Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy Felting with Camphill Ballymoney Project

Felt making seems to be where it is at right now for the last two weeks I seem to be teaching, demonstrating and selling hand rolled felt, which is all good. I spent some of last week working with Camphill Ballymoney community teaching them to make felt.
I've discovered that an early win in felt making keeps interest and with mixed abilities and age groups that is important. 
Monday morning we started off by making felt ropes, bracelets and balls.  After making a soapy solution from soap flake and setting out bowls of hot and cold water. I started the group off by getting the group acquainted with fleece, felting terms and what we would be doing. We started with getting the amount of fleece right establishing wrist lengths by wrapping the fleece around each of our wrists. Shaping the circle getting the connection of fibers right for a continuous circle. Soaping the fleece and squashing it in a circular rotation. Then moving to rolling it one hand through the circle the other on the outside and moving in backwards and forwards rolling the soapy fleece into felt all the way round the bracelet. Nice solid circles of felt were formed a into circular shapes that after they were rinsed and dried could be decorated with needle felting, beads or stitch work. The idea for some of the ropes was to cut them into small pieces and use alternating with beads to make a necklace.
We spent some time discussing how felt making can be altered and adapted to people with special needs. I think that it is a wonderful tactile craft that can be adapted the challenge is to understand how the individual with special needs comes to the craft and how their abilities can be brought forward so they get the most out of the experience. Felt making can be described in four elements the design and layout of the work, the fleece or materials used, the felting process and the finished item. It is our interaction with the fiber; friction that cases felting. Soap is used to aid the process along with hot and cold water, tumble dyers, microwaves and in some cases sanders!
When working with autistic children earlier this summer I realised that a coarser shorter fiber fleece then merino can make a good rolled bracelet with out using soap. Good for situations when you don't have access to water or participants might have tactile sensitivities.
On Tuesday I wanted the group to learn how to make a piece of flat hand rolled felt. So we started with a traditional approach to layout and playing with surface design. 
Everyone was amazed at the fact that after soaping the fleece and pressing down ones hands the felting process is evident. They were not so impressed by the amount of rolling involved. The whole group produced very individual pieces. 
We were felting outside in warm sunshine and we had to constantly make sure the fleece was not drying out. A wonderful complaint to have in Ireland!
On Wednesday I challenged the group to make light cobweb felt. Another group of five mixed ages arrive in to great excitement to join the workshop. This made things complicated and more fun. I got the younger members of the group to teach the new members to make ropes and bracelets. After all is n't that the way they say you solidify learning? 
Teaching is the highest form of understanding. Aristotle
We had come indoors for felt making so the room was lay out was altered to accommodate more people and have two tables of different activities.
Thursday I was in Dublin busy with other work. But knew I had given enough instruction to let the group continue on. When I arrived in on Friday morning I discovered this group had laid out a piece of felt about 2.5 foot by 5 foot. Talk about feeling up for a challenge! Their second or third piece of felt was to make something this big collectively. 

And what a lovely piece of work it is. When I queried their adventurous approach I was told "you taught us so well, we felt able to take on this challenge", ha! here are some detailed pictures
As this was being felted and fulled, I showed one of the community some techniques for making scarves. We ended up having a discussion on the different quality of sheep fleece. Where I got lost in the detail of fibers; Black Hebridean, Bouchion du cher, Wensleydale, Jacob, Castlemilk Moorit, Soay, Leister... I realised I know far to much about sheep.

Exploring scarf layouts
We also explored the idea of making scarves using the  felted ropes that residents can create and adding them as a basic design to make something further...
I look forward to great things coming from the felt workshop at Camphill Ballymoney Project. They sell their crafted wares at the Gorey Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.
More felt making workshops at the studio tomorrow and then I really need to get back into my studio and make some of my own work!

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