I was delighted to be commissioned to create a large felt picture for someone’s beautiful home. As they lived fairly locally, I went to see the room it would go in, and to discuss the dimensions and colour scheme. It needed to be fitted to an electronic mechanism which would raise and lower it to cover a TV inset into the wall, and to fit behind a curtain rail when fully raised.
I took away a swatch of the curtain fabric which helpfully had the colour chart along the edge – the little boxes for each colour used. This would be my dyeing reference for wools and yarns.
There was one key stipulation – there could be no colour blue. Given that the picture was to be flowers, and all my flower pictures to date have had quite bright blue sky, this was a challenge. Whilst discussing this with the couple, I noticed an oil painting they had with a blended colour background which could be sky, so I suggested I do something similar in my picture. I took a photo to use for guidance, along with fireplace tiles, and sofa cushions as these show my customer’s preferences.
I enjoyed the discussion process, listening to what they wanted, as well as what they didn’t. Up until now I’ve always just done what I like, which usually turns into quite a riot of colour, so the challenge was to limit the colour palette, and work more on using shape and texture. I also detected a difference in their preferences, where he likes a lot of colour and detail, she was more conservative and liked serenity and muted colours. It was a fun challenge to come up with some new ideas and ways of working, and discover different methods of working with wool.
So I agreed with them that the first step would be for me to dye some swatches of wool and yarns for them to choose from, and that nothing would proceed until they had decided on the colour choices.
I made careful notes of the wools I carded together to create various sky textures, numbered the pieces and created charts for yarns and threads. I also made some draft sketch pieces to show the combinations of colours and some ideas of flower shapes.
I also played with creating some birds, not having done any before, and they wanted some in the picture. Google is fabulous for finding images for inspiration, as is the Facebook Group UK Wildlife Photographers
With ideas and colours agreed, I was ready to begin work on the big picture. I wanted some definite shapes for some of the flowers and greenery with blended variegated colours so I made several sheets of pre-felt and then dyed them by dripping varied colour dyes onto them, then wrapping them in cling film and steaming them.
I chose to warm up the green background by laying down a layer of warm browns and golds before laying out the green on top. The sky was a carded blend of ash grey, teal, peppermint, flesh and oyster, with grey/blue mulberry silk, soya bean fibre and white tussah silk.
Then I began to lay out yarns and silk fibres, along with some long gold and green threads pulled from a piece of gold brocade fabric. I love the way these add a very subtle gleam to the background.
I cut shapes from prefelt for leaves and for the hollyhocks and smaller pale yellow flowers. Larger flowers were made from wool roving, and mulberry silk for bright white large daisies. Dyed cotton scrim, silk chiffon, silk throwsters waste, wool nepps and silk boucle yarns were added for texture.
The felting process took several hours, and I used an electric sander for the first part, to get all the various fibres and fabrics fully bonded together. Here it is hanging out in the sun to dry (I kept vigil to ensure no pigeons could drop anything nasty on it!).
Then I added some free machine embroidery to highlight the flower and leaf shapes, and to add some detail to the birds. I needle felted their eyes and some wing details. Then onto the hand embroidery. It had been a key stipulation of my clients that there was to be a lot of detailed hand embroidery, to create what he called “a show stopper”.
I dyed some threads to get variegated colours, and also silk ribbon to create additional flower and grass shapes. Here are some more close ups of the details. Lastly I added some tiny glass seed beads and some pearl beads.
Then came the tricky challenge of mounting it, ensuring it was no more than 23mm deep at the top. I found some experienced framers to handle this, after experimenting with a few ideas myself, and discovered just how difficult it can be to pull fabric taut and operate a staple gun at the same time! They made a lovely neat job of it and kept within the size parameters (even they thought it was tricky!)
Here’s the finished piece, nicely mounted and ready to be delivered.
You can view even more photos of the work in progress and details of the finished piece on my flickr page here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24232165@N03/albums/72157684151595296
If you would like to commission a piece, large or small, flat or 3D, please contact me to discuss.