Land of Ice and Fire...and sheep!
My son and I have recently returned from an amazing and memorable 3-day holiday in Iceland exploring Reykjavik, The Golden Circle (a wonderful guide with ‘Grayline Tours’) and The Blue Lagoon… an adventure full of geysers, hot springs, tectonic plates and famous fissures, the original Viking parliament, a beautiful waterfall at Gullfoss, bubbling mud pools, silky milky-blue mineral rich waters, elves and trolls, moss covered lava fields and much more..!
I was also on the lookout, a little bit! for sheep on our travels, as always hope to find some strands attached to bushes and branches but we only saw a few sheep, roaming wild in the far distance beneath the mountains, eating moss and herbs…and apart from a few Icelandic birch there are very few trees to catch wool on….
The Icelandic sheep is an ancient North European breed, slightly smaller than modern varieties, whose double-layered coat is uniquely suited to cold and wet conditions. The inner layer, or thel, is insulating, superlight and very airy, while the outer layer, or tog, is long, strong and water repellent. Carded together, these two layers make lopi, versatile wool used to knit lopapeysa, the distinctive traditional Icelandic sweater of concentric rings. I'd love one of these but they are hugely expensive and my knitting skills are not exactly up to the 'lopapeysa'!
‘At summer’s apex, the number of sheep in Iceland outnumbers the human population three to one, at approximately 500,000. Allowed to roam wild in the summer, they are ubiquitous on the island’s barren, rocky landscape, sometimes scaling giant mountains in search of edible moss and herbs, where they can only be seen as tiny white, black and brown specks thousands of feet in the air.’
Excerpt taken from: ‘Why Farmers and Knitters Are Fixated on Icelandic Sheep’
A wonderful chance meeting with a visitor to Morvah Schoolhouse recently inspired a new venture in 3D :-)
Mary makes felted pots and vessels and also keeps alpacas and she very kindly gave me a large bag of last year’s shearing from her 12-year-old, Josephine. The fleece is beautifully soft, a wonderful quality with subtle stripes and colour variation and a slight crimp too - such a joy to handle.
It's fantastic to know the provenance of the wools and fleeces, especially to this extent! and in feeling sure that the animals are treated with kindness and respect. This is fundamental to the work I do - further details here.
To make the pot, you can use a cheapy resist (£1 silicone baking sheet) and table mats. I cut a large circle in the resist and pre-felted three layers of wool around it, then, with a good amount of felting, the resist starts to buckle as the fibres shrink and you can cut a smallish hole in the felt and pull it out. (In the final layer I added a few strands of French D’Arles Merino for a little more colour contrast - darker brown - and then decided to sew a few ridges into the surface for interest whilst wet.) Finally, shape the pot and fill with bubble-wrap then leave it to dry in the sun (and the airing cupboard).
Felted pots/vessels and pods have such an organic nature, they feel truly beautiful to hold and you can create any shape, size and design, and each type of wool will create a different texture. The alpaca wool is very fine and soft so adding a little more of another wool such as Merino or maybe Texel (quite bulky and resilient) might be a good idea next time to increase sturdiness and I don’t think I felted mine for long enough this time... I might still sew a few more ridges too... they resemble texture on bark a little...
I can imagine future designs with simple embellishing, birds, ferns, flowers, plants, insects …maybe felt plates, platters, dishes, pots, sculptural pieces….endless!
The wonder of felt is that you are creating the form whilst also making the fabric and it's great to watch what happens and unfolds along the way :-)
There are many online tutorials for making felted vessels and I think I might follow one next time to get some more handy tips and hints. I'd also like to start working out how to film my work to make time-lapse videos (my son can help me with this!) and when I create another pot/pod I'll write more detailed notes... this first time was a real (pretty messy!) experiment :-)
Thank you Mary and Josephine for the inspiration, the tips and technique using resists - and your beautiful fleece xx
Beautiful Arapawa sheep!
From Cornwall to New Zealand, with love :-)
I'm so happy to have been sent some wool from my wonderful friend Allyson in New Zealand, whose friend Cilla lives in Waihi Gorge, a beautiful and scenic area by the river and a waterfall ...it sounds idyllic…and perfect for her sheep too!
Cilla explained a little about the breed - 'Arapawa wool comes from sheep that originated from Arapawa Island in Marlborough Sounds since 130 years ago. Lean, light-boned, alert, bright eyes; they are active sheep and have survived hostile terrain and situations. They are resistant to lots of illnesses such as fly strike and are very good mothers naturally.
You will notice the different texture of the wool as you felt it – the brown is very soft and easy to felt, the grey wool has an elasticity and stretch in it that is completely different from the brown wool.’
Thank you so much Allyson and Cilla - and Fernando, Lola and Luna! What beautiful sheep and I can't wait to get felting :-) xxxxx