Rolling, rolling, rolling!

The workshop with Rutsuko Sakata was very interesting and I’ve made two nuno (fabric and felt) scarves using her techniques. Rutsuko had brought samples of her work for us to look at, touch and examine. Obviously we were full of questions about how various effects were achieved. After a brief demonstration of how to lay out fibres (more of this in a minute) and a chat about how to achieve different effects, our task was to create our own sample scarf using as many of the techniques and effects as we could.

In addition to working with Rutsuko’s techniques I’d challenged myself to work in naturals just because I rarely do so. I had gone armed with, a natural grey and a 100s superfine white Merino and bits of yarn, ramie and spare fabric. The first difference of the day was the availability of silk organza as the fabric for the scarf. I had taken silk chiffon but thought I’d give the fabric from Rutsuko a go. the silk organza has more body than the silk chiffon and is Rutsuko’s fabric of choice.

Step one was to make some pre-felt to cut up and use in the sample scarf. I normally use the width of my hand to pull the fibres from the tops and then lay two layers of fibre, the first horizontal the second vertical. We were advised to lay out two layers of diagonal fibres. No wet and set stage but a small number of rolls increasing in quantity and pressure until we have a pre-felt. Now I don’t make the softest pre-felt (part made felt) in the world but even I was surprised at what Rutsuko considered a pre-felt. We rolled until there was no movement left in the fibres, a stage so late that some people would actually have finished felting at this point!

Then we began to lay out the scarf. All around the edge we put two diagonal layers of fibres then laid on our designs using our pre-felts, yarns etc. We were all very keen to make a flower using Rutsuko’s technique and as usual I had a yarn that I didn’t know the composition of and decided to experiment with it anyway. You perhaps can’t tell from the photo but it was quite hairy which is the main reason I wouldn’t use it again. It only stuck where I used a few fibres to attach it so that tells me it wasn’t pure wool either. I still really like this scarf and it is wearable. I love the natural grey merino which felted quickly.

We rolled and rolled and rolled until there was no movement in the fibres at all and it was even beginning to shrink a little. Then we heated it up and rolled it just in our towels. This fulling (hardening) process made it shrink quite quickly as we continued to add hot water (or dip into hot water) between each set of rolls. Things really got wet at this point, it’s a process that could easily be done on the draining board at home so at least all that water would have somewhere to go. Only after all this was finished was it time to cut the flower and shape the petals. The flower and the leaf lattice at the other end are my favourite parts of this scarf.

When it was time to make a scarf on day two I knew I wanted two flowers, some lattice work and to add more texture but I also decided just to work in white and on silk chiffon this time.

Along the edges I added Ramie fibres and curly kid Mohair. In the centre are some plastic rings wrapped with lambswool yarn and trapped under scrim with a little fancy yarn on top. The lattice is made from strips of fibre but twisted a few times. I wouldn’t normally twist the fibres but you can’t tell from the finished item that I have.

Could I have made this scarf using my usual techniques? – yes. I don’t think I learnt a huge amount on adding effects and finishes to my scarves but the techniques used to achieve them were new and interesting. I would adopt some of the techniques in some instances and I really enjoyed working with someone from a different culture and with so much experience. Rutsuko shared her knowledge willingly and with a mastery of English that I could never hope to emulate in Japanese. It was also wonderful to give myself entirely to making felt and to focus on design and techniques without, wondering if the washing was ready to hang out yet, having a cat walk on it or being distracted by the fridge. I feel like it’s refocused me on thinking about what I do not just doing.

I really thought my husband would like these scarves as they’re so restrained but he surprised me by saying they were wishy washy. It hasn’t put me off, I still think they’re great.

A busy week ahead

My daughter returns to school after the half term break tomorrow but there’ll be no sitting down for me. On Tuesday and Wednesday I’m attending a masterclass in feltmaking by Rutsuko Sakata. Rutsuko’s work is very different to mine and I’m really looking forward to learning new techniques.

Before I have chance to recover from this two day intensive training I’ll start work with six primary schools in Skipton to produce wall hangings in felt. I’ve been fortunate to be chosen to work with the Mart Theatre to deliver workshops to local schools. Each school will produce a wallhanging to their own theme (so far we have: culture, sense of place, sense of community, seaside, worldcup) which will be displayed at the Art in the Pen show in August and then at the premises of HML in Skipton. HML is the sponsoring company whithout which this project wouldn’t be happening. I hope to show you some of the children’s work over the next few weeks. It’s an exciting time.