White Barn Farm Shop
Spring was barely in the air when I returned to White Barn Sheep and Wool near New Paltz, N.Y. I'd visited this lovely shop and farm last year and signed up for a couple of lectures, but this time, I was there to immerse myself in a process called Wet Felting. I have always been intrigued by this process, and although I've been knitting and felting my work for years, Wet Felting is very different, and I wanted to learn more about it.
Paula Kucera, owner of the farm, welcomed us to her studio and shop, which is housed in part of the white barn for which the farm is named. The shop is cozy, very well stocked with a wonderful variety of fiber, books, tools, and a nice selection of local handmade items. Featured is a good selection of locally sourced fibers in addition to her own luscious yarns from her herd of mostly Cormo sheep. She recently remodeled the "knit lounge" and the workshop area of the barn, so we had lots of light and space to work. She described the process, showed us various examples of finished pieces, books about wet felting, and described the materials that we would be using.
Merino wool batts, and coils of roving
Very simply stated, Wet Felting is a process by which various fibers are arranged on a fiber background creating a design. Then the substrate and fibers are covered, and warm, soapy water is gradually poured over the piece. By rubbing gently with your hands, and adding water as necessary, gradually the fibers start to meld, but that's just the beginning! Several more steps and several more hours later, you have your finished piece.
In preparation for the day, Paula suggested that we find something to inspire our project, like a photograph, scrap of fabric, an image or anything we might find helpful as a jumping off point. I decided to choose one of my photographs. I found several that I thought might work, and manipulated them in Photoshop to make them more abstract. I took four or five with me, but finally ended up with one from part of my garden.
My batt and my inspiration photos
Paula was kind to us. She chose 100% Merino 19 micron wool, because of it's ability to felt more easily then other fibers. A great choice for newbies. The "canvas" on which we worked is called a batt. We had chosen our batt colors in advance, and Paula had a nice variety available when we arrived. The batts are basically soft, rectangular sheets of wool, and since we were going to be making purses or tablet carriers, the color of the batt would become the inside of the bag. I chose gray/brown, but more adventurous students chose lime green or turquoise. Other than that, our tools were humble: a towel, plastic bubble wrap, synthetic organza fabric, a plastic sheet, rubber stair tread material, a scrap of non-slip rug material, and a piece of a foam "noodle" like kids use in the pool.
|Step One, complete|
|Recently sheared Cormo Sheep|
|Organza fabric layer|
Every couple of hundred rolls, we had the chance to peek at the progress of our work. They were getting smaller and denser, little by little. Finally, we were ready to move on, but we were not done yet!
|Checking the progress|
|Rolling, rolling, rolling!|
After deciding that our pieces were sufficiently felted, Paula led us to the sink, where we scrubbed them vigorously in a basin of hot water. After wringing out most of the water, we then got to use our rubber mats. Now, at this point, if you have any aggression to release, go for it. We grabbed our bags and threw them down on the mats repeatedly to finish the process. Wham! We were done!! Our bags were felted, but there was still opportunity for further experimentation. I took my bag home and threw it in the dryer on hot, so that it felted even more, and the strap was then the perfect length. My bag ended up being about and inch or two larger than an iPad, all around. I will add a lining and a closure. Other students were considering adding needle felted decorations, beads, leather handles or other adornments.
|Hot water "shock"|
So, after 5 hours, lots of elbow grease, and three cups of Yogi Energy Tea, I have a small insight into the ancient process of Wet Felting. It was a great day, in good company with a patient teacher. A very satisfying experience. White Barn Farm and Fiber Shop is located at 815 Albany Post Road, New Paltz, N.Y. You can visit Paula on the web at: whitebarnsheepandwool.com
Story and Photos by Kathryn Luciana of Huzzah Handmade