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.