"Don't forget: beautiful sunsets need cloudy skies." - Paulo Coelho
Recently my 4 year old was having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she's not "the best." Oh, no, don't take it the wrong way, it has nothing to do in relation to me, I think she's amazing and talented and tell her all the ways I think she's wonderful, but I'm not going to lie to her and tell her she's the fastest runner, the best drawer, the best anything because, let's be real, she's 4. I think she's an amazing artist, for her age. She is quite the fast runner, and I have a hard time trying to catch up to her, but the fastest? No. And in my opinion she shouldn't be worried about being the best. I would like the reason behind anything she chooses to do to be because it makes her happy, not seeking perfection. There is beauty in imperfection. I told her that she's special to me, because she is who she is. Because she exists. (Did you know the chances of being who you are, factoring all the things in the universe, all of history, your DNA makeup, everything, is 1 in 400 trillion?! Those are some incredible odds.) She's my girl. She means the world to me, and I couldn't care less if she wins a gold medal or has a gallery show or any of that stuff. If she does it some day, I will absolutely support her 100% but only because it matters to her. However, it is what it is, as I knew I was gifted a perfectionist child from pretty early on, and I know this will always be an internal struggle for her. It was for me for the longest time. The conversation went on further to include that not being the best gives you something to strive for, to work harder, "If you want to be the best" I told her "work hard at it. The best are people who work hard on what they want to be the best at day in, day out. If that's what you want, you gotta put in the work."
One might think that a perfect sky is one without blemish, not a single cloud, but the clouds are what makes them interesting. The ever-changing clouds are what make one day different from the next, one moment different from the next. You'll never get the exact same cloud pattern on the sky. They provide moments of relief from a hot summer sun. They inspire creative thinking, when you're trying to spot what they might resemble. And... during a sunset? The clouds are what really bring the colors out, aren't they? The clouds are our quirks. They are what we may perceive to be our faults. Perfection is not only unattainable, it's unrelatable. It's not part of the human condition. We're all imperfect beings, and that's what makes us different, what makes us interesting, what makes us beautiful.
Method of Construction
Wool painting with the use of wet felting isn't new, and using a blending board to prepare for wet felting is also not completely new. However, with this piece I was exploring the use of a blending board to set up a wool painting. It wasn't just to prepare a background, which I've not only seen done but have done myself. I wanted to use it to piece together (and hold together) a wool painting.
The tricky part is, as with laying out a wool painting, you want to make sure you have some fibers criss crossing, and since I knew that the majority of my final piece would be laid out horizontal, the first layer of wool was placed vertically on the blending board. I ended up using two methods for the piece. With the colors I used that I had in roving form, I maintained the vertical/horizontal method of laying the wool on the teeth, then using the blending brush to blend it together. Where I felt I had more control was with the wool I have as batting. Those are not combed out to be straight/in line as with roving or top, so I was able to just place them wherever I wanted. I would first tamp it down a bit with my fingers and the blending brush, then use the blending brush just in that area to smooth it out and push it back against the bottom layer. Instead of the traditional method of laying layer after layer down, then going over the whole thing with the brush, it was a lot more like dabbing with paint. For the center of the bright sun, I used a silk/merino top which I rolled up into a loose ball and tapped it down where I wanted it. I also threw in a few bits of shredded sari that I had tried to do myself and some curly pink locks.
I loved the control it gave me over the piece. I was able to piece it together fairly quickly without worrying about things I placed earlier shifting on me. I was able to get a pretty good idea of what it would look like in the end. When I had everything I wanted, I carefully peeled the piece off the board (using a porcupine quill to help grab any fibers left behind) and carried it over to the kitchen table where I like to wet felt. My spot is close to an outlet where I can use my sander to help speed up the initial process, then commence with rolling. On the bottom of my sander I have a piece of shelf liner, though I want to try other textures as well. If you choose to try using a sander, I recommend finding one that does not have a dust collector, as it might vacuum up the water (and water and electronics don't mix). You can also take a bit of the cord and kink it, wrap it with a rubber band so there is a drip loop - this is important if the outlet you're using is below your work surface. The outlet I use in the kitchen is higher up than the table, so I'm not worried about water reaching the outlet. Also, you don't need a lot of water. Once I have the piece sufficiently wetted down, I go back over it with a sponge and blot up all the excess, so there's really very little spray afterwards.
A popular method for using a sander is to place a thin sheet of foam over the top and keep the sander in place for a few seconds, lift, then move it over, going over the entire piece row by row. I don't do that. I went over the whole piece, with tulle in between, as if I were actually sanding a board, then I added some bubble wrap, face down against the felt, and used the sander on top of that. I think it's good to experiment to find what works for you.
If you just need to knock out a bunch of pre-felts which you will felt at a later point, a sander will get it done fast. Just do the pinch test to make sure it's mostly holding together after you're done, rinse and lay flat to dry. For this piece, I wanted it fully felted, so then I rolled it 100 times for each turn (turning it 4 times), then went over the shelf liner like you would with a washboard, felting areas that I wanted to tighten up a bit more, in particular the edges. I rinsed it out, then rolled it up in a towel to blot out most of the moisture (even sitting on it while browsing the internet), then laid it out flat to dry. You can palm/knead/throw, however you're used to wet felting. I seem to try a different method each time, depending on my mood.
Once it was dry, I ironed out my piece and got to work with the embroidery. I managed to keep the felt fairly thin, doing one vertical base layer then "painting" on top of that with the clolrs. I did not want something that was too thick because, at some point, all these pages will be bound together. Sorry, I meant to get a picture of the felt by itself, but just couldn't help myself from embroidering the sun. I recently picked up some new DMC floss, the silver being the E168, though I will say it is a bit more difficult to embroider with metallics than regular floss because the fibers want to separate, and they get caught on everything.
Onto the lettering. The first part, the words "don't forget" were embroidered using a whipped backstitch using white pearl cotton. The way you do that is you first stitch the letter using a back stitch, and then you go back and wrap the floss around each of the stitches. It's fairly easy and quick to do, but I wanted to put more emphasis on the rest of the quote. Time to pull out the yarn.
Yarn is incredibly easy to felt. You don't have to buy special pencil roving to do it, most yarns will stick if you stab them with a needle. This also makes lettering really easy to do, because you can somewhat lay the thread out ahead of time, then go back and stab it in. If you make a mistake, just pull it out and try again. I usually don't cut the thread ahead of time, just work with it off the yarn ball, laying it out and stabbing, holding it in place as I go (It will scrunch up a bit as you stab it in), until I get to the area where I want to end it and cut it. There are two ways to do that. Either you can just cut right where you want to end it, or for a smoother finish, cut it a little bit longer, fold it under the end and stab it in.
"Beautiful sunsets" and "need" were just done with yarn, nothing extra to it. If you want something a bit thinner, undo the ply in the yarn and use one of the strands (as I did for the word "need"). I chose a purple yarn to match the purple clouds for "cloudy skies" however, despite it being mostly on the contrasting orange background, I felt it blended in a bit too much with the background. That's why I decided on couching the purple yarn with pink pearl cotton. It wasn't necessary to hold the yarn down, as it was already needled - it was purely done for the visual effect.
I recommend felting with yarn a shot. Maybe it'll give you another excuse to hit the yarn aisles next time you're in a craft store. Most yarns will felt, regardless of their fiber makeup. If you get wool yarn, you can even undo it a bit and use it for felting in other projects, not just lettering.
Speaking of which, have you been following along and trying felt journaling for yourself? It doesn't have to be a perfect finished piece - it's all about experimenting with various techniques and see what all you can do with the materials you have on hand. It's not about perfection, it's about having fun with experimentation. Here, I'll give you an example:
My 4 year old has started working on her felt journal. She just uses scraps of commercial felt and tries to replicate what I'm doing on mine, so we work on them together. The one on the right is from two weeks ago, with layers of fabric and wool, which she then tried going over with free machine stitching (I had to help her with that part, because she layered it pretty thick), and the one on the left is trying to felt with different yarns I had on hand. She was having fun stabbing them in and then declaring whether or not it would felt. There were only two (well, one style, just two different colors) that did not felt down, but all of the others stayed put. I'll trim these down as well at some point and bind them into a book for her when it comes time for me do to do the binding.