Interpreting Nature in Wool

Each spring, when we shear our sheep, we garner nearly 800 lbs. of raw wool.  Sticky and pungent with lanoline, we pack the fleeces into huge bags and road trip them to Ewetopia Woolen Mill in La Farge, WI, where it is cleaned, carded, and hand dye to our specifications.  What returns to the farm are bags full of beautiful roving—carded wool in one continuous tube like big pasta in the bag.

 

This wool roving is the perfect material for needle felting!  Using a sharp, barbed tool, I wrap, fold, twist, or lay out the wool, and repeatedly micro-stab it with the felting needle.  As the barbs slide across the wool fibers they cause the tiny scales of the wool structure to rachet together.  The more I poke it, the tighter and firmer the piece becomes.  It’s like magic!  What once was a pile of fluff can become anything you can imagine—a dog, a fairy, a bird, whatever!

 

I love taking my inspiration for needle felting projects from nature and the farm, creating woodland friends like chickadees, fawns, foxes, and cardinals, or barnyard pals like chickens and sheep.  This week, the flower gardens and feeders at Farmstead Creamery have been absolutely buzzing with hummingbirds—20 to 30 at a time—as the nestlings have fledged and are hungry!  We run three feeders for them, and they drain them all every day.

 

“You have SO MANY hummingbirds!” visitors to curbside pickup at Farmstead comment in astonishment.  “And they get along so well.  We have just a couple, and all they do is fight.  I’ve never seen so many hummingbirds in one place.”

 

These tiny creatures certainly make great viewing entertainment, with their aerial stunts, chirping, and glinting colors.  Males flash their ruby throats, and I’ve even been buzzed closely as they fly past, whirring wings beating right next to my face.  They love the blooming bee balm and the nearby honeysuckle bush, taking a sip here and a brief rest there.

 

This week, I wanted to capture the charming nature of the hummingbirds in wool.  But, needle felting a hummingbird presents some challenges.  There’s that long, slender beak and the airy wings, so I used pipe cleaners as wire armature for the beak and spine and to give structure to the wings.  I built the fanning tail and posable wings separate and then added them to the body.  A white tummy, eye patches, and tail feather tips added highlights, along with the bright ruby throat.  It turned out adorable!

 

In the past, I would be offering needle felting classes here at Farmstead, but as we continue to be adaptive during the pandemic, there are new ways for you to experience the magic of needle felting.  Many of my projects I have turned into kits, including fox, loon, cardinal, chicken, duckling, sheep, and rabbit.  We have these up on our new e-store, for pre-order pickup at the farm, or I can ship them to you.  As part of the kit, you’ll receive a link to video tutorials I’ve recorded that walk you step-by-step through the process, as if you were sitting next to me in class.

 

You can find these here:  https://www.northstarhomestead.com/NSHF/product-category/fiber-loft/artcraftkits/

 

Also, in partnership with North House Folk School, I am offering live versions of these classes via Zoom.  Interested students who live anywhere with internet connection sign up in advance, I mail them the kit, and we make the project together.  Last week was my fifth class using this method, and everyone made their own adorable fox!  See what classes are currently available, with additional fall classes coming soon at:

 

https://northhouse.org/instructors/laura-berlage

While I just finished designing the hummingbird project and it’s not a kit yet, it will be coming soon!  There’s something so delightful about the transformation from sheep to roving, fluff to adorable critter.  What are some of the fun ways that you interpret nature?  Sketching, painting, photography, mosaics?  Mother Nature is an endless source for creative inspiration.

 

This week find a way to celebrate the beautiful natural world.  She offers wonder and peace, no matter the troubles we encounter.  See what happens when you give yourself permission to create, inspired by nature!  See you down on the farm sometime.

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