It has been a good year, uneven handspinning and the dreaded beige dyes included. Part of the reward of working with wool and plant dyes is meditative. At another level, it provides interconnectedness with the women of prehistory and the present life of my patch of the earth. Renate Hiller expresses beautifully deeper thoughts I struggle towards.
So, here I am, glad to be writing about such a magnificent obsession. To mark the occasion, I return to the subject of my first ever blog, making a wet felted bag. Same as last March, I have some fleece left over from a big project. This time, it is alpaca. Have a look at this video on felting from raw fleece. How encouraging is that?
Cheryl says dirt and vegetable matter will come out during the felting process. Her alpaca is brown and looks fluffy. Mine only looks fawn because of the dust and some tips are welded together. Much as I like her cheerful confidence, I'm not so sanguine this would end up clean or layer out evenly. I am going to apply a lesson learned first time round, when a tide of filthy water squashed out as I rolled raw wool.
First, 50g of alpaca fleece had a soak in warm water with a squirt of washing up liquid, to get the worst of the dust out and soften the grubby tips. Once it had dried, I flicked open the locks with a stiff dog brush. Pile of fluff, water spray and soap and bubble wrap - with the bubbles facing up. All I need now is BG.
Despite me extolling the virtues of wool work, while I can contentedly comb, card and spin for hours, rolling wet felt does not float my boat. When we made a felt hat together, designing it was a laugh and taking turns made felting tolerable. Here are BG's hands feeling for thin spots in our two layers of alpaca, laid out just like the video. Once they were wetted, soaped and flattened, we added a variety of fibres dyed with woad, plus a bit of white silk.
Although Cheryl didn't fret about this for her loose design, we wanted our swirls to stay in place. Putting a piece of net over the fibres and rubbing in little circles ought to fix the pattern before rolling. How we rolled. And rolled. And had a cup of tea, and rolled.
It is quite true that alpaca felts much faster than wool. Cheryl did say her wool decorations would felt differently, adding interest. I can now add that as you would expect, the woad dyed alpaca felts on readily, as does Polwarth fleece. Silk binds on pretty well. Dorset Poll fleece tends to stay as a fuzz on top and the Gotland curls, though they look so dramatic, are a total pain.
After nearly an hour of rubbing and rolling, we gave the fabric a hot soak and a cold rinse or two. Lots of dirt came out, so Cheryl is probably right about not bothering to wash raw alpaca first. Half an hour for tea and a fag break gave the fabric a chance to dry on the radiator. Then we sat it on a foam pillow and used felting needles to stab the loose bits in better, using extra dry fibres to fasten down stray bits of Gotland and patch up some thin, weak areas.
Not a bad evening's work, looks pretty, but the base alpaca fabric did not feel strong. Watching the video again, Cheryl actually says she would use four to six layers for a bag. Will I ever pay proper attention to the instructions?
BG had a roll of iron on fabric bond in the cupboard. I had a piece of cambric cotton dyed in the remnant of a woad vat a couple of years ago. Our felt was substantial enough to make a bag once glued to this as backing. Another useful stash item was this ball of Gotland and silk blend handspinning, partially dipped in a woad vat last summer.
I made the bag up today, tomorrow I will take its photo in natural light. In a strip of double crochet five stitches wide on a 4mm needle, the yarn was just long enough to make sides and a handle for the bag. I left the long edges of the felt unbonded, so as to be able to sew the crochet strip through felt and backing without jamming the needle. Yes, I have done that before.