The exhibition of curlews at Grassington has been extended until the end of July and artists were informed in case any minor repairs needed to be made. I rang my sponsors ,YDNPA, and asked how Bart was getting along to which the answer was “OK, but his nose has grown with all this rain and he looks like an old man”.
Curious to know more and to see what, if anything, could be done, I went to Grassington this morning to take a look for myself. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, his beak had extended about an inch due to the torrential rain we’ve had just recently. So I set to with some soap and water to bring it under control once more.
What a sight I looked standing there with his beak in a jug of water as I tried to soak the felt in readiness for working it. What had previously been a quiet road suddenly seemed thronged with people looking askance at me and asking if I was feeding him. The vigorous rubbing of the felt made him wobble on his stand and altogether I felt more than a little conspicuous. Karen at the YDNPA took a photo of me in action as you can see below. My husband took one look and said “strange woman assaulting a curlew”.
Wow, I’ve just taken a look at the Grassington Festival website and you can see all the curlews in their full glory. Take a look, you won’t be disappointed.
You can even bid to buy one!
We’ve been to have a look at Bart and some of the other curlews which are now on display at Grassington until 4th July. There’s some really creative ones as you can see from the shot below. The Abirdriginal was done in conjunction with children from Giggleswick School and was my personal favourite.
My daughter, bless her, thinks that Bart is the best one and he’s ‘really cool’.
Just to round it off, here’s the story of Bart in images. I will be adding final images once Bart is on display in Grassington.
With me holding him you get a good idea of the size of Bart and the task ahead!
The plastic template was 1.75m long and to turn it over during the laying out process I had to wind it up on a broom handle and then unwind it the other way, treating it just like pastry. I laid out the base layers in Bluefaced Leicester which I then covered with the hand dyed and carded Swaledale fibres.
I think he looks quite good laid out with all the flowers on and with a curly fleece chest. Cutting him in half was a bit nerve wracking as I had to avoid cutting through flowers on either side.
When dry I sewed the two halves together onto Bart and then re-commenced felting him. As you can see he had to be turned all ways up for this process.
He looks splendid sitting on the lawn and I am pleased with how he’s turned out.
Taking him to the workshop for his legs fitting was really interesting, watching him be drilled and riveted and then fitted onto the stone. It made my day and I felt like I was then handing over a whole bird. I know you don’t get a sense of size from this photo but he is now approximately four and a half feet tall. I’ll add more pictures of the finished Bart once he goes on display.
I spent another five hours on Saturday working on Bart and was shattered by the time I’d finished all that rubbing. In order to work all over the felt and get rid of any wrinkles I had to keep turning Bart different ways round and up, as you can see in the photo. Each time I thought that was it it was done and was shrunk to fit, I’d turn him round and find another baggy area. I seemed to chase it round for a long time before the last bit was finally done.
In a couple of places the seam wasn’t felting together properly and I was worried it would show and be a potential weakness for vandals to exploit. Out came the needle again and using invisible thread I stitched it together tightly and refelted the areas. I’m very happy to report that this did the trick and it’s invisible. The problem with the seam was always going to be the size of Bart and the fact that once wet, the felt would be heavy and tend to drag the seam apart as I moved him around.
When I’d finished felting I needed to rinse the soap out and thought I know, Simon mentioned a hose pipe in his joke instructions, a hosepipe would be just the thing. Well it wasn’t. I couldn’t get the pressure right and I soaked Bart, myself, the newspaper, the camera and my husband. Happily for all of us I reverted to a jug. The warm sunny weekend was great for drying Bart off and I’m really pleased with how he’s turned out. He’ll be leaving me soon to go and have his legs fitted and I won’t see him again until he’s on display as part of the Flights of Fancy section of the Grassington Festival. The Yorkshire Dales National Parks Authority may display him at the car park in Grassington but once I know for sure I’ll add a note here. I hope you like him.
It’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
I’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.
I 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.
P.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.
I 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
- Measure your curlew carefully from top to bottom.
- Using a small sponge, moisten your sheep gently, working from the head backwards.
- When this has no appreciable effect, try emptying your buckets of water over the sheep
- After this has failed, get the little b**gers with the firehose. That’ll show them what you can do with opposable thumbs. Ha!
- Learning from your previous errors, discard the nail scissors and the garden shears and go straight for the lawn mower
- Mow your sheep in an orderly manner, paying particular care to ensure a smooth stripy finish.
- Wrap the fleece from your herd around the enormous fibreglass curlew
- 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 :
- think you might be pregnant
- suffer from any of the following: sheep allergies, inability to complete simple questionnaires (including those designed by idiots)
- have any family history of sanity
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.
After 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..
Towards 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?