Sunday, 31 July 2011

Giant Celtic Dress

A bunch of you have been asking me if I've finished the Nuno Felted garment I made at Pam De Groot's masterclass in Dingle...Would you believe the answer is still 'not yet!' I'm chomping at the bit to finish it, but am short on time. In the meantime, here's a sneak preview. Do bear in mind that it's in the pre-felt stage, and based on about 40% shrinkage hereafter. The story so far...

Using the finest materials of pure silk and wool, practically everything started out white...and our first day was spent in the dye kitchen, concocting and dipping, binding and clamping. All new to me. It harks back to the tie-dyeing of the 70's, but has evolved into the more sophisticated 'Shibori' techniques. In an earlier post I pondered our weird and wonderful materials list for the workshop, well, mystery unveiled, these were all objects for use in resist dyeing. I'm more of a wooden clothes pegs and conkers kind of girl, though I did also use mini Cd's to create the effect you see above in the green silk line-drying. Love it! We ducked in and out to the clothes line, between showers. A great bunch of women to create amongst, with a warm-hearted trading of materials and ideas.

Our second day was spent making sheets of pre-felt. To cut these up and re assemble them with hand stitching, in the spirit of Pam's mosaic felting technique
seemed a novel idea to me. It would have been lovely to get into that therapeutic space of sewing carefully but alas, speed stitching was the order of the day ; ) I used different threads in different places, Pam saying it could be removed afterwards or not. I've come to love the folk art style of visible stitching so I plan to leave mine. Pam's pieces of wearable art that she brought to share with students were absolutely awe-inspiring. I was especially struck by the natural dyeing she'd done using her native eucalyptus. She hails from Austrailia and was teaching feltmakers dotted around Europe for six weeks. We were honoured indeed. All thanks to Sharon of Handmade Sessions.
Somehow we managed to burn the midnight oil despite minimal sleep, as the youth at our hostel partied into the wee hours, and beyond! I felt as though I was making a patchwork dress for some celtic giantess. Difficult to imagine how a couple of days hard labour will transform it into a tunic that fits...but every now and then whilst stitching, I got glimpses of a dream-like garment one could float around the landscape in : )

And now the work of felting begins. And if I wasn't daunted before, I sure am now! But I will be back, hopefully wearing this.

Thank you for reading, and thanks to my dear Aunt Marth for taking these later photos. Can I say how lovely it was to have a visitor who was so genuinely interested in the work, who wanted to savour every detail and as you can see, she did : )

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Of Willow and wonder

I've always appreciated baskets...loved having them around, using them for hauling gear on trips in the car, working out of them. Is there anything more enticing than a basket of brightly coloured wool? sure to beckon me from across any room!

 I make tiny baskets often to accompany the figures that I felt. A grandmother brings her knitting, Lady Spring carries her chicks, one of the Moss Elders stows his work-in-progress while he takes a break to talk to a passing hedgehog ; )

 For these I do coil basketing or simply crochet, usually with hemp. But I've been wanting to try the real thing. I really liked the idea of  having some baskets for my wool that I'd made myself. I've long been intrigued by the process, which has such deep-rooted, ancient traditions in many cultures, especially here in Ireland. 

This Spring, on an introductory day-workshop I took locally, the tutor displayed some traditional Irish willow work he had done. He spoke of how the handles and foot of many a turf carrying basket would eventually wear and be repaired maybe even a few times, then ultimately would become a storage basket without handles and sit by the fire holding turf or kindling. How great, the life cycle of a single basket in a time when nothing was or could be wasted. My uncle recalls the use of  willow woven calf muzzles at home in Co. Limerick to stop them from suckling when it was time. I listened to his memories of making of a blackbird trap, an exact replica of one we found pictured in Joe Hogan's definitive book 'Basketmaking in Ireland'. 

Can I say, this was hard! I can also see that it's tricky to teach. There is a lot more to building up a basket than I'd imagined. I'm so accustomed  now to working with soft materials, my fingers felt thin and weak and I watched wishfully our tutor's strong wide fingers effortlessly wrapping the rods in and out of the uprights. Also with felting I just feel my way, basketry is much more of a head thing, you must count at times and follow a particular pattern. Intended to be a bread basket, I fancied this as a small work basket for ongoing wool projects. And I have to say that walking in home to my family with the finished basket was fun, they were excited! My small son instantly wanted to claim it for his own, telling me how much he needed a basket just like this ; ) It is solid and strong and will last a long time, helped apparently by an annual bath!

Knitting out of a basket you've made yourself is a whole other layer again, of understanding and of intimacy with your creative work, the materials, and what you're capable of producing with your own hands.

 I'd barely begun to understand how to work with willow though, how to use the bodkin and the rapping iron... so in May I went to CELT's event 'Weekend in the woods'  where I've taught Nuno Felting with Jenny in the past, set in the beautiful Bealkelly Oak Woods in Tuamgraney. This Centre for Environmental Living and Training is a community based charity, who work towards nature conservation and the teaching of traditional skills. In the midst of bluebell season, a carpet of blue and green on the forest floor took my breath away. And so, to work.

The spidery feel of this stage was such that I could imagine it would just creep away under the nearest ditch : )

Our tutor, the lovely Linda Scott a professional basketmaker has specialised in recent years in the making of willow cradles and coffins. We worked with willow she'd grown and harvested.
I've learned that it takes a while with any new craft and you've got to hang in there through the tricky stages, give it a chance, give yourself a chance, and for me - concentrate!

This time around I managed to get past that beginner's feeling of awkwardness, and the struggle to remember what needs to happen next. Once I got used to the weave, I loved the rhythmic quality of this craft, very meditative. Wonderful to eventually find your way and to feel that you actually understand what's happening in the work... and I relished knowing that I was building a functional vessel that would serve a practical purpose at home.

 Freshly made, I showed my basket to a dear friend and the first thing she did was to smell it : ) There is a particular earthy aroma from the willow that was new to me, gorgeous. Sore fingers that night. But how great a craft that will make your body ache the next day, like rolling felt, that quite literally stretches you.

While it's a very satisfying material to work with, I wouldn't want to be confined to willow alone or its varied hues, beautiful as they are. I'm really interested in combining materials and crafts. I'd love to try some crochet borders on the baskets, working with a massive hook. Or weaving in moss and hedgerow materials, simple pieces where I can get my small boy involved, for he's longing to give it a go. Alas, a lifetime may not be enough for all the things I want to try, and make ; )

Interestingly, we learned that basket weaving has not be mechanised. It amazes me that every basket we see or buy is handmade by someone, somewhere.
 Anytime I see one now out of the corner of my eye, I find myself trying see the inner structure and imagine the weave, wonder who made it and where they go home to.

This was designed to be a log basket, but I was in need of a laundry basket and it makes a great one. I've a feeling this trusty basket might have many uses over the years : )