So, my first workshop seemed to go well. I arrived with enough time to have potter round Bath - (didn't do the Roman Baths, as too expensive for me, at nearly £13 entrance fee). I did enjoy the spectacular Regency streets and people watching.
Found a little market shop with, oh, look, ribbons! (Well, of course I bought one or two little bits...)
I stayed in a lovely house with super hosts - Lynne and Michael, who make exquisite collectors dolls - and was given the top room with views over the city - that large lit up building is Bath Abbey.
The view in the morning - Bath Abbey just viewable to the left above the foliage, if you right click. (Need I add that in a house filled wonderful toys, old and new, I was in my element!)
We travelled to another house for the actual workshop. I had nine well experienced crafters to oversee - they are all highly competent in their own fields, so didn't need bottle feeding. However, just to get them warmed up, I did set them my elementary challenge, which was to make a sphere - more difficult that it seems. Biscuits were necessary. Only one or two needles were broken.
After that, although I had my ducky design ready for anyone who wanted to try it, nearly everyone was keen to do their own ideas - something I very much encouraged, as I wanted them to discover their own needle felting 'voice', rather than simply copy something of mine. And by mid morning, a happy silence had descended, broken only by the sound of a multitude of needles poking wool.
The view from the room we were working in was incredible - with a canal and a train track disappearing into the distance. Somewhere in the distance, the Westbury white horse is visible but my camera couldn't quite pick it out. (Nor could my bad eyes!)
I prowled around, on hand if anyone needed help. But on the whole, everyone was in their own happy little needle felting world.
One thing which was noticeable was the dawning realisation that it is a v.e.r.y s.l.o.w process. It can literally take hours for a small piece, depending on how finished the artist wants it. I did have a little 'welcome to my world' moment. But, by the end of the first day, many had finished their projects.
Here we are on the second day and my toys have been joined by a wonderful dodo. Meggy goose looks somewhat startled, Kitty Blue is leaning closer to get a better look, and Mrs Mouse is so flustered by all the excitement that she has decided to concentrate on mixing up her cake.
Sally, who kindly hosted the workshop is the dodo creator and her second piece was to be an elephant. During our lunch break, she showed us videos of her charity in Zimbabwe - who's vision is, to quote - "to prove that wildlife can live in harmony with people in communal farming areas. In doing so we want to improve, through wildlife conservation and tourism, their impoverished life of subsistence farming".
Once a year the camp holds an 'eco- education camp' for the best achieving school children from the four schools that they are involved with - one of the most cherished prizes is a book. Watching the joy and reverence of the lucky prize winner, as they looked through their book, brought tears to my eyes - a salutory reminder of how lucky we in the western world are, no matter how poor we think ourselves. I was very glad that some of the proceeds of our workshop went to this charity and will be keeping my eye open for the official website - meanwhile, even basic school equipment such as a jiffy bag of pencils, pens, erasers, rulers, geometry equipment etc, are in short supply and are always welcome. (If you'd like to send something directly please contact me. I will definitely be sending something out.
Carolyn here is making a giraffe and was a very fast worker - by the end of the day she'd almost finished and got a nice, smooth finish.
On the second day, Heather volunteered to try my duckling. Heather is a highly skilled professional beader and bought some of her intricate, beautiful work to show us - she also writes books about beading and has a lovely site selling kits, beads, her books and news of workshops, which can be found here. And she has a blog too, always nice to meet another blogger in person.
It was, all in all, a lovely two day session. As will happen when you get several women together, we put the world to rights several times and there was a pleasant buzz of conversation, much laughter and the occasional intense debate - no wonder quilters call them 'bees', with the hum of chat and industrious hands.
Between the two host's houses, there were nine cats, and everyone was a cat lover. Here is Merlin, a noble Abyssinian, inspecting Meggy goose and investigating biscuit plates.
'Class of January 2012' with their work - didn't they do well?
I was so proud of them all. Even those who had started off with little or no needle felting experience had created their own design, a little wool sculpture unique to them and everything looking recognisable - even two little duckys in there.
I had marvellous time and was treated superbly, but I have to admit that I am a homebody and it was wonderful to be picked up from the train station and whisked back home to our small but tidy cottage, (well done Andy!) dozing cats, the woodburner toasty hot and my favourite meal ready for me, with a bottle of chilled cider. There is nowhere quite like home, is there?