Aug 16, 2013

Making Felt Handpuppets.

50 cent soft toys, ready for making into fingerpuppets.
Lately I have been buying little soft toys, cutting open the bottoms, and sewing in a finger of a winter glove, to create finger puppets for the kids at school. I have made the class a little theatre out of a large cardboard box, and gave them my first 20 minute performance of "the 3 little pigs and the wolf". I actually wrote a script for it. 
Most of the children had never seen a puppet performance, and were speechless when the puppets asked them questions. The children (7 yr olds) looked at each other, and then a few answered the puppets' question. ( yes, thats' a lovely house build of straw...) But by the end of the story they were happily helping the wolf blow down the the piglets house, and shouting at the pigs that the wolf was coming down the chimney! (you can't do that with t.v.!)
Now they can use the puppets on rainy lunch days, and make up their own stories. It is excellent for the shy kids and those with language problems, because they have to follow sentence and story structure, and their speech has to make sense. It also takes planning and cooperation with the other kids. And of course if you are introverted, well, it isn't you who is speaking, it is another character altogether, so you can make it say whatever you want.
The teacher was very pleased with me!

When I was a child in The Netherlands, I remember many happy rainy afternoons at friends' places, playing with puppets and a little wooden theatre with curtains, and sometimes we used a small lamp covered with a scarf for special effects. We'd spent hours to get our story together, and then we would perform it for our friends in our group, while someones' nice mum would get us lemonade and biscuits.
Those puppets were the plastic head variety.
I remember that after a while, your fingers would hurt from the rough opening, and the cloth bodies were always too big for little childrens' hands, the fabric would have to be folded in your palm so that your opposite fingers could reach the puppets' hands.
And I never understood why there was a priest or pastor character. What could you do with him in a story with princesses and bad wizards and treasures and suchlike?

The kind of hand-puppets I used to play with.
Primary school children in The Netherlands didn't go to school on Wednesday afternoons. I don't know if they still do now. You got to play with your friends in your neighbourhood all afternoon, and on rainy days you were allowed to watch a little t.v. , when they would show childrens' shows. One of the shows in the very early 70's was a puppet show called "Rikki en Slingertje". It was about the magical adventures of a boy and his very cheeky monkey. The theatre itself was in the city of Haarlem, very close to where my great-aunt and great-uncle lived. They were childless and my brothers and I stayed with them very often in the school holidays to be spoiled. One day my younger brother and I were allowed to be at 1 of the performances in theatre "Merlijn".
 Very exciting when you are 6! It seemed fantastical and colourful in my memory, since our t.v. was black and white. No doubt it was all simple puppets and cardboard props.

Stage 1 basic shape
So of course this post leads up to something, and that is my own felted puppets. Above the wet-felted basic shapes, they are slightly smaller than my own hands, which are petit, but I can get in them . Two fingers fit in the "neck".
Stage 2 profile
The rest of the puppet is build up with uncarded coloured wool, needle-felted around the neck. The facial features are added on and needled into shape.

Stage 2 face on
Stage 3 profile
I added more colour, wrinkles, got the nose down to size, then the eyes, very important for a puppet. Eyes connect the audience to the character. Eyelids were added, then facial hair with angora curls, including eyebrows, moustache and (real) goatie beard.
 I tried to keep the face in neutral emotion.
A large turban was twisted and needle-felted into place. I added lichens that had fallen out of the tree outside, by covering them with very thin wisps of wool, and needle-felting them into place.

stage 3 face on.
My Wily Wizard from the Woods, still needs some hands. But I love him already!

Aug 12, 2013

Laundry, Linens and Lengths of thread.

A small skein of my yarn in purples and glimmery gold.
My love of making yarns is continuing un-abated. The little hank above was for my daughter, who needed a present for someone.
Completely unique, un-repeatable yarn in different shades of purples and hot pink, with shiny metallic gold threads thrown in for a bit of sparkle.

Delicious bumps and wrappings.
Plenty of coils and bumpy wrappings in the plying process, for texture. All in all about 100 grams worth.
From small shower to new laundry.
The Man of the House is steadily carrying on with home improvements. This was the shower next to our bedroom. A tight squeeze to shower in, cold and cramped, with only the open window for damp extraction. Not so pleasant on winter mornings. We used it for a good long while.
 And who thought carpet on the floor was a good idea... never, never!
We now have, of course, a luxurious bathroom, made by the afore mentioned Man, and this cupboard-like space has been earmarked for a new laundry. 
It will be compact and hidden behind louvre doors, but handy to the Washer Woman. She will come by frequently and check upon the state of the washing-cycle, and stir the soaking bucket containing vintage linens. 
She will not be able to forget that a load is in the machine and surprise herself 2 days later after looking for a "lost" garment. 
Nor will she have to troops down two stories in the rain with an umbrella, to unload her dryer, and wonder how she will get her warm fluffies back up to the house without them being rained on. 
And venturing at night, into the always damp, cellar-like space below the house, turning on-on-oonnn---on the fluorescent tubes, and seeing yet another monstrous spider scuttle away, it will indeed be a thing of the past for the Washer Woman.
Never again will she have to worry about the run-off rainwater from the hill side, gently meandering underneath her lovely, and expensive, German precision machine. Should she click the on-button, while her feet are standing in the puddle also...? Hmmm, how thick are her rubber soles...
Soon there will be easy-to-clean tiles on floor and walls, and sun in the afternoon!
Oh to look forward to such simple joys!
gipboard, plumbery, paint & power.

Another two things have been fixed also in our house; new electric switch boards have been installed, since the old ones were so old we were unable to find new fuses for them that would fit. That was expensive, but we knew it had to be done when we moved into this house.
The other thing was getting rid of the Humongous hot water cylinder (280 liters that needed to be kept to temperature every day!) and having an instant hot water gas unit installed.
It works wonderfully, and we are now on mains pressure too, which makes each shower utter Bliss! The first power and gas bill showed we had already saved $50 the first month! So this energy change will pay for itself before long.
A bonus for the Woman of the House was a big empty cupboard, where the big cylinder had been, and is now perfect for storing spare pillows, blankets and duvets, and the vacuum cleaner too, especially since the Man of the House installed extra shelves and a clean lick of paint.
This house is slowly starting to come together and work smoothly.

Fabricabrac market in Wellington, april 2013.
Having had another Fabricabrac sale in Wellington in April this year, I managed to make some more pocketmoney and get rid of another fat basket of vintage fabrics and tablecloths.
These photos were taken at the end of the morning when it went quieter.

The vintage button ladies' stall.
 Although I drooled over the buttonladies' treasures, I managed to resist, and only bought $2 worth of silk organza scraps, intended for a small nuno-felting project.

Treasure Hunt Showcase ;

Buckles, ric-rac, bias binding, earrings and a sweet birdie.
 Another pleasant morning of my last school holidays was spent finding little bits and pieces. I loved the scrap of upholstery linen with the very "Kath Kidston" -like flowers print.
Perhaps I shall make myself a new handbag in the near future.

$1 worth of vintage fabric pieces, cotton reels and pincushion.
A plastic baggie full of scraps, I could not resist... And I already have 5 of those chinese pincushions in the brightest coloured satins, such a cheerful collection. And if you try to sew with recycled fabrics, you should also use re-cycled thread, I feel.
Green glass necklace and flower-ring.
The felted hairclip I made many years ago, and I wear it often, but I found a glass necklace in the same green, and a cute flower ring as well.
Accessories well matched.
Oh I do like to fossick for treasures!

Aug 9, 2013

Creative Fibre exhibition 2013, Felted Beauties.

3-d flowers.
 And some more eye-candy for those who love handmade felt! Here some of the best of the best NZ has to show, according to the jurors of course ...
love the softness with the hard fixtures.

needle felted sexy knitter.

nuno felted patches of organza.

organic looking satchel.

love the texture!

naturally dyed, thin flowing felt.

white on white texture.

verdigris colours, nuno felted with silk organza.

my favourite colours!

Aug 7, 2013

How to dye wool using plant material and alum.

 Our garden produced a good crop of purple passionfruit last autumn, and I made a lovely batch of sauce again.
Since I had had a wee experiment last year with dyeing a little wool with some of the passionfruit skins, I thought I'd do it properly this year. See if I could get that soft pink again. Since pinks and purples are some of the most difficult colours to get from plants.

So here a "basic recipe"which you can use for different plant experiments.
Try it with onion skins, parsley, poplar tree twigs and leaves, dahlia flowers (when flowering is done), coreopsis, marigolds, iris leaves, geraniums, carrot tops, cinerarias, purple prunus leaves, fennel, yellow oxalis flowers, etc. try roots, or leaves, fallen bark or twigs. You will start looking at plants in a different light altogether. (just make sure it is not a protected species)

Needed: *weighing scales,
*pots and pans (to be used for dyeing only), preferably stainless steel,
*measuring spoon and stirring spoon (for dyeing only),
*spare mixing container
*plastic or muslin mesh bag to cook plant material in,
*cream of tartar (potassium bi-tartrate, also used in baking and preserving.),
* alum ( potassium aluminium sulphate, from your chemist.)
*about 100 grams of clean wool, or silk, mohair, alpacca (protein fibres)
* as much plant dye material as you can find, I used 2 cups of cut up passionfruit skins here.

A popular book on the NZ fibre-artisans' shelf.
I have used this book a lot when natural dyeing, it has recipes in it for native plants and those you can actually find in your NZ neighbourhoods' gardens.
Alum is the most common mordant used and nearly always used in conjunction with cream of tartar, usually 3 or 4 parts alum to 1 part cream of tartar. A mordant chemically opens up the fibres to accept the dye molecules.
There are some plant dyes that don't need a mordant, like walnut husks or silverdollar gum , but mostly you want to be sure you don't pour the dye down the sink without first being absorbed by the fibres, right?

*Step 1*  I chopped up the empty passionfruit skins, some of which were quite dry and wrinkly. Any moldy ones were thrown out. I put them in a dyeing saucepan and covered with water, then simmered softly for half an hour.

 *Step 2* Wet the wool gently and thoroughly.
Using a 5ml measuring spoon, mix 4 spoons of alum and 1 spoon of cream of tartar (this is for 100 grams of wool) with some hot water and dissolve. Tip the mixture into the pot with enough water to cover the wool. Place the wet wool in the alum bath.
Simmer softly for three quarters to an hour.
Do not stir the wool, it will felt horribly. You can gently move it once or twice with the spoon.

Cool the wool. Strain it into a colander. 
You now have mordanted wool. You can store this in the dark up to 3 days for peak performance, or use straight away. If you are impatient like me, it would be used in the next 5 minutes!

 *Step 3* Strain the plant material from the dye liquid, but throw nothing away.
Put the plant material in a mesh bag to stop it from getting entangled in the wool. Tie up with a rubber band or string, but not metal. Iron, copper or even aluminium can alter the results of the colour.

*Step 4* Put the mordanted wool into the dye liquid, making sure it is covered. Otherwise add some water. This does not "dilute "the dye; there are still just as many dye molecules floating about in the liquid as before.
Put the mesh bag with plant material back in also.
Bring to a soft simmer and let it do this for half an hour to 3/4 hour. Do NOT stir, but you can gently and slowly turn the wool over a couple of times. Or not if you want to be on the safe side of non-felting.

*Step 5*  Cool and strain the wool. Any vegetable matter in the wool can be picked out after drying or during spinning.
Rinse very gently in the sink with same temperature as the wool (remember heat and friction cause felting), with an optional dash of white vinegar .

*Step 6*  Dry outside in a soft breeze if you get one. 
You shouldn't use pegs as they leave squeeze marks. According to my book, most bad fading occurs quickly but the gentle softening of colour can take longer. 

So far so good with my passionfruit-skin dyed wool!
But I wanted more of the pinkish-ness, although it was a good flesh colour.

I had picked another dozen ripe passionfruit that morning, so a new experiment this time!
Solar dyeing in preserving jars this time!
This involves no cooking. But you need nice weather for some days.
I scooped out the yummy pulp and put it in the fridge for later yoghurt toppings.
The skins were cut into pieces and divided into 3 mesh bags.
Another alum mixture was made; 4 x 5ml. alum with 1 x 5ml. cream of tartar, dissolved in water.
I divided this mordant water over 3 preserving jars.
Then added wet fibre ( wool, alpacca, silk sliver) to the jars so that they were in there loosely, not packed.
 I added the bags of passionfruit skins, making sure everything was covered by the fluid.
Then sealed the jars with lids and cling-wrap and rubber-bands.
And put them in the sun for 5 days! I shook them so now and then and turned them around.
Well, I intended to do 5 days, but I forgot and it turned into a week...

The wool (middle) took the dye the best, although in places more pale peachy with hints of green tinges. The silk was not white anymore, but nothing spectacular unfortunately. The alpacca (left)  was somewhat paler than the wool.

Not a bad set of scientific experiments , don't you think? for a girl who failed her chemistry miserably at high school!

Aug 6, 2013

Creative Fibre Festival 2013, non-felted things.

Brightly crocheted collar of the fashion show compere.

In April (which seems a long time ago now) I attended the 2013 Creative Fibre Festival, just for the day.There was the national exhibition and challenges, a fashion-show and special interest group meetings , such as the NZFelters.
Of course in the trades hall, I spent many hours drooling over delicious fibre merchandise and bought copious amounts of (un-)needed raw locks and curls, dyed wool sliver, silk and mohair. 
I tried out new fandangled spinning wheels, chatted to Mr. Ashford (of the international spinning wheel and loom fame) about his wild carding machine, and he let me demonstrate it to other ladies, after tweaking my technique. ( Don't pull on the uncarded fibres when feeding them into the carder, they'll end up on the small drum instead of around the big carding drum!)
I saw several demos on crazy spinning, hugged old fibre friends from around the country, and chatted with new aquaintances. Then I walked the whole trades hall again, in case I had missed something!
In this post I'll show you a few items that caught my eye at the exhibition, and which are not felted.

Small tapestry weaving, very intricate!

Tapestry group challenge, "from the mountain to the sea".

A large humorous wool "painting".
Now I couldn't quite tell, if this picture was felted or just laid down, or needle-felted into place. But the artist used the wisps of wool like they were strokes of oil-paint. Very cleverly done!
Here is the useless dog, made of wisps of coloured wool.

Of course some people wore their own creations.
Here some mind-boggling knitting.

Flower lampshades.

 In another room of the building was a separate exhibition, nothing to do with creative fibre, but it took my fancy, and I sneaked some pics...
These art installations really made me smile!
All made from fake flowers and light. Sorry can not recall the artist, very naughty of me...

red flower wall light.

Pacifica living room.

All the up-cycled furniture was covered with fake flowers from polynesian lei garlands. 
I stood there giggling!