Collaboration, like solo creation, usually starts with an idea, vision, or concept, that is then altered as the process unfolds. But unlike solo creation, collaboration affords many more opportunities for unexpected outcomes. When collaborating with young children, I like to set parameters for success by limiting color choices, size, and shape. In this class art project for the school auction, each Pre-K student made a circle-ish piece of flat felt using three colors of alpaca roving donated by Flying Dutchman Alpacas. A dinner plate set the size limit as they laid out the layers of roving in one main color. Two other colors of roving were added in the final layer in whatever design they chose.
After the student’s felt pieces were finished, I spent about a week just exploring different wall hanging ideas. I even worked with the children a second time to create felted wool balls that I thought would be a part of the final piece. My original wall hanging concept just didn’t seem right anymore. Then a conversation with a friend sparked the idea of using leather as a backdrop for the felt.
Although I had never worked with leather before, I was up for the challenge. The leather was generously donated by Maverick Leather, and Warpony Saddlery punch all the holes for stitching, saving me countless hours. Each piece of leather was hand cut in an irregular circle to highlight the raw, organic shape of felt. A hand sewn saddle stitch in artificial sinew creates a contrasting border. Unseen are dozens of holes that I hand punched into each circle of leather so the children could easily hand stitch their felt piece onto the leather using wool yarn and a large eye needle. Their unique, individual stitches add more texture and personality to the wall hanging. Finally, a juniper branch was cleaned and sanded by a friend with all the right power tools.
The culmination was a large, colorful felt and leather wall hanging – a collaborative creation, made with love for the school auction.
The frequency and intensity of inspiration may vary from day to day, but I rarely am empty of ideas. And I am grateful for this flow. The challenge for me is to find time to attend to all of the ideas – which is, of course, impossible. If I am not already working on a project, a new idea becomes my next focus. Otherwise, I write them down as they come; recorded for some future date when I need inspiration.
About a month ago, I was hiking around Dillon Falls with my daughters and picked a single willow branch from the river’s edge. I’ve never worked with willow, but as I played with bending a twisting the branch, I was inspired to make a dream catcher. When we got home, I used hemp cord to wrap the branch into a circle-ish shape. And then life got in the way. A couple weeks later, I started weaving the dream catcher, adding wooden and hand felted beads at random intervals in the process. The weaving took several days; much longer than I anticipated. Life again required me to put the project aside.
I lost the flow. I’d stare at the dream catcher day after day and wonder how I would ever finish it. I had vague ideas, but nothing connected. Another week passed. Then, right before I had to leave for a day long gathering, inspiration struck. Worried that I would again lose the flow, I gathered all the materials together and photographed them in a pile. I needed to record my inspiration.
And then again, life got in the way. Or maybe I just again lost the flow. It took several more days before I literally forced myself to act. Just one act on the dream weaver that would hopefully push me forward. I took the old sheets, ripped them into strips, and tied them onto the woven branch. Then I cut and tied lengths of t-shirt yarn and wool yarn. The flow returned as I braided yarn. I decided to keep the colors of the dream catcher tail monochromatic. And when it was finished, I decided it was my “inspiration catcher;” for those ideas that I am not ready to use, but also not ready to release.
About 8 months ago, I created a set of wet felted nesting dolls; minimal, modern, matryoshka. I always knew I wanted to embroider faces on the dolls, but I kept avoiding the project. Embroidery requires an attention to detail and precision, and I am unpracticed in needlecraft. I was worried I’d mess up and ruin the nesting dolls. Avoidance was easier. The time has now come for me to face the uncertainty and discomfort.
Recently I’ve been giving much thought to what I do and how I do it. Unlike an artist who becomes an expert in a certain medium or method, I have always been a dabbler. Certainly, I have built up enough experience (not expertise) in using various materials and tools that I have developed a comfort in making almost anything; much like a multi-lingual person might feel comfortable learning yet another language. But this experience does not preclude me from occasional insecurities and doubts which boil down to the same basic mantra “I am not good enough.”
Which brings me back to the matryoshka. I didn’t feel I was skilled enough to add the faces. I tried to see them as finished in their minimal, faceless state. But that was just avoidance. They needed personality and detail. So I thought about those times when I feel successful working with unfamiliar materials or methods. And it occurred to me that the key is to “pay attention.” Amazing things can happen when you give all of your attention to one thing; focus in and let all else fall away. The skill you thought you lacked may blossom when you spend the time to look and act with care. So I took the blank felt dolls off the shelf and researched embroidery stitches on the internet. With a pencil, I lightly sketched the faces on each doll, and then just started stitching; slowly, carefully, trying to keep stitches as even as possible. And by simply allowing myself the time and space to pay attention to my work, I was able to create personalities for the matryoshka.
I encourage anyone who feels “I’m not creative” to think about those times when you make the time and space to pay attention. Our best creative thinking and doing occur at those times. I posit that creativity is less about the skill and more about the attention. My own making is proof of that.
With cooler weather finally arriving in Central Oregon, I was motivated to finish some sweater alterations. Both were originally large men’s wool sweaters from thrift that I felted by washing in hot water and drying at the highest temperature.
The gray sweater had a zipper and mock turtleneck collar that I simply trimmed off, leaving a scoop neck with a u-shaped cutout. The beauty of working with felted wool is that you can cut it without the edges fraying or unraveling. With my sewing machine, I narrowed the sleeves by a couple inches so they are fitted. Then I cut the bottom hem on an angle. Hi-low hems may be passé but I like the look of this sweater.
The mustard color sweater was first altered a few years ago; the modern flower pattern added by needle felting. But the original turtleneck collar and rolled sleeve hems never seemed quite right, so the sweater was forgotten in my closet I simply cut off the turtle neck and sleeve hems, and added a small notch to open the neckline. The end result is a simple sweater with three quarter length sleeves and a scoop neck collar.
Are there unworn wool sweaters in your wardrobe? Consider simple alterations by felting and cutting to create a new look!
These modern felted necklaces are an experiment in simplicity and purity of shape. The circle is symbolic of renewal and regeneration and continuity. In my creative work, I am focused on trying to create closed loop products; locally sourced, renewable, recyclable, reusable. These necklaces use locally sourced alpaca wool roving, natural deerskin lacing, and recyclable steel washers.
Inspired by the DIY necklaces found in Urban Scandinavian Sewing by Kirstyn Cogan, these necklaces are relatively simple to make. Working with circles in various sizes, materials and colors creates a near infinite number of combinations. Using handmade wet felted sheets cut into circles of various sizes, I created layered combinations. using the opposite colors on either side. The edges are hand stitched with a blanket stitch, and a washer reinforces the hole for threading the deerskin lacing. I searched for used washers with a naturally aged patina but was unable to find any. I also think it would be interesting to use heavy jewelry wire hammered into a spiral as an alternative to the standard hardware store washer.
Why not make your own version of this necklace? A simpler alternative would be to use store-bought felt which comes in all sorts of colors. Since the typical polyester felt is quite thin, I suggest gluing two layers together so each circle is thick enough to hold its shape. It makes a perfect handmade gift.
Every air plant (Tillandsia) deserves a cozy felted wall pocket. This integral piece is wet felted by hand using a variety of natural brown to black alpaca roving from Flying Dutchman Alpacas here in Bend, OR. The pocket interior reveals a surprise of light cream felt, which blended with the dark roving during the felting process to make the pocket lighter than the background mat. A few of these wall pockets are available in my Etsy store
Ever thinking of new random projects, this sachet came about as a way to use a 4″ strip of fabric cut from the bottom of a t-shirt. First, the hem and seams were removed to create two long rectangles of fabric. These were then cut in half. By cutting thin strips along the sides and bottom of the rectangle and then tying them together with square knots, a small sachet was created. The remaining fabric was cut into strips, braided, and tied to the sachet with slip knots. Given the light weight and stretch of the t-shirt material, I filled my necklace sachet with tiny flowers and a sprig of rosemary.
You may have noticed that I am a big proponent of the unexpected; like the centaur who shoots an arrow afar just to follow it into the unknown. It is not that I lack vision when beginning a project. I always have a clear target. I just often miss the mark and have to shift my vision to accept the unexpected.
During my week in the woods of the Sierra Mountains, I found a beautiful, dark sienna rock with a small dimple near one end. It seemed the perfect size and weight for an experiment with weaving. Using hemp twine, I tied larks head knots around the girth of the rock, then knotted several rows of square knots. Never having done this before, I quickly realized that I had used too many larks head knots. So, what was meant to be a snug, knotted wrap for the rock, expanded with each row of square knots to become a pouch to carry the rock; an unexpected, yet satisfying outcome.
Last month I was fortunate to be invited to lead a craft at Soulodge Fire Circle Retreat; my very first solo retreat; first time away from my little family; first time giving permission to myself to reset, renew, and reconnect. The retreat gathers women interested in earth medicine, so I conceived a simple wet felted medicine pouch, adorned with a slender, wire-wrapped piece of kyanite and hung from adjustable deerskin lacing. Instead of using a more conventional plastic resist to create the pouch, I chose palm-sized river rocks. I wanted the felting process to be as pure and natural as possible – as if we had gathered all the materials on the land. Each woman wrapped her chosen rock in natural alpaca roving and then knelt over a large metal tub filled with hot soapy water to wet, soap, and rub the wool until it was felted tightly around the rock. Cutting a small hole at one end, the rock was then pushed out – sometimes with great effort and humorous analogies to giving birth. The open pouch was then wet, soaped, and rubbed again to complete the felting process. After rinsing, squeeze drying, and hand shaping the pouch, the stone adornment and lacing was added. A slender kyanite stone was wire-wrapped onto the center of the deerskin lacing, which was threaded through two sets of holes punched through both sides of the pouch. The lacing was then secured with two slip knots for adjustability. For anyone who was not able to make a medicine pouch at Soulodge Fire Circle, I’ve made a few felted ones and posted them for sale on Etsy.