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The Joy of Wool

I love wool. It has so many amazing properties and is such a joy to work with.

As an eco-friendly designer and artist, wool is the perfect fabric because it is a biodegradable and renewable material. Wool comes from large and small farms all over the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and China.

Wool is a natural fiber harvested from sheep; the animal is unharmed when shorn and their coat grows back quickly. Sheep are sheared once a year in spring or early summer—no long coats for the warm months–and they are free roaming.

Wool and felt (which is wool that has been shrunk and becomes a non-woven piece of fabric) have been used for 1000’s of years—possibly as long ago as 6000 B.C.

What makes wool special is in the structure of its fibers, which absorb moisture, insulates against heat and cold, and is resistant to flame. These properties make wool a great choice for blankets and comforters.

Unlike cotton, linen, silk or polyester, wool fibers are covered with tiny scales, making them look like pine cones when magnified.

When the fibers’ scales rub against those of others, they pull the fibers together in irreversible tangles. When compacted under heat and moisture, the wool shrinks into felt.

Wool fibers have scales, compared to smooth texture of other fibers
Wool fibers have scales, compared to smooth texture of other fibers

Wool provides great warmth for little weight. Air trapped between fibers gives wool its amazing insulating ability.

The surface of wool is water resistant, yet its interior is highly absorbent. Wool is the most hydrophilic of all natural fibers, absorbing as much as 30% of its weight without feeling wet to the touch (cotton absorbs 8%, synthetics often less than 5%).

Porous and penetrable, wool absorbs perspiration and releases it slowly through evaporation so that one feels less chilled in winter; in summer the evaporation keeps one comfortably cooled.

Wool has excellent elastic recovery, giving it a springiness that makes clothes wrinkle resistant when dry. Wool can be bent 20,000 times without breaking (silk breaks after 1800 bends, rayon after 75).

Felting compacts wool, making it very useful because it becomes less porous, warmer, stronger, and more water resistant. Felt has been used for 1000’s of years for items like as boots, carpets, tents, and yurt walls.

Felted pillow of industrial felt. Insert is felted merino wool.
Felted pillow of industrial felt. Insert is felted merino wool.

For me, wool is both about it being for utilitarian purposes—like the home accessories or purses that I make and for the pure joy of my felt art. I love to go to wool festivals like the Rhinebeck Sheep Festival and Vogue Knitting in New York City to search for unique, handmade yarns. The colors and textures and feel of the yarns inspire me to create my artwork. I have yarns dating back decades and love to add to my collection!

 

 

 

Fiber Ball with Detailed Views

The ball is beginning to have the details I like. Here are a couple of photographs of the sides of the felted fiber ball and cropped versions to shoside of felted ballw the details.

When the ball is finished, I’ll take high quality photographs with the Better Light Camera, then crop and magnify the best views. cropped

The camera takes photos at a crazy high resolution–like 1200 pixels. This makes the yarns pop out, looking so real you can almost feel it.

The little white merino nips pictured in all the photographs look so cool when they are taken with the high resolution camera. And the cheesecloth, seen in the first two photographs, takes on an ethereal feel.

 
fiber ball detailsfiber ball 2

Progress with White Fiber Ball

I have continued to add more color and texture to the white fiber ball.

detail of ball

This photo was taken about a month ago shortly after beginning to add color. It was difficult in the beginning after all white to begin.

This is what the same area looks like now: detail of fiber ball weeks later

I have added more colors and textures.

Not sure at this point if I will leave white spaces or will fill entire ball. My regular Nikon camera takes these photos and they do not have the clarity to pick up details like the Better Light, which I will use when the ball is done. That will make those tiny balls and everything else, pop.

The ball itself is wet felted. Everything added–including the white layers–is needled felted. I use a wide variety of wool yarns and a few silk yarns. Most of the yarns I buy are made by hand and purchased at yarn festivals like the Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival  and Vogue Knitting Live! or yarn shops that specialize in unique and varied skeins. (Searching for the most beautiful yarns is one of my favorite activities!)

I do a variety of things with yarns and roving (unspun yarn) and work mostly with merino because it felts beautifully. I also love mohair because it is so light and airy. In the top photograph, for example, you see the turquoise piece of wool. That is variegated wool that I wind around a thin piece of yarn. I do that to get some thickness and a pleasing texture. In the same photo, there is a piece of green roving that I felted into a ball. It is under a piece of fine cotton cheesecloth.

Stay tuned as the ball becomes more complex and detailed!

Purple Pops on White Fiber Ball!

Continuing work on what was a white fiber ball with the addition of much more color.

Adding color to white fiber ball
Adding color to white fiber ball

The turquoise and green are now sharing the space with purple and lavender. Everything pops so much against the white!

I will continue to add many more layers. Not sure if I will bring in more colors in addition to the blues, green and purples.

As the color builds, the feel of the ball changes dramatically. Not sure how dense it will be yet.

Here you can see where there is more color filled in:

Fiber ball getting denser
Fiber ball getting denser

There is also a lot of texture, as the yarns are very varied and irregular, which is what I love. To add even more texture, I wrap some of the thinner yarns around white wool.

More changes to come! I’ll post again about the progress soon.

Check Out New Colors on White Fiber Ball!

Adding color to white fiber ball
Adding color to white fiber ball

I have been working on adding color to the white fiber ball and have started with variegated turquoise blue and green. The merino turquoise yarn gets wound around  white wool and is cut a various lengths. The green is felted roving.

The image below shows what one full side of the fiber ball looks like.

When it is finished, I will take digital photos of each side, then crop and magnify the most interesting views.

Seeing what a side of fiber ball looks like
Seeing what a side of fiber ball looks like

There is much more work to be done to achieve the detail and look I desire.

Below is a photo with more detail.

When it is finished and I take digital photos with the Better Light; the camera will pick up every detail–even as thin as a thread.

This ball is in the very early stages of work. It generally takes me several months to a year to complete a ball.

Stay tuned for updates!

More detail of fiber ball
More detail of fiber ball

 

Adding Color to White Fiber Ball

I am currently adding color to an all white felted fiber ball. If you saw my last post, I wrote about how much I love flowers and how they influence my work.

Adding color to white ball
Adding color to white ball

Most of my artwork is very colorful, which is why I wanted to experiment with white only.  It was difficult to work with only white at first because I love color so much. But working with only white became really enjoyable as I concentrated on on texture, design and the movement of the projects.

I let the first white ball remain white. This is the second one (which has far less detail, allowing space to add to it) and I have been struggling to add color.

For now, I am sticking with the variegated turquoise and green colors.

Here is the ball of variegated turquoise merino yarn I am using. I am wrapping it around white merino yarn. The green balls are made from merino roving.

Fiber supplies
Fiber supplies

The white puffy stuff is roving; it felts easily and I use it as “glue” to help attach the pieces with the felting needle.

Felting needles come in hand machines with multiple needles, but this work is very delicate (after the initial wet felting stage) and I use a single needle to attach everything to the ball.

Yup, all that small detail is attached with the one needle that I have stuck in the ball of turquoise wool. (Eventually, the head breaks off from being used so much!)

Made some progress today…will post soon.

 

Flowers inspire my Artwork!

William Baffen roses

Flowers inspire my artwork. Most of my work has lots of colors and I always work with natural tones and shades that you would see in nature and in flowers. (That said, my latest works have been in all white, but I am adding color to the latest–but that is another post.) I took these photos in early evening last night of some of the showier specimens in my garden. The arch of roses are William Baffen’s. Soon, purple clematis will be blooming with them.

My husband and I got married under this arch in 2001 in Woodstock, New York! I had hydrangea and roses placed all over the arch.

We first planted wisteria, but it turned out to be non-flowering, so out it went. We planted the roses and clematis about 10 years ago.

Flowers in Maple Zone
White peonies, red roses and purple spiderwort

The garden on the right was planted where a beautiful red maple once stood. It died (we think from a dry season when the huge oak beside it got the lion’s share of the water). I decided to plant perennials because their roots wouldn’t interfere with the oak tree. White peonies, red roses and purple spiderwort are blooming now.

Spring flowers: peonies, spiderwort, roses
Spring flowers: peonies, spiderwort, roses

The peonies, on the left, are pretty much as perfect as they will get in the garden in the foreground. (A strong rain will knock them over.)

The white peonies are are so large that they are already leaning towards the ground with no rain!

Peony Garden
Peony Garden (click image to see larger)

Below is one of my photographs called Peony Garden. The magenta colored “flowers” remind me of peonies in this abstract work.

 

 

 

Pop goes the White Fiber Ball!

White fiber ball gets colr
White fiber ball gets colors

This is my latest white fiber ball. However, unlike the last one that remained all-white, I am about to add color–mostly shades of blue–to it. You can see my pile of gorgeous yarns, collected from various yarn stores and festivals.

On top of the ball sits a spool of metallic thread. When wrapped around the ball and photographed with the uber-high resolution of a Better Light digital camera, the metallic threads do magical things to the ball. Here is an example of the photograph Chartreuse from the felted fiber ball on my website. Do you see how cool the metallic threads look?Chartreuse

Starting with a white only felted fiber ball and then adding color to it is a first for me.

Working with white only is an interesting experience, because it becomes all about texture and shapes.

Adding color at this point takes me in a new and exciting direction! I will post my progress soon.

White Felted Fiber Ball in Riverside Park, NYC

My most recent project is a white felted fiber ball. I have always been drawn to bold, vibrant colors, but I wanted to experiment with using one color and concentrate on texture, to encourage the viewer to pause and absorb the abstract but subtle designs. I had already photographed the ball by itself, to be digitally manipulated—cropped and magnified as I see fit.

felted fiber ball in a crab apple tree
felted fiber ball in a crab apple tree

It is early Spring in New York City and I decided to take my ball to Riverside Park for the one-hour art assignment, because I kept visualizing what it would look like nestled in the branches of fruit trees that are in the beginning stages of growing their leaves and blooming. Riverside Park is a beautiful and established park on 191 acres of land; it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also planned the iconic Central Park) and was built between 1875 and 1910. Much of it overlooks the Hudson River and it is filled with beautiful trees and plantings, monuments, natural rock croppings and hardscaping.

Felted fiber ball looking huge in a crab apple tree
Felted fiber ball looking huge in a crab apple tree

As a fiber artist, I like to work with different textiles, but wool is my favorite because it is such an amazing material. Wool comes from sheep who are shorn in early Spring. Their coats keep them warm over winter and shearing them doesn’t harm them, which is important to me.  I work mostly with merino wool; it is very soft and felts easily. I also use lots of wool yarns and they are usually hand-spun and dyed. I have a collection of yarn, some of it decades old! (Buying yarn is one of my favorite activities and I go to festivals and seek out yarn shops wherever I go.)

So I feel that using wool connects me and my artwork to nature in a very fundamental way. (I would never use man-made materials like acrylic or polyester in my work.) Additionally, the white ball just feels Spring-like to me and it feels playful and fun to join the ball with the awakening trees.

So, I packed the ball, camera, and tripod in a knapsack and for expediency, took my bicycle to the park. It was a perfect day; upper 60’s and mostly sunny. The park was filled with people with their dogs and kids enjoying the weather.

I rode slowly, mindful of avoiding running into anyone as I checked out suitable trees for my ball. I only wanted fruit trees, with their delicate and intricate branches and soon-to-be flowering gorgeousness. Some already had bright green leaves just beginning to unfurl. Others teased with still tight flower buds, only a hint if what would soon come.

Like typical New Yorkers, most people ignored me as I got to work: bike parked, knapsack on the ground, I placed my ball into the branches of numerous trees. The ball weighs about two pounds and I had to pick branches that were sturdy enough to hold it. I was only questioned once and it was from a pair of elderly women who approached me and asked me what the ball was; I said: “It’s a felted fiber ball,” (wondering if this meant anything to them…)  to which they responded that it: “Was beautiful.” “Thanks,” I said, and they were off.

I rode from the southern end of the park at 72nd street to 96th street, stopping numerous times to take photos. A couple more stops going back and then I just enjoyed the beautiful Spring day, riding my bike back to my apartment, my ball resting in the knapsack on my back.

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