Off-Piste Artiste—Felting a Coon Cat Cocoon
Several times during the year, I take a break from glass art and try something really different. Something like fiber art. A couple of summers ago, I took a one day class with Carolann Tebbets on wet felting vessels at Craftworks (Northboro, MA). It was a nice diversion—wool is nice and soft, and glass, well, isn’t. I didn’t really think of trying this again on a different scale until I saw a picture of a felted “cat cocoon”. I was smitten by the picture, and then I started planning to make a large one for my Maine Coons.
Felting is an interesting craft. You use roving, wool that is carded but not yet spun, and tear off wisps to build up layers that are merged by the process of wet felting. When worked in soapy water, the fibers become interlocked and can be shaped and molded. Vessels can be made by putting a resist, like bubble wrap, between the two sides being built up and overlapped. I’ll show some of the steps in this blog post, but this is not intended to be a technical overview.
But first, the cats. Maine Coons, with their long, soft, double coats, are considered to be prime fur producers as cats go. Consumer Reports even uses their fur to test vacuum cleaners, and we use one of their winning vacuums to sweep our carpets. In the warm months, though, we like to get ahead of the curve and use a Furminator™ to remove the loose fur off the cats. We even have a song for that, with apologies to Thunderclap Newman:
“Call out the Furminator™, because there’s cat fur in the air,
We got to get it sooner or later, ‘cause the shedding season’s here….”
The clumps of fur that come off with this device look like the wisps of wool felters tear off roving! Longhaired cats sometimes felt themselves if you don’t comb them. The heavily felted fur mats are difficult to remove. I have been saving the Furminated™ fur (not mats) for a couple of years, and even had some from a dear departed one we lost last year. Fur from the two current cats was added to this collection. I had a couple of ounces to line their cocoon so it seemed more like home to them: “starter fur” as it were.
On the web I found some articles and videos on making a cocoon. I like this one, by Kivikis cats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4dxwQ9Auks and a post on wet felting by http://rosiepink.typepad.co.uk/rosiepink/tutorial-how-to-make-a-wet-felted-pod.html .
From discussions with felters I knew, I decided to start with a 24” round resist so I’d end up with an 18” vessel after it is fulled (what the wool does when it interlocks and shrinks to make felt). I figured that I needed two pounds of roving because I wanted my cocoon to be rugged and thick walled (this turned out to be a lot more than I needed). I ordered roving from New England Felting Supply—10 oz Mocha, 10 oz Café au Lait, and 12 oz natural Northeast. The Café au Lait, which matches one of the cats, was to be for the inside layer (along with the cat fur), the natural to fill out the middle, and the outside was to be Mocha.
I did the process. The inside layers go against the resist, then there is a middle layer, and an outside layer. Each layer has the wisps laid out in horizontal, then a vertical orientation before they are wetted down with hot soapy water, covered with a net material (used to make tu-tu’s) and patted down with the hand.
After all the layers were on, I did the rubbing and rollups, and waited for the felt to start shrinking as I worked. Finally, I cut into the edge of the felt to extract the resist. It was then I discovered I had made a large mistake. The outer layer did not felt to the middle layer at all. The middle layer had felted to the inner layer during the earlier steps. I did not realize I should not have done any of the rubbing steps until all the layers were down. Since all the examples were two-layer vessels, they were rubbed after the second step. Since I use bubble wrap resist and bubble wrap to flip the piece over, it gets somewhat rubbed even when I press water out and flip it. If I do this again, I will probably make my layers thicker rather than more of them.
Fortunately, the other two layers were pretty thick. I removed the Mocha outer layer, intact. The result was a heavily felted off-white cocoon, which I did not want. I then turned it inside-out, putting the cat fur on the outside with the au Lait behind it. So much for my original plans, but the inside-out one is a lot prettier than the solid mocha would have been. In addition to the fur, I used a total of 7.25 oz. natural and 6 oz. Café au Lait (13.25 oz. plus about 2 oz. fur). Mocha used was 9.25 oz., and ended up as the mat.
I stuffed the cocoon with recycled unprinted newsprint and put it in the sun to dry. Later, I brought it in and put in dry stuffing. After another afternoon of sun and drying out after the stuffing was removed, it was time to see what the cats would do with it. I was concerned that neither cat would fit because it came out a little smaller than the 18” sphere I’d envisioned.
When picture time came, I called the cats. The daughter came over first and entered the cocoon after much examination. She had checked it out earlier when I removed it from the deck and had even poked her head into it while it was still stuffed with paper. The cat went in with her mother watching closely. After the first one came out, the bigger cat, the “big momma” went in and tried it out.
The Mocha is a round cat mat for now, and fits perfectly in the ring under a Stressless™ chair, a favorite place for mom who seems to appreciate it. So far, the cocoon is spending most of its time as a bed with a turned up rim, favored by the daughter. I have a game of putting the pod out with the opening facing up. The daughter pounces on it and goes halfway in, then scrunches it back into a bed mat. We’ll see if it gets to be more interesting when the weather gets cold. What next? Do I save lots more fur and have it spun into yarn? Do I knit a cat hat? I know a spinner…..
Note on the title: Off-piste is a skiing term for backcountry skiing where there is no groomed trail. I’m using it in the sense of getting off my beaten track as an artist rather than on pursuing more difficult projects in my art. I also like the play on words.