Friday, 30 January 2015

Groam House Museum Felt Project - next installment

Day 3 - 26th January, 2015

(If you have not seen the post on Days 1 & 2, click here)

The first task this day was to work on our text.  It had been decided that we would use a traditional Gaelic Blessing that was used by George Bain in his book "Celtic Art, the Method of Construction".

"May your steps return from all corners of the globe under the guidance of the start that points to home"

At our last session, Rita had worked out the size and position for all the lettering and I had
taken the plan away and used it to cut some translucent vinyl sheets to use as stencils for needle-felting the letters onto the background.
We used lengths of ribbon pinned through the felt to provide base lines for the text and each person worked on a different word.

The words built up quickly by needling a lovely dark purple merino wool through the stencil onto the background felt.  Our only problem was that we didn't quite plan the sequence for doing all the words, so we ended up having people trying to work too close to each other.  This stage took most of the morning but it went faster than I had expected.

 The final wet felting of the wallhanging has still to be done, so the needle felting does not need to be very thorough - just enough to ensure that the lettering stays in place once we soap it again and give it its final rubbing and rolling.

Once we were happy with it, we turned the felt over and did some more needling from the back - this gives extra security for the fibres.  It is very easy to see where we needed to work as we could see all the fibres sticking through the white.

Once all the lettering was done, we were able to plan the zoomorphic designs that we want to use to fill the spaces above and below the text.  Some of the team looked through the book for inspiration while others set about making some more half-felt to use for these designs.

The rest of the team started work on the knotwork panels around the edges.  The tramlines and overs & unders typical of Celtic knotwork was not as obvious as we would have liked, so they set about emphasising these by needlefelting fine lines to pick out the details.

Then, a final look before rolling up the felt and packing everything away till the next day.

And I had my homework to do!  The designs for the zoomorphic had t obe transferred to the computer and from there to my laser cutting machine.  This machine gives really accurate cutting allowing for more detail than can be achieved with a pair of scissors.

Day 4 - 28th January 

This was more of the same - needle felting all day!

First off, we positioned the zoomorphic creatures - a bird above the text and a hound below.  These were needlefelted all over, and then we concentrated on the overs and unders detail.

Once the creatures were fully needlefelted in place we took a break for cake!

Then it was back to work - more needle felting.................!

There was one corner that everyone was avoiding........... it has rather more detail in it than the other parts.  The design is adapted from a badly weathered knotwork panel along one side of the magnificent Pictish cross slab in Groam House Museum.  Last week Rita scaled up this design and I cut it from half-felt on my laser cutter.  Rita had other commitments this week but had asked that we ensure there was an area of needlefelting left for her to do on her return.  However, I took pity on her and made a start so that she can see which way the lines work.
It was a good day's work and we are all happy with the result.
To see the start of this project, click here.
To read about how we finished it, click here.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Feltmaking - Inspired by the work of George Bain

 On Wednesday, 14th January 2015 several of the volunteers of Groam House Museum gathered in Fortrose to make a start on a large felt wallhanging inspired by the work of George Bain.

Studying the plan before we start
Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie houses a magnificent ancient Pictish cross slab, a collection of many smaller sculptured stones and a huge amount of work by George Bain.  He was an art teacher in the middle of last century who was inspired by the art of the sculptured stones of the Picts and the magnificent Celtic manuscripts from the same era.  He wrote the book - "Celtic Art - The Methods of Construction" and it remains an important book for anyone wanting to understand how Celtic art works.  I was first introduced to his book some 25 years ago and was quickly hooked on Celtic design.

The museum's outreach programme have recently been awarded a major grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to interpet some of Bain's work and the Pictish stones of the area in the form of 5 large wallhangings and I have been fortunate to be invited to be the textile artist leading the project.

The first wallhanging is being made by the museum volunteers and subsequent panels will be made by other groups on the Black Isle over the coming months.  I will be posting a selection of photographs over the coming weeks as the project progresses.

These wallhangings should end up at approximately 3 feet wide by 6 feet high - which means they have to start out at 4ft x 8ft.  The felt shrinks as the felting progresses.  We will be using a combination of different felting techniques to create the designs.
choosing colours of merino fibres

The first step was to choose colours for our design.

Laying down coloured wool fibres is the first step
The next step was to lay these coloured merino wool fibres down to make small sheets of half-felt.
starting the felting process
 Then, cover with bubblewrap and start rubbing.

Rita is working out some knotwork designs
Rita has a wrist problem that meant she was not able to do the felting, so she set to work drawing out some knotwork designs at the required scale.

These designs were then traced onto a special paper that could then be laid onto the wet half felt that would allow us to cut out our knotwork panels.

a lot of the water ended up on the floor!

Cutting out our half-felt in knotwork designs

Cutting out our half-felt in knotwork designs

And after several hours of work, we have most of our half-felt knotwork cut-outs ready to use in inlay technique for the next stage.  Watch this space............!

Day 2 - Thursday 22nd January 2015

This time we made a start on the big piece of felt that will become the wallhanging.  I set up my new felting table which I had made for me by our local joinery firm - Macdonald & Macintyre.  It measures 1200 x 2400 mm (8 x 4 ft for those still in imperial measurements!).  The legs are height adjustable fold-away trestles and the table top is in three sections that slot together and lock in place on top of the trestles.  This means the whole thing fits in the back of my car so I can take it to where ever it is needed.  I made a cover with leatherette vinyl fabric and a cord round the edge so it can be held tightly around the table top.  We set it up with legs at maximum height so that it was comfortable to stand at.

We started off with a layer of ice wool which saved us having to spend time laying down an extra layer of fleece and ensures that there will be no accidental holes in the felt.

This was covered with two layers of white merino wool fibres - the first layer the fibres ran parallel to the length and the second layer they were in line with the width.
Once both layers looked complete we poked and prodded to check for thin patches and holes - all of which got filled up with more wool.  The prodding is best done with one's eyes closed - touch is a better sense to use, but tends to get over-ridden by our sight, which can be deceiving.
Next we added a lot of "bits and pieces" - little bits of silk fibres, bamboo fibres, coarse wools, mohair yarn and even some bits of highland cow hair.  We were aiming at providing a bit of texture and surface interest rather than just having the plain white wool.
This was all covered with a large sheet of organza fabric and then we poured soapy water all over it.  The organza stops the bits from moving around when you pour on the water - but it is see-through, so you can see if anything has moved or dislodged.  The next step was to press and squeeze the water through the whole thing to make sure everything was properly wetted, then the organza was carefully

The organza was replaced with a sheet of bubblewrap and then the hard work began - rubbing - and more rubbing - then a pause while we planned where each of our knotwork cut-outs from last week was going to be positioned.

We did a bit of shuffling around on the paper plan until we were happy with the balance of the design and then all the pieces got transferred onto the large piece of white half-felt on the table.  A couple of the pieces were quite fragile so the transfer had to be done very carefully.

Once in position, the next step was to carefully cut through the top layer of each of these knotwork panels so that we would get the impression of the "over-under" sequence.  Some got the hang of it quicker than others and you may find the odd mistake in the finished piece!
The way this works is that the top colour is subject to more friction  when we start to felt so the fibres shrink more, leaving the darker colour below exposed and giving the appearance of a fine border around each piece of knotwork.
We replaced the bubblewrap and the serious rubbing began.  We started by working over the knotwork panels and gradually increased our speed and pressure to felt everything together.  The rest of the afternoon was spent rubbing......and rubbing........and rubbing!

Once it was all beginning to fully felt, we sneaked a look at the back and could see the coloured fibres coming through the white  - a good sign that it's all working as it should.  At this stage we turned it over - not the easiest task, but team-work triumphed.
At first people were a bit dissappointed to lose sight of the colours, but as we worked at the rubbing, the patterns started showing on the back and everyone got quite excited about how well it was working.

Throughout all this, Rita (whose arthritic hands make it impossible to do the rubbing) had been taking photographs and working out what we will put in the centre section of our
wallhanging.  She looks a bit glum here - but she really was enjoying herself and every so often she supervised and offered encouragement.

At the end of the afternoon we turned the felt back over so we could admire our handiwork, then we rolled it up, squeezed out as much water as we could and popped the felt into a big plastic box ready for the next session.

To see the next stage of this project, click here.

Friday, 2 January 2015

A new way to keep warm........

........... but we got very cold taking the photographs to tell you all about it!

Here at Anna Macneil, we have been busy making a new winter warmer.  And having made it we went off for a fashion shoot to photograph it.

"Heather" is the latest style to be added to our range of Harris Tweed products.  It is a hooded scarf, lined with cosy polar fleece and embroidered with our signature Celtic knotwork designs.   I made a few and took them to a craft fair at the beginning of December - and sold out!  As we had models and a photographer booked for the following weekend, that meant we had to make some more rather quickly!

We headed off to the hills armed the new hooded scarves and with lots of our cosy Hebridean Hoods, buttoned wraps and a large selection of hats.  The models are Aimee Brown, Phoebe Lynch and Vicky James. Our photographer is Gareth Ceri Bryant (Ceri Images).  The first place we stopped, the heavens opened and the rain came in icy horizontal sheets - but looking west we could see it looked brighter over in the direction of Loch Ness.  It was dry and sunny when we got there, but the wind was howling up the Great Glen and it was barely possible to stand, never mind get people to stand still for photographs.  We continued up the hill towards Loch Ashie and found a more sheltered spot.

The following photographs show how the day progressed.  We are very gratefuly to Aimee, Phoebe, Vicky and Gareth for being such good sports braving the cold.  The girls loved huddling up in our cosy Hebridean Hoods, and trying on various hats to team with the buttoned wraps. 
Aimee, Vicky and Phoebe wearing buttoned wraps
 From left to right - Aimee wearing a Catriona hat, Vicky wearing an Anna hat and Phoebe wearing a Maggie hat - all of them wearing buttoned wraps.

This was just a "warm-up" with Gareth checking light levels - the weather was changeable that day!
 Each of the models chose the things they wanted to wear - really anything that would keep them warm!
Gareth seeing to all the details - the kind of things I always miss when I am the photographer!

This is one of Gareth's pictures - I have used it on the front cover of the new trade catalogue and as a header for our calendar

The light was poor (what do we expect mid December?) so extra flash was needed - Mary holding up the light

Vicky, Phoebe and Aimee getting ready for some group shots

Gareth giving some instructions about where he wanted the models to stand

There are real people behind these hoods! They had the hoods fully forward to keep out the wind

Our new "Heather" hood - worn in four different ways - by this time we were all freezing, the sleat was coming horizontal and the light was failing, so we didn't really get any good shots.

Mary lit up a smoke bomb to give a misty look to some of the photographs
And this is one of Gareth's images that shows just how effective the smoke bomb was!
After two hours in freezing conditions we had all had enough and headed back to my house in Inverness for some well deserved home-made soup and warm bread.  Once the girls had fully
Mairi Hats being worn by Vicky and Phoebe
thawed out, we set up the spare bedroom as a makeshift photographic studio and Gareth spent  some time with Vicky and Phoebe doing some head shots of various hats.  Aimee had had to go home, but she kindly gave us a little more of her time the next day and I took some more photographs in her back garden.  Here you can see the new hooded scarf worn in various ways.

The calendar is one that goes to our regular wholesale customers, but if you want a copy, you can buy one for £4.00 including postage and packing.  It is a long banner year planner style - single sheet and comes in a postal tube.

Now that the Christmas rush is over, I have been taking time to update the website - wherever possible, using some of the lovely photographs that we got from that freezing cold, but very successful day.     I have also been working on our new wholesale catalogue which went onto the website this afternoon.  I just had one photograph I needed to complete it, so Len and I went out for a drive this afternoon up Glen Affric.  It was every bit as cold today as it was 3 weeks ago with an icy wind added in.  But I got what I wanted - a photograph of all ten styles of hat that we make hanging on a natural "hat stand" - i.e. some dead branches, with a good Highland landscape in the background.  I have used this picture to illustrate the general information page about our hats.

Len was with me - good to have a driver, because it meant I could watch the scenery and look for likely branches!  I was very glad of my own "Morag" hat and just wished I had thought to bring a wrap as well.
When we got home, I put the hats photo in place and Len put the wholesale catalogue live on the website.  (please note this is a password protected catalogue and only available to bona fide trade customers).  The retail version will have to wait a little while, but as there are no price increases, the 2014 catalogues will serve the purpose for now.