I didn’t tell you about Wednesday’s trip to Tbilisi for the opening The Teacher’s House, which is, I think, a teacher training center, accompanied by a speech from the president. Again. I didn’t write about it because they didn’t bother translating anything into English, despite specifically inviting 40 or so native English speakers who mostly only know how to say things like “thanks” and “eat.” I thought that was rather rude, and I even lost the booklet they gave me, which I might have found someone to translate — as a result I don’t have anything to report about The Teacher’s House other than that it’s large and modern-looking in a glassy, minimalist kind of way, has a nice science lab, and President Saakashvili delivered his speech well without notes.
Then I spent Thursday and Friday recovering (in true introvert fashion) from the unaccustomed social activity. I also inadvertently learned to make felt. There’s a folk art school about a twenty minute walk from where I live, so I went there to find out about classes in teka, which is Georgian felting — they make hats, pictures, and neat toys. I kind of wanted to learn to make a toy. WHen I showed up there, however, nobody knew English, but I managed to communicate “I want learn teka,” and they replied with “Tuesday and Friday at twelve, ten weeks.” So I thanked them, expressed interest, and left. As it happens, I’m at school until at least 12:15 those days, but I figured I might as well go at 1 anyway, to express my regrets. When I got there, the teacher was apparently expecting me, and had even written out a few words, like “vertical” and “horizontal” in her notebook. She then proceeded to teach me how to make a felt picture, all in Georgian, every now and again saying “yes, yes” or “ekla horizantal.” An hour later we had made a felt picture of some flowers and stems, and I’m supposed to come back o Tuesday to get it and pay for the class. Here’s how felt pictures are made:
You start with several different colors of brightly dyed, brushed wool. I only know the first stage of that process, where you wash it in trough-like containers, and then beat it with sticks for several hours. I think that a pair of wool brushes come in at some point, but I haven’t ever actually seen that done. The brushed wool clings together in thin sheets, and one makes a background with perhaps four layers made up of smallish bits of wool, layered going in opposite directions: after the first two layers, you can carefully pick it up and hold it to the light in order to find and patch thin parts.
After there are about four layers of a more or less universal thickness, you can take other bits of wool and rub them into sticks and balls with your palms in order to create shapes. With the shapes in place (in our case my teacher had chosen three flowers on brown stems), you put a piece of foam, like bedding foam, under them, and poke them with felting needles, straight up and down, until they stay. When all of the shapes are poked in like that, you put the entire picture on a piece of bubble wrap with perhaps six inches extending out past the edges, and layer it with a piece of stiff cheesecloth on top. Then you pour hot water over the top until it’s all soggy, and rub a great deal of bar soap into it. It’s important that the water be as hot as possible without burning you, so that the wool will shrink and solidify. You keep rubbing the soap in through the cheesecloth, gently at first, so as not to disrupt the figures, and then more vigorously, until the soap makes thick foam on top. Then you remove some of the foam and take off the cheesecloth. The picture is still quite warm and unstable at that point, so you reform the edges as neatly as possible with your hands, then roll the picture into the bubble wrap, and wring out some of the excess, then vigorously roll the picture, inside bubble wrap and cloth, in all four directions — that is, roll it up, roll and squeeze it for a few minutes, unroll it, rotate the picture, and repeat, until it has been rotated all the way around. Then you turn it over, rub in some of the extra soap foam, and do the same step upside-down. After that, you picture has been felted, so you clean up, wash the soap out, and hang it up to dry.
I don’t have pictures of any of this, because I hadn’t really intended to do it, and still can’t imagine quite how felt toys are created — but who knows, perhaps when I come back Wednesday she’ll make me learn how to make a small felt drinking horn.