Felting with fibres: prep is crucial

84AB3497-E262-4FC6-842B-ADA2BA4374E6Bamboo silk

This week I tried felting with bamboo fibres.

Bamboo feels tougher and “squeakier” than wool, but felts quite well. The result is silky to touch and very lightweight.

The first time I tried it, I didn’t separate out the strands before starting. That was a mistake. It’s much easier to get the needle through when the fibre clump is light and fluffy.

Cutting and fluffing the fibres

Bamboo taught me what I should have learnt when working with some dyed wool a few days earlier. I bought the wool online. It arrived looking like locks of human hair. Ewww.

I applied the locks directly to the surface of the bear I was making. The result was rough and hairy. I didn’t enjoy handling the wool either.

With hindsight I had two better options. I could have cut the wool into shorter sections and fluffed it up before pressing it onto the bear’s surface. Or I could have cut the wool into 2cm long strips and tried to embed the strands as if they were individual hairs.

Dyed wool or natural wool?

I bought dyed wool from several sources this month. It varies in quality. Some of it is soft and some of it definitely isn’t. It’s got me thinking that it might be better to stick with undyed wool. Wool comes in a range of whites, greys, browns and blacks anyway. Does it make sense to buy wool that has been dyed brown?

New to crafting

I am new to crafting. I started with weaving, then loom knitting and now felting. Crafting is great for me for five reasons.

  • It teaches me to plan projects carefully.
  • It’s a problem solving activity.
  • It’s meditative.
  • It’s an outlet for my desire to produce nice things.
  • It gives me the opportunity to find common ground with more people. Crafting is a very popular hobby.

I have been looking at felting projects on Instagram. Felting seems to be very popular in Russia, Ukraine and East Asia. The quality of the sculptures is tremendous. Go on the internet and search for “advanced felting projects.” I promise you will be amazed at what can be done with fibre and a needle.

Needle felting is remarkably simple

Have you heard of dry needle felting? It’s the process of making solid shapes by repeatedly stabbing natural fibres with a notched needle. The notches catch the fibres and pull them together.

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The toy in the photograph looks solid doesn’t it? It started life as bundles of fluffy wool.

With needle felting we can make soft toys, sculptures and textile pictures without sewing a single stitch or using any glue.

Making the shapes is very intuitive too. Imagine yourself pressing clay into a ball with your fingers. Felting a ball out of wool is very similar in the sense that the angled needle takes the place of the pressing fingers.

The toy in the photograph is a harbour seal. It’s obviously not a real animal. There are expert needle felters who can make realistic animals. (I’d love to know how they do it.) Click on this link to see realistic felted dogs.

I am a felting novice. So far I’ve made a brachiosaurus, a harbour seal and most of a baby grizzly bear.

When I started out, I hoped to go down the realism route. While working on the harbour seal’s skin patterns I realised that there is another path. i.e. Making animals that don’t look real but are identifiable and attractive.

Realistically, achieving total realism won’t be possible for me unless I take classes. Realist felters are using techniques that I know nothing about. But I don’t see why I can’t aim to make creatures that are attractive, identifiable and non-real.

At this point, I can see decisions have to be made in several areas when trying to make an attractive non-realistic animal.

1. Proportions

2. Size

3. Colouring

4. Texture

5. Additional features such as glass eyes

Dramatic writing course wish list

I am studying script writing. For the first exercise I have to list what I hope to achieve by the end of the course.

 

  • I hope to improve my ability to write dialogue.
  • I hope to improve my ability to write an action packed story.
  • I hope to improve my characterisation.
  • I hope to become more knowledgeable about drama.
  • I hope to have enjoyed exchanging ideas with classmates.

Inupiaq with Rosetta Stone

Since January I have been learning Inupiaq with an online course from Rosetta Stone. The course is one of a range of indigenous North American language offerings produced by the company. Inupiaq is spoken in Alaska.

Yesterday I finally completed half of the first level. Just two and a half levels to go now!

Overall, I think it’s a fantastic course. I am having some problems with it, but I think that’s because the course wasn’t designed for learners outside of Alaska.

To get the best out of this course, I would need an hour a week in a classroom with a grammar teacher. Although Inupiaq vocabulary is relatively straightforward, the word endings are complex. I need to spend time alone with every single ending.

I would also benefit from having Inupiaq speakers around. Inupiaq pronunciation is not difficult but the word units are looooooooooooooooooong and there are several sounds that we don’t have in English. When doing the pronunciation exercises with Rosetta Stone I often have to talk in the back of my throat like a wookie.

So in short, if I were an Alaskan teenager with an Inupiaq grandmother and weekly lessons at school, the Rosetta Stone course would be perfect for me.

As it is, I do feel that I will gain a lot from Rosetta Stone’s method. Rosetta Stone teach language by pairing photos with written words. They start with the basics such as boy, girl, man and woman. Then they quickly introduce verbs such as run, walk, eat and drink. Possessives and size comparisons appear not long afterwards.

It’s a very intuitive way of learning language. For example, if you know the words for man and woman, and see pictures of a woman running and a man walking, it’s easy to work out which verb means run and which means walk. If you are then shown pictures of a horse running and a dog walking, it’s obvious which noun means horse and which means dog.

Photos aren’t very helpful when it comes to explaining some small grammatical features that aren’t present in the learner’s first language. For example, I still don’t know whether a particular group of words function as articles, pronouns or indicators of possession.

Not all of the small grammatical features are difficult to learn from photos. In Inupiaq they have a lovely way of saying “and” when connecting two nouns. Instead of saying “father and daughter,” they say “fatherloo daughterloo.” (The Inupiaq words for father and daughter are aapa and panina.)

Have you tried one of the Rosetta Stone indigenous North American language courses? I would love to hear how you got on with it.

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Writing fictional characters: hidden motivations

pexels-photo-251287.pngA strange incident happened on the bus last week. I was sat next to a student, roughly 17 to 22 years of age. Neither of us spoke to the other.

Five minutes from the bus’s final destination, a lady close to my age got on the bus. She didn’t look for a seat, instead she leant her back on the plastic section between me and my neighbour. There were empty seats close to us.

My neighbour tapped my arm and seemed to say “could you give your seat up.” I stood up immediately. I felt shamed. I only expect a much younger passenger to ask me to move if I have failed to notice obvious disabilities.

The lady sat down. Then less than a minute later the student got off the bus. I was perturbed.

Afterwards I wondered. Had I misheard? Had I failed to notice that both women  were disabled? Was the student having an anxiety attack brought on by the lady standing too close to her? The younger woman showed almost no skin, whereas the older lady wore short shorts and a vest top. Was there a cultural factor?

I don’t know what the other two women were thinking. Their motivations were hidden to me.

Hidden motivations are very useful in storytelling.

When we write fiction we add depth to our stories by giving our characters secrets. The characters’ hidden thoughts and feelings shape their actions and cause tension or conflict with other characters.

Look at how radically different these scenarios are when James’s secret changes. Can you imagine how each secret might cause tension or conflict for James at the bank?

James begins an impressive job at an international bank. James is secretly saving up for gender transition surgery. James doesn’t tell bosses because James fears discrimination. 

James begins an impressive job at an international bank. James is a spy for a foreign power. James is waiting for the signal to sabotage the bank’s systems from within. James has fallen in love with the CEO.

James begins an impressive job at an international bank. James is very unhappy because he wants to be a nurse. He doesn’t tell his bosses because he fears they will fire him before he has saved up enough money to go to nursing school.

In each scenario, the nature of James’s secret affects his relationships with his banking colleagues in different ways. This is how secret motivations can drive stories onwards.

Each scenario brings up unique themes. For example, the gender transition surgery story could become an exploration of masculinity in a macho culture.

A fiction writing exercise

Fill in the gaps in this story. Try to complete the exercise at least five times. With each scenario, think about how Jimmy’s secret will shape his relationships with his colleagues.

Jimmy enjoys working for the British government, but his employers don’t know his secret. His secret is ________________________________________________________________. As a result of his secret Jimmy must _________________________________________________________.

Have you heard about Earth Law?

I edit for the Earth Law Center. They are based in New York but support Earth Law activities around the world.

The basic principle behind Earth Law is rights. Humans have rights and corporations have rights. So why shouldn’t nature have rights too?

Under Earth Law, nature has the right to exist and develop. A river is not just a resource that humans can use, it is a legal entity with its own right to just “be”.

I think Earth Law is a good idea because it promotes change at a national and international level. It removes the daily pressure on consumers to make hundreds of ethical decisions about how to live and what to buy.

We can use very simple language to talk about Earth Law because this legal system is about community. Supporters of Earth Law believe that humans and other animals are equals and neighbours. Every community member has the right to thrive.

If you have ever truly experienced community, you will realise that living in one is not simple or straightforward. The rights of individual community members come into conflict all the time.

So, although we can describe Earth Law in a simple way, it is a complex legal system. Lawyers working in the area understand that rights-based law requires hard decisions.

Earth Law is about ensuring that our thriving is not at the expense of the environment we all depend upon.

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Simple ways to generate story ideas

Inspiration, I have discovered, benefits from structure. Good ideas do appear from “nowhere,” but they can also be eased into existence by pre-existing frameworks.

Earlier this month I completed a course on fiction writing with Oxford University online. It taught me a really useful lesson about story building. I learnt how to shape a story around the three act framework.

  • Act 1: The story begins
  • Act 2: The heart of the action
  • Act 3: The story concludes

Most importantly, I learnt about turning points. At the turning point the character makes a decision that produces the action in the next act.

  • Act 1: Lucy sees a chimpanzee in the street.
  • Turning point 1: Lucy decides to follow the chimpanzee.
  • Act 2: The chimpanzee climbs onto a ship.
  • Turning point 2: Lucy decides to follow the chimpanzee.
  • Act 3: The chimpanzee runs into the hold. The hold is full of captive chimpanzees.
  • Turning point 3: Lucy decides to release the chimpanzees and they all escape the ship.

The turning points move the action forward. If Lucy had made different decisions it would not be the same story.

I find that working within a turning points framework helps me to generate stories.

(Before taking the course I struggled with fiction writing because my characters were often quite passive. The world swirled around them and things happened to them. Structuring stories around decisions also makes my characters into much more active people.)

So that’s one example of a useful framework. What other frameworks can we use to help ideas into existence?

Well, there’s picture collecting. If you see something fascinating, keep a visual record of it.

  • Collect pictures of interesting locations, people and events. Display them on a notice board.
  • Join Pinterest. Collect online images related to the general area you think you want to write about.
  • Browse through the free images on Pexels.com.

Once you have enough collected material, play with bringing it together in different combinations to create the framework for your story. Here’s a story I made after browsing for outdoor pictures on Pexels.

Photographer shoots picture of a deer. She sees an escaped tiger on the loose. She jumps into her car and rushes to alert the police.

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Or perhaps it doesn’t happen like that.

When she’s taking a photograph of the deer, she sees a hunter who wants to shoot it.

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She goes to stop the hunter. It is love at first sight and they marry in the woodland where they met.

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Under her influence, the hunter becomes a wildlife photographer and stops killing animals.

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What frameworks and structures do you use to create ideas? You are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below.