Palm Washboards and Heartfelt Silks

Palm washboards are tools for people making felt using the wet felting technique. They are the original brainchild of Robbin and Harry Firth of Heartfelt Silks , Stillwater Minnesota.

The journey to creating the palm washboard began when Robbin learned to knit and then to spin. Everything she knitted she felted and then she came across nuno felting and was intrigued. With nuno felting there was a lot of rolling and as Robbin worked full time she asked Harry to make her a tool to speed up the process and so began two years of collaboration to perfect the tool which worked best. Fortunately for Robbin, Harry is a master wood artisan who has worked with wood craft for over 25 years. In addition to making furniture and other various wood objects (hat blocks, yarn bowls, shawl pins), he also does chainsaw milling and art. He has been lathe-turning for over 10 years. Each Palm Washboard felting tool is entirely handmade by Harry , in a sustainable way, using wood from native Minnesota fallen trees, including maple, black walnut, black cherry, red and white oak and the wood is milled at their own home.

The tools greatly simplify the wet felting and nuno felting processes. Ergonomically designed, they can eliminate the need for strenuous hand-rolling. Designed and handcrafted one-at-a-time, the patented Palm Washboard felting tools are used daily by many feltmaking professional artists and felting enthusiasts around the world. They’re so good in fact that people have tried to copy the designs.

Robbin Firth at work with a palm washboard

Now I know I’m biased because we sell the tools but the quality is so high and we’ve had many a comment from non felt makers that they’d be happy just to display them! Of course I own one of each type (I’m not the only one!!) and can honestly say that I love them and use them each time I get out the fibres and soap. They are easy to hold and use and I love that they keep my hands out of the water that little bit more as I’ve sadly developed a sensitivity to soap. I’ve had mine for a few years now and the finish is showing signs of use but as they’re all made from native american hardwoods they’re unaffected by their regular dousings.

Aren’t these special edition palm washboards just gorgeous? They’re made from a combination of black cherry, black walnut and maple woods and we have two in stock now so don’t resist, we won’t have them for long. You’ve no idea how hard it’s been not to keep them for myself. If you’re in the US you can buy the tools direct. Here in the UK we’ve already done the hard work for you and dealt with customs and paid the import duties.

Robbin still enjoys working with raw fibers, carding and blending, spinning, and knitting, but wet felting and dyeing (including eco-dyeing) are her main passions. Her felt art is featured in the 2016 “Worldwide Colors of Felt” book, and her wearable and wall art was the subject of a solo exhibition at The Textile Center in Minnesota in 2016.The HeartFelt Silks retail and teaching studio is currently located at the Seasons on St. Croix Gallery in Hudson, WI. It carries a range of Robbin’s hand-dyed and hand-felted garments and accessories as well as wall and sculptural art, not to mention, some of Harry’s art works.

Garment by Robbin Firth, modelled by Kirtsen Firth

Daughter Kirsten Firth is often used by Robbin as her model. Moving on, Harry and Robbin  look forward to many new creations helping to assist their felt making friends.

3D pod tutorial by Angela Barrow

These are instructions for making a simple hanging 3D pod shape which will allow you to then go on and experiment with more shapes, sizes, openings etc. I’ve worked this in Blue Faced Leicester fibres but you can choose any to work with. I have presumed a basic knowledge of felting. I wanted an eye shape with openings to look inside and see what is hidden.

1.Resist

I begin seamless felted items with a resist. To get the right size I decide what size I want the finished item to be and add 40% to allow for shrinkage. Don’t forget to round off any sharp corners so they don’t poke through your fibres. I began the pod by drawing my template on paper first and then cutting it out in builders plastic. You can use any plastic for a resist and cardboard can be used once but it can be a little messy.

resist

2. Making the hanging rope

I always make my ropes or handles first and then set aside for later. Pull off a length of tops 3 inches longer than your required size. You can put wire in the centre if you’d like it to bend and hold a shape without tying. If so, do this before wetting the fibres. Wet out the length of tops keeping one end dry. This dry end is how it will be attached to the pod later. Now begin rolling the tops in exactly the same way you would a length of clay, working your hands in and out across the full length. You’ll know it’s ready if, when you squeeze it, it bounces back to shape.

roperope

3. Laying out the fibres

I began by laying curly Teeswater locks and scraps of fabric onto the template. These will decorate the inside of the pod. Begin by laying a fringe half on, half off the resist and then fill in the centre. Your next layer of fibre needs to be at right angles to the first layer. Cover with a net, wet the fibres with soapy water and press through until the fibres are completely flat. Turn the resist over and lay more decoration onto the resist (for the inside again) and then fold in the fringe before repeating as above.

laying outlaying out

4. Adding a pattern

The resist should be completely covered by fibres and now it’s time to add any final decorations or patterning. I’ve added more curls and pieces of weaving in shiny threads. This is the outside of your pod.

patternrub

Then it’s back on with the net, wet it out and rub lightly before attaching the rope. Attach by fanning out the dry fibres and laying them on both sides of the resist, then continue rubbing until the pattern is set making sure you work the edges of the resist too.

attachedge

5.Ready to roll

Do the pinch test below, on each side of the resist. If the fibres stay together then you’re ready to roll. If the fibres start to separate you need to rub for longer. I use a piece of pipe insulation for rolling but you can use a broom handle. Wrap the whole thing up in the bubble wrap and roll 100 times. Unroll, the package, turn 90 degrees and roll for another 100. Unwrap, turn it over and repeat.

pinch testroll

6. Finishing

When the resist begins to buckle it’s time to remove the felt. Cut the resist open and rub the cut edges with soapy fingers to harden before removing the resist. Remove the resist then work around the edges with soapy hands to make sure ridges don’t form down the sides of your pod. I put it over my hand to do this. To full (harden) the felt you can continue to roll or throw it onto the table. The impact of the throwing shocks the felt into hardening and gives a more textured finish.

attachedge
attachedge
attach

I made the curl to hang inside the pod by twisting fibres and yarns around wire. I then needle felted this into the dry pod – Finished!

edge
You can see more of my work and tutorials at my website or FaceBook page.

Yarndale 2017

We’re back from Yarndale and with a huge pile of stock to sort out but it was fun and we really enjoyed meeting so many people and having a few laughs. You can see from the pictures below that we changed the stall layout again and managed to cram on even more goodies including bobbins, wheels and looms.

The promised glitter and navajo spindles made it onto the stand too along with a scrummy Gotland/Merino blend which we’ll put on the website tomorrow.

For those who weren’t able to attend here are a few photos.

The 14′ diameter mandala was quite something. One round crocheted for every day in the year. If you missed us at Yarndale don’t despair it’s only 2 weeeks tomorrow to Bakewell Wool Gathering.

New season spindles

As Autumn appears to be with us we thought now an appropriate time to share some of our new natural wood and coloured spindles with you.

An appley green and a lovely burnt orange plus mustard and plum. How much more Autumn coloured could we go?

At the moment I think my favourite may be the plum, in fact, as I look down I see my t-shirt is almost the exact same colour! But that’s not all folks, Simon is playing around with adding glitter to some of these new colours and we hope to have some ready for Yarndale next week so if you’ll be at the show, stop by and see what we’ve got.

We have our widest ever range of top whorl spindles ranging from 20-80g in weight and a wide variety of woods. Below are just two of our new ones and they’re all unique.

An unusual almost planetary shape in a cherry like wood and a beautifully turned and painted oak. Or perhaps you’d prefer something from purpleheart or african blackwood?

There are so many new top whorl spindles that I can’t show them all but you can see the remainder here. Prefer a bottom whorl? No problem, we have more new bottom whorl drop spindles too 🙂

I’ve chosen to show you two of our more unsual shapes. a bell shaped sycamore and cone walnut. There are more sizes, weights and woods to see here.

New water sprinklers

We’ve stocked the ballbrause water sprinklers for some time in blue, green and terracotta but we’ve found a new supplier with four lovely bright colours to choose from.

The orange is brighter than it looks in these pictures. For those people who’ve never used one they are quite simple to use. I like to add soap to my felt in the water so I prepare my soapy water solution in a jug, squeeze the ball and drop it in. It sucks up the water just like a pipette and then you gently squeeze it out onto your work.

There are a lot of small holes in the end which gives a nice even spray across your work. When it’s empty squeeze as you put it back into the jug and it’ll be full again when you next need it. If you’re working large scale and don’t want to wait for it to refill then use two.

I don’t like to leave the soapy water in the ball when not in use so I usually get a jug of clear water and spray some through the bulb a couple of times then leave it upside down to drain. You can also remove the nozzle for easy cleaning.

How do you display yours?

I’ve put up a blog on my own site this morning about a set of shelves I’ve just created to house some of my felt pots.

I’m now wondering what you do with your own creations. Are they wrapped in tissue paper and carefully stored? Do you hang things on the wall? Do you display a few at a time like a museum with the rest carefully stored away. Do you solve it by giving them away or selling everything?  Links to your own blogs / FB pages with pictures or comments very welcome. I may even try and share a few of the best here for everyone to be inspired.

Felting Making Workshops with Jenny Barnett

This is our first post on our new blog and I’m delighted to begin with a review of Jenny’s new book. Those of you who’ve seen Jenny’s other book will be glad to know that this book is in the same whimsical but useful style and with another humorous introduction from Jenny’s husband. I’m not going to spoil it, you need to read it for yourself.

It covers wet felting techniques, patterns and inspiration to create a collection of miniature handmade felt treasures.
112 pages,paperback with illustrations, patterns and step by step photos. Workshops include lovely items like the little dresses, coats, mermaid tails, bunting, felted soaps, stockings, gloves, slippers and more…

If you like wet felting , small projects and whimsical style, this is the book for you. Grab your copy here