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.