Felt : how I used to make it & will I again ?

How I made it

1 Materials

My textiles file tells me that 1 sq m of felt requires 13g +/- 10% (because the moisture content varies so much) of wool in the form of fleece . This means it has come off the sheep and been washed and carded but NOT spun for knitting , crochet or weaving . So no , you cannot make felt from woollen thread of any kind but it is good for decoration . Fleece can be bought online from spinning/weaving suppliers in a huge variety of colours and breeds of sheep . Felting kits tend to use dyed merino which felts easily and evenly but is quite expensive . I was able to find both natural & dyed wool fleece nearby (it is Yorkshire after all) . In the UK your best bet is the ‘Knitting & Stitching Show’ which visits Alexandra Palace , London as well as Harrogate and I can’t remember where else . This textile Art & Craft show always includes more supplier stalls than you can find online  . A word on natural fleeces ; don’t buy the Icelandic breed if you are just starting , better never . It shrinks excessively and unevenly and can make an awful mess of your best efforts eg

As you can see the background fleece in the left hand picture has shrunk more than the top layer and twisted and pleated it as well as depositing fluff all over in the right hand one .

You will also need a fabric base to build your layers up on . It must resist boiling , hot ironing and rough treatment without disintegrating . I have found unbleached calico to be best . You will need 2 pieces each big enough to cover your project with 2-3″ border all round . Then you need cotton thread , a washing machine with a boil wash and cold rinse , a hot iron and time/space .

2 Process

Wool (indeed any kind of animal hair) will shrink , becoming thicker and stiffer under conditions of heat shock & friction . This doesn’t just happen to garments rubbed too much while hand washing in varying temperatures but can be induced in a controlled way in the unspun fleece . The result is an alternative fabric to those based on thread .

Lay out your first piece of cotton on a table or the floor . Eliminate draughts , toddlers , cats etc . Put down your base layer of fleece with the fibres running either up and down or side to side . The next layer must have them going the other way ie at 90deg/right angles . Continue alternating like this up to 5 layers . However thin you make them if they cover the previous layer you won’t have the colours showing through . Think of the 5th layer as your background and consider decoration with other threads or skeins of fleece . Knitting wool is really good here , it tends to stick more firmly to the fleece than eg cotton or viscose and will shrink a little – but less than the fleece does . Once completed cover with the 2nd piece of cotton and tack firmly along the edge where you can see the fleece is sandwiched between the 2 pieces of cotton . Then roll the sewn sandwich starting along the side you think of as the top . Holding the roll in place with elastic bands sew it shut firmly . Try to stitch only through the cotton otherwise the wool fibres could be distorted .

You may have to do a few of these before it is worth running the washing machine . The 95C wash with the cold rinse provides the heat shock and a bit of rough treatment . The consequent hot ironing of the piece both rolled up and unrolled provides the friction and more heat shock . (I also found that ironing it until completely dry facilitated peeling the felt off the cotton backing) .

Why I don’t do it anymore

When I started this blog I described myself as a ceramic and textile artist and intended to carry on with feltwork as I had stated in my  MA Rukshana Afia August 2003 (the section of “Project” , ‘ And Now ‘ at the end . I didn’t really for 3 reasons :

1 I didn’t sell much felt – in fact even less than ceramics or drawings !

2 Leeds is a terrible place for moths so I have had to keep finished work in the freezer . Unfortunately I can’t justify using up freezer space to keep the fleece as well so……

3 Wool fleece is an expensive material compared to clay and even more so compared to the boxes of fabric oddments I have from years of alterations to & mending of clothes as well as remnants and fabric bought on spec. – this last augmented by my mother’s stuff which I have inherited – so that now I can contrast silk with velvet rather than felt .

I hope this makes sense jhv57 and I haven’t put you off !



Posted in Textiles | 1 Comment

Exhibition including 2 friends’ work

This was the exhibition of work by the first cohort of MA Creative Practice students from Leeds College of Art . Judging from talking to some , the written statements and a video on the LCA website it seems more interesting than was my MA years ago . It is being held in Holy Trinity Church , Boar Lane , Leeds LS1 6HW until this Friday 13 .

Skywards - aluminium tubing

Skywards – aluminium tubing

Jon Vogler is a retired engineer and came to my classes on Islamic Art some years ago . His garden is full of sculptures – this year I must see it when he has an open day again .

Valle Lacrimarum

Valle Lacrimarum

Hilary Readman I met when we both came to Leeds first in the early 80s . At that time she was interested more in time-based work and later taught video for 20-odd years . This new work is a shock but we are all older and have different preoccupations – not just different amounts of daring ! There was an audio track accompanying this but it wasn’t playing during the day . I should also say that the figures were actually lying down as arranged for the exhibition .

Botanically dyed scarf with birch leaf print

Botanically dyed scarf with birch leaf print

Textile hanging installation Leeds Industrial Museum Armley

Textile hanging installation Leeds Industrial Museum Armley

Carol Sorhaindo’s work was complex . Using 2 sites of ‘industrial’ decay – a  slave worked sugar mill in Dominica and a flax mill in Leeds she has developed natural dyes from the plants taking over each site and then printed on top of the subdued colours in more clear inks . Some of the printing was of eg account book pages and some used plant leaves again but as printing stamps .

10 x 7metre banners printed with hand-made textile objects

10 x 7metre banners printed with hand-made textile objects

detail of above

detail of above

Letty McHugh’s work derives from her interest in and identification with sewing women in her family tree and more widely . Her written account speaks of inheriting her great grandmother’s treadle sewing machine and her research spreading to 130 women .

Those 4 were far and away my favourite artists in the exhibition – I have written this in a rush in the hope that someone will be interested enough to visit before it closes ! Hilary doesn’t yet have a website but is on Facebook , the other three do but I haven’t the time to set up the links correctly – all of them are under their names anyway .

Posted in Figurative sculpture images, non-figurative scupture, other artists, Textiles | 3 Comments

3-4 exhibitions in Leeds



This was fairly small (in one room) but most interesting ;

leeds1You can see that the Norfolk jacket above in the poster is really brown rather than grey , (it’s next to the striped blazer) .

The exhibition emphasised the Leeds connection with examples from M&S , Hepworth’s (now Next) and Montague Burton . The last two were established here in 1864 and 1900 , pioneering the expansion of bespoke into ready-to-wear via increased mechanization . I think it was Burton’s who ended up employing almost the entire immigrant Jewish community just before WW1 .

The most impressive Leeds connection to me was this :-

WP_20150716_003-310x515The suit is designed by Kathryn Sargent . Leeds-born she was the first woman to become head cutter at a Savile Row firm (Gieves & Hawkes) which post she held before leaving to head her own tailoring house . Again the first woman etc. The shape is very pleasing but the fabric also repays careful inspection . I think you can just see that it is a windowpane check ? Inside each ‘pane’ it is a herringbone weave – but they don’t all go the same way ! It was designed by Leeds-born Fashion/Textile student Cathryn Harrie and handwoven in Yorkshire by Dugdale Bros & Co. (established 1896) . In the same case the sleeve of the ‘process jacket’ is just visible , this was a partly made up garment showing the different layers of fabric and the stitching marking points and sections . All done for the exhibition and hence never to be worn , alas .

Here are some other favourites of mine , a black wool Victorian riding habit and an Alexandra McQueen piece .











2  Paul Neagu : Palpable Sculpture (Henry Moore Institute until November 8 2015)

Gallery 4 at the Institute has a most interesting prequel in ‘Object Lessons’ which displays the 4 trays of an 1850s educational specimen box from the V&A . Unfortunately one can’t see the details clearly and hence the care put in to selecting the specimens .


Object lessons were an intriguing approach in elementary education in 19c England when educational materials were largely the teacher and anything they had or knew . Basing lessons on objects as examples from the natural and industrial worlds would introduce more information than could be had locally and be far more interesting because of the 5 senses engagement . The appropriate leaflet claims sculpture was taught , and displayed like this also . This seems pretty far fetched but is presumably why reproductions of drawings of plaster casts of antique sculpture are on the walls of the gallery – maybe to sneer at ?

Anyhow the frank pleasure of the organised trays carries over in a very straightforward way to the earliest examples of Paul Neagu’s work ie boxes and trays with divisions or cells into which things are put – to then be taken out , re-arranged into different cells …. I got a strong sense of his pleasure in their making and longed to handle them and play with them as was intended . But they pleased me anyway . As did his later work . There are 120 works on display from 1968-1986 , not just sculptures but drawings and documentation of performances . Nevertheless he lived on in London until 2004 so how did his work develop further ? There is no information on this in the exhibition .

Great Tactile Table 1970

Great Tactile Table 1970

I think this is the original frame for or similar to what he used for his Edible Cake-Man event of 1971 . As displayed the cells now contain tesserae in different colours .

Anthropocosmos 457 Cells (Skeleton) 1972-3

Anthropocosmos 457 Cells (Skeleton) 1972-3

This is a very detailed drawing with measurements on it . The position of the body is one he used more than once in performances .

Drawing The Subject , Generator 1975

Drawing The Subject , Generator 1975

This drawing resembles one of his kinetic pieces on display but seems to be modified into an automatic drawing machine . The kinetic pieces were usually 3-legged as above but varied in the shapes of the ‘legs’ and additions eg one had pendula attached but unfortunately prevented from swinging .

Nine Catalytic Stations - mid 1980s

Nine Catalytic Stations – mid 1980s

I guess the one on the wall is the 10th ? These are lovely , 2 look as if they might rock but won’t because of the triangular construction as Habib pointed out .

Altogether I loved this exhibition and will go back before it ends . However it is maddening to be told that he wrote a ‘Palpable Art Manifesto’ in 1969 advocating Art for all the senses and that the Institute is celebrating this also by showing ‘Object Lessons’ etc . Of course the one thing it will never be ‘innovative’ or ‘avant-garde’ enough to do is show anything at all which you might be allowed to touch . And there is no evidence of any self-awareness about this either . Nary a rueful joke .

And now to the final exhibition , the 8th British Art Show next door at Leeds City Art Gallery . Don’t bother .

Posted in Drawings, non-figurative scupture, other artists, Textiles | 2 Comments

Last of LCA pottery and an interesting exhibition locally

Last week my bowls were a bit too wet to turn properly – altho’ I tried – but would obviously not have been worth saving anyway . Unlike every other pottery class I have attended it is impossible to check on the dampness/dryness of pots between classes to catch them for work at the right time or to modify the wrapping to change the drying rate . I guess I will have to wait for my own wheel – Habib has ideas on how to construct one – and practise everyday until I ‘get it’ enough to repeat at will . And all the end of year exhibitions were over ! So I never did get the names or see the BA Fine Art people .

Yesterday I went to this –


This was at Inkwell Arts a local space that runs art&craft workshops and other non-clinical services for people with mental health problems . Exhibitions are put on in the café – which will be worth a visit when Ramadan is over ! Amanda Burton has a wonderful line as you can see and I probably liked her ink drawings and mixed media pieces more than the paintings ,

BurtonAEden              BurtonAmother-and-child

On the left is ‘Eden’ in acrylic ink and on the right is ‘Mother and child ‘ in acrylic paint . The ink and mixed media pieces reflected her scientific background in being meticulous biological patterns – which is absolutely up my street of course ! She says she is consciously trying to work differently , less “self-indulgently” . I hope this is not the puritanical abstract imperative winning over feminine decorative weakness ! A tiresome theme .

She also works in jewellery which is clearly related stylistically , see her Facebook page for it here .

I was unable to take pictures because it was in an almost empty café – and her new work is not up on her Facebook pages yet ( the other one , for Fine Art , can be seen here ) . It is however on her informative website here .

Posted in ceramics, Drawings, other artists, paintings | 6 Comments

Leeds College of Art end of year students’ exhibitions & some more pottery

I missed last week’s class from exhaustion but was early this week and accompanied by Habib so he came in to see some of the exhibits with me . The BA Visual Communication students were the most impressive . Habib picked up a card of Zoe East who was showing short videos of manual processes in leatherwork , pottery and metalwork . Extremely well filmed , maybe we will be able to hire her for publicity if the joint workshop project goes well ! Then there was the work of Lucy Banks , illustrator/printmaker/musician :

BanksLcard                    BanksLucypyr

The first photo is of a laser cut card and the second is surely pyrography – or printed to look like it . We also liked Sophie Kirk’s jewellery :

KirkS2         KirkS3

I could imagine wearing these – despite being rather destructive to necklaces ! Habib’s favourite was :


2 pieces I didn’t find artists’ cards for (and didn’t note the names) :

IMG_20150616_191816          IMG_20150616_191523

The first is a miniature stage set by a set designer and the second is an embroidered world map with extra wooden labels giving information on working conditions & wages . I will have to get their names .

Once at my class I found that my press-moulded plate had dried completely without any cracking – and still didn’t crack when I took it out of the mould .

IMG_20150616_191302While waiting for a wheel I found my mobile and took the above pictures as well as this one from the BA Art&Design (Interdisciplinary) exhibition :IMG_20150616_191408I am not sure why she had been a student on this course rather than VisCom since the rest of the students’ work was pretentious , unoriginal and irritating/boring i.e. very fine art . I’ll have to see the actual BA Fine Art work to get a feel for the differences between the 3 courses .

I had more wheel attempts resulting in 3 possible bowls which I am not convinced are centred but I should have fun next week trying to turn them . I like turning anyway (despite Bernard Leach’s disapproval) . With any luck I should be able to mask some of the imperfection !

Meantime for further information about the artists above – for Zoe East see here , for Lucy Banks see here & for Sophie Kirk see here .




Posted in ceramics, Drawings, other artists, Plates, Textiles | 1 Comment

More pottery – it’s the real thing

This week after 3 weeks of utter failure on the wheel – I don’t think I just had 3 bad days , I think I’ve lost it – I lugged a very heavy large press mould to the class . I made 2 – bisque not plaster – years ago but have not used either yet . This week it was the hexagonal one’s turn ;

IMG_20150602_195955 IMG_20150602_203014_2

I did it in my favourite white stoneware and arabesqued it in blue slip . I did trim it a bit more than is shown so it has a chance of not cracking as it shrinks . I tried to make the mould so that it could do 2 sizes of plate – which is why you can see a kind of ripple on it .

Overall my idea was always to make plates from press moulds , taller-than-they-are-wide pots from coils and learn throwing to do bowls . I guess this is yet another failed attempt at learning throwing – the one bowl I made is just a fluke . However much the tutor tries to be encouraging – it’s her job – lots of other people in the (only weekly) class have progressed considerably on the wheel .

IMG_20150603_110217 IMG_20150603_110236

The double spouted effort now out of the kiln . I quite like the ‘crayoned’ effect with cobalt slip but I think I should have improved the coverage so that the sgraffito showed up more .

Posted in ceramics, Plates, Vessels | 6 Comments

Eileen Agar exhibition 27 May – 30 August 2015 : Gallery 4 , Henry Moore institute , Leeds

The exhibition was called “Natural Readymades” and was clearly built around the following piece which is a kind of 3d collage or assemblage comprising the top of a Greek amphora found caught in a fisherman’s net , a starfish , a skeleton and a ram’s horn found in a field . It does look good .

Marine Object 1939

Marine Object 1939

However there are only 6 other pieces in the exhibition and the attempt to put them all in the same category is a bit strained !

Untitled Box 1935

Untitled Box 1935

Collaged Head 1937

Collaged Head 1937

Here are : another assemblage featuring bits of coral and a seahorse , and a collage using an underwater picture or wallpaper . Maybe by ‘natural’ the curator really meant ‘marine’ ? If so then the 4 black&white photographs completing the exhibition do not fit – only 2 are clearly taken on the shore .

The real problem is that Eileen Agar was so prolific , did such a variety of work and was so long lived (1899-1991) that almost any argument could be made about her work if you take such a tiny sample . The Tate archive of 861 photos includes eg domestic snaps of her cat , Bella . Her assemblages and collages include all kinds of non-natural components eg her many decorated heads . And the natural components are often non-marine eg leaves . Are they  really ‘readymades’ ? Why isn’t Georgia O’Keeffe’s skull with artificial flowers called a ‘natural readymade’ ?

I find Eileen Agar’s work so fascinating that I was looking forward to this exhibition but it was so disappointing . I suppose the curator has ‘provoked a reaction’ but it was not about Agar’s work . So if you do go and see this then afterwards do yourself a favour and look her up online or in any book on the Surrealists – she was the only woman invited to take part in the 1st International Surrealist Exhibition 1936 .

Posted in non-figurative scupture, other artists | 4 Comments