Felt and dye fibre tests

I have had on my to do list for a long time to test soy, flax and jute.  By test I mean , felt them and the dye the felt and see what happens.  This week I eventually got round to some testing.

I actually tested sisal,linen top, flax, jute yarn , cotton knitted yarn and nettle.  I am not sure where the soy fibres have got to in the confusion resulting from my move.  One day they will turn up.
First I made prefelts with the fibres.  Here is a sample cut from each prefelts which have been made with Blue faced Leicester fibres.

At this stage the different fibres are quite hard to see , but I hoped that with dyeing they would become more visible.  I  decided to do my test with  onion skins.  Simple to do and  I love the colour .


Sisal and linen , still very hard to see the fibres.   Onion has taken really well on all the fibres


IMG_1837 IMG_1836

Flax and jute

IMG_1838 IMG_1839

Cotton and nettle.

Interesting experiment , with some , nice textures and subtle , very subtle colour changes.



Iron contamination

It is often importance to control the temperature of the dye bath. As I had  broken my digital thermometer this week I bought a replacement .  Just a simple sugar  thermometer this time.


I used it to keep the temperature of my onion bath at around 80 oC .  This worked well .  I was pleased.  Then I  left the thermometer standing in the pan whilst everything soaked for about 24 hours.  Perhaps this was a mistake.

Look at these spots .  I can only think these are iron contamination.  I have dyed many times with onions skins and never seen anything like this before.   These are test pieces so it’s not the end of the world , but it yet another reminder of the care that is needed when using natural dyes.  Change nothing !! Easy to say , but really quite hard to do .  
  On my small vessel there seem to be no spots I am quite pleased with it , and maybe the spots on the bracelets , can be considered part of the design.    Well maybe ! 


Most of my natural dyed felted vessels are quite small , about 5cm in diameter and only weigh about 10 grams, as such they are so light they are likely to be blown over unless fastened down in some way.  I have thought about how to make a base in keeping with the natural nature of the pieces for quite a long time , and eventually decided to give small pieces of weathered slate a try.  Small pieces of slate are readily available in the spoil heaps from old slate mines.  I like the idea that the wool , the dye and the base were all originating  in the countryside.

But how to attached the two together ?  Here is the solution.


Not my normal felting equipment but very well used for other things as you can see by its battered case.  I needed a small training course before I could use it !

First a tried one hole but the vessel seemed too wobbly to me , so I nervously drilled a second hole close to the first.  Nervously because I thought the piece of slate would shatter.  I need not have worried it seems incredibly strong.


I packed the holes with some felt as the edges were quite sharp and then simply stitched the vessels to their new plinths.

I am very pleased with the results.


My two onion dyed vessels.

And my two blackberry dyed vessels.


Boring but ……

Over the last few months I have made quite a number of wet felted small vessels.  These vessels have been made out of different white fibers and then dyed.  At the time I made them I knew exactly what I had done ,  but coming back to them a few weeks later and I began to get seriously muddled up .  I was no longer sure which was the nettled dyed BFL , or the nettled dyed Polwarth (   Thanks to Teri Berry for these fibers they are great)

Time to take control and keep on track before I was totally confused. Better  admin was an urgent necessity? So I gave each vessel a reference number and a small label with the critical information.

And I started I vessel register on a spreadsheet.  This feels a bit like work   But I know that the key to being able to reproduce these vessels in the future,  is to know for sure what is the fibre , and the shape and the dyeing conditions .  A lot of information , but put together with the  label and a photo of the vessel , I think they will be records that will serve me well in the future.

Here is 2015/ 13  sporting a small slate pedestal , a necklace of lace and dyed with onion.


Followed by 2015/2 from March , also dyed with onion , but made with pale grey Shetland , so a completely different effect.


Collecting all this information together has been boring in some ways , but I think its enabling in others.


Why is small best ?

For the last few months I have been struggling to make large felted vessels using Shetland and BFL fibres.  I thought I had tracked down the problem to the resist I was using.  It was a slightly improved laminate floor underlay with a green backing full of  tiny indentations.  My side by side experiments showed that this resist slowed down the felting process and resulted in a bigger final piece.  Strange but true as these two vases below show.  Identical in all respects the one on the left is made with the green resist and is larger and has poorer quality felt.

So armed with what I thought was the solution and a new cheaper slipperier resist I tried again.  

Worse than ever !!  Full of holes.  Poor quality felt.

Some of this I put down to the Shetland fibre I was using which seems repel water and soap not matter how hard I try.  I was so frustrated I cut the holey vessel up and threw it in the washing machine for a couple of cycles.  Then I thought well maybe it can be reborn so it has now been up cycled into this naturally dyed landscape.


But I still want to make vessels , so I tried again, this time small.  One in BFL and one in Shetland.  I stitched them both and dyed them with onion skins.  I love the results , they are about 10cm tall. I just wish I could reproduce them at a slightly larger scale .   

It anyone has any ideas what is causing my problem I’d love to hear from you.