The benefits of integrated felt bag handles 

As I lay out the fibres for my latest felt bag, I am reflecting on the options for felt bag handles. For me a bag of whatever kind has to have a handle. I just can’t manage clutch bags and in truth I struggle to use any bag that can’t hang comfortably on my shoulder.

There are many methods to make a handle for a felt bag. The handle can be made from felt or an alternative material like canvas or leather. It can be integrated into the bag as part of the design , or it can be attached in a variety of ways. I am thinking of :

  • Stitching
  • Loops
  • Ties
  • Knots

All of which I have tried at one time or another.

Knots

 

 

Stitching

 

 

Loops

 

 

 

 

 

 

These handles all work but what I really like are fully integrated felt bag handles.

WHY ?

Because I think integrating fully integrating the handles,  is what sets felt bags apart.    It makes them unique.   With some thought the handles can be integrated seamlessly, giving simultaneously strength and style. That’s just not possible with fabric or leather.  Maybe is possible wth knitting or crochet  ?  But a knitted bag is not very stylish.

Here is an example of a bag I have made wth two integrated handles

the corded handles are felted into the fabric of  the felt bag and also form the start of the cord edging of the felt bag

the integrated cord gives the bag structure

 

 

 

 

 

 

A more substational felt bag made from the beautiful Gotland wool.  Here the handles are intergated into the back and the front of the bag giving it stability and shape.

 

Both bags are different in design but based the same integration principles.  Both have unique and fully integrated handles.

I made a bag recently at a workshop that I really like and it’s got leather handles. This adds contrast and is very easy to do.

Gladstone Bag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I am currently wondering is can I modify this bag design to give it integrated handles. This is quite crazy idea really as it will make the bag much  more complicated to make. I think if I am going to do it,  I will need to make  strap like handles, or maybe strap like at the end and cords in the middle.

So even though I think integrated handles have benefits ,   I think , this time , I will make a bag without integrated handles.  I will continue to ponder the best method of attaching them for the next bag.

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Why I enjoy the excitement of Eco Printing

Eco printing is fun, exciting  and for me a good change from natural dyeing and felting.   Here in the UK now is the ideal time for eco printing.   The flowers are blooming and the sap is rising as the spring turns in summer. I had a great experience with a workshop in 2016 with the wonderfully generous Fabienne Dorsman-Rey at Art Van Go .  This year I have refreshed some of my Eco printing knowledge as I was lucky enough to win a free workshop with Kathy Hays.

Their Eco Printing methods are not the same but are very complimentary and I would recommend them both.

Looking back a year ago I am delighted with this eco printed and slow stitched cloth I made during and after Fabienne’s workshop.


I also incorporate Eco printed silk into felt pieces. Below you can see where I used the almost shibori dyed edge of a piece of ecoprinted silk chiffon to represent cliffs.


This year pieces include this beautiful sample eco printing with continus, geranium coreospsis and fern.


I have also been trying my hand at making ecoprinted scarfs. I am quite pleased with my first attempt.

The photo is not so good, but I cant find a good way to photiograph a long scarf.  Can anyone advise me ?

This scarf has been Eco printed with geranium and budlehia and  natural dyed with onions.

When it stops raining I need to start harvesting some leaves as I have learnt from Kathy Hays that prnting will work well with dried leaves.  This has the advantage that I can enjoy Eco Printing during the rest of the year.

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Why I enjoy Eco printing

I love the colours you get with natural dyes although the process can be frustrating in its unpredictability. But I find there is a lot of  excitement and even more unpredictability by adding prints of leaves.  I especially enjoy slowly unrolling my Eco Prining bundles and anticipating what has happened during the process.  If you haven’t tried I would encourage you to give it a go.

Why am I building an unique scrap hoard?


I never thought I would be building a scrap hoard with all my thread scraps and felt scraps and then reusing them.

When I first started natural dyeing, I stitched the felt before dyeing but I did not cut off all the loose ends. They were left until the piece was dyed and them tidied up. At this point I started saving the excess threads and sometimes adding an extra stitch or two with the small amounts of spare thread. This was not very satisfactory as I was so very limited in the amount of thread. So I quickly started making some extra dyed threads by adding small hanks of cotton and silk threads into the dye bath with my felt pieces. I saved these yarn scraps made during this process. This was the start of my scrap hoard.


Early this year started dyeing separately all the constituent parts of my felt work. The wool fibres, the fabrics and the threads and yarns . Different dye baths with mixed fibres dye together.


This give me the opportunity to make more colourful pieces .

Now I found I was saving even the smallest thread cut off when tidying up the back of my work. To begin with I had no real rational for saving these tiny scraps. They just seemed precious. All that time harvesting , mordanting dyeing etc.

Now I know they have a use. Below are a few and it only needs a few incorporated into a piece of felt and really lifting it.


But of course it hasn’t stopped with hoarding scraps of thread.  No my hoarding habit is spreading.  I am now saving every scrap of felt that is spare and of course all the scraps of fabric.

Can I use these?

Well I am not really sure , but I am certainly not going to be throwing them out. I have made a little postcard felt picture from them .

So here is the answer to my question of why I am building an unique scrap hoard !

Every bit of my naturally dyed yarn , fibre and fabric is precious to me. They can’t be simply bought again. I hope my process are robust enough that they can be made again, but probably not identically. So every scrap is an unique,  a part of my dyeing process to be treasured and used again if at all possible.

 

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Hanging an art exhibition : 6 most important lessons I learnt

Do you ever walk around an amateur art exhibition and think fantastic I love it? Do you ever walk around an amateur art exhibition and think what a load of rubbish? What makes the difference between the two? Is it the art or is it the way it is all hung? I learnt many lessons in recently hanging an art exhibition.

Hanging an art exhibition: my first lesson

Think ahead. Think a very long time ahead. If you are going to invite other artists to participate ask them at least 6 months of more in advance. If you don’t you will find them too busy to take part.
Think about the artists and their work, before you ask them. Is your exhibition based on a theme or a technique? Make sure everyone is very clear what the theme of the exhibition means.

The second lesson: Pricing problems

Everything needs to be priced.  Of course.  A tricky and controversial subject. Here is an informative article on the pricing textile art.  I have recently faced the problem, of great discrepancy in prices for similar work in the same exhibition from different artists.   All I could do was advise that the prices be increased.    I think we all need to remember when pricing our work that people are trying very hard to make their living out of selling art, and amateurs should not underprice their work too much.

Lesson Three: Flexible hanging systems

Most gallery spaces will have a rail and wire hanging system. These systems give great flexibility in the positioning of pieces and make hanging the art exhibition easier.   But they do require the pieces to have D rings fastened to either side to give some stability of the pieces when hung. It’s possible to hang a piece using just one wire, but then they tend to hang out a long way from the wall and are difficult to get level.  You can see this below.  Does not look too good really.

 

This problem also occurs when the D rings are not near the top or when you try and hang more than one piece on the same wire.

Hanging an art exhibition: Lesson 4 – Avoid the committee.

Minimise the number of people involved in making the hanging decisions. Definitely not all the artists. If you do there will be too many debates and discussions on where to hang or display pieces.

Lesson 5. Keep the labelling discrete.

I personally think small discrete labels are more professional in appearance. I would always go for something like this.

 

I would also insist that everyone has the same labels.   In fact, I would make them myself to ensure this happens.

 

Lesson 6. Maximise the publicity

Don’t be shy, tell everyone you know that you are having an exhibition. You need as much publicity as possible, through all the possible mediums. The local paper, posters in the town, personal invites, FB etc etc. This is the lesson I really need to take to heart, I try but don’t do nearly enough self-publicity.

 

 

Time will tell if our exhibition Diverse Arts at The old school House Leyburn will be a success, but I hope regardless it looks professionally hung.

 

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Should I dye with an aluminium or a brass pan ? 

A few weeks ago I was lucky to come across this beautiful brass pan in a charity shop. Of course, I bought it. How could I not?
So I now have two aluminium jam pans, one enamel pan, one teflon coated pan and my new brass pan. All either bought second hand or given to me. The question I want to answer is does the pan I use for dyeing make a difference to the final dye colours.  Brass I understand from Wikipedia is made from copper and zinc.  Copper acts as a mordant as does aluminium.
I thought the only way to answer to my question was an experiment. The same dyestuff, the same fibres and the same dye process. Then I can see if the pan material makes a difference.
I just happened to have quite a large quantity of hawthorn flowers. So the terms of my experiment could be set:

  • BFL wool fibres, previously mordanted with Alum
  • Unmordanted silk yarn.
  • Hawthorn blossom freshly picked.
  • Same dye process
  • One brass pan
  • One aluminium pan

After the extraction of the dye from the hawthorn blossom, the difference in the dye bath colours was quite noticeable.

The brass pan liquor is on the left.

This effect cannot be anything to do with mordanting. I had cleaned both the brass pan and the aluminium pan thoroughly so I am not sure what caused the deeper colour from the brass pan. Has anyone any suggestions?


Following the dyeing process, this difference remained.

The silk from the brass pan on the right, slightly richer in colour

 

The wool dyed in the brass pan is at the bottom.
There is only a very slight difference between the two colours, probably undetectable in a photo.
Of course, now I have completed this test I realise that I should have also had a control pan. Something neutral like enamel.

Oh well, that’s a test for another day. !

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It’s May : Harvesting time for natural dye materials 

Suddenly the weather in the North East of England has got sunny and reasonably warm. Of course, it is not forecast to last long! One of the challenges of making naturally dyed felt art is to keep sufficient stock of your natural dye materials. So while the sun is shining and the sap is rising I need to get out and harvest supplies of natural dye materials to store for the rest of the year.

Nettles

Abundantly available and easy to pick with some sharp scissors and some good gardening gloves. I am now drying my harvest, to use later.  I have not dried nettles before so it will be interesting to see how the colour is affected by the drying process.

Dock

One of my favourites. as it dyes silk such a wonderful olive colour.

 

 

I have used dock successfully as a dried natural dye material and so out in the sun is another batch of dock leaves being dried.

Comfrey

Last weekend I sat reading my herb encyclopaedia trying to work out what the furry leaved plant was in my herb garden. Today a short walk from my house I was picking comfrey and it suddenly came to me! The plant I could not recognise in my garden was comfrey.  How weird that I could recognise it in the hedgerow but not in my own back garden. The good news is that it gives me, even more, material to harvest.

I have dried some and also used some in a new dye bath.

Hawthorn blossom

Flowering in profusion on the south and west facing bushes.  I have use hawthorn blossom as a fresh natural dye material before but I have never dried the flowers.  Here it is drying on my studio floor.

Hawthorn blossom

Weld and wold

On a slightly longer time horizon for harvesting, I have planted some seeds that I bought from Susan Dye of naturesrainbow. All germinated and growing well.

 

Marigold

I have had got some lovely yellows and greens from last years marigold harvest. Here are this year plants slowly being hardened off.

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So for me, May is a busy month for natural dye materials, both for harvesting and planting.

My secrets for framing felt art work

I have explored many different ways of framing felt art. For my next exhibition, I want wooden frames to hang on the gallery walls. I know that framing felt art and textiles in this way is controversial but if my textile work is competing with other art I believe it must be framed.  Here is an interesting article from the textileartist site on framing.  I choose to simply frame with no glass because I wanted the textures of the felt to be highly visible – within the grasp of the viewer.
Getting my felt art professionally framed is not an option as it is just too expensive.

My first secret for framing felt art

The first step is to stretch the felt art across some stretcher bars. I am a big fan of stretcher bars, they are simple to use and come in multiple sizes.  Far far more flexible than buying canvases.


I stitch my felt art onto a strong backing cloth and attach the cloth to the stretcher bars or if I have made a felted margin I attach felt piece directly to the stretcher bars.  The felt is attached using a staple gun.  These are easily bought at DIY stores.  When the felted work is attached it becomes a felt canvas.

To give a professional finish, I trim the excess material and cover with self-adhesive sealing tape.

 

The secrets of making a frame

So now you have a canvas and it needs a frame. Making a frame is fraught with difficulties!  The first one being cutting the mitres.  So get someone else to cut them for you.  You can find a vast range of frames here and get them cut to size!


Next problem is glueing the mitres together. Use mitre glue, suggests my husband. It’s wonderful.   He had used it during a kitchen construction project. Well,  it is very fast acting but it leaves no room for error and once the pieces touch the joint is made, and can’t be undone.  After three stressful frames builds using this technique,  I resorted to good old PVA glue.
Glueing is not enough to hold the frame together. It is essential to also underpin the joints. You can get some wonderful underpinning machines,  costing thousands. A simple manual underpinner works fine for me.

The secret of attaching the felt canvas to the frame.

I am using L frames. The stretcher bars sit neatly inside the frame and are attached with S clips.

Just mark the positions. Drill a small marker hole, and attach using screws. I am very careful to clean up as a go along. I have had a bad experience were someone else drilled my felt picture to hang it. Weeks later I discovered the felt had wood shavings embedded in it which could not be removed.

To ensure I get the picture central in the frame, I use some homemade spacers simply cut from cardboard.

Hanging your framed felt art

This is simple, just attach two D-rings near the top of the picture. Just one tip, I like to photograph my framed work with it lying on the ground. So take the photographs before you add the D rings then the picture will lie flat.

I am pleased with this technique for framing felt art. The effect is professional and I have achieved it at a fraction of the cost of professional framing.

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I am also really delighted that this framed felt art is made using 100% naturally dyed materials!

My exciting new method to make naturally dyed felt pictures

My first felt pictures with my new natural dye method are based on the tun house at the Peak Alum works in Ravenscar, UK. Really I should say based on the remains of the tun house. Today this is all you can see.

Helpfully a drawing by the National trust gives an idea of what the tun house would have looked like in the 17th century. I choose this place because it is beautiful and today is quiet and peaceful,.  Once the Alum it produced was an essential component of the natural dyeing process and it would have been smelly and dirty.  it a good example of the ability of the earth to recover.   A like the idea of exploited land recovering and also of this natural dyeing chemistry link across the years.

I choose this place because today it is beautiful and quiet and peaceful.  Once the Alum it produced was an essential component of the natural dyeing process and it would have been a smelly and dirty place.  It a good example of the ability of the earth to recover from industrial activity.   I like the idea of exploited land recovering and also of the natural dyeing chemistry link across the years.
A tun is a barrel and the tun house is where the Alum solution was left to crystallise before being ground into Alum flour for sale.

Inspiration and planning for my felt pictures

I am using the remaining tun house floor stones as my inspiration.
Here is a small collage made from some photos taken from immediately above the stones.

 

Some sketches followed and of course a plan of which colours to use from my beautiful but limited palette of colours.

I plan is to make four felt pictures.

Making my felt pictures

So with my plan and my naturally dyed stash I am ready to start.

Some prefelts above and below some fibres.


I choose my felt colours and cut prefelt pieces to size placing them on my map.

When I was happy with the layout, I reversed it onto a piece of bubble wrap. All that’s needed then is to fill in the gaps, layout the backing and felt.!!

My next steps

So far I have made three felt pieces.  Here is one example.

Now that they are dry I am going to stitch on them, then frame them ready for an exhibition in May.  I am both excited and nervous about making and displaying these felt pictures, made using my new techniques, in an exhibition.

 

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The challenges of my new natural dyeing technique 

When I first got into natural dyeing of felt, I wanted to make all white pieces and then dye them as a whole.  Doing this was unique and special as all the different fibres were subtle shade variations.  This process was great and taught me a lot about natural dyeing, but I towards the end of last year I was becoming frustrated with the end results of my l technique. I thought maybe I needed a new natural dyeing technique.

Why did I need a new natural dyeing technique?

My make it white,  then dye the finished pieces,  made beautiful pieces but they contained only a limited range of colours. This is perfectly obvious as they had all only seen the same dye bath. Special though it was I felt that the pieces were a bit boring as there was not much light and shade or colour variation. I was also frustrated as the technique used to make the white pieces was very different from the technique I used successfully to felt with pre dyed ( purchased ) fibres.  It was far less flexible.
I thought long and hard about the problem. In the end, I decided the only solution was to turn my natural dye felting method on its head and make it the same as my pre dye felt method. In other words dye the fibres, and fabrics, and yarns and threads up-front of felting.

A big change.

A big challenge.

A change requiring a lot of dyeing to build a naturally dyed stock before any felting can start.

Building stock for my new natural dyeing technique

For the past two months, I have been mordanting and dyeing. Using local Blue faced Leicester and Masham fibres. I like the fact they are local and they also both have a nice range of natural browns. First I  dyed using my stock of dried dye material as I was waiting for spring to arrive.

I used my dried marigolds , golden rod , the Alder cones and dock leaves.

 

Spring came and I picked the first fresh nettles and bought carrot tops

For blue, and greens, I purchased indigo and for red I purchased madder.

At the end of two months, I have a reasonable collection of dyed fibres, fabric and threads.

Some of my fibres

 

Threads for stitching and fabrics to add to my felt.

Am I ready to start felting with my new dyed material ?

Well actually probably not but I am going to anyway. I have a deadline of producing some new material by the middle of May.
I am hesitating as I am concerned about my stock levels, both of dyed material and dyeing material.     Once I have used a batch of dyed fibre I am not sure when I can make some more !

What can I do?

I think all I can do is continue to forage and harvest for materials for future dyeing on a frequent basis so I keep the stock well filled.  To this end, I have replenished my dock leaf store and plan to pick more nettles soon.

First pieces made using my new naturally dyed technique

I have been planning a new series of pieces based on peak Alum works.  Here is my first trial piece using some of my newly dyed materials.  With a few trial stitches.

This was the first step and in the next few weeks, I plan to get back to felting and test out the benefits of my new natural dyeing technique.

What will be the challenges for my new naturally dyeing technique in the future?  Clearly, it is the ongoing collection of dye material.  Then dyeing in as large a batches as I can to keep my stock full.  Then I have to manage to keep track of all the materials I have dyed and how.     A tall order !!

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My wonderful palette of natural yellow dye

I am dyeing batches of fibres and fabrics with natural yellow dye. Some of these will remain yellow but most will be turned green.
Many many plants give yellow dyes. It is probably the most common natural dye colour.  The chemicals involved in the dyeing process vary and are quite complicated.  One group of chemicals are known as flavonoids, which are split into the flavones and the flavonols. There are also the isoflavones, the chalcones and the Aurones groups. If this isn’t complicated enough there are also carotenoids which give yellow to orange colourants and not surprisingly are found in carrots.

Natural yellow dye from alder cones

I love collecting Alder cones, filling my pockets with them whilst out on a walk, especially at this time of the year.  Once they have been collected they can be stored and used anytime.  Extraction of the dye is easy.  The cones are high in tannins, contain red dye and also yellow flavonoids.  Historically they were used with iron to make black dye and also used for red and yellow dyes.  There is an interesting blog by fiery felts testing the variety of colours obtained from alder cones

 

Here is the natural yellow dye, quite a pinky yellow, I obtained from my stored alder cones.

Natural yellow dye from marigolds

Last year in my small dye garden I planted some French marigolds.

They enjoyed their sunny spot and flowered profusely. I regularly removed the blooms and left them to dry.

Marigolds contain carotenoids, and unbelievably it is estimated that nature produces 3.5 tonnes of carotenoids every second.
Here are the yellows I obtained from using my marigolds as a natural yellow dye.

I will be definitely growing them again this year but I am a bit sorry I didn’t save some seeds from last years crop.

Natural yellow dye from golden rod

In the summer of 2015 I was living in the Netherlands. Nearby our houses sandwiched between the village and the highway was a recreational area. Ponds, trees and fields. Here I found golden rod growing in abundance.

I picked it and it has been stored ever since.  It has given me a lovely lemony yellow dye.

 


The dye components present in golden rod are flavonoids. I am not aware of any golden rod growing locally . It is quite an invasive species but I have bought some roots to grow. I have planted them in an area of my garden where I hope I will be able to keep them under control.

All the chemical information in this blog has been obtained from the book Natural dyes by Dominique Cardin. This book helps me to shed light on the truly complicated and fascinating chemistry of natural dyeing.

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