A Little Help with Rolling
Agitation is one of the requirements for a successful wet felt and pre-felt (note to self: do a blog on the felting process) and rolling the layout into a firmly tied bundle is the preferred way for most artisan wet felting. Once the package of wet and massaged felt has formed a 'skin', then it is ready for the agitation. For the artisan, this can be quite the workout and thus limited to days of high energy - not always available on call these days! The whole process of felting is a physical engagement with the felter and one of the reasons I am drawn to the process - think creative design with an exercise bonus resulting in a practical fibre piece. However due to some shoulder wear and tear Joe and I set about figuring out a way to do at least some of the rolling by machine but we were limited to what was available to us already - read no money to spare. We realised the treadmill deck offered a possible platform and with some creative tweaking we have a little help with rolling.
We select the highest tilt on the treadmill deck to let gravity keep the ropes at full extension and the package rolling smoothly. The speed varies, starting from 3 and increasing to 6 closer to the final rolling. We change the speed every 5-10 minutes when we stop the machine to remove and re position the bundle.
The white pipe on the deck is the same diameter as the one in the centre of the package, used to roll the layout up but is cut slightly smaller than the blue sheet. Then we thread an old broom handle through the centre pipe with extra width either end, to hold the rope loops at either end, forming a sort of axle that stays still while the bigger roll spins on the treadmill. The white pipe that is laying on the deck acts as a bat bouncing off the uneven roll for increased impact on the package. You will find some felters, kind enough to share their techniques online, using vibrating sanders and various forms of manual surface agitation while the layout is still flat on the table covered in a plastic sheet. I haven't had much success using machinery at the fibre massage stage and still work with my hands until the package is ready to roll on the treadmill, usually minus the top layer of sheer fabric that I use initially to keep the layout in place while massaging it by hand. If there is a lot of delicate pieces on the layout then I may do the first machine roll still with the sheer fabric sheet on top. I do about half of my rolling by hand and then whack it on the treadmill for further hour or so. I can increase the pressure if needed (thicker layers require more pressure) by inserting some of Joe's old reo bars into the central white pipe. The package has to be stopped and removed and re positioned every 5-10 minutes to ensure an even agitating process over the whole piece - I will go into more detail in the post on the process later.
The blue roll is the pool cover that has bubbles on one side which I use for my layouts and wetting and soaping on as well as providing friction. I started out using plastic bubble wrap, which is how I was taught at my course, but discovered the pool cover from another felter online. It is very hard wearing and handles the pressure that comes in later felting.
The green 'saddle' is an old towel tied with nylon stockings - one of the cool things of this whole process has been repurposing from what was on hand. The saddle creates grip for the roll to connect well to the moving deck.
This is a better view of the package. I have a bulldog clip on the edge of the centre axle stick, closest to the wall, and one of our daughter's hair elastics with big baubles, on the stick edge closest to the bottom of the picture - these serve as rope guides and I use the hair elastic end to remove the rope and slide the centre stick out to change the roll and contents around. This becomes more vigorous the longer it has rolled but initially it is just a turn around for new direction of the roll, then an unroll and reroll from the other end to change the position of the layout and finally the rolling process ends with the whole piece being lifted off the blue sheet, concertina folded and turned 90 degrees and rolled quickly and unrolled before the piece develops crease memory. After a few hours of rolling (by hand and mechanically) then the fibres have bonded well enough for the fulling and sculpting stage. The piece is then rinsed and layed out flat to dry - usually a 24 hour process. This post was just to introduce our assistant roller - we will have to give him a name eventually.