Nuno Felting: a Creative Fibre Weekend

First Workshop: Introduction to Nuno Felting

On June 12th Marie Claire and I attended the workshop Introduction to Nuno Felting as facilitated by Jill Denton from Devon, England.  Jill’s exciting body of work titled Maids and Meadows was showcased at FibreWorks Studio & Gallery and enticed us to register for the first of two workshops conducted by this talented fibre artist.

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We were introduced to nuno felting for the first time and saw that there are differences between wet felting and nuno felting.   Wet felting has been used by civilizations since we began using animal fibres for our clothing and shelter.  Nuno felting was developed around 1992 by the Australian fibre artist Polly Stirling.  The name is derived from the Japanese “nuno” meaning cloth.  The technique bonds loose fibre, usually wool, into a sheer fabric to create a lightweight felt.  The fibres can completely cover the background fabric or they may be used as a decorative design that allows the backing fabric to show.

Yvonne, who hosted these two workshops at her FibreWorks Studio & Gallery, also provided a wonderful array of fine Merino tops in a palette of colour to allow maximum creativity.  Marie Claire chose to work with the Merino tops but added some of her lovely llama fibre from Langley, while I chose to remain loyal to working with natural local fibres from Sunshine Coast Icelandic sheep.   Jill had never felted with Icelandic fleece so it would be a learning experience for even our instructor.

We both started with a silk chiffon scarf as a matrix and cut twelve inch squares from our fabric.  Then we experienced how the direction the fibres were laid upon the matrix affected the direction of shrinkage.  Laying the fibres parallel and in line with each other caused the fabric to shrink into a rectangle, while placing the fibres perpendicular to each other caused the fabric to shrink into a square.  These are important aspects of nuno felting, particularly when making garments.

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The focus of the first day was to create a scarf using the recommended silk/cotton backing along with our choice of fibres.   Jill recommended we use a fine micron fibre top but I stuck with the Fibreshed mandate and chose to work exclusively with our sweet Icelandic ram Prince as my source of fibre.  I had saved from his fall shearing the black fibre ruff from around his horns and laid it around the outside edge of my 45 cm x 2 metre handwoven silk chiffon scarve from India as supplied by Maiwa. While my matrix was white I knew that the main body of my scarf would feature Prince’s lovely white fleece.  To soften the contrast between the black and white I added a fine layer of his grey fleece to show a softened gradation from black to white.

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Jill showed us her wonderful collection of fine silk and cotton open weave fabrics, plain and patterned, that she finds in thrift stores for her body of work.  Each adds its own creative and unique interest to the finished product.   This led me to request that the California Fibershed add both silk and cotton backing for nuno felting to our Fibreshed guideline exceptions.  These fabrics/yardage which are all available locally from Maiwa now open us up to an amazing journey of fibre creativity.  Most antique laces are made of cotton threads and if you search Nuno Felting with Lace on Pinterest prepare to be inspired.   This also gives me more opportunity to explore the scarf and fabric bins of our local thrift stores for nuno felting silk and cotton treasures.   This photo will show the creative use of silk scarves, felted, pieced, fitted, embellished and stitched.

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We worked for the day on completing our scarves and I was very pleased with my result and now have this wonderful wrap I shall call My Prince Has Come and that I will enjoy having as part of our Fibreshed garment display at our Fibres Plus Sale in November.  Unfortunately Marie Claire’s finished scarf with lovely floral shapes is with her in Nova Scotia right now, so no picture is available at this time.

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Second Workshop: Nuno Felt Garment

On Saturday and Sunday following the introductory workshop, Lynda D. and I both attended Jill’s Nuno Felt Garment Workshop.   Having been introduced to the techniques of nuno felting we were ready for garment making!   We started making our own pattern templates for a sleeveless felted vest with a front overlap.  It looked very large as it was required to be 60% larger than our actual measurements – meaning a lot of work ahead to felt it to our desired fit. Not only that, but the front and back were to be made as one piece with a resist in between each layer.  The next stage of planning was the direction that the fibres would be laid upon the backing depending upon the shaping required for the neckline, armholes, bust, waistline, etc.

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While the rest of the participants worked with various silk and wool fibres, Lynda and I both stayed true to Fibreshed guidelines and we both used llama.  Lynda’s llama was a lovely soft camel colour and was blended with wool from Port Kells, B.C. while my deep oxford gray llama was from Bertuzzi, a grand champion from Lauchlin Creek Llamas in Madeira Park – part of our very own local llama and alpaca supply that Yvonne provides to fibre artisans.  Jill had not worked with llama or alpaca before either so it was of great interest to her also to see how they would perform.

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We both worked very hard as the llama required a lot more handling to felt it, and after two days of wetting, soaping, rolling a hundred times in each of the four directions and turning to ensure even felting, we still needed to repeat the procedure for the desired result.  By Sunday afternoon both Lynda and I were still working away on our llama vests and each of us added more fibre to create a layer of interest.  Lynda used her indigo dyed wool from Port Kells to add a spray of leaves down the back and a deeper tone of local brown Shetland fibre around the armhole, neckline and front edges.  Here’s a picture of her still unfinished garment.

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I chose to add some white Thormanby Island alpaca to create some misting of depth to my garment, but it needed a lot more work and shaping to bring it to size – something which I finished over the next day at home.  Here’s a picture of my unfinished garment.  I plan to add a stand up collar around the neck and front line of my vest using our home grown Japanese indigo dyed Icelandic fibre to make mine a Rain Forest vest.  Otherwise I might blend in with the Sasquatch!  However, I feel I will be pleased with the final outcome.  It was lots of work – but what a wonderful doorway into nuno felted garments has opened up for each of us.

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I feel a very interested and enticing need to continue on with the amazing possibility that nuno felting presents.  Check out nuno felted garments on Pinterest if you dare or need a creative fix.  Amazing Fibreshed garments and accessories can be created with some silk/cotton backing and some natural and locally dyed wool and fibre.  I have already purchased some interesting silk/cotton open weave treasures at our local thrift store that will transform into garments with a little water, soap and a whole lot of rolling.

Thank you Jill Denton and Yvonne Stowell for making this happen for us.  Jill will be back to offer another workshop next summer so save up your fibres and fabric materials and participate in this leading trend in the Fibre Arts.

Deanna Pilling
Photos by Deanna and Lynda D.

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