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Felt Collage is my title for the work I make using layer after layer of felt, fabric, found objects and a final layer of print. The method plays on the ability of wool fibres to migrate through fine fabric and attach firmly to that fabric. To quote the Russian feltmaker, Alexander Pilin, the wool fibres look for their brothers and sisters and then join together. I like to experiment to see how many layers I can use, and still have a light, pliable material rather than a thick wedge of unyielding fibre.
finished felt collage piece using woad and rust print
as above with seed head prints
My base fibre is always Merino wool, which can be bought as tops and laid out in a fine layer; or pre-felt can be purchased and used as the starting point. The layer of Merino could be seen as my paper, on which I will begin to paint with fibre and fabric. Usually I use white wool, because the colour will come later from the fabric, but this is a matter of personal choice.
My next task is to dye the fabrics, or raid my stash of natural dyed pieces. It makes sense to have a dyeing day every so often, so that there is a palette available for me whenever the need arises. I tend to work with fabric dyed with woad and rust, because I love the richness of the rusty colour next to the lovely blue of woad. Also, I grow woad, can use rusted found objects and neither of the methods I use for dyeing with these items need harsh chemicals. Earth friendly methods are very important to me. Others may like to use whatever dyes they normally use - it will not alter the end result. It's all a matter of preference. My teaching revolves around the earth friendly aspect.
I use a base of two fine layers of Merino fibre, or, if I'm feeling lazy, a single sheet of pre-felt (also merino) which can be bought from Rainbow Silks, Fibrecrafts or Wingham Wool Work. This speeds up the process considerably. I will felt my base until it is soft felt, or just wet down the pre-felt. Then, I begin the exciting part - laying the coloured fabric in an arrangement which pleases me. I like to overlap fabrics, especially when working with scrim or fine silk, because this allows the colours to show through and change each other. The first layer of fabrics can be laid directly onto the base, but when a second layer is being made, or there is an overlap of one fabric on another, a very fine extra layer of wool fibre needs to go between the two fabrics, to act as an anchor. The wool fibres progress through the fabric and onto the lower layer, acting almost like glue.
fabric & felt laid out before felting finally
When the arrangement pleases me, all that is left is to felt the whole piece to the final stage of firmness. If the piece is to be used as a garment, for instance, the felt must be finished so that it will not shrink when washed, or pill when worn. A piece which will be framed may not need so much work, assuming it will be behind glass.