Sunday 12 October 2014

Felting Fun - Shetland Wool Week 2014

Amongst other things Shetland is famous for its sheep, its wool and its distinctive Fair Isle knitting which come together every year for wool week. Shetland Wool Week has been running for 5 years now and coincides with national wool week. This year I had visitors for a long "wool weekend". Wool week seems to be getting bigger each year and this year was a real treat. There have been classes and exhibitions dotted all over the islands. As I have mentioned before I am not a knitter but I loved the idea of doing something new and different so I signed myself, my friend and her mum up to a needle felting course. None of us had ever done it before so it seemed like a fun idea.

We had all tried our hands at spinning with mixed success earlier in the week and I soon discovered that I am just not coordinated enough to pull it off, in fact I feel I am so uncoordinated that I should be proud of myself for being able to walk. On the night of the felting we set out in a gale with crazy rain and went to the class in the Peerie Cafe in Lerwick. I was not sure how well the cafe would work as a setting, it is always bustling in the day and has a lovely atmosphere, so it was odd going at night but it actually worked really well. We were upstairs and there were just enough people to fill the tables. Everybody was really friendly and chatty.

The class was ran by Ana and Amy who were friendly and very approachable. They started with a short demo and then let everybody get stuck in. The principle is very simple, we were provided with prepared felt rectangles and there was a table full of prepared coloured fleece. The course information said to take an image with us and they provided books with extra. You place the fleece on the felt and stab with a barbed needle until the fibres fuse. In principle this is very straight forward and anything you are not happy with you can remove.

I had found it difficult to choose an image but when I saw the box of  beads and embellishments I decided on Mousa as the postcard I took along had flowers in the foreground. The difficulty for me came in the fact that you just have to "go with it" as its not marked or traced. I started out trying to draw and realised I had to just do it and see what happened. Initially I tried layering colours on top of each other but it was looking too stripey so I took it off. I then pulled it into little pieces and mixed it back up. It is a huge advantage that you can put something on with a few stabs of the needle and if you are not happy you can lift it back off. I loved the way that you can build up the colours and picture and I marked out my fallen walls with thin wool and felted over them to give texture.

I felted my broch separately to try and get the shape and then I felted it onto my hill. I had been quite aggressive with my felting and some of the colour was showing on the back - this was easily solved by adding another pad of felt to the back and felting it on. I added in my beads in the foreground and suddenly felt comfortable again with a "normal" needle in my hand. I blanket stitched around the edge to neaten it up and down to curiosity as much as anything I wrote 'Mousa' in local wool on the back and felted it in. I took a few minutes to decide what to write as my first thoughts were longer words and I imagined me trying to scrunch the letters in like a badly designed poster at school.

I was impressed that I had produced something in just under 2 and a half hours. It was fun to do and my piece was neat and recognisable even if I had taken a little artistic licence with proportions. What amazed me was the array of fantastic pieces around the room although I got broch envy at a much larger more detailed broch!

My friend produced a fantastic postcard based of St Ninians with a stunning moody sky. She was far more bold in her approach and balanced colour and texture with well placed embellishments. My friend's Mum excelled despite also being a beginner, she chose a Ram that she had found in the wool week promotional bag - the original design was a bright watercolour. She translated the head with fantastic accuracy and added detail to the nose, eyes and horns and it was looking lovely. She then took it a step further and padded it creating a 3D rams head that made it pop. She backed it on darker felt and blanket stitched the edge. This gave it a fantastic professional finish.

It was a lovely night to spend a night and everybody was friendly and shared ideas and designs. I will most certainly be looking out for any more classes next year.

St Ninnians by Maria Bell on the left, Wool Week Ram top right by Glynis Bennison and bottom right is my Mousa.