14 May 2013

Paper, Felting, and the Wish Fish

I've always liked the story of the Wish Fish.  It's the fairy tale of the poor fisherman who hasn't caught anything in days. Starving, he casts his net one last time and catches a beautiful fish that begs the fisherman to spare his life in exchange for a wish.  The fisherman's wish is that he and his wife not be poor anymore and he lets the fish go.  Arriving home, his shack has been transformed into a nice little cottage and he and his wife have enough to live comfortably.  

Stop.  That's as far as I like the story.  It continues on, perhaps predictably, with the wife saying her husband should have wished for more, and she keeps sending the poor fisherman (still poor, but in a new sense now) back to the sea to call the Wish Fish and up the wish.  In the end, the wife goes too far (she wants to be God) and as punishment for their individual shortcomings they both lose everything and go back to being poor.  Bla bla, it's always the wife who's super nasty in these fairy tales, isn't it?

But the initial bit, the event of coming across an unexpected opportunity in an unlikely place in a moment of great need -- the recognizing of a chance to change your direction and make things different or better or greater -- this I really like.  Because living life, we all come across these opportunities, but we never know where they may lie in wait.  To make it all more complicated, they're often hard to recognize and can require a great deal of courage to take advantage of.  This is what I like about the Wish Fish.  The wise voice saying, Yes, it's me.  Here I am.  Take a chance.

Sometimes I think about opportunities I should have grabbed when I had the chance.  But not too much.  I'm busy enjoying the ones I did grab.  Like spinning, for example, which I came upon at a time in my life when I was very stressed and needing a creative outlet that wasn't too taxing in certain ways, but allowed me to really express myself in others.

Another Wish Fish in my life was paper making, which I learned in Brazil some years ago (another story for another post).  But it began a relationship with handmade papers that I just can't get enough of -- the look, the texture, the weight.  At some point, I decided I wanted to come up with a paper project featuring a Wish Fish.

In an early exploration of this idea, when I was learning wet felting in a class a few years ago, I created this hanging -- not an image of the fairy tale, but someone waiting to find their way.

Wish Fish, wet felting, needle felting, beads, sewn onto paper-covered foam board, 22"x26"
My first attempt at making felt
I continued to let the idea simmer in my head for a few years, feeding it with some really nice handmade papers on Etsy from CotaProducts and  Bonfires.  My original idea had been to embroider the paper, but the red papers tore too easily, and when I layered them on backing paper, it was difficult to sew because of the glue.  The large sheets from CotaProducts are handmade in Africa from recycled cotton and would have been great for sewing, but they happened to be all background papers and not part of what I wanted to sew.  

I did some initial stitching on the tail with a bundle of four metallic threads, then changed direction and used paper cuttings for detail instead.  

The shell beads on the fish's face and in the water came in a fibre pack from TheBitterPeacock on Etsy.  All the papers used in the piece were handmade.

In the end, I decided to incorporate felting with the paper, and wet-felted a frame.  It's four long strips of felt that I needle-felted together and hid the seams with more roving. Most of the roving is from my own hand-dyed fleece, but there is some commercial roving I got from a friendly and generous customer. Then I needle-felted on commercial top to make the patterned edge.  The extra-thick handspun yarn around the edge of the picture was brought back to me from Brazil by my husband.

Wish Fish - total size with frame is 41" x 34"

The patterns for the needle-felted border are copied from Viking carvings.  I got some books on Viking art from the library and sketched out decorative patterns from wood and stone carvings found in archaeological sites.  I like the element of my family heritage that they add to the piece.  

It's hard to make out the moon.  I wrapped shiny silk yarn around batting mounted on a crescent of heavy paper, then glued it onto a cream-coloured circle.  The crescent stands about 1/2" high off the paper.  

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