Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Slipper Felting Sleepover at Linda Van Alstyne's

my finished felt slipper fits! (and Ruby's paw)
our fuzzy paws (R, Olive, Ruby)

I finally made my first pair of very firm felt slippers!  Last fall I set a date with felting friend Carol Ingram from Connecticut (the Queen of Surface Design) to get together for a Slipper Felting Sleep Over Weekend at Linda Van Alstyne's.

I counted down the weeks!  I've been wanting to learn to make slippers forever with my good friend Linda, the Queen of Hard Felt.  The three of us (and many of our felting friends) always have endless things to talk about.  From fiber, to food, to... well, some things are best left unsaid.

Linda & unfulled gray slipper
I first met Linda about 20 years when I was passing off my sister Polly Stirling to her and Beth Beede at the Starbuck's in Saratoga .  Polly was visiting from Australia, and I drove her to meet up with Linda and Beth.  Linda, Carol and I became good friends over our years in The Northeast Feltmakers Guild.  Both of these women possess an uncommon generosity when it comes to sharing their home or their knowledge.
R's fulling, resist still inside
L working the newly cut opening
L comparing before and after
Anticipating the weekend- I know myself pretty well, or so I thought.  I won't win any prizes for physical strength or stamina, so I was prepared to struggle with the physical challenge required of fulling down to a dense, hard felt.  However, I was shocked by the struggle I faced to wrap my head around the layout process.  (Six layers, two sides, twelve layers, two feet, four sides, twenty-four layers, separate stacks, separate directions, separate sides, identical layers, both sides, two resists- that's how my brain floated it around).
working my opening
 I've put in a lot of thought over the years about the difference in learning styles we all have.  I've observed a gamut of emotional responses by public school teachers and felting teachers, facing the challenge of teaching.  It is no easy task on either side of the fence, and patience can wear thin.  But I was shocked by how clueless I felt while trying to comprehend the slipper layout.  I've been making felt for a long time, but when I thought I understood, I'd find I did not, and Linda would try again to explain.  My powers of observation were occluded by the power of confusion when faced with such a multitude of steps.  I did my best.

L's on r after fulling & her resist
In the end (and after I grasped that I had to make two units out of the little piles of separated wool) it seemed quite simple, but I did not get it at all along the way.  I shouldn't have been surprised, Linda's resist pocketed bag stumped me the same way.   My interest in learning styles (and appreciation for teachers who honor differences) is informed by my child's struggle, and my own, with ADD.  I am still undecided as to the best approach when teaching a brain like mine, but it was a lesson in perseverance!  I was pleased that I only shed a few quick tears, and didn't hide in the bathroom at all.
Carol's opening cut, ready to remove resist
Carol's pair with latex applied to sole

adding acrylic paint to tone the latex

Carol & Linda.  Slippers not quite fulled.

Linda's masks & studio
We felted past midnight on Saturday.  Linda insisted I complete both of  my layouts (which I "resisted" but finished), then I crashed hard.  I woke up on the fold-out by Linda's studio, surrounded by years of her felting accomplishments- quirky masks, playful sculputres, beautiful bags, intriguing wall hangings, and rows of gorgeous resist dyed pieces on top of stacks of wool bins. It is quite an inspiring body of work.  Linda astounds me with her energy.  She works full time as a physical therapist, and spends most spare moments felting and teaching, if she isn't with her extended family.  She's always an enthusiastic ambassador for felt and passes on what she knows.  And that is a lot.  

L rolling to full & shrink length
heel tucked in to protect shape
L twisting to shrink width

manipulating toe back
manipulating toe forward

pushing with tool to form toe box
Linda shapes heel area
Sunday after breakfast, we focused on fulling down our slippers.  Linda was great at teaching ways to manipulate and shape, paying constant attention to keep the fit of the heel snug, or draw in the arch of the foot.  As Linda has shown me many times before, subtle movements can make all the difference in shaping your felt.  I learned I was using too much water.  I had been thinking of the Finn rug workshop with Karoliina Arvilommi and Rod Welch, and how much water we used.  But Carol observed my slipper as water logged, slowing down the process for me.  I extracted some water and it did speed things up considerably.  I finished one slipper to fit, and took the mate home with about an inch in length left to shrink.
 If there is a next time, I will focus more on the color and surface design.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but when I cut the opening in each slipper, I could see I just about reversed the color sequence of my layers!  In the end, the colors migrated and the pair looked matched.  They are not exactly beautiful to look at, but the structure of the felt is just what it should be.   My mission accomplished.  Thank you Carol, and especially Linda!

Our next felting sleep over: Surface Design with Carol Ingram!

Robin's slippers, more shrinking needed

too roomy, but almost there!
Both Linda Van Alstyne and Carol Ingram are available for felt making workshops at their home studios or outside venues.
at home, Ruby Jet bridging Olive


  1. Well I think they're adorable. I can just feel them - they're wonderful. And I should have been there to administer hugs. Robin, you can do anything. XXXOOO

  2. Yay! - Learning can be painful, but so rewarding in the end . . Thanks for sharing your experience Robin!

  3. Wow!!! Remember mine Robin?! Eeek, they were terrible. Yours look lovely and warm. Miss you! xoxo

  4. Oh Robin, What a great post...Just perfect to accompany my first cup of coffee for the day. Your slippers are marvelous!!!! I, too, have put off this felt-making challenge and now I know why...Whew... What a workout...Both mental gymnastics and physically:-)Isn't it interesting how we all think and learn so differently. Much appreciation to the really good teachers who realize this and work so diligently so that all learn in our own manner. The fact that we all learn differently also comes out in how we create...And Robin, thank goodness that you learn and think like you do...Your work is amazing! I still think back to the awe that I felt (no pun intended...well not much anyway;-) in watching you design that collar last summer...Theresa tracing your outline, the calculations that went in to the template sizing...I've never seen anything like it. Isn't that one of the gifts of feltmaking? We all think and work differently...we all have things that present challenges for us...Yet, it still works... And, oftentimes, works beautifully! Great friends that you have, too, Robin...Those friends who encourage us not to throw in the towel are true treasures. Thank you again for this post Robin.

  5. Robin, Thanks so much for sharing the weekend with us. Linda is a wonder. You are not alone in having trouble keeping up with her. Every part of her goes at light speed and if you get distracted for a second you are totally lost. Dealing with ADD is tricky. I think that having things broken down into stages and written down is important if I really want to stay on track....and even then it can be tough.
    I love what you wrote about the tears and not hiding in the bathroom. I think there is a big club of women who have cried in front of Carol. Maybe because she is so caring and seems so strong. All in all it sounds like a typical felter's weekend! :)

  6. Looks like you had a fabulous time Robin and your slippers are great! X

  7. beautiful feltblog!!!
    monica /


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