It seems that I am always describing my felting projects as fun and exciting... but really they are!
Wouldn’t you say that these felted slippers are spectacular? They were made by 25 year 4 children from St Mark’s Primary School, Shelton, Stoke on Trent. That means that the children were all aged between 8 and 9 years old. Wow! they did a fantastic job.
There are lots of reasons why this project was so enjoyable. One is that I had 4 days with the children so we had enough time to make a much more interesting project than simply making slippers. In fact the children were studying the Romans so to start our project off they visited The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (Stoke on Trent) and met Peter; a really quite fearsome Roman Centurion.
Through his dramatic performance, storytelling and props he really brought the Roman era alive for us all.
I had researched and found that although the majority of Roman clothes were woven they did indeed wear some felted items
Sikyonia embas were fancy women’s shoes made of white felt.
Embades were enclosed boots which had to be ‘put on’ with a foot stepping into them. The boots were lined with felt or fur.
Piloi were felt socks used with leather sandals and boots to keep feet warm and protect them from getting chafed.
What a perfect opportunity for a felted slipper project. Whether you call them slippers or socks the making method is completely the same.
Here a Roman sock from the famous Vindolanda site in the UK. Note that this one is woven.
On the first day at the museum I also had enough time to introduce the children to handling merino wool fibres and to actually make five large pieces of felt. It was all pretty fast paced with five children at each table but this was a good way to see and feel the wool fibres felting together under their fingertips.
We chatted about the Roman Sumptuary Laws and how they would have dictated what colours could be worn by people of various social classes. My plan was to use strips cut from these large pieces for a later stage of our Roman Project.
My second day with the children was in their own classroom back at St Marks. They had already drawn around their feet and I had worked out three sizes, small, medium and large and had cut plastic templates ready for them to felt over.
I like the two slipper method that most felters now seem to use. They always look huge at the beginning but you have to remember that the the wool fibres shrink by about a third during the felting process.
I really do wish that I was better at names but I do know that the young lady on the left is Noor. She is starting on her first layer of wool fibres.
We used white, cream and taupe coloured fibres for the layers which would be on the inside of our slippers.
We wet the first layer of laid out wool tops, flicked the wet wool and plastic template upside down and then folded the overlapping fibres to hug the edges of the template.
In order to complete the slippers in just two fairly short school days we laid out only two layers of wool tops on either side of the plastic template. However as you will see these layers aren't the thinnest/finest. Each time we laid out a layer we wet it, flipped it over and folded in the edges.
The first thing that we did at the beginning of day 3 was to decorate the slippers. The children loved this as they were able to get creative with colour combinations and patterns. I admit that we stopped being very authentic with regard to Roman colours at this point but I knew that people feel much happier when they have some free reign over the colours that they are creating with and I wanted the pupils to be excited about wearing their freshly felted slippers.
There was definitely plenty of enthusiasm for the felting process!
Straight after lunch we cut the slippers in half and the children very excitedly pulled out their plastic resists.
They put the slippers on 'like boxing gloves' and rubbed any ridges that had formed along the edges.
Finally the moment that we had been waiting for! The moment when everyone ripped off their socks and put on their soggy slippers to felt them onto their feet!
A memorable moment for Mrs Tough the children's teacher. Who needs a fish pedicure when you can have your pupils help to felt your slippers for you?
I love working with children especially because they have such amazing enthusiasm and energy and I have to say that the room was a frenzy of activity that afternoon!
Mrs Tough wanted the children to do some hand sewing during our Roman project so I decided that we would use strips cut from the large pieces of felt that we had made on day one. I told the children how we could use these strips to decorate tunics. People often think that Romans always wore togas but actually tunics were a very important item of clothing which were worn by everyone either as a main garment or under a toga.
The tunics were often had a decorative stripe woven or stitched onto them adding detail. These stripes (Clavus) were an indication of status, office or rank and were also covered by The Sumptuary Laws.
I searched the internet for images like these to give the children suggestions as to where to stitch their own Clavus.
Hand Stitching isn't all that simple with 25 children and just a few adults.
Mrs Tough, Frances (my fantastic student who was on work experience with me for this project) and I had our work cut out for us on our fourth day (the sewing day). Also in the morning the Teaching Assistant, Mrs Khan was there to help with threading needles and cutting out all these circles from our hand made felt.
So the children stitched their Clavus in place onto their tunics (white tee shirts), sewed decorative circles on and also sewed buttons onto a second felted strip which we used to make their belt/ girdle.
We were all delighted with what the children had achieved and I was really pleased when Mrs Tough got a photographer from the local newspaper, The Sentinel, to come to the school and photograph some of the children with their hand felted slippers (Roman inspired socks).
She was fantastically proud of the children but also said that she wanted to let teachers at other schools know that they could also book me to run an AllSensesArt felting project at their school.
This is the pose for the newspaper photographer.
The children had some more Roman celebrations at the end of term so I returned to see them really getting into their own Roman re-enactment routines. They wore their felted Roman socks, tunics, girdles and used their decorated shields to impress me with their marching, drill and tortoise formation.
And finally just to remind you that these gorgeous slippers were made by 8-9 year olds with virtually no adult assistance.
The project was organised via the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (Stoke on Trent) Community and Educational Outreach Department.
Photographs of the slipper making process were taken by my incredibly helpful work experience student Frances Wright.