A deeply felt post

As a fiber artist, going animal fiber-free is a challenge. If the fiber of your dreams used to be alpaca/silk mix and spinning merino was what you did to unwind after a really crappy day, giving up animal fibers brings not just technical, but also emotional problems. While I am convinced that the world would be better off without industrial animal husbandry, this conviction, unfortunately, doesn’t come with built-in imperviousness to fluffy Blue faced Leicester. Not eating meat doesn’t give me a moment’s pause. Not using wool and silk? Boy howdy.

Of course I’m not without wool right now. Like many fiber people, I have a stash of epic proportions and most of the yarn and fiber in my stash are animal-based. After long consideration, I decided to use my stash – basically because wasting material, animal or otherwise, doesn’t help anyone. I’m giving some of it away to friends who will use it or to charity knitters, and what I’m keeping is going to go into special projects, most of which are yet to be determined. Knowing that there will be no more wool after this makes me appreciate it more, think more about what I want to make with it. Makes me save it for projects where only wool will do.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at alternatives. Luckily, I’m already very fond of plant fibers. I love spinning cotton and often can’t feel the difference between a skein of silk and a skein of soysilk. However, not all properties of animal fibers can be found in plant fibers, which means that not all techniques work equally well with both fiber types.

Recently, I’ve become very interested in felting – and there is the first obvious difference. Plant fibers don’t full. You can scrub a knitted square of soysilk as long as you want in hot water and plenty of soap, you won’t get anything other than an slightly matted, bedraggled mess. Wool has scales that stick beautifully together when you bring them in contact with wet heat, soap and agitation. Plant fibers don’t have scales. End of story.

So that was a bitter pill.

However, there is also needlefelting (check out Kay Petal’s astounding work, if you really want to feel intimidated while needlefelting your first misshapen “ball”). Needlefelting works with special barbed needles which you punch into the fiber mass. The barbs pull up some of the fibers and tangle them with the rest. This makes the fibers stick together; the fiber mass will become smaller and harder – and you can control the shape of the felted item by adding fiber, punching deeper in some places and lots of other great tricks.

Since needlefelting doesn’t rely on fiber scales, but on a mechanical process, it works with plant and man-made fibers. Actually, you might use products made by needlefelting non-animal fibers in your home, wet wipes for instance. Still, I was skeptical whether the technique would really work with plant fibers on a non-industrial scale, so I did an experiment.

Felting experiment

I needlefelted some Blue faced Leicester and bamboo for five minutes each. Voila, both felted nicely. The bamboo came out a little hairier and still quite loose, so I think that it takes a little longer to needlefelt plant fibers into shapes. However, bamboo might also not be the best fiber to felt, because it is very fine and has a long staple length.

The finished flower made from Blue faced Leicester was much lighter and more elastic than the bamboo flower, which became quite dense and hard. I then used what I learned from the first attempt to needlefelt a little whale.

IMG_0308

For this sculpture, I used a core of polyester filling material, which felted beautifully, and covered it with bamboo to make the sculpture more elastic. This was a good plan – the finished whale is a lot squishier than the pure bamboo flower. You could probably use polyfill without the addition of other fibers and paint the finished projects with fabric paints like Dye-Na-Flow, which works on polyester, or even with acrylic paints or markers.

Honestly? I’m still grumbling a little about not being able to use wool in my felting projects (or at least only until the stash is gone), but perhaps this will turn out to be just a matter of learning how to deal with new materials to make them shine in my projects.


With chopsticks if you’re adventurous

So, you know the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Overwhelmed procrastinators everywhere have heard this before, usually offered as sage advice, accompanied by a facial expression that screams SUPPORTIVE! and so much patronizing condescension that it makes you want to hurl.

It’s true though. One bite at a time would be a smart way to eat an elephant, should you feel peckish. Me? I usually drag the carcass into the house without a care for my family’s comfort or need for space. Then I spend two weeks looking up tasty elephant recipes, while ignoring the stench, the flies and the toddler poking interesting things into the sagging folds of pachyderm flesh. And finally I recruit my husband to drag the soupy mess out to the dumpster, because, really, who wants elephant, anyway? The cholesterol!

Then I go get a hippopotamus. I hear they make fabulous soufflés.

The point of this late-night drive-by post is: I have too much crafting stash. The house is lousy with it. I could keep entire school classes or senior homes occupied for weeks. I’ve been collecting craft supplies for years. They clutter up my house and my life and I’m sitting in the middle of it all wondering what powerful delusion made me believe I would ever use it all.

Nobody is that hungry for elephants.

 

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Douglas Adams was off by one

Turns out, the year in which I was supposed to be the answer to everything was a year in which I had very few actual answers to an awful lot of questions. 42 was difficult – but helloooo 43. It’s weird. Usually, my birthday is my least favorite day of the year. It shares the distinction with New Year’s Eve. Sensing a theme? Beginnings make me nervous. When other people party, welcome, embrace a new year, new adventures, new challenges, I give the calendar a sour glare, thinking, “Great. Now what?” Makes me a charming New Year’s party guest, do invite me to your bash.

Only – when I woke up this morning, instead of being hit with the polo mallet of anxious pessimism, I felt … good. Hopeful. Optimistic. It could not be allowed! While my coffee was brewing, I checked bank balances (there’s a sad subject) and my work schedule for the week, even though I have the day off. Still nothing. I realized we were out of half and half and smoothly switched to 2% milk without even a moment of grump. This NEVER happens. I puttered through a pleasant morning with my family, took a little time to work on some sort of long-term creative stuff (no recriminations about how much further along I wanted to be at this point), wrote my NaNoWriMo wordcount (apparently the crotchety old woman living in my head who would normally chime in with a waste-of-time-themed tirade was busy gumming a sticky birthday cupcake) and had a lovely dinner with the dudes.

The utter lack of birthday anxiety was making me nervous. But I had a secret weapon. The blog. Whenever I’m really running out of stuff to berate myself for, all I have to do is sign into my domain and remind myself that I’ve had this thing for months and can’t even tell anyone the address, because the two cranky non-posts are just embarrassing and my failure to produce regular entries makes me a sorry excuse for a human. For she who bloggeth not shall crawl across the darkened earth in shame, beset by cashmere-eating moths, and her name shall be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt.

(Why yes, I did watch The Ten Commandments a couple of weeks ago. Why do you ask?)

Today I signed in, looked at the blog and thought, I guess I’ll write a post. And I did.

This 43 thing could be good.



10 reasons why I shouldn’t have a blog

1. I don’t have a cat.

2. I cannot take a decent photo of anything to save my life. Just ask our youngest son’s disgruntled grandparents, who basically have to take my word for it that Sam is thriving.

3. You know how it’s all the rage to make fun of people who take pictures of stuff for their blog or their etsy store against a backdrop of distressed wood, like an old crate or a weathered deck? Sort of the last resort of the artsy? Yeah, I don’t even have that. Not a splinter of distressed wood in the house. I got crappy purple plastic bins. Lots of them.

4. Nothing happens in my life. Well, obviously that’s not true. Plenty of things happen in my life, but their level of blogability is at approximately “Look, here is a picture of Sam’s dinner plate. He ate all the carrots.”

5. I can’t remember the last time I added an activity to my daily routine and stuck with it for more than a week or two. Staying power? Not my best trait. I guess the Zumba DVDs will be going on ebay eventually.

6. I’m passionate about making stuff, especially if the stuff has anything to do with fiber. Whoo hoo! There’s a blog in there! Problem is, I make things the way I pick up Duplos, salt pasta water and brush my teeth. I have no insights about it. I couldn’t tell you what made me pull something out of the considerable stash, why unpaired increases annoy me, how I’ve tried to conquer crooked seams and loopy selvages.

7. Okay, fine. Forget the making of stuff, I can write about my job. I love words. I get paid to write them. I spend a good part of my day thinking about language, how it works and what it does to people. The posts will write themselves. And they will go like this: “I did something for a client today. There was a really funny part in it that had to do with words.” The non-disclosure agreement is a powerful thing.

8. Guilt. My son doesn’t get all the playtime he needs and wants as it is , I have no business spending even more time on other things.

9. I should have put the guilt as #1 and skipped the rest, because that pretty much seals the deal.

10. I don’t think I have anything to say.

Then why this?

I know what should come next. With all the build-up of blogging adversity, this is the moment when it all comes together in a tender, meaningful revelation about how blogging is calling out to me, how I want to find my voice and add it to all the others out there for some deeply personal and touching reason, following my heart, going on a journey, stretching my wings … yada.

Truth is, I don’t know.

Did you think I was kidding about the bins?

Did you think I was kidding about the bins?