Felt making is one of the oldest known forms of textile craft. Archeological finds date skillful application of this technology to at least 6500 B.C. The more traditional forms are found today in Nordic hats and boots, Tyrolean jackets and vests, and the magnificent rugs, saddle pads, yurts and containers of the Kyrgyz and other nomads of the Mongolian steppes. Nunofelt making is a specialized, but equally old, application of felt work, made by arranging open weave fabric with loose wool fibre in an alkaline liquid environment and then subjecting the combination to agitation. Depending upon the desired outcome for the felt, heat may or may not be applied in order to speed, tighten or coarsen the felt.
Wool felt has a number of properties that make it quite versatile. It is both fire resistant and water repellant. It has the ability to insulate against heat as well as against cold. The wool fibres have "memory" which helps retain shape even after folding or crushing. The resilience and portability of felt products make them ideal for everything from body coverings and shelter construction to food vessels.
The key to appreciating Nunofelt work is the understanding that it is primarily a construction technology: there is no sewing, tacking, gluing, pinning or pasting involved. The work is entirely held together by the affinity of the wool fibres as they twine about each other. Surface design may be incorporated in the initial felt making or may be added later by more conventional construction techniques. While cutting may be used to create design elements in traditional felt work, nunofelt is made without using cutwork or any sort of devore.
Questions Frequently Asked About Nunofelt
and Some Sometimes Helpful Responses
How long does it take to make a nunofelt original?
An average nunofelt scarf is three days in the making. A shawl may take three to 14 days. It takes that time because the item is dried completely between each step. A custom or exhibition piece may take two weeks or longer.
How do you DO that?
Mostly with soap, water and a lot of elbow grease.
So how do you get those really thin places? Just scrape it out? / So then you just sew (glue, tack, paste) the felt right on to the silk? / It's like making paper, right? You just pound it a lot?
Nunofelt is a constructive rather than destructive technology. The wool fibres are felted directly through the woven fabric. Sometimes repair work may be done or surface design may be added with felting needles. There is no sewing, cutting, pasting, gluing, tacking, scraping, or pounding involved.
How do you get all those little wrinkles in it?
The rooshing occurs when the wool fibres have worked their way through the woven fabric and have grabbed each other on the other side. As the felting progresses, the fibres twist and curl more and more tightly around each other, gathering and bunching the fabric.
Why is this little scarf the same price as this big one?
While it is a little hard to imagine looking at these now, each of these pieces began with exactly the same size piece of silk fabric and the same weight of wool fibre. Each took the same amount of time to make. Each took approximately the same amount of time to dye. The characteristics of the merino wool determine how much an individual piece will shrink or felt.
Why is this one stiffer or softer than this one?
Because wool is a protein fibre and has cellular memory and so the fibres will felt more loosely or tightly depending on the amount of crimp in the fibre, the alkalinity of the soap solution, the application of heat or cold and, believe it or not, the sign (not the phase) through which the moon is passing when the piece is being felted.
Why is this one flatter, smoother, or puffier than this one?
Wool is a protein fibre that can absorb many times its own weight of water. In some places and/or during some seasons the ambient moisture in the air is high enough to reverse the natural osmotic pressure on the cell walls of the wool and cause the wool to absorb additional moisture. Under the right conditions, even wool can have a baaaaad hair day.
The water absorption may seem paradoxical because, as you probably already know, the natural lanolin in the wool tends to repel moisture.
What kind of material is this?
The loose fibre is mostly 100% Australian merino sheep wool of 19 to 22 micron size. On those occasions when 17 micron wool is available I really enjoy working with it. The woven matrices are usually pure cotton or silk. I generally prefer to work with natural fabrics although I sometimes used synthetics such as lurex or tri-lobal nylon for surface design.
Do you use natural or commercial dyes?
Both. Sometimes at the same time or on the same piece.
What dyes do you use? / Do you use aniline dyes? / How do you get those colors?
My dye methods are trade secrets. Some of my methods are quite unusual and originated during the dye pot/lye pot period of my childhood. I will share that I do some of my dye work in Scotland because the same golden water that makes great Scottish malt whiskey also gives great colour on silk.
Oh, so you do tie-dye?
None of my work is tie-dye. I have experimented with various shibori techniques and have generally concluded that other methods are more compatible with the type of nunofelt that I produce.
Are the dyes fast? Will they run or fade?
As some of the dyes are natural, there may be a slight softening of colour over time. Generally the dyes are fast, although if subjected to too much water or perspiration while being worn over lighter clothing there may be some staining of the reds and blues. Dry cleaning may also leach colour. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight may leach colour.
I just love your work. It is so beautiful. I wish I could buy one, but I don't wear scarves!
Several people like you who don't wear scarves have mentioned that they bought them anyway and then hung them up as wall art or used them as table runners or altar cloths.
One woman wanted one so badly and was so distressed that she couldn't think of a way to use it, that her husband volunteered to build a shadow box with draping pegs and a hinged door so that she could see and enjoy the scarf—and she could change the arrangement as she wished. He did and she did.
I simply encourage people to consider various uses as they would for any lovely rectangular textile. These might be belts, hip huggers, hat bands, head wraps (especially attractive in nappy (any length) or short curly hair), table or dresser toppers, and shelf liners in a curio cabinet under other collectable pieces. One woman bought a shawl for her grand piano. Shawls draped over the backs of couches or chairs add colour and texture to a room.
How sturdy are these? How should I care for them?
The more tightly felted pieces are sturdier than the loosely felted ones. These pieces like best to be treated in the same way that any fine fabric would be treated. Each piece comes with a content and care label. If you find that you have other questions about care, please feel free to call, write, or e-mail me.
How should I clean them? Can I wash them?
Both wool fibre and silk are naturally dirt repellent, so just a light swoosh in cool water with a towel pat followed by an air dry out of direct light is the preferred way of refreshing the item. If something were spilled, a drop or so of soap for delicate fabrics would be all right. Dry cleaning is not recommended as it leaches the protective natural oils and destroys the fibres. Neither the dyes nor the fibres are enhanced by prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
Do you sell directly to people who just call out of the blue?
Rarely. I first ask how they have come to know about my work. As I do not do studio tours, shows or sales from my studio, I let them know about the boutiques and galleries, which carry my work. I tell them that I do two retail shows a year, both within a week of each other during the winter holiday season. I also join other artists in by-invitation only studio shows. Upon rare occasions, I will do a private trunk show for friends of friends or affiliated groups.
Is there a price difference between a direct purchase and a gallery or boutique purchase? When do they go on sale?
No. Occasionally, boutiques or galleries will make a slight reduction in price or give a gift to a valued customer. These nunofelt originals do not go on sale.