Lynne Dewberry is a local fibre artist and the designer of the Felted Bee project in our Wool on the Exe book. The felted bees are a fantastic project for those that are new to needle felting, however Lynne is an expert herself and we have invited her to share more of her amazing work and her wealth of knowledge.
I’m Lynne, a local fibre artist living in Exeter and l am passionate about felting. l combine both wet and needle felting in my work and I’m particularly interested in designing work about bees.
I have always been creative. It started in my late teens in the late 70's! when I attended embroidery lessons at night school, which started me off using felt and embroidery to make pictures. I also dabbled in tie-dye and made candles on my Mum’s cooker (my Mum was very forgiving).
I went on to spend forty years working with children where my creativity came in very handy. About ten years ago I started making fabric items (dolls, dogs, aprons and bags) in the evenings as a hobby. It gave me some creative time for myself while I was bringing up my young son and doing a stressful job. I started selling my fabric designs, turning my hobby into a small part-time business.
I had always been interested in having a go at felting and I started to teach myself to needle felt in 2016. I enjoyed it so much I started to create my own designs. A year later I attended the NCFE Fibrecraft course at Bicton College and learnt so much about fibrecraft, including the amazing array of different wool available and their uses, and how to wet felt. I also met some amazingly creative people on my course and learned lots of new skills. As my first adventure in felting had been designing a bee, I carried this on making two bee-themed pictures and a beehive for my final pieces for the course.
Having completely fallen in love with felting, I changed my business from sewing to felt making, renaming my business, So To Felt. Two years ago I retired from my job as a Play Therapist with the firm determination to focus on my little felting business and to teach workshops, sharing the joys of felting to others. I have a group of dedicated followers who attend my workshops regularly and without exception all comment that they find needle felting very therapeutic.
I am lucky to have a workshop in my garden from where I create my designs.
I've lived in Devon 28 years and it has influenced my art; the themes are my work are from nature: woodlands, gardens and the sea. My recent work has included a picture submitted to the Earth Exhibition at The Glorious Art Cafe in Fore Street, it's call "Our Earth Needs Bees". I am currently working on some new needle felt designs and recently created a baby bear, a little grey hare, and a barn owl who will join my other felt animal friends.
About wet felting
Wool made into felt has endless possibilities, it's adaptable, amazingly strong and beautiful. It’s extraordinary what you can make with wool, soap and water. If you take a look at the International Feltmakers Association website you will see what l mean.
Having an idea and producing it in felt is not always easy, it’s trial and error, requires patience, sometimes there’s disappointment, a bit of frustration and then hopefully success, as l found in creating my skep beehive.
I find wet felting an organic and tactical process. Sometimes the felt has a life of its own; as l create a piece it may well change its form and colour and turn out not quite how l envisioned at the start, but that’s what makes felting exciting. Quite a bit of muscle is needed to produce strong 3D shapes, wrestling with your piece is part of the process, requiring patience and persistence is a must.
Making a 3D shape in felt requires using a technique called resist; fibres are laid on the outside of a strong piece of plastic, once the outside has felted, a hole is cut into the felt to remove the plastic. The inside of the piece which is relatively dry then needs felting and moulding to produce the shape. Using the right wool for the job is important, my first attempt at the skep using Merino wool was not strong enough, and would not stand up. I then used Gotland wool which proved much stronger and, once constructed, the form stood on its own without padding inside, showing how strong wool can be.
I used Merino wool combined with silk to produce the felt coils around the main structure. l then wound straw type material around coils which l sewed to the skep to give a more straw like effect. I wanted the beehive to sit on a base so l constructed this using Merino wool with added extras for textured effect, silk, silk hankies, cotton nepps and silk rods all of which l hand-dyed.
I have used other resist type techniques in my work, for example the texture of the felt in the honeycomb picture was created by felting marbles into the wool and removing the marbles.
About needle felting
Some fibre artists have a preference for either wet felting or needle felting. I enjoy both techniques and like to combine them in my work. In needle felting, the wool is shaped by the needles, a much more precise process than wet felting. Like in wet felting, the choice of wool is important. l like to use Bergshaf, Russian Karakul which is very hairy, Corriedale and Jacobs. I also use Perendale which I dyed myself. These are all wool with a micron count higher than Merino because this is very fine wool.
A micron is the measure used to describe the diameter of wool fibre, the smaller the micron count the finer the wool. Merino wool has a micron count of 18 to 24 whereas Jacob is 28 to 39, making Jacob wool more suited to needle felting; making the basic shapes and structure of the work; Merino is used for fine detail. Having said this, I use Merino wool combined with silk to produce the bees for my skep beehive because l was making very small bees.
Wool needle felts better if it’s been carded, this can be done with hand carders brushing the fibres together to blend them. Different coloured wool can be blended as well as wool and silk. The carding process criss-crosses the fibres to make them strong. I am lucky to have a carding machine for this, two spiky rollers with a turning handler, makes the job easier. In fact l was very lucky to be given my carding machine, l didn’t even know what it was for at first, but it’s really what got me into felting in a big way.
You can buy carded wool for needle felting, this is called a batt. When l make wings for the large bees l create I use Merino because it’s light and feather like, this is an added attachment, not the wool l use to shape and form the piece, for this l use Corriedale wool. The wings of the bees on the skep beehive are cut from organza fabric using a craft soldering iron and sown on.
I have experimented with different bees wings; I made silk paper for the wings of the bees on my honeycomb picture and angelina fibres for wings on my felt vessels.
Advice to felting beginners
Needle felting - purchase a book that teaches basic shapes and practice making shapes using core wool before embarking on a project, try making small items to begin with, large items take a long time! There are lots of different felting needles, it's worth buying quality needles because they are less likely to bend or break and will felt more efficiently. I use two 38 gauge regular needles for shaping wool and one 40 gauge twist/spiral needle for fine detail.
When needle felting always be very careful to keep the needles away from your fingers, it's easy to stab yourself and keep away from children and pets! Always keep the needles straight while needle felting otherwise the needles will bend or break. There are lots of different wools for needle felting, use coarser wool for shaping. Fine wool like merino will felt but will take a long time, so best left for making details, animal noses for example.
Wet felting - I use to think this was a complicated process, but making a flat piece of felt is actually pretty simple. The main thing is to set aside some time as it's not a quick process and you need elbow grease as it requires rubbing and rolling the fibres with olive soap and warm water to knit them together. Merino is good for wet felting. Start by making a small A4 piece. Only basic equipment required, an old towel, 2 pieces of bubble wrap, olive soap dissolved in warm water and a rolling pin. Placing an A4 piece of card or paper under the bubble wrap as a guide before laying out the fibres helps, remove card/paper before wetting the wool!