The day after my last needle felting workshop, I was invited to a workshop of another kind. My bete noir: wood. I have never been good with wood. I have no feeling for it, no magic in my fingers. But Ian the Toymaker was going to initiate me into the gentle art of whittling. I wished him luck.
We had limited time, so I was to start a little bird project, from an original design by a Czech puppet maker, Martin Lhotak. A little bird wired to a peg. It's the simplest of moving toys. How hard could it be? We started off with a block of lime wood and I drew out my design, with a little advice from Ian.
The next stage was to cut the lumps out, on a saw. I think it's a band saw, though I'm not very good with electrical stuff. Actually, I have a healthy respect (fear) of any moving sharp things, so Ian started me off, showing me how to gently guide the wood through the blade.
I managed to get the rest of it done on my own, with much deep breathing and concentration.
Then the next stage - the whittling. another sharp blade. A Swedish whittling knife. Again, I'm a bit lethal with sharp objects. Except felting needles, I'm ok with them.
This is Ian showing me how to polish the blade - you don't sharpen it, but it does need polishing, which helps shine up the wood as you work.
And off I went. Totally out of my comfort zone, feeling a little like many of my students must feel when they are picking up their first needle felting project.
The workshop is a wonderful treasure house.
Intriguing drawers and boxes full of useful things. Rather like my own studio, but less haberdashery.
And works in progress, displaying clever automata mechanisms which make things move.
After less than an hour - and having been taught the correct way to hold the knife and carve - I had, to my amazement, managed to create a crude bird. Admittedly with some help from Ian. And even more miraculously, I had not cut myself.
I swapped a needle felting kit with Ian for a lump of lime wood, determined to go home and try some more whittling. It's a bit like needle felting; addictive once you get going.
So later, with my special new birthday whittling knife from Joe, I finished my wonky bird. He remains pegless, and resembles a shark without fins. I poked some bead eyes in him, so that he could see. I no longer fear wood. But I am much better with wool.
Ian was a fabulous teacher and often holds workshops with similar projects - the results of which can be found on his website, here.