Needle felted chicken workshop


Earlier this month I was once more at Loudwater Studios, near Ludlow, to hold a chicken making workshop. I enjoy coming here, as it's fairly nearby and feels like a safe, happy place. Despite only having three students, we had a very nice, chatty day (it's amazing what a variety of topics are covered).


As usual, I took enough wool to make several hundred chickens, in all kinds of colours (you never know if someone is going to feel inspired to make a purple hen) but my ladies decided to follow the designs of the ones I had brought along for inspiration.

I brought along pre-cut and threaded beaks, made from cocktail sticks, although this example has a woolly beak and the tiniest one on the wee chick.

It's nearly always the case that the creations made at a workshop will be larger than anything of mine that I bring along - this makes it easier for relative beginners to work with the wool, as small things can be tiresomely fiddly. Here is my little chicken in the background - and a very good larger version from the workshop in the foreground.


Most of the wool was merino, but I'd also brought rougher samples and nests were made. Welsh Black and Herdwick were used for quick and realistic results. Everyone said they enjoyed their day, which is for me the most important thing - as well as the reward of seeing the fabulous results.

In other news, I unearthed this trio of harlequin hares from my 'archives'. I made them in 2013, after finishing the work for my book 'Little Needle-Felt Animals' and they languished in my Etsy shop for a few years before I retired them. Happily, after showing them again on social media, they all sold as a set to the same home. Which goes to show, I think, that everything has it's time, sooner or later. 


The herb patch

When Andy and I first looked at the cottage in 2012, we partly picked it for the good sized garden (for the price) that came with it. I knew that I would want to remodel it, as it hadn't been at all well planted, but when I lost Andy, just three months after moving in, gardening was the last thing on my mind and for a couple of years I left it all to do its own thing, while I tried to recuperate and regain my own life. Which eventually, I did.

I always had this small patch of garden ear-marked for a herb patch, including bee friendly flowers.  It was a fairly picturesque huggle-muggle of things randomly planted by the previous owners, which looked pleasant enough in the summer, but not so much in the winter. And most of the plants were weeds or 'thugs' (as Jean-next-door calls them). I've always found pots to be a useful and quick screen; they look pretty and cottage-y, and you can shift them about to change the scene.

There was also the issue of the hideous washing pole set in the centre, in a  lump of concrete, which was a labour of Hercules to remove.


Not to mention the rampant pussy willow trees by the fence, which blocked the view and drained the patch. So they went too; I'm not a fan of cutting down trees, but I'm also not sentimental about removing things if necessary. Then the whole lot was cleared and deep dug, as there were years of embedded roots choking the soil.

We put a couple of small troughs in, which the birds enjoy. 

Over the last three years, I've gradually cleared it of everything, but with finances being so rocky and my mental collapse last year, it's remained static, apart from a couple of thyme plants which are thriving. I honestly didn't know, this time last year, if we'd even still be here in 2019. Happily, we've turned things around and for the first time since moving here six years ago, I've been able to look ahead and even buy some small herb plants.

I've had enough time to mentally plan how I want it to look, and to start with, I have put in some quick growing lemon balm to hide one of the old tree stumps (which annoyingly won't come out). The rest of the fence side of the bed will have hardy, bushy perennial herbs such as the curry plant, sage and rosemary cuttings, which will eventually grow to a good height and fight off the grass, nettles and weeds that are always trying to invade from the neighbouring field.  


It's very much a work in progress, as I'm planting slowly, carefully and within my means, but  I hope that at some point, this bed will be chock full of useful and insect friendly plants.


There has also been a lot of seed sowing - which means more garden clearance. It's the best therapy I know, and I am grateful for Spring arriving in good time.


Elephants and chickens

I rarely take on private commissions, but when I was asked if I could make a red elephant on wheels 'like Walter', I was more than happy to do so. Many years ago, I started a series of 'Lost Toys' paintings and the first one was of a little red elephant, which still remains a favourite. And it became one of my first printed cards, under the name 'Red Flannel Elephant' designs.

I sourced some old metal workman's buttons for the wheels and found a lovely vintage brass and painted button for the pull chain; thanks to my kind friend, 'V' who sent me a bundle of bits and bobs, the chain was ready made.


I almost never work in primary colours, but the extra yellow and blue wools were the obvious choices here. 

I had a lovely, understanding customer who was happy to accept my very long time line; in the end, this took me four weeks and about forty hours of work, despite the small size. 

And in the end, my 'Sweet Cicely' goose ended up travelling across the globe too, to the same new home. Results like that make the effort and time worth while.

So with that done, I got on with finalising the models for my next workshop - Easter chickens at the Loudwater Studios, Ludlow. These did not take forty hours...it's a nice simple and flexible pattern, and just right for absolute beginners or as a template for more complicated pattern work, if you've already got experience. It's the only workshop I'm intending to do so far this year, apart from a  possible Christmas one. Date is Friday April 12th from 10.30 until 3.30 and you will find details and link to the booking site on my own website here; www.gretelparker.com



Blurred Moon

I just caught the end of Monday night's lunar eclipse through a window, when I reluctantly winkled myself out of a warm bed at 4.30am for a nocturnal visit to the bathroom. And despite my initial intention to return to the cosy sanctuary of quilts and pillows, I found myself layering up and creeping downstairs (not very successfully, as the steep wooden stairs creak like old bones) to see it properly. 

Outside it was dark and freezing, yet there the Moon hung like a glowing lantern, a spectacularly stained bauble of warm orange pinks and darker purple blues. Overhead, the stars were bright and clear, and even with my rather muddled knowledge of constellations, I could pick out a few familiar patterns. As I gazed, an owl called from the far field and up at the second farm across, I heard the slow, sleepy yawn of a worker getting ready for the day, soon followed by the low hum of the milking machine. From far away, a rooster crowed and the first brave twitterings of the dawn chorus began bubbling up into the icy morning. 

Overwhelmed with a sense of wonder, I silently drank in this rare and beautiful convergence and while not particularly superstitious, I sent up a silent prayer that this would be the starting point of a new and kinder cycle of our lives. By which point (and having failed to take a halfway decent photo), my feet were getting cold and it was time to make a hot chocolate before returning to the soft, dark cocoon of the bed, where Joe lay fast asleep after a long work shift.   


Dogs not allowed

I recently finished another little terrier on bobbin wheels and once I'd been through the process of listing him on Etsy, I then started the process of adding him to my Facebook shopfront. 

In theory, this should be fairly simple. After all, what could go wrong? Well, it appears that the approval process can be somewhat heavy handed, if not downright wrong headed. I use the word 'headed' reluctantly as it's obviously an automated system, not a human being. After all, a robot is supposed to be less fallible than a person.

'Pickles' was rejected, as 'live animals are not allowed for sale on Facebook'. This despite the fact that I've listed many of my creatures in my Facebook shop without problem. So I tried to fill in the appeal form. Which I did several times, as each time I tried to submit it, I was told that I 'had not filled in the required field'. Despite having done precisely that. Further investigation found other users who have had exactly the same issues and no satisfaction from the Powers That Be at Facebook HQ.

So I went about it sideways, rewrote the description and title without any reference to 'dog' or terrier' and re-tagged my photos similarly. Result - instant approval. Which leads me to wonder, as the algorithm seems to be such a blunt instrument, that I could actually have listed a real, live terrier  and by calling it a 'thermos flask', with no references to anything canine, I could have  got away with directly breaking their rules. 

If AI really is the future, I do hope it becomes more sophisticated, because if a robot cannot discern between a real dog and a hand crafted miniature woolly one, then we may very well be headed for catastrophe. It's all about the nuances, and (just my opinion) we humans are still better at it than a computer.


From the memory bank #01 - Cassette Recorder

Not my father's radio, but the same model, acquired when I was 17, as a memory souvenir. 

My  father had a pathological abhorrence of all things modern (unless it suited him). Especially television, an object of loathing and scorn; 'The Goggle Box' as he called it.  This was in the late 1960s and 1970s, when television was rapidly becoming a standard item for many families. But as long as my father was alive, it was forbidden in our household.

This was partly an attempt to curtail any undesirable outside influences - specifically with regard to me - and also because we were poor and such things as electrical items would have been beyond our means anyway. The only such item of any note we had was an old Bush radio, which used large, blue 'Ever Ready' block-like batteries. He often used to sit with it in his lap, turning the squeaky tuning knobs to find different stations. So the hissing, buzzes and swooshing noises of the airwaves, inter-spaced with crackling voices and snippets of music, became a familiar sound during my early years.

Sometimes I would be given an old, used battery to play with and I used to stick my tongue in the protruding metal connection sprockets, which gave me a slightly odd sensation. 

Such was my father's hatred of  television and fear of my being contaminated with slang and lax attitudes, that I can remember briefly owning a TV Annual and it mysteriously 'vanishing'. I was very young at the time, still a toddler, so I would only have looked at the pictures anyway,   but I can still remember being confused over it disappearing from my small collection of books. My mother one day told me that my father had disposed of it, in case it had a bad effect on me.

A few years later, when I was about seven,  someone gave my mother a second hand cassette recorder. I had never seen one before. It was standard for the 1970s, a black plastic box with a flip open top lid and large rectangular buttons on one of the shorter sides. It also came with a little silver coloured microphone. My father was out at the time. He disliked visitors;  he was probably avoiding the extra company and almost certainly at the pub. So my mother, the visitor and myself were able to briefly enjoy this new and novel contraption without interruption. Of course, we didn't have any commercial music cassettes to play, but the recorder came with an old home recorded Rod Stewart tape for us to use. The microphone was connected up, buttons pressed and the three of us huddled round the magic box.


My mother was very fond of countryside history and farming issues, and she chose to read from an old edition of 'The Countryman'. I cannot remember exactly what, but it was written in rural dialect, which she reproduced very well, being a simple West Country woman herself. Little did I know that one day I would live just a few miles away from Burford, the small Cotswold town where the magazine was produced until 2003. And from where I started this very blog, which has also catalogued many of my own  quiet country adventures. 

When my mother had finished her recital, the cassette was rewound and I listened with wonder and excitement as her voice floated out, sealed onto tape forever, or so I thought.  

My father quickly took command of the cassette recorder. It sat on the sideboard, next to his big green armchair and beside the radio, which was also under his rule. He began recording his favourite songs using the microphone - we had to be very quiet when this was happening. He was particularly fond of Country and Western, especially Johnny Cash and made several compilation tapes during his remaining years. In fairness, he also recorded songs for me, such as the Wombles and the Wurzels. Curiously, I don't remember the tapes ever being played back, though I'm sure they must have been. 


I have been rummaging in the attic and found an unopened box of cassettes that I have accumulated over the years. It was still sealed with packing tape, from when they were boxed up in 2012 for the big move to Shropshire. I discovered my father's little collection of radio recorded music; they are some of the rare things of his that I have managed to keep hold of. Two of them still have the magazine pictures he decorated the covers with. I played them once, some time ago and was startled to hear him coughing in the background. It was like hearing a ghost. 

Of course, my mother's recitation in rural dialect was soon recorded over.


Still here, still needle felting

Golly, I hadn't realised how long it has been since I last dusted the cobwebs off this blog. I've had to learn a few self care lessons since my 'collapse' earlier this year; I do things very slowly, but I do get them done. I have to take things at my own pace and not stress about them. Which is why I'm terrible at answering emails and updating this blog. Otherwise it would be like pouring boiling water into a cracked jug, something I've done in the past with predictable (broken) results. Nowadays I take things carefully and one step at a time, so that I don't get overwhelmed. 

One way or another, for the first time in six years since Andy and I made the disastrous decision to up roots and move - when my life and certainly his, fell apart - I feel some kind of normality and even content happiness most days, although even writing down that feels like tempting fate.


Consequently I've only held one workshop this season, my second of the year, returning to the friendly space of Loudwater Studios at nearby Ludlow. Christmas Cottages are an old favourite and I had a super group of women who worked hard all day and produced a lovely collection of festive mini-villages.

At the beginning of this year, which seems to have slipped by so quickly,  I had plans to bring out a new range of premium needle felt kits, but with finances being so stretched I had to put everything on hold. Happily, we are on a more even keel now and I've been able to put together two kits, 'Hatty Hare' and 'Snowball'. I've even had my first trade order, so if you're in the Cambridge area, you can get these in-store from The Cambridge Fabric Company. Or they're available for sale in the kits section of my Etsy shop. 

As for my own work - well, that's something else I've been resting, while I sorted the kits out. Designing, photographing and putting together a kit is 'left brain' stuff, not usually my strong point and creating new work is definitely a 'right brain' activity. It's sometimes hard to juggle the two to make them work in harmony. My latest little piece is another 'Little Arcadia', where I've played about with different tones of wool to reproduce the light falling over the autumn landscape. 

And finally, thanks so much to everyone who signed up for my Sleepy Squirrel online workshop. Much to my surprise and delight, an old acquaintance who has been to a couple of my workshops in the past, created a video review of her experience with it and gave my book a good plug while she was about it. I'm not very good at blowing my own trumpet, so many thanks to her for kindly taking the trouble to do so.


On-line needle felt workshop launch

I have finally finished my first online needle felt project and what a 'journey' that has been! It's in my nature to take a long time to do things and this time it seemed to take forever as I agonised over whether to do a 'talking head' video to help pitch it. Breaking news - I became so stressed over it, that in the end I decided not to. Until I'm a little more confident. However, I did get Joe to take an up-to-date profile picture, since my last publicity photo was taken ten years ago.

My first project is a sleepy squirrel brooch, designed for simplicity and ease of making. It contains fifty (yes, fifty) step photos, written instructions and four mini supplementary demo videos.

The normal price will be £15 (roughly $19.60 US at the time of writing) but as an introductory offer it is £10 (roughly $14 US) until Friday 26th November 2018. 

To take advantage of this, or just to have a peek, please click on the link below for the course site.This will take you to the landing page which has a full description, materials list and option to sign up.