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On felting

Taking a vacation to warmer climes is an almost universal goal during winter.  Until you are on said vacation, and your body rebels.  20180326_074959.jpgHere we are in 85+ degree weather, and my brother caught something awful and has been making equally awful noises all vacation.  I have caught something similar, which I’m unfairly blaming on him, and making similar, yet distinctly different sounds.  Not only did we go from 45 ish degree weather to 85 ish degrees.  We went to about 200 feet in elevation to about 3000 feet.  To top all that off, it is *still* cane burning season where we are at, so ash is falling like rain.  OK, the ash isn’t *that* bad, but it’s not that good, either.  We also went to the coast, back to normal elevation, but still super hot.  All this means is that our bodies are shocked, and feeling abused.  I’m willing to take the trade off, though for the time and experience.

Last week, I talked about stretching our work (or ourselves, for those of you who like analogies).  I’d like to continue on that theme a bit by talking about shrinking.  Or, better said, felting!  Actually, fulling (yes, please, hear that in the most supercilious voice you can muster).  Felting and Fulling are both the same process.  Felting is with fiber, while fulling is with fabric.  It’s a small difference, but could be important…I’m sure…I just don’t know off the top of my head when.  I’m just going to call the process felting for ease of understanding, as the message is the same, regardless.

When one shocks fibers, they curl up into a fetal position, and grab on to all the friends they can.  This process is enhanced if you agitate and beat the fiber.  When done unintentionally, or without a plan, this creates a mess.  But, when done with intention, beautiful things result.  Even better (worse), they aren’t always predictable.  This, I believe, is the inspiration for all hazing-type organizations.

We have probably all had the experience of the sweater that shrunk in the wash, and been devastated.  The fibers have been subjected to hot temperatures with agitation, and shrunk up, they have also clumped together with the other fibers in the piece and joined together into something completely different from the original work. You, Dear Reader, are probably trying to figure out why on God’s green earth anyone would *want* to do that on purpose.  Especially with my less than elegant explanation of the process. It sounds violent, doesn’t it?

In the right hands, intentional felting can create beautiful art. In fact, needle felting has come back in the fiber world.  Go to any fiber show, and there will likely be a booth displaying this type of art.  In fact, a high school friend of mine needle felts zombies.  She also does more mainstream stuff. In case there was any doubt…mine are not the right hands.  I have every confidence that I would create an unholy mess.

Felted (fulled) fabric is thicker, which makes it more air and water tight than un-felted fabric.  20180328_155810.jpgIt does lose elasticity in this process; as well as stitch definition.  But, because of this, we can have felt hats (think Stetsons).  Once again, whether or not something is desirable depends on your purpose.  I know I drive people crazy when they ask me what the “best” yarn is.  I don’t know, what do you want to do with it?  So, a blanket which has felted may be something awesome–if you lived in the Arctic.  Or something  awful, if you lived here, in El Grullo.  That being said…the warmest blankets *EVER* come from here.  Ask Things 1 and 2, if you don’t believe me.

When Poopie forgets, and throws actual wool articles into the laundry, and they felt up, he no longer is able to use those items as he wanted.  But, they don’t have to be lost causes.  The hat that no longer fits him is now a smaller, warmer hat for someone else.  Even his socks that he somehow manages to felt (even though literally no one else in the world can get those brands of yarn to felt) get a second life.  If nothing else, I cut them up into squares to keep my needles on in my tool kits.

While there are patterns out there for fitted things which need to be felted in the process, I haven’t generally used them.  Felting is not a science, so much as an art.  While science is involved, there are so very many variables, that I don’t know that someone can actually, honestly make exactly what they set out to make. I know for sure I cannot.  So, I keep my felting for things where it doesn’t matter so much–like bags.

For those who don’t know, I love second hand shopping.  Even with my yarn.  Yes, you should take precautions for moths, but the trade off is usually worth it to me.  Anyhoo, many, many years ago, I purchased a particular bag of yarn.  In the bag were several partial skeins.  The problem with partial skeins is that they do not always come with ball bands, so you never know what they are actually made of.  I made a classic blunder.  No, not getting into a land war in Asia, but close.

There was a group of yarns that was just different colors of the same yarn…and one of the partial balls still had the ball band.  It looked like it should be a good felting yarn, so I went about making a simple bag.  I would do the body of the bag in the blue, which there was the most of, until it was done, and keep using the partials up in stripes.  I would make horizontal slits by casting on/off to make the handles.  Finally, I would felt up the whole thing to make a sturdy handbag.  The felting would have the added benefit of “hiding” the jogs in the colors

I brought my bag with me to my knitting group for however long the actual knitting took up.  Each time, DeAnna would sigh over it.  She all but pee’d on the thing to claim it.  I can’t say for certain she didn’t.  Once the knitting portion was done, I threw it in the wash.  I pulled it out, and saw what my carelessness had wrought.  The top part of the bag turned out exactly as I had hoped.  The bottom….not so much.  Apparently, while many of the colors were the same yarn, the blue was not.  I had not tested it to see if it was wool.  It felt and looked the same as the other yarns, but it was not.  Well, DeAnna wanted it so badly, she could have it.

DeAnna LOVES the bag in the featured image.  The felted portion is sturdy, and the unfelted portion grows, so she can carry a little, or a lot in the bag.  I’m not going to lie, when I pulled the bag out of the wash, I was super disappointed.  However, DeAnna was not. This bag is felted where it counts, and elastic where *that* counts.

There are pro’s and con’s to everything.  It’s what you do with the characteristics that matter.  There are also trade offs for everything. 20180325_151235.jpgThis ash that is aggravating my sinuses is the same ash that clears the fields for more cane which sweetens the coffee I’m drinking right now.  The elasticity of knitting gives way to the sturdiness of felting.  Try not to be too afraid of a little hot water and agitation.  While there’s security in knowing exactly what you’ve got, you may find there’s a different security in the hardiness of having made it through the hot water and agitation.  Like so many things in life, it’s about finding the right balance for you.  Maybe the balance is more felt, maybe it’s no felt, only you can decide.  I can’t say what the “best” balance is for you.  I don’t know…what do you want to do with it?

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!

The lovely (as well as irritating) thing about the written word is that you don’t get tone of voice.  So…is that “ah” a scream of frustration? rage? or a sigh of contentment? Yes–all of the above. Vacations are wonderful things–once I get there.  However, the getting there can be a bit…much.  I committed to writing once a week, but I didn’t commit to which day.  I’ve been super good about getting something out on Mondays, but as you can tell, I missed this Monday.  Because I was getting ready for our annual jaunt to Mexico.  Which leads me to today’s post.

The topic will likely elicit a similar scream from you, Dear Reader.  We are going to be talking about (dun dun duuuun) blocking.  Blocking is the act of wetting a piece of fabric (knit, crocheted, woven, etc…), pinning it into shape and letting it dry.  There are many different schools of thought on blocking.  My position on blocking is an ever evolving one.

20180320_173823.jpgMonday night, instead of writing to you, I was blocking a present for one of my many (many) aunts.  I love that my shawls look like birds.  You may or may not be able to tell that I just do this on my living room carpet.  I use thin rods and a whole bunch of T-pins.  A. Whole. Bunch.  Seriously, there is no such thing as too many T-pins.  If you ask yourself “should I put a pin here?” the answer is yes.  20180315_190916-e1521830751162.jpg

The left side of the shawl is showing the beginnings of blocking.  See how far I stretched out the top? You can also see the lack of definition on the scallops of the lace.  20180315_191659.jpgThen, I pull the lace out.  I make sure to pull the yarn as far as it will go.  I catch each of the points in the rod to make strong, consistent points for the finish.

Some people block pieces of projects to help make them consistent in size.  A myriad of flaws can be hidden in the blocking.  The problem with this, though, is that if there is a lot of difference to make up, it will come out in the wash.  After washing, they’ll return to their original sizes.  And then, you will have a mess.  So, blocking only goes so far in this manner.

Shawls are, so far, my only approved use of blocking.  As you can see, the side that isn’t blocked is kind of a mess. 20180315_191650.jpgYou can’t see any of the definition that makes the piece beautiful.  You may not even be able to see the full potential.  It takes stretching the piece beyond what you think is possible to bring out its full glory, like the featured image.  20171015_092732.jpgThere is, however, always the possibility of going too far.  But, I maintain it was going to break anyway, and it’s best to know now than when I’ve come to depend on it.  Besides, if it’s never blocked, it never has a chance of being what it’s supposed to be.

Many things have to go through a similar process. We temper steel to make it stronger.  Similarly, the delicate lace is only truly able to shine once it has shown how very, very strong it had to be.  Even the “failed” shawl will shine.  Maybe in a different form (definitely in a different form–I REALLY hated that pattern), but it WILL shine.

Blocking can teach us so many things:  True beauty often comes after testing.  We can often handle more than we think.  We need to be aware that while we can try to fit with something not meant for us, eventually, we will come back to ourselves.  Finally, we have to remember just because we weren’t meant for something doesn’t mean we aren’t meant for something else.  So, don’t be afraid to stretch!