This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop taught by Nancy Evans to learn more about the process of Nuno Felting. This type of felting is very different than all the felting I had previous experience with. You know. Washing sweaters that wind up all shrunken, thick and ruined. Nuno felting is thin, soft, lightweight, and very beautiful. I think neckpiece describes this work perfectly because it's much more than a necklace. It's like a necklace that if-you-can't-see-it-from-the-highway-it's-not-big-enough kind of necklace.
Some of the things I discovered was that merino wool is incredibly soft and doesn't make me itchy. Silk fabric is purchased by Momme (pronounced 'mummy' and abbreviated 'mm' ). A 3.5mm is a more open weave. A 12mm is a tight weave and is more difficult to felt because the wool fibers wont penetrate easily. An easy way to think of it, is to liken it to the thread count of cotton sheets. The higher the number, the tighter the weave.
We started by laying out a bottom layer of silk, and selecting the colors of wool to use as the inside of our silk 'sandwich'. We then pulled pieces from the lengths of roving and laid them out in an arrangement to our liking. I chose fall and earthy colors, blending them as to not have large sections of single colors. On top of the wool we placed pieces of silk. If you want little dashes of color, lengths of wool, specialty yarn, and ribbon can be used. With unbridled abandonment the other two ladies were quite brave and top layered their project with a variety of silks - all patterns and colors! I have been known to be color challenged. I played it safe and paired the same black we used as the base, a earth toned gauzy fabric with purple accents, and another patterned black silk that contained gold shinny highlights. HEY! At least I used some highlights! But in my own defense, we were a bit pressed for time, and making important design decisions with the clock ticking away is not the best way for me to work. I much prefer creative time in the studio to be 'timeless' as 'Haste makes Waste' and all, but whatever. It wasn't my studio, and the Reality Is, the Real World wears a watch.
After all the hard decision making was done, the hard work began. We saturated the entire piece with cool water that had a dash of Dawn dish soap in it. I guess you could use any liquid soap, but Dawn seems to be the soap of choice for lots of different projects. The piece was then covered with plastic, air bubbles removed, rolled up around a pool noodle, and tied up good and tight. Then the rolling commenced. We rolled and rolled. Checked the progress, spun the piece around 180, and rolled some more. Then we did it again. And again. And again. All this rolling is the actual 'felting'. Nancy says she rolls each of her pieces at least 1000 times or for a good hour. I say Nancy must have friggin awesome triceps because mine were killing me the next day.
Finally, we were done rolling. The piece was left flat in the plastic and we kneaded the top by scrubbing with a scrunched up plastic bag and our fingers. This step made the piece strong and ensured the silk had bonded to the wool. Our pieces were gives a quick rinse, put in a bowl with some water, and microwaved. Really. For about 1½ minutes. This step gets the wool hot, shrinking starts, and the magic begins. While the fabric is hot, we held it up 2 feet off the table and gently threw it down. We kept this up and periodically reheated until the piece had shrunk by 1/3. This action forces the wool fibers to come thru the silk to bind the whole thing together. This process is called 'fulling', and the cool thing about it is: the fabric will shrink in the direction it is rubbed. So if you need to do some shaping, now is the time to lay your piece down and rub the area you want shrunk in the direction you want it to shrink. Also, this step starts to reveal the final beauty of the silk and wool combined. The wool shrinks, and gathers the silk into a puckered-textured finish. Nancy had a word for it. I can't for the life of me remember what that word was.**
We were now pretty much done. Our pieces were given a cool water rinse followed by a 5 minute warm water/dash of vinegar soak before being wrapped in a towel to remove most of the water.
Pictured above are the pieces made by my classmates. They were still wet and not blocked, so lets just pretend the pictures are fantastic.
After the class I took my piece home to continue drying. It took a couple of days to dry fully. I continued to play around with it to see how best to attach the closure, and what type would suit the piece. Of course my love for glass and beads is reflected in the final outcome. Extra embellishment was *required*!
Using seed beads – size 06, 11, and 15 – I chose colors to match the felt, and beaded lines to highlight the color fields. I started to make a picot edge as a finish to trim around the lace ruffle along the back crescent, then decided to carry the beading around the entire edge. Because, you know, I was never one to subscribe to the whole (silly..) “Less is More” thing.
Because I love glass so much, adding lampworked beads was a must. At one point some time ago I made a bunch of beads that matched this piece perfectly. The only problem was laying my hands on them. It took a couple of days, but I did eventually find them. There is so much Good Stuff around here.... After toying with different ideas as to what to use as a closure, I decided not to use one at all. The drape of the neckpiece allows it lay flat, and it is long enough that it doesn't move around too much, and I just liked the way it looked with the ends hanging free. And check out that picture on the right. Does it not look like a little monkey face?
The ruffled edges that naturally occurred as a result of making the balls and craters were finished with a picot edging in accent colored beads. I like the extra detail. Lucky for me all the ruffles wound up with the maroon color. Almost like I planned it. Anyway, the needle I choose to use was a J&P Coats size 10/13 beading needle. It's long, thin and flexible. Using this was a change from my favorite (blunt tip) go-to big eye needle because it's so sharp. Think 'hot knife thru soft butter'. Silk Sulky thread was used because the piece contained silk - and it's so soft... and smooth... and pretty...
After having worn this around the house in my decision making, I have discovered how warm it is. Being so lightweight, I didn't expect it. A good reason to wear it more often :) .
If you want to learn more about Nuno Felting, just do a Google search or a YouTube search. Plenty of information is available from felting experts to get you started. Better yet, visit your local library and check out some books on the subject. I sure did! One book I found to be very informative is “The Complete Photo Guide to Felting” by Ruth Lane. This book covers all types of felting, contains detailed instructions, and is beautifully photographed. There is so much information it could be overload for the beginer (me), but being a textile junkie from way back I found the reading to be useful. If you are only going to have one book on the subject I would consider this one to be The Bible.
** the word is RUCHING. It's when the silk puckers because it doesn't shrink like the wool does. Soooo beautiful!!
Nancy Evans is a fellow juried member of The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. She sells her felted creations at juried shows, at shops and boutiques, and teaches extensively throughout New Hampshire and beyond. Her work and classes reflect her love of color, texture, and all things fiber. Contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about her current class schedule.