Sunday, January 30, 2011

Building the Provincetown Wool Painting

Here is a new series of instructions upon the completion of the the Provincetown wool painting.  Please refer to previous wool painting tutorials in this blog for explanations about the studio set-up, pattern transfer instruction, supplies, etc.  I am using the Babylock Embellisher to needle felt this painting, which is 24 x 36 inches in size.

In this first photo, you can see the pattern transferred with children's washable markers onto a piece of white flannel.  You can also see the original photo and rough drawing I did before I started the actual wool painting to work out the details in a smaller, disposable draft. In the background are oil paint charts which help me choose my colors or match previous colors, when I've forgotten which ones I used.

I began to lay down the first layers of color; the underlayers that would show through subsequent layers when the painting is finished.  These colors set the stage for the light and dark areas, and create a back lighting effect if I choose bright colors to begin with. 

After I laid down the first layers of roving I placed a sheet of large-hole (or reguler - not tulle) netting over the entire surface  and pinned it in place.  Then I used a device called the Felt-O-Matic to tack large areas of wool into place until I can get it under the needles of the machine.  It has 100 needles that, when pressed down all over the surface, effectively tack the layer in place saving time and effort.  Otherwise, I would be using Clover needel felting tools and it would take forever to cover the surface of large areas.  You can see a tutorial of the Felt-O-Matic at the following link:
I was careful to remove the pins as I came to them when using the Felt-O-Matic so as not to break any needles.

Here is a close-up photos of what it lookes like.  You can order them in different sizes at the following website:

After using the Felt-O-Matic, I slid the entire piece, netting and all, under the needles of the Embellisher and felted away until I had covered the entire surface.  Some of the netting gets holes in it but it keeps the fibers in place on the flannel background, doesn't get felted in, and can be peeled off and reused again and again until it is too full of holes.  Here is the painting with the entire first layer of color felted in place with the Babylock Embellisher.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Building a Felted Painting Finale

This is the last installment of the Bottle Study Tutorial.  This week, I am showing a picture of the back side of the needle felted piece, which has been quilted.  This is called "Mock Trapunto" to quilters, when you put a piece of batting behind an area and quilt around it so that it puffs up more than any other area in the piece.  I used a Walking Foot on my sewing machine and invisible thread and sewed around each bottle.  Then I carefully cut away all the batting between the bottles so that only the bottles would have batting behind them.  I used wool batting.

After that I decided where I would position the piece on a gallery wrapped frame (from Dick Blick) that was 24" x 36".  I like the gallery wrapped frame because the canvas acts as a liner for the artwork stretched around it.  It was also much cheaper, for some reason, than buying frames with no canvas attached.  I began the task of stapling the piece on the back side from the centers out to the sides.  I carefully wrapped the corners and stapled them in place.

After stapling the felted textile onto the back of the gallery wrapped frame, I made a back for it and pinned it in place.  I did this by drawing around the frame with a pencil onto some heavy fusible stabilizer, cut it out, and fused it onto a piece of woven twill in a coordinating color.  I cut the twill 1/2 inch larger than the stabilizer and turned the edges under.  Here is a picture of the whole thing pinned in place on the back side.

I hand sewed the back onto the stapled textile and nailed some hanging devices in place. 

Here is a photo of the finished piece showing the front and side views so you can see how it looks mounted on a frame and standing out from the wall.  The trapunto made the bottles stand out a little but not as much as I hoped it would.  Maybe next time I will use a higher loft batting so the bottles stand out more.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Building a Felted Painting Part 4 - Wet Felting

After all the machine needle felting is finished, I like to wet felt a piece.  Why wet felt after so much machine needle felting?  It makes a big difference in the finished look of the piece.
  1. All the needle holes disappear
  2. The surface layer of fibers form a smooth webbed mat instead of loose ends sticking up off the surface.
  3. The under layers of colored fibers  that were built up but submerged under the top layers of color become visible as washes of color mixed in with the color on the surface.  How can that NOT be much more interesting than just the top layer of one flat color visible to the viewer?
  4. The underlayers form a webbed mat with themselves as well as the surface layers.  This creates one uniform textile with a lovely pattern. 
  5. The bottle color transitions appear smooth with rounded forms rather than clumps of different colors of wool stuck on the surface of the flannel.
  6. What I have just described may not be visible in these photos but if you look closely at the shadows of the bottles, you may see the smooth, united web of color layers.
It really is worth the trouble to do it, even though, at this point you want to be finished with the project and jump into the next one (if you haven't already).

In this photo, you will see the following supplies:
  • 3 feet of rubber stair tread on a table
  • several sheets of bubble wrap - enough to surround your piece top and bottom
  • bowl of warm, soapy water - I use olive oil soap
  • turkey baster
  • knee high hose
  • rubber gloves
  • swimming pool noodle
  • electric sander (that's right - an electric sander - read on)
CAUTION:  Hot soapy water and power tools are a good recipe for a disaster such as electrocution!!  ONLY use an electric sander if it is plugged into a GFI (ground fault interuptor) outlet or socket adaptor.  This ensures that if any moisture is detected by the GFI  it will shut off the power immediately to the tool.  Keep a neat, dry table when using the electric sander with lots of towels nearby.  Do not allow the floor to get wet, if it does, dry it immediately.
Instead of using sandpaper, I fitted my sander with a sheet of tablecloth plastic (to cover the air intake holes), covered with non-slip shelf rubber, cut to fit the sandpaper size.  This ensures that no water can get into the sander when in use.  I bought my own sander that is off limits to my husband.
The electric sander creates vibration all over the surface of the piece.  The bubble wrap is like dozens of tiny fingers messaging the surface, creating the movement needed for the fibers to unite together.  You are NOT sanding the suface, you are messaging it.  This is much easier on the arms and body and cuts the felting time down considerabley than regular wet felting.                                                          

  1. Place your project face down on top of the stair tread (uneven surface for rolling), which has been covered with bubble wrap, bubble side up.  You are weaving the fibers on the back side together first so that they stabilize the fibers of the front side. 
  2. Use the turkey baster to gently squirt the warm, soapy water all over the surface until saturated
  3. Cover the project with bubble wrap, bubble side down.
  4. Beginning from one corner, lay the electric sander on the surface, without any hand pressure, and move it slowly across the piece from one side to the other, being sure to move it over the entire surface once or twice.  Turn the bubble wrapped project right side up, smooth out  and pass the sander over that a couple of times also.
  5. If you are in the mood for more exercise after using the sander, roll the project, bubble wrap and all, around a pool noodle.  My project was too large so I used a plastic corrugated drainage pipe from Home Depot  to roll it around. 
  6. Secure the whole lot with knee high hose and roll back and forth on the stair tread 100 times. 
  7. Undo the layers of  bubble wrap/project/bubble wrap and reroll in the other direction and tie. 
  8. Roll on the stair tread another 100 times.
  9. Check to see that the fibers on the surface are holding together in a web, not pulling apart in separate hairs.  Whenever you see this at whatever point in your wet felting, you are finished.  You may or may not need to do all these steps to get the surface to form a "skin" but you will need to keep doing any of the above over again until it does form a completely uniform felted textile, and not pull off in chunks.  This is hard to explain. 
  10. I rinse out the project in a washing machine full of clean warm water, then spin out the excess water.  DO NOT ALLOW THE MACHINE TO AGITATE AT ANY TIME.  If it does, I have no idea what kind of distorted mess you will end up with. 
  11. Lay out the project on a flat surface, preferably one that you can pin into.  I use felt covered insulation board from Home Depot to block and dry my work.  This is when you can block the piece, pull and push the textile to dry straight and flat.  I needed to correct the postition of the white bottle as it had tilted from the machine felting and I needed to get it upright again.  I used pins to hold in place whatever had skewed from the felting and let it dry in front of a fan.
Stay tuned for the finishing of this project. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Building a Felted Painting Part 3

This is a continuation of the Felted Painting tutorial.  Below is a photo of the Bottle Study with the underlayer of the background felted down.  Every color felted down so far has an "underpainting"  layer of fiber which may or may not be anything like the final color that goes on top.  The reason for this is that all the layers of wool show through and the more color laid on top of color the more interesting and complex the design.  It is essential that each subsequent layer be laid down as thin as possible, like a glaze or wash on a painted surface.   The underpainting of this background was chosen as a "medium/warm" color to keep the background behind the bottles from being too cold and dark.

This next photo shows the last and final layer of the background.  It was more dramatic than I expected but I still have to wet felt and crop the final piece to its finished size.

Wet felting makes all the layers and colors come to the surface and blend together.  The white  bottle needs to be a little whiter but that may happen in the wet felting.  If not I can add another thin "wash" of white Pollworth fibers and needle felt them in place.  Wet felting also gets rid of the needle holes and unifies the surface fibers so they don't pull off or pill over time.

Here is what a cropped version might look like:

After wet felting I plan on trying a trapunto method to make the bottles stand out from the background.  I will either mount the piece on an artists 24" x 36" frame or put a border on and call it an Art Quilt.  If it is an Art Quilt, I plan on submitting it to a quilt show to introduce the methods to other quilters.  There is so much more that can be done with this method artistically.  I've already started another one - which will be the topic of my next tutorial. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Building a Felted Painting Part 2

Using the Clover pen style and the 5 needle tools, I began felting down the lightest colors on the right sides of the bottles.  The hand felting tools tack the roving in place so that when I put the piece under the needles of the Babylock  Embellisher, the roving stays in place.  I also used a piece of large-hole netting over top of the roving when felting on the machine to stabilize the roving and keep it from catching on the foot as the needle head passes over the wool. 

Next I added the medium and dark colors to the bottles and the table top.  Again I tacked the roving in place with the Clover tools, then felted the whole surface on the Embellisher machine. 

I added more details to the bottles and added color to the shadows on the table to simulate the strong sunlight light streaming through the bottles onto the table.

I added the blending colors to unify the edges of color on thebottles and added another layer of color to the table top to bring it to the gray color I wanted it to be.  I used warm beige with a layer of light blue over top to create gray.  Notice the bottles have rounded form with dark, medium and light areas using different colored roving and felting it down. 

In the photo below you can see the bottles are almost finished and I added dark brown with a dark blue layer to create the gray shadows on the sides of the tables.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Steps in Building a Felt Painting

Here is a picture of my studio set up with plastic bins of wool in different colors within easy reach.  I am using a sheet of wall insulation board (2 inch extruded polystyrene) covered with ivory felt as my work surface.  I like to cover the ivory felt with a piece of thin plastic tablecloth to keep the fibers from embedding into the board from repeated hand felting. 

In this photo, you can see the original photo I am following and a color chart, which helps me to choose which color I need next, before I go raking through my color bins and forget what I was looking for.
You can also see a pastel drawing that I did of the photo so that I can "get to know" the painting and what I will do with it when using wool fibers.  Here is where I make mistakes, changes in color, shadow or highlight before I start the real painting with wool.  From the pastel drawing, I lay a piece of clear acetate over the drawing and make a line drawing with a permanent Sharpee marker.  Then I place the acetate drawing on an overhead projector and make the pattern any size I want by drawing the lines onto the flannel with a Crayola Washable Marker. 

Whenever I am starting a wool painting, I like to use flannel as a substrate for the following reasons:
  1. It holds the wool in place with its texture
  2. It can take any amount of action from the needles
  3. It completely disappears when enough wool has been felted on to it.
  4. It distorts the least and often recovers when the piece is fully felted and then back felted again (felted from the back side).
  5. It provides a stable ground for wet felting and can handle the thickness and felting of the surface layers of wool fibers when wet felting.