Lessons in the making

After a week locked into endless cycles of painting, wallpapering and trying to get the flat into a presentable form for renting the [last weeks] full moon demands I stop and absorb myself in something soulful. I had promised myself this time each month and in these moon days the merino tops have been singing a symphony of raspberry, olive greens with an undertone of chocolate browns leaving me both hungry and thirsty for some felting.

The dying process has become a ritual: lift the box from under the counter unpacking the red chipped enamel pot and the dying towel which holds a history of all the colours I’ve created unlike the stirring spoon whose colours have all merged to form a sludgy mud hue.
When it comes to dying I’m a gambler. No charts or weighing just the random science of sprinkling. The more sprinkling involved the bigger the piece of felt to be dyed as I know it will be hard to reach that exact shade again. While I’ve been using powdered acid dyes I can’t ignore the calling to move over to natural dyes and gather lichens and bark and crush and pummel.

I love the initial swirl in which the colour lies briefly in cloudy wisps before dissolving into a uniformed colour. There is magic in submerging pristine white wool and to see that initial shade take hold. If the wool simmers for half an hour or so it will fully absorb all of the dye leaving the water clear. The smell of soaked wool is somehow comforting, then a shot or two of vinegar before a quick rinse and a gentle squeeze before the wool is hung up on a makeshift line across the bath, transformed into a line of prayer flags.

I’d been thinking how I approached craft after reading interviews of artists approaching that ‘space’ as sacred. The mornings soundtrack a collection of Celtic chants had helped lull me into that space as I prepared everything for the days work.
I concentrated deeper and deeper on the words as the chiffon was laid out and the felt cut, checked and rechecked that each layer got thoroughly soaked in water.
A gentle observational stage by which the fibre has soaked up around three litres of water. Drops sit heavy on the surface like jewels. I pat in the water encouraging the fibres to soak up the last of the moisture so by now it’s so heavy that when it’s flipped over to the other side everything stays in place.

I apply a little soap, its only part to help to lubricate the microscopic barbs of the wool as they lock into place with the manipulation of force. I begin gently rubbing the surface with a small piece of bubble wrap to encourage an initial felting so it holds together before the rolling begins.
I find that craft only initiates a certain quality of mind when it’s approached in a certain way. With the Celtic chants of old Irish swirling around me I feel a connection in the sway of the work, the repetitive rhythms which they must have made in daily life. The chants exist as an expression of yourself, yet also as an expression of the land. I remember my roots, the paths taken from Ireland to bring my family here. The ancestors now in other world’s come to mind and somehow I feel this space exists between worlds and I can exist here helped by the meditative quality of rocking the rolled felt back and forth.
I can never quite muster the strength through arms alone to felt this stage and so I remove the 4 foot long tube onto the kitchen floor and use my feet to apply a steady pressure. It seems it’s the only time that the kitchen floor gets a real washing.

Tipping the rolled up felt into the sink I pour out a couple of litres of water, unfurling the felt I pinch the surface slightly to test of the fibres have felted, satisfyingly they lift together. I approach unrolling the felt with an open mind. With this type of process you can never plan exactly what is going to happen, there is always an element of chance, of magic. It’s meeting this without preconceived ideas, giving over to the process. The process offers metamorphoses. I pull away the bubble wrap layers, the towel and old blind which is used as a roller this process mirroring nature the unfurling greenness and underneath my fingers green merges, dissolving into brown – like the outside season, a cycle re-enacted another chance for lessons to be learnt.

In these days of too much computer work and repetitive arm injuries I have to admit I have one more transforming process which somehow knocks out the magic but holds the same excitement in how the item turns out, my secret ingredient – the washing machine! The hours it’s saved mankind in beating clothes off rocks and saving felters arms for a few more scarves!

Everything is looking good and so I trim the felt fingers down ensuring they are in proportion with the weight and sit of the scarf. I often throw it into the machine to felt up those slightly frayed edges (that no one would actually know could do with a slight refelt). This is the final shape shifting where the trickster often rears their head. Unpredictable things happen like scarf wildly shrinking or the fabric pulling off in a new direction and yet it calls for an almost Buddhist like non attachment, a letting go of preconceived ideas. And yet when it does emerge from it’s tumble at 16,000 revs per min (or whatever that number stands for) a changed scarf this is where the ingenuity lies. Of attaching poppers and buttons and positioning it just so – so it looks like this was the planned for garment all along!


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