Tuesday 27 December 2011

Spectacular Felted Slippers/ Socks with a Roman Twist

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.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Nuno Felted Den: a fantastic school felting project

One of the felting projects that I am most proud of is the nuno felted den which was made by year 6 pupils at Model Village Primary School, Shirebrook, Derbyshire.

Back in September 2007 I began my weekly felting sessions with year 5 and 6 pupils at Model Village school. I had already been felt-making for 9 years at that point but this was when I really learnt about devising interesting projects that are achievable by people of varying abilities in really quite short periods of time.

Every Friday for 2 terms I provided felting sessions for year 5  and year 6 pupils to cover their teacher’s PPA (Planning and Preparation) time. These were pretty fast paced sessions but the children were very enthusiastic learners. 

You have to be honest with children if you expect them to put in their best for you and fortunately I am a straightforward sort of person and my enthusiasm and energy seem to help me be able to ‘hit it off’ with children pretty quickly.

I was absolutely delighted that after 2 terms I was asked back for the summer term. This time I did one large project with year 5 children, a banner which now hangs in their library and with the year 6 children we made the nuno felted den.
So 15 very enthusiastic children went on an adventure with me and proved that nuno felting is really not as complicated as some people would like you to believe.

I have friends who have made yurts The Scottish Story Telling Yurt being one in particular but we were not going to run to steam bending wood etc. This is my frame. It was 1.2m high and about 2.2m wide. 
Getting excited about the project! 
Nuno felt shrinks a lot ( usually by 50%) so I had worked out the shrinkage and cut triangles from lovely fine cotton muslin to get us started. We had to make 15 of these triangles. I had 5 weeks of afternoon sessions with my 15 pupils so we really had to make 3 triangle sections each week.
Here you can see one 'before' and one 'after' triangle. The shrinkage is quite dramatic!
Here you can see I introduced nuno felting to the children by making smaller triangles first. I originally envisaged them being used as bunting but in the end the children persuaded me to let them turn them into cushions. Again I am reminded how much children love cushions and tactile cuddly things!

I knew that we wouldn’t have time for much detailed design work but as nuno felting lends itself to lose and free designs this was not a problem.

There were opportunities for everyone to go with what suited them best: lots of blue sky clouds and general blue with a tropical bird cut from pre-felt, general jungle tendrils, butterflies and even a wolf, zebra and tiger. 

These boys used illustrations from children's books to get their nuno felted tiger, wolf and zebra just right.
There's always a lot of fun in my felting sessions. The children worked really hard but there was plenty of time for giggles too.
I took the finished nuno felted triangles home and sewed them together to make the nuno den cover. 
Detail of a bright butterfly fluttering across the nuno felted sky (i.e. den roof)

Before we unveiled the den to the rest of the school we assembled it in the classroom, this was a very exciting moment.

Next we moved the frame to the school foyer and re-assembled it. Within half an hour the staff had strung up fairy lights inside the den and it was full of scatter cushions. It is now a very special place to sit an read a book, wait for your mum if you are feeling unwell, or simply a place to ‘be’. 
Dens have  a very special place in my heart and having a space to ‘just be’ is so so important. 
I am extremely proud of the pupils for coming on that felting adventure with me and also very grateful that Mr Davis the head teacher recognised the value of nurture and creativity and gave me the opportunity to run a project with no holds barred.

Friday 25 November 2011

The therapeutic powers of felting: patients at Penn Hospital make artworks for The Joy of Making exhibition

A's impressive felted mat

I get a buzz out of working with all types of people but I have to say that working in situations where you feel that you are making a positive contribution to people’s lives is absolutely the most rewarding.

In the past I have worked with young people in various mental health wards at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, I have led a few sessions at adult day centres for people suffering from mental well being issues and in October this year I had a fantastic day working with participants from Borderland Voices and ReThink in the very scenic Staffordshire Peak Parkland. That was a very uplifting day. 

I passionately believe that there are lots of therapeutic benefits of taking part in a creative activity. I have chosen to use the wet felt making technique for my outreach activities because I can see how fantastic a process it is for helping people to calm down, relax, reconnect with their senses and discover their own creative capabilities
It is a process that I have a lot of experience in (having first learnt felting back in 1997) and over the years I have got better and better at devising projects suitable for and of interest to people of all ages and abilities.

It is great to be invited to lead sessions even if they are only a few hours long but it is even better when I am able to be involved in a project that develops over several weeks. That way I get the chance to build up relationships and I am also able to see the growth in people’s confidence and abilities. It is so rewarding! 

Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage Service recently gave me such an opportunity; I was the artist invited to lead seven weekly sessions with patients at Penn Hospital, Wolverhampton.

Each week I arrived at the hospital and the occupational therapists and technicians, Amy, Karen, Claire and Sherry made me very welcome. I ran through what I was planning to do in the session and gave them a quick demo before they went onto the ward to encourage patients to come to the art room. This was also a chance to review how the participants had felt about the previous week’s session. 

Each week was different depending on which patients came. No one was forced to come rather they were given the chance to try something new.

At some sessions there was only two patients and at others there was six but usually there were about four. Patients suffered from a range of mental wellbeing issues including varying levels of dementia, anxiety attacks, recovering from strokes and depression. (There may be other issues that I am not aware of.) I’m not all that good at guessing how old people are and really I try to ignore ages but I think that hte patients who took part ranged from their early 60’s to early 80’s.

A was one great  'joiner in', she came to every session but as she has impaired memory she couldn’t actually remember what she had done in the previous weeks. However, it was obvious that her body had some sort of memory; I often say how felting is best learnt by doing and it was obvious that A’s body remembered how to handle the wool fibres and tuft out wool to make the flat felt for the mats and flowers that we made.

In the 6th week she rediscovered her ability to plait and got very busy plaiting lengths of the fluffy merino wool tops. This was a perfect opportunity to talk about memories of hairstyles in our childhood. She had always wanted long hair and my mum wasn’t the best at making my plaits the same thickness!

A’s independence grew noticeably over the weeks. At first she was assisted by one of the nursing staff, then she quickly showed her individuality by deciding on colours and was happy to continue even when there was no one by her side. I was really pleased when she made some design decisions including leaving her flowers with solid petals rather than cutting them and when she made her plait and stitched it in a diagonal across her mat. We also discovered how good she was at sewing too!

V has had a serious stroke but despite having one hand in a plastic splint and needing her oxygen tank she was a very enthusiastic participant. She was delighted with her multi coloured felted balls and took one home to show her grand children. V quickly revealed her personality and her enthusiasm for colour. She was interested in the results that other patients achieved and developed her own style. 
V's stripey felted mat with flowers and leaves 

Each week I would remind everyone about The Joy of Making exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and how we were working towards making our own artworks which would also be included in the exhibition. At the beginning of the project I had worried that this might be  a bit intimidating for the group but actually I think they were more bemused by the idea that they might be able to make art that would be worthy of exhibiting. 

They had already been on a trip to the art gallery, met the exhibition curator and been shown some of the items which would be in the exhibition. The occupational therapy team felt that the Polish Paper cuts would be especially inspirational to their patients. 

I was really happy about this as unbeknownst to them two of my own treasured items are Polish paper cut cards that my grandmother (Nan) gave me when I was six years old. So not only was I happy to dig out my cards and take them to the sessions but it also brought back memories of my Nan. She has been very inspirational in my life and I often explain in my Frillip Moolog blog how I draw on memories of times spent with her when creating my own Frillip Moolog sculptures.
One of my own Polish paper cut cards given to me by my grandmother 

N chose the the colours for this felted brooch from another of my cards. His wife was delighted when he gave her the brooch.

The first few sessions were about finding out what we could make using the wet felting technique. Even I was impressed with what we managed to achieve in the first session. 
And it was good to have  a finished piece that could be taken round the ward to show everyone and to act as encouragement for others to take part. 

The mat that we made in the first session. Everyone in the group contributed to it.

In the second week we made small multi-coloured felted balls and some beads. L not only made some beads but also spent some time arranging them around one of the felted pieces that Karen (one of the OTs) had made in the previous week. I was really interested to see how absorbed she got in this activity (she was singing as she did it) and also that she didn’t feel constrained to arrange the beads in an obvious flower pattern however there is  some symmetry to her arrangement.

The felted beads arranged by L. 

In the third week I took in some of my big stones from my garden. In the past children have made felted purses by wrapping the stone in wool and felting it. This time we felted the fibres over it, cut it to get the stone out and then continued shaping by felting around a tin of beans. I was inspired by the baskets that the exhibition curator had selected to be included in The Joy of Making.
I was delighted with the vessels and the results are pretty impressive but the patients later said that they found it a bit too hard. I can see that the stones are a bit heavy and really if a project is too awkward to handle and can’t be done without help then really that isn’t empowering the participant. I felt that the felted vessels would look good in an exhibition but the patients are much more likely to feel proud of the items that they have good memories of making. 

Good Arts and Health Projects should be about empowering the patients and increasing their sense of wellbeing.

So we all concluded that concentrating on making flat felted items was the best way forward.

The first week that we made felted mats with felted fringing was the only week that a lady called J took park. She amazed the OT team by staying engaged in the activity for much longer than usual. She really enjoyed the sensory experience of working with the soapy water and rubbing the wool fibres. Claire who was assisting her was fantastic at taking time to ensure that she had the chance to choose her own colours. J also took care over the placing of the turquoise mohair knitting yarn to make her pattern.
In the sessions there was often laughter and so when J stood up to dance this was a lovely sign of a happy person who felt relaxed and comfortable.

As the weeks went on the staff were getting more and more enthusiastic themselves. I was pleased that Claire took some notes about the various stages in the felting process and she and Amy both took photos too. These were photos of the patients being engrossed while handling the wool fibres and in the felting process and there are a fair number of smiley photos too. 

Half way through M’s first session I looked over and realised that she was very definitely smiling. It was her first time in one of the art and craft therapy sessions. She made 3 felted flowers and the next week made a blue mat to place them on. She was someone who could at times seem quite bewildered but over the course of the three sessions that she attended she did come out of herself and expressed opinions on lots of things. The colours that she chose, where to place the flowers that she had made, which buttons to use. 
M's lovely blue mat. She left one of her three flowers off as she wasn't happy enough with some of its petals.
In the sixth session we had Emma and Diane visit us from Blakenhall Resource Centre in Wolverhampton. They run art sessions there and were interested to see how felting might be a good activity to run with their participants. I was delighted when M and Diane were sitting side by side. M was able to show Diane how to make  a piece of flat felt . and they worked together on a new piece which will very likely become the base for another wall hanging that can be displayed in the hospital. 

So at the final session I laid out all the mats and everyone could see just how far they had progressed and they were proud of their achievements. They have made work which is worthy of being included in an exhibition in a prestigious public art gallery.

A continued to impress us with her plaiting abilities, M made a piece of felt that will very likely form the base of a for another wall hanging that can be displayed in the hospital and V went freestyle.
She started laying out colours to make a felted Jamacian flag but then she let her creativity loose and it evolved into this really free and energetic felted picture. Maybe she felt it was her last week of felting with me there and wanted to push herself to create something extra special. I know that she was tired when she arrived so I was so impressed that she worked so independently and also this is quite a large piece of felt to make (with only one hand that she could get wet!). 
So not only had she leant a new skill but she really was using her artistic eye to make a very personal piece of art.
It was sad to say goodbye to the group at the end of my seventh session but I am sure that they will come to the celebration event at Wolverhampton Art Gallery when The Joy of Making opens in February 2012.

All of the participants have a lot to be proud of and I am sure that they will bring family members along too. It will be a lovely way of celebrating the achievements of these patients and also I know that Amy and the Occupational Therapy team will continue to develop their felting skills so that by February everyone may even arrive at the gallery wearing some felted bead bracelets and with felted bags or spectacle cases too!

Here are some of the comments that were noted throughout the felt making sessions from patients:
“It feels great, smashing”
“It feels nice”
“It feels smooth”
“a bit wet”
“The green & yellow look lovely”
“It’s lovely and soft”
“I’m making a nest here”
“Give the sheep a hair cut”
“They’re brave sheep am”
“Reminds me of the leather making”
“I crafted it”
“My hands are all slippy”
“It makes me more sociable”
“Oh that’s lovely, I like that”
“Mine looks like a dragon”
“Pink is my colour”
“It made me laugh, I have loved watching you”
“Call this a wage!”
And a final piece of synchronicity for me; I have just discovered that my talented friend Helen Snell has been selected to make a specially commissioned installation for The Joy of Making exhibition. Also taking inspiration from the Polish papercut art in the gallery’s  collection she will create her own 3D interpretation of the story of The Joy of Making. 

‘The Joy of Making’ at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.  The exhibition runs 11 February to 14 April 2012.

Friday 22 July 2011

Felting for Boys

I love teaching felt-making and I especially love working with people; people of all ages and abilities.

Sometimes people say to me, “Felting... mmm?  That’s fine for girls but what about boys?” 

So here’s the evidence that boys get lured in by the magical sensory process of felt-making too!
Earlier this year I led a felted pictures session at Bilston Craft Gallery. So what do boys like to felt? 

I love the simplicity of this felted ninja design (pictured above) , especially its spooky green eyes. 

Spongebob. (see next photo) 
I am a fan of Spongebob myself so am always happy to see a new variation on this cartoon character. A hand-felted picture will always be unique.

I explain how a backing can be cut from fabric (shop bought industrial felt is good) and then stitched on to the felted picture, filled with wadding and transformed into a cuddly cushion.

I think that this star and smiley face design was going to become a cushion. (see next photo)

Boys love construction too so my magic felted balls have often been incorporated into mixed media sculptures
A lot of inventiveness is required when working with an eclectic range of materials. 

I’ve always said that wrapping a rock in fluffy wool fibres is a really cool idea. Not many boys want a felted handbag but they still love the process and actually purses don’t have to be girly. 

This is a particularly impressive little felted purse that was made by a boy at one of my children’s felting workshops at Bilston Craft Gallery.

Felting over a rock is one way of making a seamless felted item. Another method is to use  a plastic resist. This cute bunny was made using the resist method.

There is no doubt that felting is a therapeutic process. 

Once introduced to the magic of felt-making boys often get really ambitious ideas for their next felting project.

My son made these lovely stripey felted slipper boots when hew was only 11. 

At first the wool fibres are worked over a plastic resist but in the final stages of the felting process the slippers are actually felted onto your feet. 
So working in pairs, most boys won’t say no to a felted foot massage from their felting buddy! 

There are so many fun processes in transforming fluffy sheep’s wool fibres into hand felted items and 
boys are usually up for an adventure

For details of my Kids Craft Birthday parties visit www.allsensesart.com