Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tutorial: Foray into Felting!

So to follow up from last week, I worked really hard and managed to create this knitting sample for my classes:

1st part: 2 rows Knit, two rows purl. 2nd part: Purl. 3rd part, knit.

I thanked my table-mate again for helping me struggle through knitting last week, and assured her I got it down after practicing all week. "Great! What are you going to make now?" She smiled. (Look of horror spreading across my face!)

Thankfully, this week's class went much better for me:


Seriously, if you love felted stuff as much I do, head over to after you finish reading my blog. I salivate in this store! I love their stuff and I love to support good people! I'll be showing this site to my classmates next week.

I first became interested (Well, lets face it, obsessed) with felting on a trip to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. There was a wonderful, colourful little store called Cocoon which sold all things made of felt. Shawls, slippers, jewelry and my favourite, the hats. I bought a hat, which isn't with me at the moment, otherwise I'd snap photos of it for you. I even bought slivers and dyed carded wool and a felting book to play with. Those too, are in a box next to my gorgeous Cocoon hat. But now I know what to do, and it's dead easy. Watch out, Cocoon! (Just kidding. your stuff is still amazing.)

So a mini tutorial in what you need to become a felter.

Wet Felting

This is my instructor demonstrating how to use the carding machine- which in it's simplicity costs about 2000 dollars, so I won't be buying one anytime soon. It combs the wool so all the fibres are going the right way. Which is what you need for spinning or felting. You can also use two paddles that look like big lint brushes of sorts, but it's time consuming.

You can use the carding machine to mix your colours. I would have used it, but I couldn't get near it. So I opted for a simpler design.

You need something under your felt to add friction while rubbing. Anything with a texture will work. I used a bamboo sushi mat, which I think was the best choice. Reason to follow.

My supplies: scissors, fluffy wool, nicely carded, and some colourful carded wool. The coloured stuff was more expensive, so for a first go we used the white stuff for the background. Notice the table as covered in plastic- Important as soon this will be a soapy mess.

My daisy design (Upside down). the white wool in the back has been separated into three layers. The top and bottom layer are horizontal, and the middle layer is vertical. Once the design is completed these layers are put on top of the design and bamboo mat.

Next, you need warm soapy water. You drizzle it lightly with your fingers into the middle and pat it gently, massage it a little, sing some Barry White to it, and keep working it gently till the whole thing is sopping with soapy water and smells like a wet dog. Don't rub too hard or you'll mess up your design. Now it's time for the full on sweet massaging of the fibres, creating lots of soap bubbles and love. (about 5 minutes.)

After five minutes, roll up the bamboo mat, and knead the whole thing with the palm of your hands, adding more friction and squeezing the soap out at the same time. (I think this is the messiest part.)

My table-mate's hands in a felting flurry! Once a few more minutes have passed and it looks like you got most of the soap out, it's time to head to the sink and "shock" the felt, by rinsing it in hot water then cold, then hot again. This is where the bamboo worked better than the bubble wrap, as we didn't have to unwrap the whole thing to let the water penetrate. Once this stage was done, we were ready to unwrap the whole thing and see what transpired!

Finished projects! I did mention there are a lot of Asians in my class, right? Hence Hello Kitty and Pikachu. I'm not done with mine yet- I will do some needle felting or embroidery on mine to funk it up. But not bad for a first try!

Dry Felting

This is so easy I'm not sure I need a whole new blog to explain it. You basically get some felt, either felted felt or the fluffy stuff I used above. And you place your felt being felted on top of a block of styrofoam, or a ball of wool, in our case. Then you jab the whole thing with a felting needle. A felting needle looks like a needle with a hook on the end of it, and at the pointy part there are lots of little barbs which hook on the fibres and tangle them up hence the felting bit. The needles break easily, as I found out. I have only just begun, so I'll do a follow up blog and show you what I ended up making.

This is what I ended up with after twenty minutes of jabbing. The little white ball, a broken needle and a bleeding finger. Ouch!

Sweater Felting:

I will do a separate blog on this one, but the basic idea is that if you are an unfortunate as me and felted your new Merino wool V neck sweater in the wash machine by accident, all hope is not lost. You can make it into something. If you hate shopping as much as I do, you probably buy one sweater in multiple colours- so you can see how much this baby shrunk!

Stay tuned for the results!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stitch and Bitch: Adventures in Knitting!

Mrs. Moon
sitting up in the sky
little old lady
with a ball of fading light
and silvery needles
knitting the night.

Mrs. Moon by Roger McGough

Okay, I completely suck at knitting.

World War 2 Poster- When knitting equaled patriotism.

Actually, I had a sneaking suspicion I might. Truthfully, knitting has always kind of scared me because even watching it, I can’t make sense of how those little threads get woven together on two sticks, and how it always seems to be happening at the top. And to top it all off, I’m left handed and so I’ve got to watch what’s going on and somehow make sense of it, then translate it into my own dexterity language by flipping it all backwards.

I have a new found appreciation for the woman who knitted this pair of socks- and probably knit them one handed as she breastfed and butchered a goat for her Cappadoccian family. And I bought them for a whole four bucks. Lets just be clear, that if I knitted these socks, they'd be priced in the thousands after the week of knitting hell I have had!

As a kid, I remember being the only left handed one in my class, trying to learn how to print. “Hand in the air! We are going to make a P! Make the line go down,” My teacher would demonstrate with a swoop of her hand, “And the bump goes awayyyyyy from the body!” Which would produce 23 beautiful P’s in the classroom, and a very interesting looking q from me- b’s for d’s and S’s for Z’s and so forth. Truthfully, learning to write was such a frustrating experience for me that it is one of the things I was very sensitive about when teaching Kindergarten. Lefties and righties got separate demonstrations. If I ever do teach knitting in the future I will have to learn the right-handed way. But let me get a handle on what I’m doing leftie way first.

Not your average grandmas knitting book.

So here I am feeling the same little kid printing anxiety thirty one years later. Except I’m sandwiched between two expert knitters. The one on my right, is knitting a giant tube and stops once in a while to breast feed and tend to her baby who is being bounced by her husband in the hall. The one on the left, is learning how to knit socks with three needles. They show me the basic stitch and twirl string slowly, trying to show me how a left-handed person should cast on, but it’s hard to sort it out. My teacher comes by and tries to make me knit right handed, but the truth is all, the dexterity is in my left hand. I can barely hold the needles straight (which I’m tempted to hold like chopsticks for some reason.)

Not your Mama's Yarn store-
but it is the one conveniently located right across the street from where I'm staying!

“I’m sorry, I can’t teach a left handed person.” She gives up quite quickly. So she jumps at my suggestion to watch left handed knitting on Youtube. But now I’m at the front of the class, with the Asian twenty-somethings wondering what I’m doing up there, watching knitting videos on the smart board. Uff. I want to be home with my computer where I can pause and start and muddle around without my audience. Eventually, I sit down and just start practicing, and I get some sort of stitch going.

Everyone gives me encouraging words. ‘That’s great for your first time!” “You are getting it!” “Wow, look at you go!” But I know it’s horrible. I’ve dropped stitches and picked a few up where I’ve accidentally split the thread. It’s lumpy in parts and loose in others. I feel like giving up, but the woman with the baby encourages me to keep going. It apparently gets easier.

Ooh It's in pain. it's running screaming for it's poor little stitched to hell life. Is it a fetus or a J? Either way, it's supposed to be straight and flat, and enjoyable to look at. Zero for Three!

Three and a half hours later, I put my weird tangle of threads down and look at my tablemate.

‘This is too stressful,” I whine. “My arms hurt.” I have to stop anyway, my stitches have gotten so small they barely fit on the needle anymore.

I start to look around the room at all the other “Beginners”. Their perfect right-handed little rows of perfectly taught little bundles of sweet goodness. I am easily the worst knitter in this class. And I don’t like being the worst. I can handle second to worst, but not the worst.

Attempt number two! Much Much better. Thanks, Youtube!

“Would you like to move to crochet?” My teacher asks with a concerned look on her face. “It’s often more forgiving for left handed people. “No thanks, I’ll stick with what I know at the moment,” I stare intensely at my tangle. I can’t possibly learn something new right now. This is frustrating enough.

When class is over, my classmates look at me with these, “I’m sorry your knitting really sucks, but it will get better with practice” kinds of faces.

“I’m sure another day you’ll be the expert at something.”

I pause for a moment and smile. “Block printing. I’m good at block printing.” (Hopefully they will all suck and I’ll be able to redeem my pride. But somehow I don’t think block printing is master science.)

Purl stitch! Commonly used for socks.

Our teacher lets us go early. She thinks our faces have gotten way too contorted as we work in silence like a Chinese sweat factory churning out little knitted things. Thank God this isn’t a sweat factory, because I’d be punished for sure with the crap I’ve produced. My little pink thing is curled up on the table, not flat and uniform like everyone else’s. Mine seems to be calling out for help. “Please! Put me out of my misery! I’m in deep pain!” It calls out. I’m not sure if it looks like a contorted J or a fetus.

When I get home, I show my knitting to Erin.

“Dude, that’s awful. That’s like, seriously messed up.”

So Erin shows me a left-handed way of casting on that blows Youtube and anyone in that classroom away. “It’s easy, over the thumb, under the thumb, and loop it over. Done!”

I watch a little more Youtube and realize I’ve been making things way to complicated. I try again, this time with green acrylic wool and bigger wooden needles. The new needles make all the difference!

And I practice knitting while Erin bakes cookies, and somehow this seems the way knitting should be learned. My stitches relax, I get into the swing of it so much that I can carry on a conversation with my pal and watch a movie at the same time. And when Youtube helps me cast it off my knitting needles in the morning, it’s flat and fairly uniform, except for one hole somewhere in the middle where I must have dropped a stitch.

If you alternated Purl, Purl, Stitch, Stitch, you can make ribs.
I did more like, Purl Purl Purl,what was I just doing? Another Purl for good measure, Knit, Knit, Purl Purl, Knit Knit knit, how many was that again? Uff.

But here’s the thing: It’s Thursday and I’ve been knitting solidly since Monday Night. Youtube has taught me the purl stitch, and if I alternated Purl Purl, Knit Knit, I can make ribs. If I kept going, I could probably become a fairly proficient knitter.

But I probably won’t. Because there are many, many other things I’d rather be doing than knit purl, knit purl, like improving my painting, cooking, block printing, reading novels, banging out blogs on my computer, getting a root canal, you know, that sort of thing. But I’m glad I had the opportunity to try knitting and know it’s not anything I personally really need to wonder about ever again.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Sultan of Vancouver!

So I've officially moved to Vancouver!

Well, sort of. Let me rephrase that.

I'm officially couch surfing in Vancouver, while I look for a job and a more permanent place to live. A big thank you to my good friend Erin for being gracious enough to let me take over her walk in closet. Yes, as most people try to get out of the closet in Vancouver, I find myself spending a lot of time in one these days!

I admit, I wish I were in a warmer, more exciting climate, as I wake up to rain almost every morning. Luckily it's not too cold out yet, so it's bearable. I patiently wait by the phone to hear of anyone who may have a job opening at one of the various language schools I've visited in the past week. I know my CV is good, but it's a bad time to be looking for work as summer is finished and the winter is coming. If I had my own way right now I might have already given up and headed out on a plane for somewhere there is a job, but alas no, I'm here, because of one course I need for upgrading at UBC. One course. Hardly seems worth it, but without "Textiles for the Classroom", I can't get into the PDP programme next year. (PDP is that widely respected and accepted piece of paper that will allow me to work in high schools here in Canada or abroad.)

So I went to my first class last week. I plunked myself down between 19 other students- all twenty something, except another woman who was about my age, who bounced her baby on one knee as our instructor read out the curriculum. Sixteen of them are Asian. Starbucks coffee cups and Dasani water bottles litter the tables.

First order of business. Go around the room and introduce yourself and tell the class why you want to take this course. It's obvious with the amount of Asian Economics majors that this is an easy-peasy class for most of them slogging a hard school schedule in another department. There are a few Fine Arts Students and me.

"Hi, I'm Melanie. I have two degrees, and now I'm upgrading to take the PDP course. This is the only course I need. So I had to move all the way to Vancouver, now I'm looking for a job and a place to live so I can come here on Monday nights and take this one course." It's out there already, the bitterness in my voice. Damn. Did I really need to give this first impression?

The instructor eyes me carefully. I can see she's making the connection that I was the one sending emails asking if I could do a directed studies or if I could do this correspondence? Or could I move back to Istanbul and learn how to make natural dyes and weave kilims and string carpets from my old landlord Musa for credit? Can I Fedex you my knitting? Yeah, those panicked emails were from me.

"We'll try to make it worth your while." She says with a knowing smile. Sigh.

Second order of business. Close our eyes and try to think of our first memory related to textiles and write about it. I take a deep breath and scan my memory. I come up with the feeling of clothes on my skin and how much I hated it. So much in fact, that as a child, I was naked as much as I possibly could get away with. I remember taking my clothes off in our yard one afternoon and stuffing everything in our hedge, thinking that if my mother couldn't find the clothes, I'd be off the hook and I'd never have to wear clothes again. Ever.

What? Time's up? I've got to share this story?

I turn to my neighbour, a young woman from China, who greets me with a flood of tears. It seems this exercise has made her homesick and she can't even formulate the words to tell me the story between sobs. I tell her I used to live in China, and that I got homesick too. But I take a long hard look at her and realise I was much older than her when I moved to China. She also hasn't been home in six years as it's too expensive to fly her back and forth. Hard work pays off and her English is near flawless. She manages to spit out that her mother made her a sweater and put all sorts of protection things into it according to Chinese superstition. My story sucks compared to hers. I tell it to her in a line or two,then she excuses herself to cry again. And then it's time for the third order of business: a tour around the classroom.

I'm happy to report, there are lots of things I don't know about textiles. The sewing machine in the corner scares the shit out of me. What's this? a loom? Next week I've got to learn how to knit? Is that different for me because I'm left handed? and felting, and silk painting, natural dyes, block printing on fabric (Surprise!) and lots of other things, but not batik. This is textiles for the classroom, and kids can't be trusted with hot wax. The corners of my mouth droop a little. Oh well. I do have some self directed projects- it's possible I get my batik fix in that way. But I have to say I am excited to be able to take a course where I will learn how to do all of these things. I love textiles, I love making things, so surely I should love making textiles, right?

Fourth order of business, and I admit at first this made my eyes roll. Make a muse. We have an hour. There's a whole bunch of elementary school like supplies in the middle of the room-paper, tinfoil, beads, wire, but no cloth of any kind. Go. We've got an hour.

I peruse the table with my classmates and settle on some wire to start with. I star winding it around and messing around with it, and next thing you know, I'm working on a Turkish Sultan. and why not? The Turks are all about textiles. Muse sounds like Musa, my kilim weaving landlord in Turkey, so he will be the inspiration for my inspirational muse! If I can't be in Turkey, I can at least bring Turkey to Vancouver. Sadly, after an hour, This is what I end up with.

A few times I look up, I see my instructor looking over at what I'm doing. "Have you worked with wire before? She asks, admiring the little mass of silver which is now the structure of my Sultan. I look at it and think. Actually, I don't think I've ever worked with wire before! This is a first.

Anyway, I decided to redo my sultan. The first one wasn't inspiring me, in fact, it was downright depressing me. I won't even repeat what my sister said it looked like! So I went out to a few stores, and for about ten bucks worth of supplies, fimo, remnants in a fabric store and some sewing stuff and rhinestones from the dollar store, I created:

The Sultan of Vancouver!

Had I had to do him over again, I would have done the head last, but because I did the head first, all of the clothes had to be hand stitched directly on to the figure. It sounds gruelling, but I did it watching all of season three of 'Six Feet Under', so it wasn't so bad.

I decided he needed to be taller than my original wire structure, so I lifted him up using a paper coffee cup and some pipe cleaners. It's only fitting the Sultan of Vancouver be made of part coffee cup. But I weighed it down with a bag of red lentils. Still a little Turkish, after all, he is still a sultan!

So now that my sultan muse is done, I hope he inspires me in all things Vancouver, not just my course. I've got to spend almost two years here, so hopefully it won't take me too long to hit my stride and find a way to make this city mine. I've already taken advantage of an introductory pass to a yoga studio downtown so at least I've got my practice to get me off to a good start.