corded this and put it at various thicknesses both between the layers of fibre and on top. In my bit box was a felt roll which I also sandwiched between the layers. Even at 10 strands the cord loses too much definition during felting, the roll however gives a really good result so this is what I will use to create the tree on the curlew. Great – first decision made! The fibres took a little longer in the wet and set stage (sorry, felting speak – they were wetted and rubbed until holding together well) but shrank well during the rolling process used to harden the felt.

dyed_samplesMeanwhile I decided to try some dyes from the kitchen cupboard and you can see the results for yourself. The turmeric was particularly successful. After researching further I’ve decided I don’t have a lot of time to complete all my own natural dyeing so have taken the decision to use some other sheep fibres within the felt to achieve some colours. If I need browns I’ll use Shetland fibres and have sourced some pre-dyed Blue Faced Leicester from Wheeldale Woolcrafts to use for blues, reds and purples. To add further texture I’ve decided to add Teeswater and Wensleydale curls into the mix. All of these are native British breeds of sheep.

The only colours I now need to dye the fibre in are greens and yellows. I think I’ve found a great yellow already but would like to add another shade to this and I need at least three greens. My thanks to Sylvia for offering to go plant gathering and to Yvonne for pointing me at some great sites on the internet. For anyone who’d like a little more information try Country Lovers and Wild Colours. Roll on Friday, when I’ll visit the reservoir and I’m also hoping to receive my curlew then.

P.S. We went to Bradford Industrial Museum at the weekend and in the rag rug exhibition was (you’ve guessed it) a polar bear. To drive my husband totally nuts we then found a picture of a crocheted hamster. And he thought he was kidding.