Winter is lingering here in Central Oregon. Skies are gray, snow is falling, and temperatures are hovering around 30 degrees. Warm layers and outerwear are still the required clothing, so wool jewelry is a perfect accessory. Using natural, cream-colored alpaca wool roving and yarn, I made a wrist cuff, earrings, rings, and necklace by combining the processes of wet felting, needle felting, and hand stitching. Minimal, modern, and monochromatic – this set of wool jewelry adds a gesture of warmth to the winter wardrobe. Some items are available in my Etsy shop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After making several of these felted mats with integral bowls (I can’t come up with a name that isn’t just a description), I was inspired to make a similar design as a wall hanging. Although I meant for the bowl to be more of a pocket, it is tilted upwards just enough to be able to hold moss and an air plant. The piece is secured to the wall using simple thumbtacks that are covered with leftover felt. I will keep making these and playing with the bowl shape and angle. I envision a whole grid of them on a wall in varying natural alpaca colors.
Back to the name dilemma. What would you call this piece? Maybe just a real name, like Susan? Or a made up name like cars models – The AVRA. Anyway, I will consider any and all suggestions. In the meantime, this item is for sale on Etsy
It is unusual for me to make anything more than once. New inspiration combined with an insatiable desire to experiment with new materials and techniques means I often make one and am done. But these felted vessels have held my interest. They are challenging yet can be made in a few hours. The process is familiar but little variations create interesting surprises. And of course, I just love wet felting. For this piece, I used black alpaca roving for the mat, but included a couple layers of white roving to cover the inclusion (a large Easter egg) before covering the whole piece again with more black roving. During the felting process, the white roving started to blend with the black making the vessel a dark gray. Once the inclusion was removed, the white was exposed on the inside of the vessel, creating a nice contrast with the black mat.
What I love about felting is the process – which is both demanding and forgiving; repetitive (meditative) and very physical (yes, muscle.) I can be precise or loose and still create something interesting. Mistakes can be opportunities.
I received some natural alpaca roving from Benvenuti Farm and decided to make another mat with integral vase or bowl. I love this minimal, modern design and need to come up with a more fitting name than “mat vase.”
This can be made in about 2 hours depending on the size and the inclusion. I first roughly needle felted four small mats which I then joined into a larger square. Then I placed an inclusion (a large Easter egg) on the square and covered it with cream roving and then with the tan roving to create a reveal of color on the inside when the egg is removed after felting. The whole piece is carefully wet felted so the inclusion does not shift around and so the thickness of felt remains consistent. When it feels complete, I cut out the egg and then wet felt the final piece one more time to make sure the interior of the vase is also tight and smooth. I let it sit overnight to dry and then I trim three sides and leave the fourth raw. The vase is the perfect size for a small potted succulent, an air plant, or some dried herbs or twigs.