It would certainly be fair to say that I did not really understand what I was letting myself in for upon committing to the rare treat of a workshop with amazing and inspiring Norwegian textile artist May Hvistendahl at Grampians Texture this March.
This is largely because while I have done some felting…some…but not that much.
But also because May’s incredible technique challenged everyone.
This was seriously out of my comfort zone – which is a great thing because the 4 days packed in a LOT of learning. Steep curve. Very steep! Incredibly useful and inspiring.
But also profoundly exhausting.
May has developed a technique of nuno felting that is all her own and the results are nothing short of the dark arts – a literally stunning bit of magic that turns loose unstructured bits of silk and ribbon and my handspun yarn and flick carded raw fleece form four of my sheep (Molly, Moon, Elsie and Star all contributed; thanks sheepy people!) into…a dress!!
There’s a lot of measuring and calculating. Sample making, calculating shrinkage. Layering just so. Pattern making. Laying out the fleece (or commercial top prepared in a unique and counter intuitive way) in a manner that causes it to act as a spring in some parts of the design, a flat piece in others, and creates long drapey bits in the skirt.
The large class of 16 students diligently followed May’s tutelage, made mistakes, fixed them.
Endured two backbreaking days of painstakingly laying out the fibre in the correct manner and at the correct angles. Carefully wetted and rolled these absolutely enormous bundles of fabric and fibre and soapy water and reuseable plastic.
I rolled mine 2,600 times.
Tentatively picked at the fibre…no lifting….
Unrolled for the last time.
Fulled and cleaned and fulled and…
A stunning dress. That fits.
A party dress! Gosh what a wonderous thing to wear – even sopping wet, straight from fulling!!
Made from Molly and Moon and Elsie and Star…and a lot of my own hard work and May’s incredible expertise.
The other students worked with coloured commercial top and coloured silk fabrics so their dresses were immediately stunningly coloured and wearable. Mine is also, but with natural fine Merino wool tones ranging from white through subtle greys and browns and blacks.
Next step is properly scouring the wool and then ecoprinting the entire dress.
Watch this space!
I feel very blessed to have chosen that particular workshop and to have had the privilege of learning from May – she is not only remarkably talented and incredibly inspiring, she is also just the loveliest, kindest and most encouraging teacher.
And though the 4 days were incredibly challenging physically, emotionally (it was hard leaving my homeschooled kids for that long), and in terms of skill acquisition, I have walked away with a unique skill for magically transforming my sheepy friends’ haircuts into the most special and stunning high quality dresses, made to fit the individual.
What an amazing thing it is to learn from talented people, evolve techniques and create my own style over several years, then have the pleasure of teaching some of that to others.
The pleasure that the participants expressed at unrolling their ecoprinted bundles at my recent workshop in Hamilton (run in conjunction with the lovely and enthusiastic Stacey from My Crafternoons), was a genuine thrill for me.
The creations of the ten students who shared the day were genuinely beautiful.
They had worked on light airy fine merino wool wraps, layered with upcycled cotton mordant blankets. This meant that each person got several pieces of fabric, each with a different effect, as the wool (protein) and cotton (cellulose) fibres react differently to the plant dyes and mordants used.
The fabrics were printed with various species of eucalyptus, prunus leaves, dyers chamomile (which give startlingly pretty little daisy prints with iron) and a few other bits. The pots simmered and steamed while we talked technique and then trailed through the gardens and trees at HIRL in Hamilton, checking out the native and garden plants that colours (and food) can be coaxed from.
On the reveal there were lovely sharp prints and colours ranging from purples, greens, reds, oranges and soft blues.
The mordant blankets used were simply very light iron / copper form solutions I make myself from iron and copper scraps found on my property (no shortage of either; it was a bit of a mess when I moved in!)
Such beautiful colours and great results from some clever people, all wrapped in a day bathed in sunshine.