Experiments with Nuno Felting

Today I’d like to talk about a crafting technique that I myself am still learning. Recently, I’ve started working with wool and silk to create new fabric through a method called nuno felting, which results in some stunning organic felt pieces. My Flower Elf costume design (pictured below) heavily relied on this technique.

From Wikipedia:

Nuno felting is a fabric felting technique developed by Polly Stirling, a fiber artist from New South Wales, Australia, around 1992. The name is derived from the Japanese word “nuno” meaning cloth. The technique bonds loose fibre, usually wool, into a sheer fabric such as silk gauze, creating a lightweight felt.
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuno_felting

In simpler terms, felting is a process of taking loose fluff and compressing it together to form a cloth. Sheep’s wool is the most popular choice, but many natural fibers will felt — including alpaca, angora, human hair (think dreadlocks), and cat fur.

You can incorporate some other materials, such as silk or lace, into the feltmaking process. Although these materials don’t felt on their own, the wool fibers will bond to the silk (or other open weave fabrics) to assimilate them into the new fabric. This also makes the fabric stronger than it would be without them.

Photo by Joseph Chi Lin. Makeup by David Ian Grant. Wig sponsored by  Arda Wigs . Costume designed, made, and worn by me.

Photo by Joseph Chi Lin. Makeup by David Ian Grant. Wig sponsored by Arda Wigs. Costume designed, made, and worn by me.

The finished felt created with this method is incredibly lightweight and soft. The material is slightly malleable and can be stretched around forms to create complex curves, giving it many exciting possibilities for crafting and design.

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Felting On Chiffon

Here’s an overview of the basic steps that go into creating a piece of nuno felt. This blog will focus more on the design decisions that yield various results, rather than the technical details of the felting process. I recommend looking at tutorials from more experienced felt-makers for that info, since this is more of a record of my beginner experiments.

Materials

I’m using two-tone silk chiffon and solid merino wool roving from Ashland Bay, in the color Garden Ivy. For nuno felting, you need some type of very thin silk (or similar) base fabric and a raw fiber (roving) that can felt.

Laying the Roving

The wool roving is laid out in deliberate rows. After the first layer is applied, a second layer should be oriented perpendicular to the direction of the first layer. Alternate directions as you add layers.

Wet Felting

The actual felting process uses water and soap to compress the fibers together and form a cloth. Wool shrinks with water and heat. In nuno felting, it grips into the silk (or other base cloth) which shrinks with it.

Techniques

For this project, my goal was to create a dress that would have an intriguing, otherworldly, organic texture. To create the felt pictured here, I used two layers of green roving over a color-shifting silk chiffon. As you can see, I only laid wool over the upper portion of the fabric, leaving a large section of unfelted silk at the bottom. When the wool shrinks, it will gather the silk into a ruffled flounce which will become the skirt portion of the dress. Read on for what that looks like.

Next, we wet felt. There are countless ways to approach this, and I watched a dozen or more video tutorials before combining them into my own attempt. If you’re serious about getting into felting, it’s worthwhile to look at lots of different resources and take what you can from each of them. The basic requirements to create felt from wool are: heat, moisture, and agitation. This is the same principle that makes wool sweaters shrink if you put them through the washer and dryer.

To shrink and felt the fiber, I carefully laid a mesh fabric over everything and soaked it in hot soapy water. I spent a few minutes using my hands to massage the surface and make sure that the water had fully penetrated all layers. After pressing all the wet fiber together by hand, I began agitating the fibers to bind them together.

My felting setup consisted of a base layer of rubber shelf liner (many people use bubble wrap), with the silk and wool arranged on top of that, and the mesh protective layer on top. I carefully rolled all layers around a large wooden dowel so that it looked like a big wet mushy scroll. Then, I rolled the whole thing on my table hundreds of times while pressing down on it with the weight of my upper body.

“Shocking” the fibers by alternating soaking it in hot vs cold water is another effective step. I did this in my sink, as pictured below. This locks the fibers together more tightly as they open and close in response to the changing temperature.

Finally, the surface texture is brought out by “throwing” the felt down against a folded towel on your work surface repeatedly. This can shrink the felt asymmetrically, so be sure to check your work every now and then to make sure you don’t take it too far. This was the most fun part for me, and it really brings out the unique character of the felt.

 

Results

The finished fabric is a highly textured silk-and-wool hybrid that can be manipulated around a dress form while wet. The extra silk at the bottom functions as a ruffle that will become a part of the skirt in the final costume.

In this picture you’re looking at the silk side of the fabric, but either side is usable depending on the look you’re going for. You can also apply wool to both sides of the silk if you prefer.

I love the unique, unpredictable nature of this medium. Although you can have some idea what to expect, there’s an element of spontaneity to each piece you make. No two pieces will come out exactly the same, and the fun is in embracing the variety.

 

Designing with Fiber

One of my favorite aspects of feltmaking is the ability to incorporate colorful designs directly into the surface of the cloth. The piece below was created by laying long tufts of purple roving down onto a base layer of green. I also used some loose strands of silk thread, which crinkled up dramatically when felted. The swirly, soft transitions and wrinkled texture are a natural result of the felting process. The fiber seems to float along the surface of the water and settle into smooth shapes.

Here’s the same piece during vs after the wet felting process. As you can see, the extra silk along the edges contracts into a kind of organic ruffle. In these images, you’re looking at the wool side of the fabric.

While building this dress, I experimented with different color combinations between each layer of wool. It turned out that each layer was mostly opaque, but the final pieces still had subtle color variations depending on what order I applied the felt.

 

Creating imagery

With the piece below, I was attempting to create a sort of basic picture directly onto silk. In the first two photos you can see my dry design, pre-felting. I used a variety of colors of hand-dyed merino wool, as well as silk threads and wool yarn. As the felting progressed, the material began to shrink, creating the extreme crinkle texture seen in the last photo.

As an experiment this was interesting — see how squiggly the dark green yarn became during felting? That’s a neat indicator of how much the material shrinks and moves during the agitation stage.

That said, I don’t really like the look of this finished piece. If the same vine and flower design were applied to a solid wool background, it could have shrunk more uniformly and created a clearer image in the final results. I think I will try that next time, and call this one a learning experience.

 

Utilizing Pattern Shapes

Although the results of felting are somewhat unpredictable, it’s still useful to strategically plan your pattern pieces. You can do this by cutting your silk into certain shapes — a skirt, a sleeve, etc. Keep in mind that it will shrink when felted, and that the shrinking process is somewhat irregular.

Here’s an example of a skirt flounce I made for my Flower Elf costume. Most of the other felt shapes I made for this costume were triangular, which tend to have a flattering drape. These are the kinds of deliberate design decisions you can make in your approach, while still embracing the element of chance.

 

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Putting it all together

To complete this costume, I stitched my felt together by hand and added some extra crocheted and embroidered details. More experienced felt artists will often create whole garments from single, unbroken pieces of felt. I haven’t reached that skill level yet, but there’s still plenty to learn and try as a beginner.

See more photos of my finished project on the Flower Elf costume page.

For more felting product recommendations, check out the felting list on my Amazon page.

Photo by Joseph Chi Lin. Makeup by David Ian Grant. Wig sponsored by Arda Wigs. Costume designed, made, and modeled by me.

This is just the start of my felting experiments. Stay tuned for more felt projects and techniques as I try new things!

Dyeing my curtains

processed_20190816_155749.jpg

Today I did some casual dyeing to add a little color to my kitchen. For this project, I didn’t have any particular results in mind, and I wanted to only use supplies that I already had laying around. This was essentially an experiment, so I decided to document each step and record my results.

For simplicity’s sake, I decided to dye the fabric in my washing machine. My typical preferred dye method is on a stovetop, which can give you much more precise results. But since I didn’t need precision today, I decided to skip the mess and extra work and just toss everything into the machine. When you use your washing machine to dye, don’t forget to run an empty load with bleach afterward to clean out your machine.

My curtains came from the thrift store, with no tags to denote the fiber content, so I was flying blind when it came to determining which dye to use. I happened to have some Kelly Green dye from two different brands: RIT and iDye poly. The RIT is more universal, and the fabric appeared to be cotton, so it seemed like a good place to start.

I totally forgot to take a “before” picture of the curtains, but they were white with a light gray trim and decorated with yellow and orange embroidery.

Round one: RIT Kelly Green

I filled the washer with hot water on a small load setting. I had about third of a bottle of dye, which I mixed in with a stick along with a quarter cup of salt, before adding the pre-wet fabric. I kept an eye on the washing machine and turned the dial back once on the agitation cycle in order to give it more time to absorb pigment before rinsing.

After the complete wash cycle, I pulled everything out to check the results. The trim around the bottom of the curtains became a vibrant kelly green, while the main fabric only absorbed a small amount of dye that looked more blue than green. The dramatic difference between the two fabrics suggests that the upper fabric might be synthetic or blended fiber. So with that in mind, I decided to give it a second run with the iDye poly. The fabric below was photographed wet.

Round Two: iDye Poly Kelly Green

My goal for round two was to balance the color tone between the top and bottom, so that it was less blue-green and more green-green.

Once again, I filled the washer with hot water on a small load setting. This time, I added my dye and a packet of color intensifier (which comes with the dye). I did not measure the exact amount of dye used, but it was less than one full packet. I did not reset the wash cycle this time, so the fabric was submerged in dye for slightly less time than the last round.

Sure enough, the fabric which had been too-blue before was now a much closer match to the bottom trim. I wasn’t aiming for an exact match (which would be difficult without separating the fabrics) but I wanted a slightly more cohesive look overall. In that sense, round 2 succeeded. The fabric below was photographed wet.

Results

Nothing’s official until the fabric is heat set and dry, so here’s how that looked in the end. I ran them through a normal cycle in my dryer, and afterward the color variations turned out to be much more subtle than they appeared when wet. It’s hard to tell exactly how something will come out until it’s dry, which can make the dye process very tedious. But if you’re willing to do a little trial-and-error and proceed with an open mind, dyeing fabric can be an easy and accessible way to add some color to your life.

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Cosplay Comeback at A-kon 2019

My cosplay booth setup at A-kon this year. Dress: Holy Clothing | Wig: Arda Wigs

My cosplay booth setup at A-kon this year.
Dress: Holy Clothing | Wig: Arda Wigs

This year I had the honor of returning to my favorite hometown convention, A-kon, as a cosplay guest. This trip brought a lot of nostalgia for me personally, as A-kon was the first big con I ever attended as a young nerd.

It was also the first place I ever competed alone in a cosplay contest. I wore Holo in the mainstage contest at A-kon 2013, bringing home a Judge’s award for my work. The experience was a big moment for me as a beginner cosplayer, and a huge boost of encouragement. During that contest, I met many cosplayers who would go on to become some of my closest friends in the community (as well as future collaborators).

Because of that history, I have a lot of love for the convention and its legacy. I’ve seen A-kon change in many ways throughout the years, but I always find something to enjoy.

In addition to judging the cosplay contest (alongside the incredible December Cosplay and Azure Props), I ran a booth in the cosplay section of the artist alley. This was a fantastic opportunity to socialize with attendees as well as the other cosplay guests, who can be hard to track down otherwise. I don’t typically keep a booth space at conventions, but the experience was so fun and positive that I’ll probably bring a more streamlined version of this to future events whenever possible.

A-kon was the first convention I’d attended in several months, following some tragic and life-altering events. The friendliness and support I received from attendees that weekend was a huge reminder of why I still find so much value in this community. I had some really great conversations with random cosplayers I encountered, and that energy was really refreshing. Thank you to everyone who came by to say hello and/or support my artistry.

My convention schedule will probably be more limited in the future, with fewer events that aren’t directly connected to work. Even as my priorities shift, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to just enjoy the convention atmosphere when I’m in it.

Welcome to AtelierHeidi.com

Hello and welcome to my new website!

Updating my online home has been long overdue. My goal for this new site is to have a much more organized center to host my tutorials, portfolio, and online store.

I am now selling cosplay prints online! It’s been several years since my cosplay prints were available via the internet, so this is a bit of an experiment. I will make new prints available depending on demand, so feel free to request them via the contact form on my About page.

I am also cleaning out my cosplay closet! You can find a handful of costumes listed in the store. I will be listing more costumes as I continue to organize my house, and cleaning out some cool stuff that I probably won’t wear anymore. Keep an eye on social media for new costume listings and updates.

I also have a larger online pattern store than ever before. I will continue to build this section as I release new costume work. These patterns are available as instant downloads after purchase, so you don’t have to wait for an e-mail.

I have a lot more updates planned for this site, mostly in the form of tutorials and other cosplay resources. New posts will be rolling out for a while, but in the meantime please explore and enjoy!

As always, thank you for the support.

XOXO,

Heidi

Source: https://www.atelierheidi.com/design#/elf-n...

Review: Yaya Han’s Ultimate Bodysuit Pattern

Modeling my first mockup of the pattern. From here, customization and tailoring can really take your bodysuit to the next level.

Modeling my first mockup of the pattern. From here, customization and tailoring can really take your bodysuit to the next level.

(Originally published on tumblr in 2015)

I gave this pattern a try while prepping for my recent Zero Suit Samus cosplay. I have a few bodysuit options in my pattern stash already; in the past, I’ve constructed bodysuits using my own drafted patterns and Kwik Sew 3052, as well as customizing multiple derivative patterns using either of the above as a base. When I got my hands on Yaya Han’s Ultimate Bodysuit Pattern, I wanted to see how it stacked up and whether it could live up to its title as a go-to bodysuit pattern in the future.

The major difference between this pattern and other bodysuit patterns I’ve used before is the large number of panels. The torso consists of 12 panels alone, plus two panels for each leg, and one for each arm and collar. Bodysuits can be made with as few as one panel for the legs and torso combined; this pattern breaks up the same area into 16 different pieces. More panels means more time spent cutting, pinning, and sewing; however, every seam provides another opportunity to more finely-tune the fit. If your end goal is to make a solid color bodysuit or one with simple seam lines, an experienced seamstress will probably end up combining some panels where the extra seams are unnecessary. With this in mind, having a multitude of panels has limited benefits. If your end goal is to make a bodysuit with complex seams and many panels, such as the Zero suit or a plugsuit, starting with a closely fit mockup has more of an advantage.

Each section of the bodysuit is divided up with reconfiguration in mind. For instance, separating the leg and arm pieces allows you to omit them if desired. Another example is the undercup seam, which is not really necessary unless your bust size rivals Yaya Han’s (in which case, congratulations.) However, isolating the bust on its own pattern piece allows you to easily select your cup size from the pattern’s three available options.

The versatility of these pieces is one of the pattern’s main selling points. It’s convenient to have both a center front and center back seam to choose the placement of your zipper. However, unless you enjoy the aesthetic of having many seams, it will take some extra leg work to eliminate them (spoiler alert: neither the center front or center back panels can be cut on the fold straight out of the envelope).

The packaging states that the pattern is for use with two-way stretch knit fabric only. It’s written on every piece so that you can’t miss it. I suppose that this is intended to discourage the use of non-stretchy fabric moreso than four-way stretch fabric, because four-way stretch fabric will also work just fine if you’re prepared to make any corresponding fit adjustments. From an instructional standpoint, it’s more practical to identify a specific fabric type as a standard point of reference. For this pattern, the intended outcome is a two-way stretch bodysuit which stretches along the body’s length but not its width. For this reason, accurate fitting is crucial.

The pattern does not include instructions for fitting after construction. To be fair, the specifics of fitting a bodysuit vary widely based on the individual figure and the fabric used. In my particular case, the torso fit pretty well with only minor adjustments. However, the armscye was extremely large for my shoulder, while the legs were very small in both length and width. These types of fit issues can be completely different from person to person, so this is not a complaint about the pattern or a suggested alteration for the rest of you. Instead, I stress the importance of measuring your body ahead of time and making flat alterations to the paper pattern before cutting anything. It will save you a lot of time and cut fabric, particularly with a pattern which needs to be as closely fit as this one.

Once you’ve put in the work to customize it to your size, this pattern is as good as bodysuits get. It’s designed as a catch-all intended to be useful in the greatest possible number of situations. But that does not always make it the easiest or most straightforward base pattern for your specific situation. If your end goal is a complex, closely-fit bodysuit with many panels, this pattern will facilitate a more finely-tuned mockup than any other commercial pattern I’ve seen on the market. If you’re looking to make a very basic bodysuit with limited colors and seams, you can save yourself some time and effort by starting with a simpler base pattern.

Verdict: this is a good and useful bodysuit pattern, but not necessarily accessible to a beginner. If you are a competent seamstress who is willing to put in some time and several mockups to arrive at the perfect fit, this pattern is a fantastic starting point! But if you are inexperienced or intimidated by the thought of putting together a bodysuit, this pattern will not hold your hand. There are far simpler options on the market which are more suited for learning.