Stitch, Fibre, Metal & Mixed Media
This simple but richly decorated and immensely attractive project is inspired by hanging pomanders, Christingles, fruits and seed pods hanging from trees.
You will make a series of needle-felted surfaces that incorporate subtle glints of metal foil, knitted metals and metal fabric, then add flourishes of beads and metal plate couching. Though metal plate couching is supposedly an advanced form of goldwork, I find that it is straightforward and is a great way to cover areas in a flexible way. The plate can be applied carefully in a very organized, even manner, covering the desired shape completely, or the zigzag effect can be allowed to open up, getting wider and narrower as you like. For this project we will be making the metal plate from copper shim rather than precious metal. The 0.07mm (0.003in) or 0.1mm (0.004in) thicknesses are perfect as they will not tear but will bend and fold well, even when cut into fine strips.
You can use lots of textures, colours and mixed fibres and create sumptuous surfaces with an embellishing machine or hand needle felting. From these you will develop a selection of baubles and padded shapes and link them with a ribbon. I have chosen to work in vibrant, bright, fresh, contrasting colours, but if you glance at the development images shown after the project, you will see that many other options are possible. For the best effect, choose a single main colour, then collect a range of different textures and surfaces such as sheer or light-weight fabrics, wool, linen fibres, scrim, silk or knitting yarns in that colour. Select two secondary colours and collect fabrics and threads in those colour ranges too. For example, if the main colour is blue, choose contrasting lime green and orange as secondary colours.
From industrial origins in the mid-19th Century in England, needle felting (also known as needle punch or dry felting) has become a well established craft technique. Needles are jabbed in and out of layers of fibres and fabrics, picking them up and dragging them past one another, entangling them to create a felt. The technique is often used to enhance wet-felted surfaces, or to stabilize the patterns on a felted surface ready to be wet felted. It is also used to create shaped and sculptured surfaces, to mend or thicken other felts or fabrics, or simply to enhance a textile surface. The basic process is simple and needs virtually no equipment or previous experience. The felted fabrics created need no stitching to hold them together and will not fray when cut.
The needles used are typically 7.6–9cm (3–3.5in) long, triangular in cross section with barbs or notches cut across the corners of the triangle at intervals along the lower third of the shaft. The upper end is smooth and can be fitted into a holder or held manually. There are many variations on the needles, allowing for the felting of different fibres.
It is now popular to use an embellishing machine, which looks like a sewing machine, but holds several needle-felting needles at once and works much faster than punching by hand. These machines will typically produce a firmer fabric much more speedily than the hand method, but only in two dimensions. Three-dimensional work has to be created by needle felting by hand and often with a single needle.
An easy way to begin is to take a piece of felt (it doesn’t matter whether this is wool or acrylic). Lay this on a piece of firm foam: proprietary needle-felting foam, upholstery foam or a household scrubbing brush with closely set, flat bristles. Place another fabric piece, fibres, threads or knitting yarn on top and, using either a fine individual needle or a multi-needle tool, begin to jab through the layers into the foam underneath. Some fibres and fabrics will attach into the base layer more easily than others and you should experiment with a good range of bits and pieces. These could be Angelina fibres; silk, linen, flax, bamboo, fibres prepared for spinning, threads or knitting yarns; small quantities of light-weight fabrics such as nylon, organza, chiffon or silk. A few fibres and fabrics will simply disintegrate and others will refuse to connect to your other surfaces. Many fabrics will pucker and shrink as they are manipulated, so look out for this and the interest they create. In principle, the hairier the fibre, the more easily it will attach, so man-made fibres such as Angelina, polyester or nylon will not attach as easily through the layers.
As the fibres begin to felt, more and other fibres and scraps of fabrics can be added. Metal fabrics and knitted wire surfaces can be successfully integrated into needle felting, though if you are too aggressive with your felting, the metals will tend to break up and disintegrate. Often a fine layer of fibres over the metal will help to sandwich the metal fabrics into the needle-felted surface you are creating.
Note that it is quite normal to break needles while punching and jabbing, so don’t worry. However, you can help to prevent it by ensuring that you jab at right angles to the felting surface – that is, straight up and down. If you stab at an angle, you increase the flexion on the steel needle and it is likely to snap eventually.
The template for the large, medium and small lozenge shapes needed to make the bauble pods, shown full size.
As a general rule, if you make up to 15 x 20cm (6 x 8in) of each surface you will have plenty and some to spare, which can be used later for cards or small motifs on other embroideries. It will also give you some flexibility to choose favourite sections from each surface rather than finding yourself restricted and without enough to cut from. I have used a multi-needle tool; if you have an embellishing machine, it is even quicker and easier to create these surfaces than it is by hand.
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You Will Need
Cutting, decorating and sewing up the bauble pods
Decorate each of your lozenges as you wish with beads, sequins and metal plate couching (see opposite).
Surfaces for pods
First (large) pod: surfaces 1 and 3
Second (large) pod: surfaces 1 and 4
Third (medium) pod: surfaces 2 and 5
Fourth (small) pod: surfaces 3 and 5
Fifth (small) pod: surfaces 2 and 4
10 Thread a needle with a toning thread. Avoid very fine, delicate threads such as machine embroidery rayons as they tend to catch on the edge of the metal plate. You can wax your thread if you find that it shreds or snags when stitching. Secure the thread at the point where you wish the metal plate couching to begin and draw the thread to the front surface. Lay the plate on the fabric. Catch a short tail of plate with a couple of couching stitches.
12 Fold the metal plate back at the same angle again and couch in place at the point you wish to turn the plate. Continue in the same way until the desired area is covered in metal plate. The final section of plate should be folded under and couched firmly into place so there is no sharp edge on the end. Continue as long as you wish – it can be lengthened, shortened or twisted sideways for a more open zigzag effect. Try the technique with strips of ribbon or paper first. It is actually very straightforward and makes sense once you have had a quick try.
13 Having decorated all the lozenges to your satisfaction, you can take each set of four lozenges and begin to stitch them together around the polystyrene balls. If you don’t want to use polystyrene shapes, simply stuff your pods with wadding of some kind. To sew together, take two lozenges of the same size but different surfaces, place the insides together and stitch the seams with a blanket stitch or an overstitch. F
For a decorative finish, you could also drop a bead on to the thread each time. Use a contrasting and slightly thicker thread if possible to make a real feature of the stitching. Once two lozenges are joined, place a third against this (again of the opposite surface to the one it sits next to) and stitch the seams together. Repeat this for the final lozenge, but as you stitch the seam, pop the polystyrene ball inside the pod and seal it. Repeat this for all five of the pods.
Assembling the string of bauble pods
Take the long, sharp and strong needle and thread it with your fine chiffon ribbon. If you can manage it, thread three or four ribbons through the needle at the same time. If this proves too difficult to force through the pods, revert to a single ribbon and repeat the process each time. Push the needle through each of the pods in the order you want them to hang. Tie the top ends together, forming a hanging loop. Leave around 3–4cm (1¼–1½in) of ribbon between each pod. At the bottom of the string of bauble pods, simply tie a knot in each ribbon end at the length you wish. As a final flourish I have also stitched coloured pearls and glass beads on to the ribbons for decorative effect between the pods.