Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Transformation of Miss Maple

From Sheep to Shawl
Last summer, I experimented with wool sheared from my brown sheep, Miss Maple, to make a square piece of felt. My plan was to use this felt to make a decorative pillow cover. After painstakingly felting the wool by hand, using a combination of wet and needle-felting techniques, I liked the 32" square piece so much, I adopted it as my "blankie." In the car, on the couch, around my shoulders while reading: Miss Maple the blanket -- to distinguish it from Miss Maple the sheep -- became my go-to piece to ward off a chill.

Miss Maple (the sheep, not the blanket) and me

I got inspired to make a wearable cape-let/shawl/poncho after coveting my SIL Alice's fleece sweater/blanket during a ski week together, and started imagining how I would use this year's shearing to make such a garment for myself. But in early May, a cashmere poncho that I saw hanging in a tony Sonoma boutique became both my muse and a spark for taking Miss Maple (the blanket) and transforming "her" into something new.

Steffi enjoyed snuggling with Miss Maple (the blanket, not the sheep) too

I fearlessly cut the square blanket in half, and needle-felted the two ends together, making it a long rectangular piece. When wrapped around my shoulders now, I noticed that the "collar" wanted to be turned down like a shawl or a smoking jacket. So I started thinking about putting some decorative trim on the collar, and discovered I could also curve and taper the front edges so my arms could be comfortably free.

Lovingly working on transforming Miss Maple the blanket, I soon realized that there was a single person who would love this handcrafted piece as much as I did: my mom. She loved the goofy felted sheep I sent her, as well as the palline (aka wooly balls) I made for her last summer. As the shawl started to come together, I knew I was now making this for my mom, to be ready in time for me to give her as a 75th birthday gift. My mother just loves the idea that my farm animals are her de facto grandchildren, so I imagined that adding more of the grandchildren into the project would make it even more special. So Junior (her favorite sheep) and Marco (the puppy) became part of the creation too. And I'm quite certain some of Steffi's fur also remains on the wool.

Maremma fur from Marco, hand carded and ready for felting
Collar trim, made of Junior's wool and Marco's fur

I had saved Marco's fur after combing him and seeing how soft and beautiful it was. When I decided to use it as fur trim, I borrowed Heidi's hand-cranked drum carder and put a bunch of fur through it. After I needle-felted it atop of the wool, my sensitive nose detected a distinct Eau de Marco scent. The remedy was to use soap and hot water both to agitate and further felt the strip, as well as de-odorize it. When dry, I added more fur, more wool, and then repeated the hot wash, and completed it with a final needle-felting pass before pinning it to the collar of Miss Maple the blanket.

The cape-let/shawl/poncho, coming together
Handmade label, using orange eucalyptus leave-dyed wool

I got out the iron and ironing board for the second time this year, and pressed the collar into its folded-over place, and then gave it a few light needle pushes to "train" it in place. 

It's finally beginning to LOOK like it could be wearable!

I recognized it needed a little color and decoration to complete it, and figured out how to make rosettes. I needle-felted together a square of my indigo dyed wool (light blue) with my red maple dyed (nude pantyhose color) wool, and cut out two circles. The circles became spirals and the rosettes were done.

I also decided to felt together the two open sides so it would just be a pullover-the-head piece.The final step was to felt the rosettes atop the now-closed front placket. So here's the wrap-up (no pun intended) on this project: I just LOVE this transformed version of Miss Maple, from sheep to shawl. I loved having it, I loved making it, and I loved making it for my mom. Happy birthday, with love and some extra warmth, from your most favorite daughter... and Miss Maple (the sheep AND the shawl!)