Sunday, January 8, 2012


For my birthday this year, the only thing I really wanted was a day all to myself to do some felting. My lovely husband granted my wish by being on baby patrol all day, and late last summer I indulged myself in a project I'd been thinking about undertaking for what seemed like an eternity. An octopus rug.

I don't know what it is about me and cephalapods, but I'm just in love with them. Octopus, cuttle fish, nautilus, squid... they're just such amazing and beautiful creatures. I love their color changing abilities, their mysterious life histories, their amazing tactile and cognitive abilities. And the world they inhabit is so foreign and strange from a human perspective, but also incredibly beautiful. Vibrant colors, interesting shapes, bizzaro life forms. I love it. I think some people who are drawn to the aquatic sciences are drawn there because they feel at home in the water -- and on one level that is true for me, especially fresh water. But on another level, I am drawn to water because it terrifies me, the ocean especially. It's like an alien world right here on our planet. I'll never forget an experience I had while snorkeling in Hawaii -- I was swimming over a reef near the shore watching the schools of tangs and butterfly fish, when all of a sudden I found my self floating over an abyss. The ocean floor had dropped out from beneath me and there was nothing below me but hundreds of feet of dark, crystal-clear water - a shade of blue so rich and pure it is imprinted in my memory. I had this panicky feeling similar to what I imagine I might feel if all of a sudden I found myself floating in outer space. So vulnerable and small. And while it was frightening, it was also exhilarating.

Anyway, back to the rug. I'd been thinking about an octopus rug for a while and had been slowly dyeing fiber in the colors I thought I would want to use. I started my day by looking at some pictures of octopi on-line and made a very quick sketch of a very general layout I had in mind.

Next came the task of preparing the fiber. For the base I wanted to use a mix of brown Navajo-churro (given to me by friends Ben and Grace of Tamarack Tunis) and some Montadale-cross (from my sister's farm) I had dyed purply-blue. This is a picture of the mixture prior to carding it.
These are some pictures of the carding in process.
In addition to the base fiber, I carded some orange and yellow Montadale-cross fiber for the octopus body. This is a picture of the prepped fiber, ready to wet-felt:
After wet felting several layers of the base fiber to create thickness to the rug, I was ready to layout the top layer that would have the main design of the octopus.
I also interspersed the wool with some salvaged silk threads I bought on a whim at Northeast Fiber Arts Center. I love that place -- I have to be careful when I go there as I could easily spend my entire life savings. My thought was that the silk threads would create a wispy underwater feel of an octopus swishing its tentacles through murky water. After the layout was complete, I continued with the wet felting process. This entails putting hot soapy water on the rug, rolling it up, and agitating it by rolling it back and forth - over and over and over and over... It takes a while for the fiber to start to have a firm felt consistency. I knew I planned to give the rug some needle-felt finishing details, so didn't worry about getting it fully felted -- just enough for it to hold together well. Here it is after I stopped wet felting and laid it out to dry:
This is the first time I've tried laying-in some of the top design during the wet felting process rather than doing all of the top detail with a needle after wet felting the base. It results in less-crisp edges, but it saves a lot of time, and for aquatic subject matter, I think the effect is suiting. To me it has a fluid, underwater appeal.And there it sat for months. Tropical storm Irene had come to visit, walloping Vermont's rivers, and making work at my real job as a State river scientist crazy and stressful. Between that and using my "free" time trying to increase inventories for holiday markets, harvesting the garden, making Christmas presents for family, and oh, there's that wonderful little boy in my life... anyhow, the octopus rug project got shelved for a little while. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I started needle felting in some of the details -- the eye and suckers, as well as making the rug firmer in general. Here's how it looks so far:
After I finish the suckers and firming it up, I'll wet felt it one more time to create a smoother finish. I'm excited and pleased with how it is turning out. My intention is for this to be a functional rug -- that is, actually use it as a rug instead of a wall hanging. I'll post an update when it is complete.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Henry's Wooly Leggings

This is a guest blog by Henry. He wanted to tell you about his new hand-knit wooly leggings:

Hi there. I'm Henry. I'm almost 11 months old. My mom just finished knitting me these super-warm leggings, and I wanted to show them to you. She tells me she started knitting them before I was even born... it' s taken a while to finish them. But luckily they fit just right. And it's a brisk 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so they're keeping me toasty.

I decided to test them out in all the things I like to do. Sort of a test drive.

Good for sitting and playing with toys? Check.

Good for crawling? Check.

Good for climbing? Check.

Good for standing? Check.
Good for doing lunges? Check.

Good for reading? Check.

Good for being upside down? Check.
Good for spying on Dad in the bathtub? Check.

Do they make my bum look cute? Of course.
Hey Mom, these leggings check out. Thanks, Mom!

Hand-made Christmas Presents

For the past few years I've been primarily making my Christmas presents to give to family (instead of buying them). This year it was a little (actually, a lot) more challenging to find the time to work on projects with a 10.5 month old baby boy in the mix, but I did manage to pull a few things together.

For my sisters and brother, I made some mittens out of various bits of wool... or are they oven mitts? The inside of the mitts are sewn from felted hand knit sweaters (knit by my mother) that had been worn out. I felted (actually, the correct term is fulled) them by putting them in the washing machine with hot water and just a little soap. The outside cover for the mitts were sewn from scraps of wool left over from a neighbors sewing project. She had given a giant bag of scraps to my mother to use in her braided rugs (thanks Judy!), and my mom passed on to me the bits that couldn't be braided easily. The resulting mitts are a tad (actually, a lot) bulky. They'd be good for stationary winter activities where you don't actually need to use your hands, like, um, maybe ice fishing? Unfortunately, no one in my family ice fishes or spends much time stationary in general. For this reason, their gifts were accompanied by a note that said:

"Warmest mittens in the world or best oven mitts in the entire universe? You decide!!"

I made a series of patterns for different size hands and for the insides and covers:
If I ever make these again, I'll make the thumbs longer. I hand embroidered the cuff with a cross stitch -- this was born out of necessity as I couldn't fit that much material under my sewing machine foot! Even though they came out much bulkier than I would have liked, there was something very satisfying about creating something useful out of materials that were no longer serving their original purpose - sort of giving it new life. I believe in this day and age it is termed "up-cycling".

Christa's mitts:
Andrew's mitts (match his Johnson wool Jacket):
Jeca's Mitts (covers sewn from lots of thin strips):

Jeca trying out her mitts (turns out you can use them while walking a dog without too much trouble):
I made a gray and red pair for my Mom that I didn't get a photo of before wrapping them up.

Speaking of my Mom, she got some hand made birthday presents (this year we celebrated her birthday, New Years, and Christmas all on the same day, as I was away at in-laws for Christmas). I knit this hat almost entirely while in Illinois visiting the in-laws. I took advantage of the time Henry had playing with cousins and aunts and uncle and grandparents to crank out a knitting project I'd been trying to get to since the summer! This block hat pattern was designed by a very talented local knitter named Marci Harding. I love this pattern and have knit it many many times.
Mom trying it out on a New Years Eve walk:

Mom and Jeca were a little apprehensive about appearing in my blog, but I assured them that I was pretty sure that cousins Julie and Laura were the only people that actually read it (thanks, guys!)

I also gave my mom a Gyotaku shibori shirt for her birthday that I had printed and dyed earlier in the fall (at the same time I made a shirt for my sister Christa's birthday).



It's always a good feeling to give something hand-made, and it's sort of a double gift. A gift to me as I enjoy the creative process of making something with my own hands and imagination, and a gift to the receiver of the object, as well a little piece of my soul.