On Monday I attended a felted beads workshop with Carol Cypher, courtesy of the ACT Textile Arts Association, which generously allowed me (a non-member) to attend.
Carol's long, dreadlocked (essentially felted), beaded hair seemed very appropriate.
We started with a basic bead. You start by making a sphere, and then when it is about half-felted, you can begin to mould it into a more interesting shape such as a bicone. I went with a sort of rectangular thingy... which I ultimately found very uninteresting.
Then we got onto more interesting methods, making and felting 'cigars' and then cutting them up in different ways. I had to play catch-up a bit here to learn the technique, as most of the others had attended the workshop on Sunday as well - they made lariat necklaces. The picture below shows a the fibre before any felting. These are quite small (abandoned part-way) and could probably do with more layers of fibre.
And here is a felted cigar which I didn't quite finish during the day - it needs a little more felting and fulling* (bashing against hard surfaces - very primal and satisfying) before I cut it to see what's inside. I really can't remember, so that should be fun.
To make cube beads, you cut the roll of felt on four sides, exposing the inner layers of colours.
Mine are a little bit funky, not strictly cubes. It takes a very sharp knife and a sure, decisive hand (err - and brain) to do them well.
Now, I've never been in love with felted beads. As jewellery, I think they're often in the category of 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should'. Not always - of course there are exceptions. Anyway I really enjoyed having a go at these techniques (and felting in general, I mean the kind you don't knit first). I also thought there might be a way to make felt buttons.
Generally you can't slice the felt thinner than a couple of centimetres, because if the fibres are too short they will fall apart, regardless of how well they have been felted. There are ways to artifically stabilise them with an acrylic medium or other clear glues. However, the side slices (leftover from making the cubes) are stable AND thin. And they could make very cool buttons, which I why I cut them to roughly equal sizes. As they are, they would be ok for decorative buttons; if they need to actually function they might yet need stabilising, to make them hard enough.
Here's another roll I made, only getting around to cutting off the ends. I will mostly likely slice the rest of it into about four beads. You are probably starting to notice I didn't have a big range of colours! Just enough to experiment with.
The grand finale was the 'complex cane' beads. This is comparable to cane techniques for glassmaking, and people do much the same thing with modelling clay too. Basically we made tight rolls of two or three colours, then bundled them into a bigger roll. Well, that's what I did, I wish I had managed an extra level of complexity with smaller rolls and different sizes bundled together. As it is they're somehow meaty looking, and with practice I hope I could get a finer and prettier result.
*Ah. What to do with the term "fulling". Yes, I am aware that the kind of felting I do (knit-then-felt) is 'properly' termed fulling. Traditional feltmakers seem to be VERY quick to correct me on this point. But then I find that 'fulling' is also used to describe the processes used to harden felt in the later stages of feltmaking. (The bit where we bashed our 'cigars' against tables, the floor, the concrete outside, etc.) As far as I'm concerned, knit-then-felt techniques are a way of creating felt, therefore it can be called 'felting'. I'm leaning towards just saying 'knit-then-felt' when I need to make the distintion.