I was inspired to try wet felting a picture panel with added needle-felt details. I chose a Scottish Blackface sheep like my family saw scattered over Kerrera island, in Oban Bay, Scotland. We had rented bicycles, taken a ferry across the bay to the island. Cycled all day, oftentimes close to the indifferent creatures. Fancy an island with only a few human occupants, rocky hills & beaches, and scattered groups of windswept sheep. I thought them so picturesque in this isolated setting. Look at that pretty face!
Here are some in-progress photos. I laid the merino & blended wool fluffs over cheesecloth, to length strength to the backing. Cheesecloth has the huge advantage of a loose weave that allows for considerable shrinkage, with no perceptible warping effect on the wool panel.
I laid darker colors on the body, hoping they’d provide a shadow effect when the locks were needle felted on top later. It did work as planned, showing better in person that in photo.
Making the first panel so captivated me, I made three more that week (background only; the needle felted details happened later), this time got more pics of the process when making the Merino. Here shown with the inspiration photo. I loved this Merinos sweet expression so much, I tried for a near exact replica. Fashioning a picture meant pushing my uncertain self into the painter’s realm of composition, color play, shadow & light. While I like my results so far, I also perceive possibility for improvement and ~ as with any newly evolving skill ~ I’ll just have to force myself to work at it more. I mean.. play with more wool. Golly. Gee. Drat. “Oh sorry dearest, can’t cook dinner. MUST go play with wool again. Tah, tah!”
Below: laying the wool directly atop the textured mat in a tray. This lightweight plastic, textured TRAY is fabulous for wet felting. Got it at Petco: Dog crate replacement tray. A variety of sizes. Mine is huge (next size up: horse?)
Hours of sorting & trimming the locks of (mystery & somewhat crispy) curls, wrapping the base of each in a wisp of merino, the better to help it felt and hold in place. Excess of caution later rewarded.
An IMPORTANT STEP occurred between above photo (laying wool) & below photo (farther into wet-felting). FIRST I rolled & rubbed the wool panel until it JUST held together (sorry no pic). That’s called the pre-felt stage. The wool holds together enough to handle, but like a paper towel, could be torn. Next I patted dry the rather fragile panel with towels. I found this a useful point to needlefelt in matching wool to fill thin spots visible when pre-felt was held up to light. THEN I added some needlefelt details ~ eyes & horn placement, bits of shadow~ before returning it to the wet-felt tray for more complete felting. Technically, that parts called “fulling” but lets move on.
Tray on kitchen counter, initially wool was covered with fine tutu netting, but here I’ve progress far enough to remove protective netting, flip the felt a few times, rolling each side with hands or roller. Btw – it’s smart to lay a towel under tray and tape up wax paper because that rolling pin flips water drops onto wall.
Oooohhh I love the ragged wooly bottom edge. No rigid straight lines for me. I enjoy more freeform organic wool edges. At this point I was super pleased that using the rather yellowed & less-that-perfectly-white wool locks gave a nice impression for the sheeps coat of fleece. Shadow and light in there. Almost like a watercolor in fiber.
Above: working from the photo, I began adding needle-felted details for eyes, muzzle shaping, and the raised texture & colors of the horns. No ears appear in the photo, but I had to have ears. I also added finer textured wool curls needle-felted wherever seemed appropriate to fill in lighter for highlight, darker for shadow, etc.
It finally occurred to me: Hey I need some way to HANG these wall panels for display. How’m I gonna do that? Zero inclination to deal with actual picture frames. Gotta make-do with materials at hand. Quickly felted some matching wool tabs to attach a wood dowel. Hmm… dowel needs finials – felt over those too. Maybe embroider a bit too? Carry some white up with freeform felted flowers on tabs. But, still needs something…
The green raffia was initially tacked on as reminder to embroider grass, but I began to prefer the 3D raffia as a whimsical touch. Staring at the panel later, I got idea for the missing ~ finishing ~ detail. Hastened to drop spindle some bumpy yarn and embroider a border. Ahhh… done at last. I almost hope this sweet faced Merino portrait doesn’t sell, so she can stay at home with me. I smile every time I gaze upon her. Her tilted head and inquisitive expression seems just as curious about us, the viewers.
The Merino, the Scottish Blackface, and these other two sheep panels below will be for sale in our booth at Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival 2018, Clackamas County Event Center, Canby OR. September 22 & 23.
Above: Valais Blacknose sheep in the Swiss mountains, with their cute black knees, lovely crimpy fleece and dark, dark faces.
Below: Portrait of a British breed, Teeswater, made with glorious, lustrous satiny locks of Teeswater fleece.
I am pleased with the results of my initial experiments, not only in wet felting sheep portraits, but in adding finer details with needle felt afterward; the added dimensions and finer lines that aren’t easy to achieve with wet felt alone. I can hardly wait for after the show, so I can return to my favorite pastime: exploring the myriad enticing creative possibilities with WOOL.