Category Archives: Felting classes in St. Petersburg

My new best excuse

(This photo was taken by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and is not copyrighted. He is one of my all time favorite photographers and I also think he is an incredible steward of the earth, maybe the best. If you haven’t seen his work or you are not familiar with his GoodPlanet.org, I highly recommend you check him out.)

Made up my mind. I am definitely going to keep up this blog, if for no other reason than to get Bonnie’s comments. And really, FC is right: FaceBook is sort of sucking the life blood out of some good blogs but there’s something lacking over there. It’s sort of promiscuous, a kind of cheap intimacy. (It ain’t pretty being easy, but sometimes I love it.) Also, it encourages those of us already challenged around editorial boundaries to just cut loose, not that I would ever do anything like recount my adventures with Bank of America, ala some bizarre impersonation of Robin Williams negotiating a mortgage.

Anyway, today I am coming clean and I have this new link for you: TANGLEDUPINWOOL.COM

I have been a busy feltmaker and I’m happy the site is up and launched, if not completely written, stocked, or padded out with all the bells and whistles I would like. I do hope you all will come visit me there. And for those of you chickens willing to cross the road? The first three to add a note at TUIW with your address will get a lovely surprise in the mail. (I promise not to share it with anyone, not even B of A)

And just to show you that I am, indeed, keeping up this blog that will no longer be all about things wool, guess who is back in the ‘hood? We thought he might have finally moved on, but two days ago I heard his call, went out and looked and there he was: Hannibal! Our old friend is back, perched next to his nest but I haven’t seen the missus yet this year. She usually arrives about a week later. That’s how Coopers stay mated for life, you know. She takes a separate vacation for a few months each year. I’ll keep you updated on their progress this season. Promise.

Who are you? Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo?

Yes, I really want to know, too. That deaf, dumb and blind blogger, all over the map but unlike the pinball wizard, way too many distractions and far too little time. I’ve been considering giving up this blog altogether because I’m just too inconsistent about it, hell weeks go by and the other thing is that sometimes I write things in jest and people take them too seriously. It’s safe to assume that most of the time I’m either biting my tongue or it’s in my cheek.

I’m now firmly in Florida for the duration of winter but not before I had my fair share of it. Post-Christmas was spectacularly beautiful although we couldn’t get off the mountain. We have a 28 degree grade the last half mile up so if there’s any snow, ice or combination, that’s it for us and all of our neighbors living on the shoulders of Little Mount Pisgah. Rich gave up shaving somewhere about day 3 and  I fully expected him to yell out, “Heeerre’s Johnny!” and pop around a door. He had a little cabin fever thing going but it WAS beautiful and we took advantage of our mountain and the new flying saucer Santa brought us for Christmas.

We drove down here to St .Petersburg on the 30th, each in a car, each with a cat. Sophie sat on my lap and braked every single time I did. Both cats are happy to be here as they are free to go out and porch sit whenever they please. McCloud is slowing down noticeably and we are at that point where we are thinking he may not be long for this world but it’s normal old cat behavior. Occasionally we think about taking him to the vet and then ask ourselves why. Maybe that sounds negligent but I’m of the school that believes at some point intervening with vet trips and steroids and shots and fluids just adds stress on top of achy joints and overworked kidneys. We take excellent care of our animal companions but I just don’t know about starting down that path. We love him so much and he’s a wonderful cat and companion, nearly perfect except for his table manners. It’s hard to imagine life without him. For now, he doesn’t complain, sleeps more and more and somehow has given us the message that we shouldn’t be schlepping him around in our arms as we have in the past. Pet me, but don’t manhandle. I took a great photo of him and had it made into a postage stamp. Sometime in the future I’ll send Rich a nice card with a postage stamp of his cat.

Then I went back to Asheville for a fiber workshop weekend and discovered that the electric heat, the propane back up and the water pump had all failed. Three freezing days in the house and melting snow to flush toilets as repairs were made- that was a thrill and since I went on and on about how cold I was on FaceBook I’m not going to redo that drama here.

(now that I’m back to taking photos with my new camera I should probably figure out how to get one of those watermark things.)

Florida is for the birds and I’m loving it. We bike ride down to the bay. As of today, I’ve started back at Boyd Hill. I wondered about the avian pea-brain and what kind of memory they have as I walked along the enclosures saying my usual hellos. It’s been about 7 months (as I type that, I’m amazed. I guess it took most of a year to rebuild the mountain house, get settled in, grow a garden, discover the bears and find a routine.) so I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had acted as if I was a total stranger. But no. (Wheezer and the familiar evil eye she always gives me. She detests going out for education programs and although she doesn’t fight it, she’s never been thrilled with the person who takes hold of her jesses.)

The little screech owls clearly recognized me as did the two red-shouldered hawks that I handle, Shadow and Thinman. Turk and Pugsley, the turkey vultures, not so much. The other owls seemed vaguely attenuated to my voice and our new eagle, Abiaka, responded to me like the stranger that I am.

(Mystic, one of two barred owls, is sort of the program whack job. She’s very curious and always disheveled and frequently, for no apparent reason, just flings herself off the glove and hangs upside down.)

(Shadow is a favorite of mine. She really gave me a good once over when I first came into the enclosure.)

(She didn’t hesitate about hopping on the glove but she spent dinner time listening to me talk to her instead of eating.)

(Thinman, on the other hand, had no problem eating his mice and then moving on to Shadow’s)

Mostly these days I am seriously focused on getting my feltmaking to a level that feels satisfactory in all respects- teaching, marketing and most of all, creating. To that end I’ve been getting ready to launch that website, getting my winter classes and workshops going (nicely!) and trying to block out time to do my own work on projects. Today I made a stunning piece of felt that I laid out over a year ago. The layout entailed dyeing 4 different types of wool, 3 forms of silk, fussing over the design endlessly- and then I was afraid to felt it for fear of ruining the components. I finally tackled that this morning and the colors are fantastic and it has a nice dense heft to it. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I’ll show it to you once it dries and take suggestions. Yesterday I made this lovely shawl of merino wool felted to hand-woven silk. I’ve got a great vintage French celluloid button that I’m going to attach and then I’ll probably turn it over to Florida Craftsmen Gallery for sale. It’s nice and airy, soft with a little warmth,perfect for Florida winter nights.

Kids are fine, Rich is fine and we have the full contingent of friends who struggle with illness, friends who are coming to visit, possible termites and mildewed porch columns. Life, mostly good.  How’s by you?

And you call yourself a teacher???

Seven may be the age of reason according to the Catholic Church but the 26 of them clamoring around me this past week, shrieking “Miss Vicki! Miss Vicki!” at the top of their piping little lungs seemed beyond reason, felt no guilt and had no sense of moral responsibility as far as I could tell. God, am I getting old.

At some point long ago (when I was unconscious?) I agreed to come back from North Carolina one week after the moving van left to teach art camp in St. Petersburg. What was I thinking? Wool felting to 7 and 8 year olds in 104 degrees in Florida in August? Obviously, I wasn’t even paying attention because I thought I was teaching 10-12 year old camp.

With 26 children, there were the usual suspects: the one sad south side  boy with the worst case of ADHD I’ve EVER seen, the porky blond girl who couldn’t keep her fingers out of everyone else’s work and kept asking if it’s lunch time yet while continuously eating the “snack” her mother had packed (usually something sludgy, in a paper tube) and the bright-eyed Bridgett who alternated between divisive in-groups of three and falling on the floor, precisely at 2:37 pm, wailing that everybody hates her, which was actually close to accurate but was still highly disruptive.

On Tuesday I was busy demonstrating how to gently pull the wool into wispy bits to lay down for felt. Getting them all to quiet down and gather round and pay attention was, in my book, a major accomplishment. My elbow was being continuously bumped and buffeted by Miss Pudgy but I used great restraint and said nothing until I heard her mumble, “And you call yourself a teacher??” I looked at her as she stared at me with an expression of complete innocence, a “who, me?” expression and while I was tempted to ask, “What’s that? You think I’m an excellent teacher?” I genuinely laughed and continued on. By Thursday I was proclaiming, “Justin! This is NOT samurai warrior camp! If I see you running around with those scissors snapping in the air one more time I’m going to glue your butt to this chair!” and ” The next one of you that ‘accidentally’ locks yourself in the supply closet STAYS in the supply closet until tomorrow at 3!” I’m quite certain I would be fired in week two if I were in a regular classroom situation and while I was earning at the rate of 48,000/year I have no idea how young teachers earning half that survive a single month of teaching. No idea.

I had watercolor pencils floating in my felting soap, yogurt in the merino wool and newspaper turned to paper mache on the floor, but in the end it was all good. There were several teenager assistants to help referee, do bathroom runs and take them away for a half-hour lunch. My ADHD child was a real sweetheart and tried so hard to get it together, I was able to sell Bridgitt on the virtues of positive attention as opposed to negative and my plump little friend ended the week saying, “I know. I know. ‘Patience is a virtue’ but Miss Vicki! Miss Vicki!…” With the help of my good neighbor, Other Vicki, I finished sewing 26 pieces of handmade felt to homemade pillows and the week ended on a high note with everyone taking home a completed project. 

Despite the complaining, I love teaching and being around children. The energy and creativity and burgeoning sense of humor of a seven year old is delightful. And, for just a week, I do it very well and the kids have a great time. Win-win.

(this note ends with “teaching me things about art that I didn’t know”) I like that.

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WE LIVE IN A TREE HOUSE AND THERE ARE TOO MANY TOMATOES

I flew home this morning from St. Petersburg and it’s a little bit bittersweet because I really love my good friends there, I love our little house with the big porch and January through March, it’s quite the pleasant respite from winter’s wrath. Otherwise? This mountain home is all we had hoped for and more. It’s incredibly beautiful, non-stop. The weather, the trees, the birds, deer, snakes and our resident black bear with three cubs. The local organic food, the corn maze, the self-serve produce stand, the CSA. The four-gate passenger friendly airport, the EarthFare store. Hey! This morning, after Rich picked me up from the airport we stopped for some groceries and stood in line next to Andie MacDowell! She’s a lovely woman (I could tell by the groceries in her cart- it seemed important not to stare at her so I looked at her groceries) who, in real life at the grocery store looks exactly the way she does in her movies. Around here she goes by Rose Qualley.

Rich had been hoping for a bear sighting and I kept saying no, no, no. We do not want her and her three wee ones here, knocking down bird feeders and trampling the melon patch. The night after I left for Florida Rich called to say he was over that. He reported that Sophie was in her usual window seat and he was watching TV when all of a sudden Sophie BLEW across the room, never touching the ground, with her tail the size of the Hindenburg. She landed on Rich’s chest with all four paws of claws fully extended, bounced off the lovely cherry headboard and flew into the office with McCloud close on her heels. A full four minutes later Rich heard the crashing and banging down on the drive. We had several large Waste Pro containers, 99.5 percent full of end-stage construction trash and .5 percent food waste. The .5 warranted an hour and 15 minute rummage that left trash spread all over the giant drive apron and down the road into the woods. I guess it took him a couple hours to clean up.

Late this afternoon I went down to the garden and picked tomatoes, again. It’s been alternately dry and wet and this garden was planted so early in the season that most things have bolted and are near done. The Romas are everywhere, on the ground, on the plants, strewn about the yard by wildlife. The heirloom tomatoes are just coming in; I picked some Mr. Stripey and Black Cherokee today. The Black Cherokee have wonderful belly buttons and both have magnificent summer flavors of sweet and acid. Tomorrow I will can tomato sauce one last time with the Romas and then, 40 quarts thus far, call it good for the year. I’ll use the heirlooms that we don’t eat for canned tomatoes. I’m ready to tear down the summer garden and get a clean venue for fall herbs and greens, some carrots, peas and cooler weather crops. What should I do with nearly 200 jalapenos?

I am reminded of my weekly calls with my father when I was 40 and he was 64, two years before he died. I was a single mother and full-time psychotherapist and I would respond, “I’m fine, Dad- just way too much to do” and he would always answer, “Lucky you.” How right he was. I’m a fortunate woman to have this life with way too much to do.

It’s Sunday and finally a day of relative rest (aside from those tomatoes).We’re off to the WNC Arboretum today. I joined when I first arrived two months ago but Rich hasn’t been yet. The annual quilt show, this year themed “Stars Over the Mountains” is there and ends today; one of my neighbors here is a world-class quilter and I want to see her work.

(Sophie,in her felted bed, on bear patrol)

Where does virgin wool come from?

The sheep that runs the fastest…

I’ve been running fast over here but it’s all good and exciting. Maybe I didn’t mention this before: I’m officially an “art teacher” now! I’ll be teaching fiber arts at The Morean Art Center here in St. Petersburg, four six-week sessions between September and Christmas. (If you live in the area and are so inclined, you can go online and register now.) I’m going to be teaching both a fundamentals of felting class and a 3-Dimensional felt class with advanced techniques. So, of course, I had to purchase supplies while up at the fiber festival in Michigan and ship them home…boxes(the first of three batches…)

One of the qualities of wool fiber is that it can be compressed and then it can expand again, once you set it free…wool(liberated, the contents of  just the boxes pictured above. I like using the giant ziplock bags for easy storage because I can see what’s what and they’re moth proof…)

It’s hard to tell from the photo but there are many and wonderful grades of wool in those bags, as well as silk from cocoons, dyed and un-dyed. There’s baby alpaca fleece and merino top and all manner of animal fibers. By teaching class series I’ll have a great opportunity to teach techniques that build on each other and it will be more of a learning process that inspires some real creativity. Workshops are lots of fun, too- short, fast and project oriented. I’ll be continuing with some half day workshops around the area this Fall as well. First up is a pumpkin making class. Currently there is lots and lots of orange wool around here.pumpkins(Right after I took this I started in on the nerds and runts.)

I spent a little time wrapping up a few other small crafty things that were on the back burner this past week as well. Brother Bruce (“Uncle Buck” to the kids) lives near Boston and he and my sister-in-law are major Red Sox Fans. The Sox are doing well so, in addition to a couple of pint glass cozies, I made a champagne bottle size one in case they have real cause to celebrate. The cozies, incidentally, are a very big hit around here- I’m cranking them out for friends and neighbors routinely. While I was busy fussing about the bad combination of extreme heat and working with wool, I made one of these on a whim to hold my constantly sweating ice tea glass. Hands down, these are the most effective glass holders. They NEVER leave water marks and they keep everything very cold; ice stays ice for hours in one of these. All of the water proof, insulating qualities of wool shine when used as a can or glass snuggie like this. They can be rinsed out if necessary and they dry right back to shape, they never crumble and disintegrate the way those rubberized plastic ones do and they feel good to grip. A clever idea, if I do say so myself. I’m thinking of going for Gator and Buc colors next.redsox

Finally, I’m taking some longer blocks of time to patiently work on dyeing and color blending techniques in preparation for some more elaborate and detailed work I want to do once I get into that nice big art space at the Morean Center. I would really like to make some fine quality felt cloth to construct clothing and maybe some upholstery fabric. I know, I know- but the whole world doesn’t live in Florida. Here are a few samples of some hand dyed corriedale wool that I blended. These are real closeups so you see every bit of texture- which is not so pronounced in reality.dye2IMG_1833
dye1(Very strong, very soft. Felted wool tends to lose that itch factor completely, depending on the animal source, of course. But the process calms it down considerably so that even people who are extremely sensitive to it are amazed at how soft and itch-free felted wool becomes.)

Finally, lest you think this is just a niche craft, I offer you a couple of interesting video clips. A recent exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in NYC, “Fashioning Felt” was a magnificent display of this centuries old technique for making everything from houses to the lining for knights in shining armor. The Cooper Hewitt is one of my all time favorite museums, an extension of the Smithsonian Museum. Check it out- first a short clip promoting the show and then a longer clip featuring the handmade Yurt (house) crafted entirely of fantastically beautiful felt.

Clip for Cooper-Hewitt Show, Fashioning Felt.

Clip for Fashioning Felt, including Nomadic Yurt, constructed of felt.

And then, if your curiosity is really piqued, check THIS out. It has no sound so you can watch it in your cubicle at work.