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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Rabbit Gets a Sweater

The little needle felted rabbit I made over the weekend seemed to need something to brighten her up.  So I made her this little sweater from scraps of a vintage felted cashmere sweater.  I buy these sweater pieces on Etsy, and in case you don't know what the "felted" means in this context, it's simply that you run the sweater through the washer and drier.  The process shrinks and entangles the fibers so that when you cut the sweater apart the pieces don't fray - just like felt!  It's a great way to use old sweaters and I've seen pillows, quilts, and jackets made from patchwork of old felted sweater pieces.  The cashmere ones are especially nice.

I took advantage of the rolled edge of a raglan sweater piece to use as the edge of the collar and the edges down the front.  I just wrapped a scrap around her and went from there.  Then I used the narrow ribbing from the sweater v-neck to finish the bottom.  The closure is a vintage mother of pearl button sewn to the sweater over a satin bow that matches the cashmere.

I have her sitting on a stack of ribbon spools to show her size.  Also, I think the ribbon spools make quite an appropriate seat for her!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Exciting News - Milkweed Manor

Exciting News!  I, or I should properly say Colwyn the Gray, am writing a book!  It's been noodling around in my mind for a while and I've done a few pieces with the project in the back of my head, but now I've thought it out and I'm committed!  It will be my big project for this year.  I will be doing both the writing and the illustrating.

So what is it about?  The book is set in England in the woods behind the Cotswold manor house, Milkweed Manor, and takes place in Edwardian times.

All of the characters are animals.  Some of them are natives and others are newly arrived.  It's a collection of chapters about the various antics of these characters, loosely connected by the characters but not by an overall plot.  I'd say it's in the tradition of "Wind in the Willows" or the Beatrix Potter books.  It's not strictly a children's book because the language is that of adults, and I'm hoping that animal-loving adults will love it!  But older children would enjoy reading it and younger children would enjoy having it read to them - with a few vocabulary lessons on the side!

Colwyn is one of the main characters.  As a young rat he relocated from the Welsh Marches to the Cotswolds seeking a better life.  He arrived as an illiterate youngster but found he had a talent for and an interest in literature.  Inspired by the happenings around him, and taught to read and write by the Little Owl Thea, he became, at first an amateur, but later the official chronicler of Milkweed Manor.  And as the chronicler, he became known as Colwyn the Gray.

His book is entitled

Milkweed Manor
Tiny Tales of Love and Courage

as chronicled by
Colwyn the Gray

Monday, February 26, 2018

Creating a Needle Felted Rabbit

When I made this little needle felted rabbit over the weekend I took photos at various stages to document the process for any of you who might be interested in how needle felted animals are made.

Here are all the materials I'm going to use - 14 gauge aluminum wire, pipe cleaners, pure wool felt, and wool fiber in various colors.  I'm also showing the notebook because every time I made a new type of animal I keep notes so that I can make another one in the future. 

The first step is making the wire armature.  The gauge of wire depends on the size of the animal - the larger the animal, the lower (heavier) the gauge.  The wire armature is much like a skeleton.  It provides support for the figure plus allows it to be posable to some extent.

The wool fiber won't stick very well to a plain wire armature, so I wrap the armature with pipe cleaners.  The fuzziness of the pipe cleaners helps the first layer of wool to stick.

Needle felting is an additive sculptural process.  That is, I build form by adding material in the appropriate shapes in the appropriate places.

For most of the first stage of the needle felting I use a core wool roving.  Roving is like a thick rope (not twisted, though) of wool fiber that you can split lengthwise so you can have thinner or thicker pieces to work with.  The roving allows me to wrap the armature.  Core roving is available in a variety of colors but I most always use white.

As I add wool, I secure it in place by repeatedly poking it with a special needle.  Wool fiber has tiny barbs on it, as does the needle.  Poking the barbed fiber with the barbed needle entangles the fibers and creates a single mass.  The more often you poke, the more compact the mass becomes.  In addition to securing the fiber in place, one can use poking to create particular shapes.

The photo above shows the rabbit after 3 or 4 stages of adding wool.  In the first stage, I add wool to the entire armature.  After that, I continue to add wool where the animal is thicker.  So, there are several layers on the belly, but few on the lower legs and arms.

The tricky part of the core wool felting is to not add too much.  That's because there needs to be "room" for the final layer, which is the color layer.

Some animals have features that need to be sculpted in a special way.  For the rabbit, it's the ears.

Bird's beaks or feet, or claws on larger bears are other examples.  For bird beaks or bear claws, I make then with polymer clay, cure them, sometimes paint them, and glue them to the armature before I begin felting.  For bird feet, I often make them with twisted wire as part of the armature, using rusted or colored wire.

I made the rabbit's ears as a separate piece and attached them to the rabbit when I was nearly finished with the core wool.  At that stage I can tell how big they need to be and where to attach them.  I cut two ear shapes from pure wool felt for each ear.  A single piece of cotton covered florists' wire forms the armature for the ears.  The middle of the wire is the space between the ears.  One either side, a long loop of the wire is inside the ears, then the ends of the wire wrap around the head.  I sew two felt ear pieces all around the edges, sandwiching one of the long wire loops between them.

Before I attach the ears to the head, I needle felt wool fiber in the finished colors on both sides of the ears.  I find this step very difficult to do once the ears are attached to the head.

To attach the ears, I wrap the end wires tightly around the head, cutting off any excess.  Finally, I needle felt core wool over the wires.

The next stage is to add the colored wool.  At this point, I tend to use wool batting rather than roving.  Batting is thick sheet of loosely entangled wool fibers.  Wool batting is available in a nice variety of colors.

The final step is to add the eyes.  The eyes on this little rabbit are 8mm amber glass eyes with black pupils and wire loops on the back.  I get my glass eyes from and I highly recommend them and their products.

I think this little rabbit needs a special touch so it's not quite finished.  I'm thinking about what that special touch will be, and one idea is a little sweater that I would make from scraps of an old cashmere sweater - like the beautiful lavender pieces that she's sitting on.  (I bought these recycled cashmere pieces from another Etsy seller.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Postcard From Paradise

A while ago I got the idea to do a series of small collages, Postcards from Paradise.  This is the first one I did and it's approximately 4" x 6".  The mail element is the little painting I did of a chipping sparrow.  Other elements include bits of paper napkins (the black and white images in the upper right, lower right, and lower left corners), the white branch of leaves from a stencil I made, the 5 flying black birds which is an image transfer from a fragment of an ad I tore from a magazine, and the writing that I did on a piece of wax paper saying "little bird, how sweet is thy song."  I thoroughly enjoy doing collage, but I like it best when the main elements are my creations.  So, I'm happy with this little piece,

With one exception!  I created it on a piece of 1/8" hardboard, which is all well and good, but the particular piece of hardboard that I bought and cut has a very rough back which doesn't lend itself to finishing nicely.  In the future, I need to remember to consider the back!  
After all, quality finishing is a sign of a quality piece.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Lady of the Lake

Creating this river otter as the Lady of the Lake has been a labor of love.  She is needle felted from pure wool.  Her eyes are glass eyes.  The base is a gourd that I cut and painted.  She is connected to the base by bolts that I attached to the wire armature with two part epoxy glue.  The frog is polymer clay with glass eyes and painted with acrylic paint.

The dragonflies are a little more complicated.  The bodies, heads, and eyes are glass beads on thin wire.  The legs are twisted wire with small beads for feet.  The wings are Fantasy Film with wire glued on then finished with Golden glass bead gel.

I am very happy with this piece, especially her face.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Knowing When to Start Over

I like the challenge of trying to pull something that appears to be failing out of the fire, plus, I'm a bit lazy about starting over and try to convince myself that what I have will work.  But this time, with the paper clay frog, there really was no choice but to scrap it and start over.  

The paper clay frog wasn't working because I just couldn't get it small enough.  So I started over with polymer clay.  She has a walnut-sized wad of aluminum foil at her core, then it's all polymer clay from there except for the glass eyes.  As always, I use eyes from, a site that I highly recommend.  Anyway, the top photo shows her ready to go into the over for a 45 minute cure at 265 degrees F.

Then I finished her with acrylic paint and three coats of satin acrylic varnish.  She's just the right size and looks good - at least to my eye.  (Sorry these photos are not in focus - but you get the idea!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Supporting Characters for the Lady of the Lake

The supporting characters are beginning to make their appearances.  One of the paper clay frogs is taking shape on the base, and the dragonfly that will alight on her paw is "in process" in the lower left corner of the photos.  I made the dragonfly body, head, and legs from wire and beads.   The wings are a fabulous product called "fantasy film" stiffened (and attached to the body) with wire, coated with Golden Glass Bead Gel and sprinkled with green glass beads.  The gel starts out opaque then dries clear.  In the photo it's still opaque.

Here's the first stage of the frogs and dragonfly.  The white on the dragonfly is the glue before it dried clear - Alene's Quick Grab, by the way.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Body of Work"

For many weeks now - maybe longer - I've been working on relatively small scope projects, something that I'll finish in 4 to 6 hours.  And I'm feeling a need to worked on some larger, more complicated, more detailed, and just, in general "more" projects.  So here's the result of about a week into my first one.

Meet the "Lady of the Lake" - my interpretation of a seminal character from the great Arthurian legend.  At this point, I've finished needle felting the otter, creating the base, and attaching her to it.

The base is a piece of gourd that I painted.  I coated it with clear gesso so that the paint would stick but also reveal the beauty of the gourd surface in unpainted areas.  There are 1/4" thick bolts glued with two-part epoxy to the armature that allow me to connect her to (or remove her from the base).  Quite an engineering feat, I think, but wish I had thought of it sooner in the process - next time!

So, the remaining elements are her costume, the dragonfly that has alit on her paw, and two frogs ar her base.  Onward!!!

Working on Thank You Gifts

As both a buyer and seller on Etsy I decided to use my own personal buying experiences to improve my shop.  One of my favorite things, when done well, is ordering a special item, having it arrive, and then opening the package to special surprises - beautiful packaging, and perhaps a little "thank you" token gift.

So I spent some "think time" on thank you gift ideas, then delved into making some samples.  The photo above shows my first attempt - tiny journals.  When closed, they measure 4" tall by 3 1/2" wide.  The covers are collages featuring photos of cats and dogs clipped from magazines and my painting.  I've embellished them with gold edges and accents as well as a Swovski crystal.  They have 20 blank pages inside.  They're held together by stitching with colored embroidery thread, and the thread - both ends tipped with crystal beads - ties around the journal to close it.  

They were very fun to make and the materials weren't very expensive, but it took me nearly 2 hours to make them - a bit work-intensive for a thank you gift for every order, but appropriate, perhaps, for my higher end items.

So I scaled the project down and came up with tags, as shown below. 

They're 4" tall by 3" wide and are, once again, collages featuring cats and dogs clipped from magazines and embellished with my painting, gold accents, and a Swarovski crystal.  I've glued a painted paper cut-out heart at the top, punched a hole in it, and added a bit of pretty ribbon.  I think these could serve as gift tags, book marks, or just something pretty leaning against the books on a shelf.

Both projects were really fun to do, and the tag project inspires me to do an Easter garland with perhaps a dozen of these tags strung together.  Collage is SO FUN!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Before and After - The Transformation of Glazing

I thought my readers, especially those of you who don't do ceramics yourselves, might be interested in seeing the differences between glazes out of the bottles and once they're fired.  In each pair of photos, the first one shows the pieces with the dried but un-fired glazes sitting in the kiln waiting to be fired.  The second shows the same pieces when I opened the kiln after firing.  The firing of this type of clay and glaze takes a bit over 7 hours and the temperature goes to around 2000 degrees Farenheit.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

It's an Otter!

This river otter is, I think, the best needle felted animal I've done so far.  I really have the technique I use for the hands and fingers down pat and I feel that I did an exceptional job on the face.  I've been moving away from Sara Renzulli's technique of building little shapes and layering them onto the form to working more with unformed clumps of fiber and modeling them in place.  This technique seems to take longer but I like the results.

With this last comment I must also say that I greatly admire Sara's artistry and also like the range of supplies she offers in her on-line shop,  If you're interested in needle felting and haven't visited her site,give yourself a treat and go there!  Among so many other things, you'll find many free tutorials on needle felting which is how I got started in this medium.

The one thing I am dissatisfied with about this piece is the color.  For a while now I've been frustrated with not being able to find wool with the exact animal colors I'm looking for.  I took a plunge and ordered a Baby Brother Drum Carder so that I can mix my own custom colors, and I'll get back to you all on how that works for me.

I always try to find a way to make my animals special with a little unexpected addition of some kind, and in the case of this otter, I gave her an amulet.  It's tiny drilled river rocks on a hemp cords.  I think it works well, giving her a touch of magic and mysticism.