The Painting Process… and a bit of history

I’m madly at work on needle felting backgrounds. I’ve finished the exterior backgrounds and have started on the interiors. It’s somewhat tedious work but necessary since it will provide an overall cohesive look to the final design elements.

One tool I didn’t mention in my last post was the Drum Carder. I’ve been using that extensively for the past week since the background areas require LOTS of wool and to card that with small hand carders is terribly slow.

A Drum Carder is an efficient alternative to the hand carder. You simply feed the fiber into the carder and turn the hand crank. This makes the card beds rotate around each other, gathers up the fiber as it is straightened and blended. It prepares a greater quantity of wool in much less time than the hand carders.

To continue the discussion of the “how to,” I’m taking the rest of this week’s post to talk about the process of felting…

As mentioned in my last post, needle felting involves attacking fiber with long needles—and attacking is what happens. You take a mass of loose fiber and stab it repeatedly with the hooked needles until it entangles the fibers and they become a firm mass of fiber of a particular shape or pattern. Earthly Coat is being felted with the pattern style of felting in which designs are laid out using the dyed wool (primarily wool) on a two-dimensional surface and needled into the surface. I plan to stay away from creating any three-dimensional, sculpturally-felted forms for the coat due to the fact that they will create a strong urge in children (adults too) to grab at the coat and pull on the surface, and perhaps damage the entire installation!

Here I am stabbing the art! The needles used in needle felting are the same type of needle used by industrial felting machines. Ironically these are the same machines that created my industrial felt "canvas." My tools are coming full circle.

Traditional needle felting (the “tradition” only goes back as far as the 1980s!) uses as its base the same wool as the wool being felted. But I’m going against tradition by using an industrial wool felt as my base. As I said in an earlier post, this material takes on the role of a canvas. But because industrial wool doesn’t have an inherent structure to fully capture the needled fibers, when the needle felting is finished, an additional step of wet felting will be required. Wet felting allows the fibers to further grab each other by opening microscopic surface scales on the wool through the action of agitation in hot water and soap. This process makes the wool fiber grab together into a very solid structure. The other fibers being used in the coat will come along for a ride with the wool and also join the felted mass. I’ll talk more about that in a future post about the upcoming April “Wet Felting Marathon—21 Pieces in 24 Hours!”

There are some amazing art pieces that have been created with hand- and industrial-felted wool. To see a wide variety of artistic felting, check out the book 500 Felt Objects: Creative Explorations of a Remarkable Material by Lark Crafts. It shows 500 objects/art pieces from all over the world that have been felted through various means and with a multitude of materials. It’s an art gallery of felted objects—in the form of a book! The art shown is enormously inspirational—although, the technique that I’m using (needle and wet felting using industrial felt as a canvas) is not shown. As far as I know, the use of industrial felt as a base for artistic needle and wet felting is unique to my work.

About wendyj-sagahill

I am a textile artist, designer, and author.
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