The Experiment – last of the needle-felting trial

Hello All

Yesterday travelling home all roads North were busy with Bank Holiday traffic. The sun was shining and who can blame folk wanting to spend a few days in our beautiful neck of the woods. That was yesterday.

Today the weather is decidedly autumnal: wet and chill. Time for me to hunker down with a large mug of tea, do some crafting and hope our visitors are staying warm and dry by sampling the marvellous eateries and inns of Cumbria.

It felt (no pun) like a good day for me to return to the last three plant fibres and conclude the needle-felting stage of The Experiment. Watch out for my environmental confusion. I have definitely released a can of worms…

Flax (linen)

As I opened the packet I swear there was the faint waft of new cloth. I could have been nasally fooled by the notion of fresh linen. I am easily suggestible. But for a second ….

The natural colour of the skein was darker than most of the other plant fibres many of which appear to have little pigment. Again the staple was pulled easily from the skein.

Flax also had that now familiar sheen.

Like the hemp the flax worked well. I felt at home using it and although I had only given myself a small sample I think I would use it on larger projects as it can be comfortably moulded.

Eco-thumbnail: Flax is one of the oldest textile fibres. Set to make my heart race then! After hemp it is the second most highly productive crop and can be grown without the use of herbicides and pesticides. Usefully it can be grown on land unsuitable for food crops and may even re-cultivate polluted soils. Again it is only beaten by hemp as being the most water efficient fibre. All sounding good? Wait a moment…

Sadly – while it doesn’t need to – production commonly uses agricultural chemicals. Could this be that old conundrum? Too many consumers mean high yields are sought at the cost of the environment? I am not finished either. The usual method of extracting the fibres is by retting and this can be highly polluting to water. Luckily there are other methods: dew or enzyme retting which utilise natural processes to break down the stalks and in the case of enzyme retting contain the pollutants within tanks.

Mint Fibre

No. No. It definitely didn’t smell of mint. It was similar to the majority of the plant fibres, was silky and pulled easily from the skein.

The mint resisted the needle quickly nonetheless it worked well and I was again happy with the result.

Eco-thumbnail: This eco stuff is certainly taking me into unchartered territory. What the heck is ‘cellulose fibre’? You probably know being the wise readers that you are but just in case: cellulose fibres are natural fibres which include plant fibres … gulp how do I check that there are no animal fibres mixed in? I feel my CSE Biology or is it Chemistry .. perhaps physics? …. may be stretched here.

I am going with what I have seen on the inter-web. Mint fibre is a bio-degradable cellulose made from wood pulp infused with mint powder. Again, what?! Apparently the powder is extracted from peppermint leaves and gives the fibre anti-bacterial properties and makes the fabric naturally cooling.

I understand from some of my reading that the chemical solutions (eek!) used to process the fibre are recycled into the system. With there being little waste too this fibre is considered ‘relatively’ eco-friendly.

We have arrived at the last plant fibre I am testing. Thank goodness I can hear you saying. Here it comes. Last but not least:

Rose Fibre

Of course not. There wouldn’t be. There was no smell. Very disappointing on the fragrance front. The peeps at World of Wool describe rose as similar in appearance and feel to bamboo. Meanwhile at Allfiberarts.com the sampler describes rose as similar to banana to spin. I agree with both. I think this is because the majority of plant fibres – with the exception of hemp and flax – have suspiciously similar properties.

Again I found that the rose resisted the needle very quickly as I was felting but once more I was pretty pleased with the results.

Eco-thumbnail: This bio-degradable fibre is extracted from the natural waste of rose bushes and their stems and is considered environmentally friendly. Limited information I know but I will learn more.

That is the end of the needle-felting trial. As you have probably guessed my favourite plants so far are hemp and flax. They felt the most natural, were the most easily understood (by me) in environmental terms and I was happiest working them.

I confess this eco-vegan thing is tricky. I have felt hampered by my lack of knowledge about the manufacture of these fibres. I hope to address this. It may take a considerable amount of reading and talking to the right people but I have the bit between my teeth or perhaps the staple beneath my needle. I will carry on carrying on.

And there I was thinking this was going to be a simple project. I haven’t even begun to look at the environmental perils of dying the fibres!

Time for a lie down in a darkened room….

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx

Advertisements

Onwards and Upwards – The Experiment continues

Hello All

What a week! Monday saw me journeying to a new job and as all good journeys it began with a bus, 555 to Lancaster and onwards to Morecambe on the 2 (just in case you were wondering). Exciting stuff only one small fly in the ointment.

It was not just my workplace that had changed. Work has started on The Field.

While I am glad that families will soon find new homes in Kendal it is always sad to see green fields vanish under concrete. No more watching the sheep and grasses grow from my little bus stop for me.

A new role and the accompanying steep learning curve underway this old dog learning new tricks needed a plant fibre comfort blanket.

The Experiment continues. Following my needle-felting trial of Bamboo fibres I have another four plant-fibres to show you:

Banana Top

First of all there was not even a whiff of banana when I opened up the packet. Disappointing I know. The ‘staples’ appeared long, I suspect that this will be the case with most of the plant fibres, and while less silky than the bamboo it still had a sheen.

The sheen was even more apparent after needle felting. The banana became resistant to needle felting quite quickly but I was pleased with the results and there was little difference between the front and back of my needle felted flower.

Eco-thumbnail*: apparently the use of banana fibres is a good use of waste from the banana growing industry and the fibres are also used in building materials.

Ramie (nettles)

Again there was no obvious smell with the Ramie Fibre (not that I know what smell I expected). It felt rougher than Bamboo and Banana however it still had a silky sheen and was easily pulled from the tops.

The fibres soon felt resistant but nonetheless were easy to build up. The fibre lines showed as they did with the bamboo and banana but I was happier with the final results.

Although my needle felting is a tad wonky this is not the fault of the ramie!

Eco-thumbnail: Ramie is often heralded as a highly sustainable eco-friendly fibre which can be harvested up to 6 times a year and produces a strong and durable fabric.

Soy Top

The skein appeared more ‘raggedy’ than the others but the long ‘staples’ were easily pulled from the top.

As with the earlier fibres the soy soon resisted the needle but I also found it more difficult to bind loose areas to the rest of the design. This may have been because I overfilled my template ‘cutter’ but overall I would say I found the soy harder to work. I was not overly pleased with the result.

Eco-thumbnail: Soy has a mixed reputation. Taking the waste soy residue from the processing of soybeans for food products (feed for humans and animals) it makes use of a resource that would go to waste. The big but is that it requires an extensive production process to break down the proteins in the bean to convert it into a fibre.

Hemp

Strangely the Hemp Fibre almost had a sheepy smell! Indeed it felt and looked far more like wool and didn’t have the sheen that the other fibres have so far had. Nonetheless it pulled surprisingly smoothly from the skein.

Perhaps because of the hemp’s wool-like quality I felt more comfortable working with it and had more fun needle-felting. Happy days, another needle-felted flower has blossomed.

Eco-thumbnail: Described by one writer as the “sober cousin” of marijuana hemp has a long history of being used in textile production and also the most eco-friendly potential. A ‘bast fibre’, growing so thickly it blocks out the weeds without the use of pesticides, hemp fibres are derived by retting the stems of the plant. It uses a lot less water compared to cotton and while growing returns a large percentage of the nutrients it takes from the soil.

I have three more plant fibres to needle-felt trial: rise, mint and flax. Watch this space.

Until next we meet

Moke xxx

* There is much research for me to do in order to feel I have a handle on the environmental impact of each of the fibres I am trying out. There are many twists and turns to eco-friendliness so for now I am only posting the most generalised thumbnails. I hope to give more detailed eco-profiles in time. All advice welcome! Mx