Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chloe's Nuno Tunic

You know when you have those moments when something turns out really well?  Those moments you can't really control?  I had one! 

Chloe was turning 22 and asked for impersonal gift money for her birthday.  I know my girl, and she'd never feel loved if she couldn't open a gift... well that part didn't turn out so well.  More later on that. 

I decided rather last minute to make her a nuno felted tunic.  She's used to me using  her as a dress form, so I got her to come to the studio and took measurements with no questions asked.  Then I started gathering materials for my project.  Slowly.  It took me ages to figure out where to begin.  She liked a piece of purple and burgundy low immersion dyed paj I had around.  It wasn't her usual colors, so that surprised me.   I decided I wanted to try something new and I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go, but and as usual, I started going with the force, (as we used to say) without really knowing what I was doing, or so I thought.

I  located a simple pattern I'd sized up for an old project that fit Chloe, but I wasn't sure what the shrinkage rate was I had calculated for that.  I sketched out a drawing with her measurements a couple of times for reference.  I roughly compared the measurements of the pattern to my drawings, and tried to make sense of the notes I had taken.  I made the decision that it would work one way or another (I'd make it work!).

my seamless jacket layout, Inge Bauer Workshop, 2008
Piecing at my Inge Bauer Workshop, c.2008
I drew on knowledge I gained from my seamless jacket workshop with Inge Bauer.  I cut out a resist of bubble wrap, sized to the pattern.  Then I wondered if that was a mistake, maybe I should have made it from plastic sheeting to reduce the bulk?  Oh well, too late.  (Too lazy.)  I grabbed the dyed silk Chloe liked, and realized that it was only about a scarf length, not nearly enough to cover the entire resist pattern.  I toyed around with other narrow lengths of dyed silk I had, and picked out a few in colors that might work- blues with white, greys, blue greens.

Inge Bauer, my felting hero
With the complexities of having to piece the outer surface from strips, I wanted to make life a little easier for myself.  I knew that I wanted to create a lot of texture.  I wanted this garment to be very soft and not wooly.  As I looked at the pattern on my table, I figured the best way to achieve this was to make a sandwich of silk fabric, with wool in the middle. And if I could find a larger piece of silk in my stash that would only need side seams, it could act as a base for the fiddly strips.  (When I made my "Inge jacket" I pieced a bunch of scraps of silk I'd cut into shapes, and basted them together like a jig saw puzzle.  It took me forever.  I wanted to make it flow visually, so red I placed on one front hem edge I wanted to repeat on a shoulder, or some such thing....  But there was no fabric base, so the piecing had to be precisely fitted together.)

tunic in Luckystone Feltworks Studio, The Shirt Factory

yummy silks
the green on the left
I chose a piece of iridescent purple and green silk chiffon from Delectable Mountain to make the tunic base from.  It wouldn't show much, except in areas I wanted to leave translucent- without wool, and the color would work fine enough.  I cut it out, basted it together, stitching through the resist at the side seams.  Then I had second thoughts... but I decided by the time I was ready to remove the resist, it would be stable enough to remove the basting, and the wool fibers would hold the garment seams together.  But to make it simpler, I on the other side seam, I basted the fabric together, and just tacked it to the resist.  All this took me way longer than I'd expected and the birthday was the next day.  I started my layout with super fine space dyed merino.  I hadn't enough in any one colorway, so I had to raid all my bins and drawers to pull together bits that would work together (of course!)  I laid out the piece, changed my mind about some things, pulled off the fibers and started over.  I really don't mind doing that.  I usually do that.  I can't know if I like it unless I start, and if it seems off, I know I won't like it in the end, so it's less of a waste of time to redo than go forward.  I had a strip of gray laid down amidst the purples and blue.  I love gray but decided it was too glum for Chloe, so I yanked it off.  I had feared the pale blue would be too pale but then I figured if I added some sparks of pale silk top here and there it would work.  I finished laying out the front and had to call it a day.  I wasn't thrilled with the whole thing.  It looked a bit too static.

Chad's Resist Shaped Felt Workshop, Felter's Fling 2007
Chad Alice Hagen, Queen of resist felting
These are my thoughts when I lie in bed.  I think of colors, and what would make my layout better.  What shapes or texture or combination of color or line might spark things up.  I thought about why I can close my eyes to picture a color combination, how I can pick and choose colors in my closed eyes mind, move them around, add and subtract them.  I can see colors so clearly in my mind.  But I can't get into my car to drive from the studio to the post office with a clear idea of how to get there.  Even if I've been there a thousand times.  I have to start driving in the general direction and as I get closer I make my way with more assurance.  And that made me think of my felting hero Chad Alice Hagen's words of advice, "make one decision at a time or you'll drive yourself crazy".  I have pulled that advice out of my pocket many times over the years, with silent thanks to Chad.  It helps calm me down when I don't know where I'm going at the end of the tunnel.

Chloe's Tunic laid out
Day two in the studio, D day, or Birthday, actually!  I had a vision for the tunic.  I separated the strips wider apart, I covered all the spaces between with silk, I added a dash of salmon in a few places, and a little turquoise to brighten.  I stopped being concerned about Chloe's colors, and recalled all the times I've loved gifts I'd never choose for myself.  (My husband Harry and my son Julian both rock at gift giving).  I figured I'd show Chloe she can love new colors!  Now I was in the zone, laying out fibers with abandon.  It was getting closer to time for our dinner reservations and I had to speed it up.  I did Inge's technique of using a square of bubble wrap, bubbles down, soap up the smooth side then rub, rub, rub moving quickly all over the wetted down surface of the felt.  I flipped the piece over, rub, rub, rub.
Then I rolled it over a noodle, did about 4 minutes per side, took the noodle out, did a squishy roll from both ends, then flipped it and squishied from both ends again.  Then I added hot water and started to massage it a bit on the bubble wrap.  I was afraid of getting webby nuno.  My nemesis is webby nuno.  Ask my students.  But I was in a rush, and I remembered Inge saying "mangle it"  and "keep it wet and soapy".  So I added more soap and started to sort of wad it up and mush it around.  I tossed it a bit.  Mushed it.  Threw it, rolled it, squished it.  Just did whatever I could think of that wasn't too rough or dry or aggressive, but kept it moving around softly and quickly.  By now I was adding hot water from my electric kettle.  The felt was feeling a little hard, and that scared me. And it was time to go, just about.  I had to teach in the studio the next day, so I rushed around the for a white tornado clean up.  I rinsed out the top, and took it home to finish up.

I got dressed for dinner, then stuck the tunic under my hot water faucet in the kitchen sink (I don't have hot water in my studio) and quickly rolled it side to side between my hands to shrink up the bodice more.  I ran down to the cellar and tossed it into the spin cycle of the washer.  I ran upstairs and dried some of the moisture out of it with the iron.  In the car I folded it up and tied it softly with twine. 

So Chloe didn't really get to unwrap a package, but she did get to untie a bow, and unfold a real thing made just for her.  It fit her perfectly, I only had to roll one arm hole to reshape it by a half inch.  I couldn't have been happier that it all fell together.  And when it was dry, no hardness, it was really soft and silky!  My worries about webby nuno were for naught.