Several weeks ago, a customer asked me to create a pair of ottomans upholstered with sheepskins, similar to this previous project. She liked the concept, but wanted something taller and narrower that could double as either a footstool or a seat.
The first step was felting enough sheepskin to cover the foam cores. This is not a true sheepskin in that there is no animal slaughter involved. Wool locks are laid over a wool batt. The locks felt to the batt to create something that looks similar to a sheepskin. I chose romney locks over carded romney batts because it makes a solid, durable felt and the romney locks have a beautiful lustre and curl. I laid out my full 8′ x 4′ workbench, but chose to cut it up into pieces to work in sections rather than felt the whole thing as a single piece.
Next I sewed several pieces together to create a slipcover, which I stapled to a piece of plywood in the base.
The last step was covering the staples to create a seamless bottom. A piece of woven upholstery fabric cut to size, spray mounted in place was covered with twill tape and upholstery tacks. This was more time consuming than I expected. Getting the tacks through the layers of fabric and sheepskin was difficult. I bent and broke twice as many tacks as I used.
Some little rubber feet keep the bottom of the ottoman off the floor.
The finished pieces measure 18″ tall and 14″ in diameter. The rigid foam creates a dense core which will not collapse, slump or squish. As with every custom project, I consistently underestimate the time involved, but I learn a lot along the way. I owe my mother an enormous hug for swooping in during the middle of the process; she sewed muslin slipcovers for an inside layer between the foam and the sheepskins to hold the plywood base in place. She also nursed me through the flu and took care of my family while I convalesced.
An important of the design process is sending new products out for testing. Currently under development is an idea I have had kicking around for a while. Since my cat loves curling up on the sheepskins we have on our sofa, wouldn’t a cat bed lined with wooly locks be the cat’s meow? Today I felted my first cat bed: several layers of merino and blue faced leicester roving were felted with an inner layer of romney locks. The finished pod reminded me of an Inuit umiak.
My studio partner, Maude, offered to take it home to test it out with Henry the Bold, a cat who hasn’t met a box he didn’t like.
Reports from the testing lab show a few modifications are needed, starting with a larger opening. Back to the drawing board I go.
The studio was bubbling on Saturday with the activity of six children and three mothers as we created nests, then birds and finally eggs.
We started with a base of willow branches woven together with yarn. Next we needled some clean wool locks in layers, building up the sides to create the soft part of the nest. This was the most difficult part of the day for some as it appeared to take a lot of very gentle poking before the wool held together. One mother designated herself official nest builder; she found the repetitive nature of the process meditative. There were bits of ephemera added to the wool: colored roving, ribbon, feathers and yarn to mix in the nest just as a bird might pick soft bits from the surroundings.
Next we needled together a bunch of peeps. Again, one girl spent most of her morning focused on creating a single, perfect bird while others were content with a pile of fluff with eyes, a beak and wings.
With an hour left in the workshop, we began wetfelting around styrofoam eggs. These two girls could have spent all morning working in the warm soapy water.
With children between the ages of five and ten years old, it was interesting to see which activity held their attention or captured their imagination.
The mothers wrote to me later in the day to tell me how much their children were captivated by their creations. Each family took home wool and kits to continue creating to their heart’s content.
If you would like to join in the fun, there are four spots open for the next run of this class on Saturday, March 2nd. Send a message using the contact form to register.