Spinning wool into wonderment

Jeff Elliott
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St. Anthony women demonstrate the art of felting

A nearly inaudible crunch sounded as Carole Roberts jabbed a barbed needle into the spine of a carefully sculpted camel.

Repeatedly prodding the lustrous creation, poking the needle in and out of the wool at an expedited rate, a hump of fluff began to form on the character’s back.

“When you start out it could be loose fibers and as you continue to poke it, it gets smaller and begins to bond,” explained Roberts. “It’s hard for people to imagine.”

As if through a magic manoeuvre, the mammal’s appendage was quickly manipulated and the three-dimensional formation was complete — one more addition to an ever-growing nativity scene of wool.

The self-taught St. Anthony crafter began experimenting with needle felting a couple of years back.

The basic needle-felting technique, which Roberts learned online, involves sculpting the creature’s skeleton with a needle and then adding dimension by wrapping wool around the formed body. The sculpture’s attributes are formed through meticulous fluffing and stretching.

“It was a strange thing, how I started,” she began to explain. “I kept seeing that they were selling these little dogs on eBay and I’d go, ‘wow, how is that put together? You can’t see any stiches!’”

With a needle in hand, she started practicing.

“It’s hard for people to imagine, that are so used to knitting,” she laughed. “But there’s no knitting, no weaving, and no crocheting.”

Having very little material when she started, Roberts’ first creations were tiny seal sculptures of white wool. Over the many months of felt fine-tuning, her repertoire expanded to include wall pictures, pins and wool-encased homemade soap, all of varying colours. It wasn’t until last Christmas that she decided to create a nativity scene out of the fiber.

“I started, first, with a Jewish-style nativity, and then I thought if I could get an Inuit nativity it would be great for this area,” she said, showing off a set that comes complete with Mary, Joseph, an infant Jesus, a donkey, a sheep and the aforementioned camel.

Roberts hopes to build on the scene, with plans to introduce Shepherds into the mix.

“It’s really fun to be creative It’s inexpensive to make, it isn’t hard work, and you don’t have to count stitches, “ she said, acknowledging that knitting isn’t really her forte. “I just started to love wool.”

Preparing the material for use is the most laborious part of the process, she said. With the help of her felting confidante Kathi Kitchen, however, the hours of cleaning and carding are cut in half.

“It’s great to have someone around who’s also interested,” said Roberts, admitting that the pair usually get together on Saturdays. “It can get boring working by yourself.”

While Kitchen tried her hand at Roberts’ well-developed sculpting technique, she quickly decided her craftiness should be left to other areas of felting — mainly insoles, scarves, hats and dryer balls.

“I tried it, but my hands just didn’t do that,” she laughed. “Instead, I remembered getting felt insoles from a lady in the area who had sheep when I was younger, so I thought I would give that a go.”

She said the insoles have since taken off.

“I have people who call me every year and I have people who use them for years.”

At a recent craft fair held in St. Anthony, the duo set up a table to display their wooly creations, but one particular basket of the inventive ‘dryer balls’ was seemingly in need of continual re-stocking.

“I’ve gotten many orders for them since, and will probably continue to receive them up until Christmas,” Kitchen said.

Made through the process of needle felting, the re-usable balls of wool are an eco-friendly way of decreasing laundry-drying time. They are said to save energy, decrease wrinkles and eliminate static.

Aside from extending the production of the energy-saving bundles of wool, Kitchen is looking forward to focusing on the creation of Newfoundland-style hats — but not until she’s ‘felt’ her way through the ever-growing bundle of holiday orders, of course.

The Northern Pen

Organizations: EBay

Geographic location: St. Anthony, Newfoundland

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