If you have been following my blog you will not be at all surprised when I tell you I brought out my saved old tights for these nests. Together with stranded cotton threads, needle, scissors and some of our family’s Ryeland wool I set about the first idea I had.
For this first nest I fluffed up a hand full of the wool and stuffed it into one of the ‘barely black’ legs of the tights. I didn’t push it all the way to the toe as I didn’t want the thicker toe part to be part of my nest. I pondered over how to create the nest shape. I created the nest shape but then had two ends of tights that I didn’t know what to do with. I remembered somewhere I had seen a technique where one end was pushed through the other and pulled, tied and was then secured together in a neat way with one knot which can be pushed back inside and hidden. I made a dent in the middle of the wool to create a circle shape pulled the toe though and secured both ends with a knot underneath. It is only as I am writing this that I remembered where this technique came from – a surprising place -balloon modelling!
With the knot secured and a nice nest shape, I took my needle and single threads and sewed through the layers to quilt them. Quilting requires three layers of fabric with the middle fabric being a cushioned material which allows the outside stitching to ‘sink’ in and the fabric on either side of the stitch to be raised giving it the traditional ‘puffed up’ look associated with quilts. With a French knot on both the outside and inside this embroidery stitch created a luxuriously padded and quilted nest. The French knots remind me of candy sprinkles which would adorn a cup cake or ice cream.
For the next nest I followed the same method up to when I tied the knot underneath. Only for this one I used black tights. Then using a reverse needle felting needle which pulls the fibres (in this case wool) out of the object as oppose to the normal felting needle which takes the fibres in to the object. Because the Ryeland wool has a lot of crimp the pulled wool comes out quite curly. It only pulls through a few millimetres but covers the surface of the tights densely.
I came across this technique when a very kind, generous and dear friend of mine hand made me a teddy bear using Ryeland wool from our sheep. She told me that she was making it but didn’t say how. First she hand knit the pieces and sewed them together then she stuffed each piece with washed raw wool. After sewing the body parts together she added needle felted paws, foot pads, nose and eyes. Following that she reverse needle felted the entire teddy bear to get the look she desired. This was truly a labour of love and I feel very honoured that she took the time to make it for me. It will become a family heirloom to pass down to my grandchildren who will remember ‘Teddy’ coming out to play and then being put safely away until next time. The following pictures show my first and only (so far) 17 month old grandson enjoying special time with Teddy recently. The pictures show how big Teddy is and also show the texture that reverse needle felting created on him.
After going around the whole of the nest with the reverse needle I was happy with the outcome. This nest reminds me of a sugared donut.
Earlier this year I began saving some of my discarded hair to potentially use in this project. I have two piles ongoing; one is the hair in my hairbrush which is mostly untangled and loose and the other is a pile of little knots which I always have after washing my hair. I always condition my hair after washing as even though I use no product on my hair it is long and fine and tangles easily. After applying conditioner I use my fingers as a comb to distribute it through my hair. I always find I have several hairs entangled in my fingers (my hair sheds easily too) and for as long as I can remember I rub my hands together to knot the hairs more, pull the little lumpy tuff off and throw it away. This probably started when I had my own house and realised that hair can clog the plug hole! And not having mum around to unclog it I looked for ways of stopping it!
As I had a reasonable amount of these knots I decided to try to needle felt it. Needle felting involves a soft surface to stab into such as a sponge/brush and a barbed needle. By stabbing the needle onto and through the fibres the barbs on the needle catch and carry the fibres tightly against and next to others where the scales on the fibre in this case human hair interlink and hook/ grab on to those next to it this creates a firm and strong fabric called felt. In my last post I talked about wet felting this is the same process but with a needle and is sometimes called dry felting.
The human hair needle felted easily and was soon a firm, neat and inviting nest. I’m really pleased with how this one developed and looks.
Looking back and looking forward
I have been reflecting on the project so far. With only 6 months before the exhibition opens, I feel I need to make sure I am track to be completed and happy when the big day comes.
I thought I had veered from my initial ideas but when looking back I see I haven’t. I wanted to deconstruct and reconstruct items – well I have. The potatoe sack and bale band are among some of these items. I wanted to make 50 nests – I am still on target to do this too. One thing I was interested in when I asked the museum for items as my starting point was human hair. Being a hairdresser in my early 20s this was a natural interest to me. I still cut some of my family’s hair and I have been quietly collecting hair from my family, be that trimmings from when I cut their hair or asking them to collect their hairbrush hair. It probably sounds weird and gross to some of you but because of my past –being a hairdresser –and now working with animal hair regularly it doesn’t seem that way to me. My family are also used to my sometimes ‘odd’ requests. Even the newest member of our family, my daughter-in-law just said “OK” when I asked her to save her hairbrush hair, she never even asked why, she’s obviously getting used to me!
Here are some of the other human hair samples which I looked at for my starting point. I shared my favourite one the posy brooch in an earlier blog. The small rectangle brooch with the plaited hair inside is the only one with some additional information with it. It says. Samuel Russell died May 3rd 1834 age 31.
My first foray into using some of this hair showed an opportunity recently when after I trimmed 2” off my husbands hair I decided to try to wet felt it. His beautiful silver grey hair was once ginger he tells me. When I met him thirty years ago he was mousy brown with a ginger beard which had 2 tiny white spots. His beard is now almost all white.
The wet felting technique involves hot water, soap and agitation. The fibres in this case human hair are laid out on bubble wrap in wispy sections and layered in a minimum of three layers facing alternate north/south and east/west. This is covered with a fine mesh, hot water and soap are added and then rubbed to encourage the fibres to intermingled and attach to each other by the scales which each hair/fibre has along its length. The rough surface of the bubble wrap assist this process which is usually quite fast to get the first ‘grab’ by the scales and then a much longer process to get the fibres to produce a good thick solid piece of felt. The hair did not felt at all which surprised me so I decided to layer it again and add some Merino wool between the layers. Merino is a fibre that I know felts well and would hopefully be a ‘bonding’ fibre for the hair. I chose a black colour to contrast with the silver grey of the hair and started again. I used the hair wet from the previous experiment which is what you can see in the pictures.
This worked wonderfully, the black merino migrated to the centre with the hair attached and popping out all over it like a fuzzy fabric. I placed the piece over a glass jar fastened with an elastic band for it to dry. This nest turned out even better than I expected. I have left the band on for now as it flops a bit without. I shall revisit it before the exhibition to place a permanent band around it when I decide what that will be. I have no doubt that it will come to me as I go about my life seeing potential nests in most things.
Bale band secures the bales of hay, haylage and straw enabling them to be moved about securely without risk of the bale falling apart until the bale band is cut and ready for use. The ones we have are usually red and yellow for hay and haylage and this year we have blue for straw bales.
Bale band to farmers and smallholders is a fantastic resource. Once released from holding its cargo it can and is often used to tie up and hold together a variety of items around the farms buildings and fields.
This selection of photos indicates some of the uses we have found for it. To keep a field gate closed, to securely hold open a top stable door which is often battered by strong winds, to fasten closed a jacket which the original fasteners have broke, to tie hay racks to enable sheep to ‘graze’ in the stable whilst lambing.
I wanted to use this coarse manmade fibre to create a welcoming nest for this project. After cutting the knot out I was a left with a decent length to work with. I chose to free form crochet with a large crochet hook. As I created the stitches to suit the look I required for the end piece I was not happy with the way it was working up. I felt it was too thick and dense. I decided to abandon this attempt and split the thick one length into several finer pieces. You can see this first sample in a picture below.
Continuing with the largest crochet hook I started to create stitches using this finer more delicate – if a coarse fibre like this can be classed as delicate – into what turned out to be a beautiful natural, fine and delicate looking nest. I had intended to weave in the ends for a neater more finished look, but found I liked them as they were. I felt they added to the ‘naturalness’ of the piece. It reminded me of straw I wonder if I had done this in red or blue it would still look appealing with the ends left in situ?
Following on with my newly learnt basketry skills (thanks to Joe at www.creativewithnature.co.uk) I thought about what materials I had to hand to try a smaller nest. Using the same processes only on a much smaller scale I dug out my jewellery wires and pliers and got to work.
Wow this was fiddly and I couldn’t have managed without the pliers for weaving some of the thicker wires, but it was well worth the effort as the nest I ended up with is fantastic. As with the small willow nest from my last blog post I intended to remove the handle once completed however it looks great as it is, so I will leave it and see how I feel about it as I continue with this project. So far everyone who has seen this cute little basket wants one! I may need to stock up on jewellery wire again!
I have been very lucky recently to attend a creative workshop as part of my 50th birthday celebrations. I attended a brilliant basket making course with the fabulous tutor Joe of Creative With Nature in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. Part of the appeal to me of this particular course was the fact that we would be foraging for the materials to make the basket from a local beauty spot. Well it was amazing! The colours and materials we foraged were beautiful: hazel, dogwood, bramble, holly, rubus, birch and ivy were collected and several of them used. The basket I made reminds me of a foraging basket which has two sides and I could imagine the garden produce nestled into the sides. A nest without even planning it! The colours are vibrant now but may fade or change over time.
Joe gave me some willow to finish off the basket at home and I had a small amount left so decided to create a small nest with it. Following the instructions I created the round frame, one for the opening/rim and one for the handle/bottom, lashed them together and inserted the side pieces to complete the frame. Weaving the willow through the frame completes the basket/nest. I had intended to cut off the handle to create an open basket but as I had finished it and put it on the table it balanced perfectly on the extended willow and I decided to leave it as it was. A happy accident!
Another nest I have created was for a sleepy mouse! Don’t worry not a real one, a felted one. As part of my business I run creative woolly workshops for people and recently ran a needle felt a sleepy mouse workshop. Needle felting involves using a barbed needle to manipulate wool fibres so they attach to each other by the tiny scales on each fibre to make a dense sculpted 3D sculpture or 2D picture. Everyone made a mouse nest for their sleepy mouse too.
The last nest I made included a ‘blast from the past’ in the form of a cassette tape. Do you know people of a certain age still say ‘tape that programme, ‘young uns’ don’t know what we mean. For the ‘young uns’ it means record that programme. This old cassette tape includes music recorded for me from a French friend during a Yorkshire/Lille exchange during summer 1982 it included music that I wasn’t too keen on and never really listened to it, so I was quite happy to destroy it for the sake of this project.
I decided to crochet this nest. Crochet consists of a series of loops in a chain which in turn are interjoined to create the desired article. A crochet hook is used to create said loops. This was much harder than I anticipated as the tape was tightening too much on the hook making it hard to ensure the smooth sliding through of the loops to create the pattern required. Needless to say this nest ended up quite small but cute and dainty. I am now on the lookout for a VHS tape to destroy for the good of this project as all the ones I have kept are precious including our wedding video from 1988 – even though we don’t have a VHS recorder to watch them on!
I ended 2016 and started 2017 with 2 very different ‘nests’, firstly, a charity shop find which spoke to me: this ceramic tea light holder looked hard and uninviting as a nest but with some clever embroidery with what is often called ‘eyelash’ yarn it changed into a softer more inviting nest. By leaving the ends of the yarns to hang inside and adding more yarn, it became softer more inviting.
During an autumn walk in the scenic Yorkshire countryside my family and I collected some beautifully coloured fallen leaves which I took home to play with. Using an old broken basket that I had hung onto (every artist knows it will be needed sometime! Don’t they? Or is it just me?) I decided to try to weave a nest using only leaves and twigs. This was extremely frustrating! The leaves kept sliding off the twigs and while adding more leaves the twigs would push the already ‘secured’ leaves off. I persevered and after much trial and error I managed to get a nest shape which had no base and was very delicate to the touch. I left it over night in disgust which was a huge error! The following morning all the leaves had dried up and were ‘crispy’ and brittle to the touch! This meant no more playing with these particular leaves and I have not touched them since! The gorgeous vivid colours have remained intact and I have had a few ideas for these new crunchy leaves which I will experiment with and let you know how and if they worked. Some may even make it into the exhibition display areas just for added colour and interest.