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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.

My latest project is a felted white fiber ball.  The ball is about 8″ and its core was loose wool that has been wet felted and made into a solid core. The first layer of roving was wet felted on top of the core. The remaining wool and other fibers were attached to the ball with needle felting.

White felted fiber ball
White felted fiber ball

As someone who uses lots of color in my work, I thought it would be interesting to go with one color and to experiment with texture. I now need to scan it from its different sides and see what is revealed. I will then magnify and crop. Stayed tuned for updates!

First Look at Felted Fiber Ball

The fiber ball begins
The felted fiber ball begins

The felted fiber ball looked like this when I first began this fiber art project. I started by wrapping merino roving and yarn around a 16″ ball.  I needed to wrap the ball with yarn to keep the roving in place until I felted it. Many layers of roving and yarn were applied and the ball was then wet felted.

Felting was done by wrapping the ball in netting to secure it and rolling it around a slop sink with hot water, soap and through the use of friction until the fibers melded together. Here are a few of the stages of making the fiber ball.

The next photograph shows the fiber ball after it has been felted once, with layers of roving, nibs (tiny pieces of roving) and yarns. Many more layers are applied, but not wet felted, which gives the ball layers and depth.  As you can see, there are still many large chunks of wool and not much detail.

A little further along with felted fiber ball
A little further along with felted fiber ball

In the next photo, “A little further along,” you see how much more details have been added with less chunks of merino roving visible.

From this point, it took many months to add all the embellishments you see in the final felted fiber ball, below.

fiber-ball-round-3
Felted fiber ball partially complete

Many more details were added before the felted fiber ball was complete, including metallic threads, bits of yarns in a variety of materials, silk fabric and even cheesecloth was added! I have collected yarns and fiber art supplies for years, and have a nice stash of supplies. However, when I felt stuck in this project, I would check out new yarn store or visit one of my favorites to see what was new to add to my collection for the fiber ball.

One of my favorite places to find new yarns and felting supplies is at the annual Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival–something I look forward to every year!

 

Final felted ball
Final felted fiber ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on how to wet felt: How to wet felt 

I often order from New England Felting Supply and always visit their booth at the Rhonebeck Sheep & Wool Festival: Felting supplies

What is Felting?

merinobattsFelting is the ancient process of causing wool fibers to entangle making them into a nonwoven sheet of matted wool. Have you ever accidentally shrunk your wool sweater? Then you made felt! You may also be familiar with felt (made out of synthetic fibers) sheets you may have used for arts and crafts as a kid. The reason felt for kids is popular is because the edges don’t fray—you just cut and the felt is good to go.

I discovered felt years ago, but it wasn’t until I went to the annual Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival six years ago that I knew this would be my new fiber of choice in my artwork. Felt is magical to me. From tufts of wool roving (and some bits of silk, cotton and other fibers) the boundaries of what can be done with felt is as limitless and your imagination.

From ancient times, felt has been used to make socks, shoes and other wearables. Today, in Central Asia, nomadic people make yurts, clothing and rugs from felt. It is used in the automotive industry, in home construction, for musical instruments, hats and much more.

Felt is made both by hand and machine. Industrial felt is sold in a variety of thicknesses and is uniform in its characteristics like color and weight. Felt made by hand varies widely in colors, thicknesses and design.

All felt is nonwoven, which means you can cut it and it will not fray or unravel. So if you sew with it, you need not make seams and there are no raw edges, like this basket, below.

There are several methods of making handcrafted felt.

wetfeltedfiberWet felting is done using wool fibers like Merino wool roving and adding hot water, soap and agitation to transform the roving into wool mats or felt fabric.

Another method of felting is needle felting, where the matting and entanglement of wool or other fibers is done using barbed needles.

Fulling Knitted and Crocheted Fabric

Beautiful objects can be made by first knitting then felting. In the bag below, the bag was knitted then shrunk in a washing machine using hot water, soap and agitation.

Nuno Felting
Small amounts of wool are layered on a pre-existing fabric like silk or cotton. During the felting process, the wool fibers migrate through the fabric and fuse into one.

As you can see, felt is an amazing material and its applications are endless. I work with both industrial and handmade felt. From industrial felt, I have made bags, coasters, placemats, pillows and more. My artwork is created with both handmade and industrial felt.

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