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Pretty Little things; Light in the dark

Wednesday night 7 of us sat down at The Roycroft Inn and made some drop dead beautiful things, at the first #blubirdteaches Fiber Arts Workshop, our MUSEjar collaboration. I'm still holding onto the little bubble of joy that I hope we all took away from that evening by the fire. The day had dawned drizzly and wet and damp, and while the weather had improved through the day, reaching an uneasy truce by nightfall, it was still deliciously damp and dreary outside by the time 6 p.m. rolled around. It was a perfect night to spend inside, next to a fire, surrounded by warmth and light, and good company. And there's something to be said for creating bright, beautiful things when darkness and cold is right outside the door (metaphor, anyone?).

If you aren't familiar with The Roycroft Campus, you may not grasp how truly special Wednesday was. The Roycroft Inn is a Jewel in the crown of The Roycroft Campus, one of the leaders of the American Arts & Crafts Movement that revolutionized the concept of American Craft, and helped to define its relationship to Fine Art in the beginning of the 20th Century. Starting as a small print press, founding by Elbert Hubbard, the campus evolved from a small press shop to a thriving artisan community, drawing skilled artists from all over the world. Over 500 working artisans benefited from and contributed to the glory of entrepreneurship, learning, and free thought that The Roycroft name embodied.

Elbert's wife, Alice Moore Hubbard, was a well-read, educated woman, and a noted suffragist. The Roycroft campus became a site for meetings and conventions of radicals, freethinkers, reformers, and suffragists. It was a lightning rod for philosophers and truth seekers, and a haven for the marginalized and misunderstood. One could say that this movement echoed the peak and subsequent swan dive of the passion and naivete of pre-WWI America; playing out both metaphorically in a stereotypical smalltown USA, and in Elbert Hubbard's literal death in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

The Inn is a National Historic Landmark site, and was built in 1903 both to house visitors to campus, and to showcase artisans' works.

It was painstakingly restored and reopened to the public in 1995, and there truly is a sense that time stands still when you walk through that heavy door. The very timbers of this building embrace you with something close to what I think real magic must feel like. The beams glow, and the perfect marriage of balanced symmetry and surprising hidden nooks both embrace you and challenge you to peer around each corner; I'm always struck with the urge to explore every inch of this place and unlock secrets. To know. The force of these people's energy left a mark on these places in ways that remain today, just as they do in all those special places where the fever pitch of the passions of those that worked and loved are so bright that their spirits is indelibly imprinted in the spirit of the place. So when I say that Wednesday night's maiden voyage of #blubirdteaches was special, I really do mean it.

The original concept for our class included wet felting from start to finish. The decision to use The Roycroft as venue meant that we were restricted to dry media, so that meant that I got to do this:

One of my near and dear hopes for 2018 is to explore more intimate artistic expression, using felt as a more fluid medium. I love to spin, but I find myself limited at times by its linear nature. Part of the fun of using spinning as a medium is pushing those boundaries, sure, but I'm enamored with the thought of freely "painting" with wool. So I certainly didn't mind the change to the process that The Roycroft meant, since I got to spend an afternoon turning this:

Into this:

These palettes were created by handcarding multiple thin layers of base wool with a basic base accent color, into a small "mini-batt." The Blubird blue is a gem that I dyed back with my mother back in 2010 in my ridiculously tiny galley apartment kitchen. (This episode is my first and only foray into the fascinating world of dyeing, and it's been waiting in my stash for its perfect use ever since.) After adding some Teeswater locks and mohair, I felted these lightly - just enough to hold the fibers together.

I use Teeswater for several reasons. The most obvious is how gorgeous it is. Teeswater is a high luster longwool breed. It picks up dye like no other, and translates its amazing luster to some dramatic results. I'm fortunate enough to have access to some of the best Teeswater in the country, thanks to some very serious upgrading protocols in my mother's and Martin's flock, so I use Teeswater much like Frank's Hot goes on everything. ;)

In all seriousness though, Teeswater fiber really is a delight to work with. It is resistant to wet felting, so even after putting it through to abuse of hard core felting, its lock structure remains delightfully intact.

It will felt, of course, given enough abuse, but this takes some work, so the nice part of using Teeswater for this project is that while the locks are incorporated, they are still loose, and can be moved or removed by the student. Conversely, some quick work with a needle will needlefelt them into place.

This photo provides a great example of how Teeswater retains its dramatic lock structure, and why I use it in my felting, even though it requires a bit more work.

It's also a shameles plug for my #goodcleanwool line of Felted Alpine Made soap, which was recently picked up wholesale by Alpine Made, and is now stocked for purchase inside their gorgeous new brick and mortar space out on East Creek Rd. (Apologies. But I have hungry spinning wheel orifices to feed...let's be real here.) Have you been out there yet since it opened last month? It's in their headquarters - the soap making operation is downstairs, so the whole place smells AMAZING. And did I mention it's in an honest to god converted church? How delicious is that?

You can also grab a bar at MUSEjar, along with dyed Teeswater locks by the ounce, if you're a fellow fiber fiend and intrigued by this post enough and want to play a bit on your own. Don't worry. Joy Dally of Shepherds Lane is the dyer, not little old novice dyer me, so they are expertly dyed and oh so lovely. I also just stocked more of these beauties:

Have I mentioned how much I love knowing EXACTLY where my fiber comes from?

THESE are Teeswaters. Dally Teeswaters.

Shepherds Lane Teeswaters.

Not only are they champion sheep, they just played a historic role in the establishment of a brand new American Sheep breed this week. Yes, yes, I know. I'm snickering a little too. It IS a bit overdramatic. But, seriously. Sheep history happened this week. Sheep history really is a thing...I promise. More on that next week.

Anyway, moving on.

After these lovely little prefelts were dry, I applied a light layer of a darker blue to round out the palette - just to the really thin sections to make them more stable. Pre-felt isn't completely finished, which is important to the success of this particular project, but it isn't especially stable. So I gave these little guys some love and cosmetics Wednesday morning, and took a nice deep breath.

This is what 6:00 looked like.

Funny story. See the vase of dried flowers? That's not a vase. That's my Larkin jar. It's old, and it's battered because I found it while digging out the bed of a new garden years ago. At the time, I didn't even know what Larkin Soap was. I just knew it was old, and that I was meant to have it. I've kept it through innumerable clean and purge spring cleaning sprees, and three moves. It wasn't until we moved to our home in Holland and I started spending real time in East Aurora that I put two and two together. Talk about random gifts from the universe, right? So of course it had to come with me and hold the center space of the table.

[For those not familiar with Larkin Soap and its connection to Elbert Hubbard, you can get some background here:]

A quick search online found the link above. It's riddled with some fun period photographs and historical geeky goodness, and draws some fascinating connections to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Martin house, currently undergoing restoration in downtown Buffalo. I was fortunate enough to tour it in 2009 when the restoration was just beginning to pick up steam, and it holds a special place in my heart. In fact, the lights above our table Wednesday made me smile just a little secret smile.

All in all, we had a really lovely evening, and I'd like to think all of us took away something special.

Sadly, these photos were taken prior to final trim and seal, so the straggling fibers do take something away, but once that was done, they are so stunning.

Gorgeous, right? Jill used bits of foraged Colorado sage in hers.

Janet did an honest to god landscape in minutae. Watching things like this come to life in front me is so inspiring.

Sara brought "lost things" from home and created this beauty The pink element is handspun she dyed with foraged cochineal.

Courtney just couldn't find that "one thing" to wrap hers up. The flower is a simple dried field clover. It was a last minute add, and that pop of color made something truly special.

Alli's Dragonfly was particularly inspiring.

I think my favorite, and most unexpected part, was how each person was presented with the exact same base, and had access to the same materials; but the wild range of creative things were all so different. The beauty that came out of this two hour bubble blew me away. I'm still so geekily happy to have been a part of this experience, and I'm so grateful to have been a part of helping bring these things to life. I'm hooked. We're already talking about a repeat class, and I couldn't be more excited to see what we can make next.

Thank you to these ladies, who came out and made this evening such a success.

Our next #blubirdteaches workshop will be March 9th, at MUSEjar. It's International Womens' Day, and we'll be celebrating empowerment, maker style, by making Feminist Finger Puppets, inspired by my new favorite book, Bonnie Burton's Crafting with Feminism. Using a combination of traditional wet felting and needle felt technique, we'll be creating our favorite inspirational icons, and then maybe enjoying some rousing anti-establishment debate. Or maybe just drink wine and play with fierce-some Ginsberg puppets. Either way, it's bound to be a good time.



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