All Creatures Great and Small – a Yarn with Felters Wild & Wool
Susie Sage and Katrina Nicholas are ‘Wild and Wool’ a Bath based wool business that creates felted animals.
The pair have produced several complex, large scale window displays of their signature woodland creatures for Bath’s many independent businesses, and we met up as they were delivering a new installation for Katherine Fraser, a textile designer with a shop and workspace in the city.
Hi both – thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day for a quick yarn! Please tell us everything we should know about Wild and Wool:
Wild and Wool came about after it started as a hobby for Katrina and I when our families were young.
We both have a passion for the English countryside and its amazing wildlife but the idea of turning our crafted items into a business lay dormant for a few years until my friend, the MD of Oddbins gave us our first proper commission.
He saw the pieces we had been making and proposed a collaboration for their Christmas campaign and shop windows – every one – from Aberdeen to London!
After much discussion we realised the traditional small animals would be lost so we tried something new and create one metre tall standing needle felted characters.
Our ethos is to work with Britsh made materials and artisans as much as possible so the British wool foxes we made for Oddbins were dressed in Harris Tweed and Liberty fabrics. The campaign was a huge success and Wild and Wool was born!
What drew you to felting? Please tell us about your making backgrounds:
I am a graduate of Glasgow School of Art [Susie] and have always worked in areas related to arts and crafts. I spent 8 years working with the award winning television graphics team at BBC News Resources before starting my family. I am an amateur photographer and have always loved drawing and trying new crafts.
Since I can remember making has always been a way of life [Katrina]. Handmade has always felt more meaningful and special…baking a cake, making a card, that’s what I have always done. I have no formal qualifications as an artist but over the years have developed as a maker via photography and fine art courses.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Both Katrina and I love instagram and have a large community of artists and makers who we follow. It’s hard to pick out a few but these are some of our favourites:
The list could go on and on and we have truly appreciated the support and doverse creativity to be found on Instagram.
Without giving away trade secrets where do you source materials from?
We buy most of our roving from The World of Wool Team but also support local business Crafty Little Sheep in Frome. We buy from Blooming Felt and are always on the look out for small businesses who custom dye felting wool.
Wool Bath is great for yarns and the team there are such experts. We also love browsing eBay for remnants of Harris Tweed and Liberty fabrics. Favourite trimmings shop include VV Rouleaux and our local Guildhall market in Bath.
We’re always on the lookout for vintage display props, fabrics and other treasures in second hand stores and fairs. We work with artisans through Etsy to make props when needed and we strive to work with British suppliers wherever possible.
What’s your take on the revived popularity of making?
There has always been a strong community of crafts people in Britain but it’s heartening to see a definite increase in the popularity of making. Maybe people are fed up of mass-produced ‘stuff’ and cheap plastic so are looking for things which are more personal and meaningful? It can only be a good thing!
The animals you create are incredibly complex. How do you go about designing them?
The one metre high creatures are indeed a labour of love!
As you know, wool is soft, and to enable these large pieces to stand involves a bit of engineering. We firstly create a frame from rigid materials like wire, stakes and foam tubing which we then cover in core wool as you would use for smaller projects.
Layers of the core wool are built up until you can cover your design in your chosen colours of specialist wool. We look at a lot of photographs of the animals we make, but the way in which Katrina and I work is quite intuitive – the creatures tend to take on a life of their own and each takes a couple of weeks to make.
Take us through the process of felting – what’s involved?
Needle felting is in essence very simple. It is sculptural in feel and involves repeatedly prodding wool tops with very sharp barbed needles which knit the wool fibres together to make a solid object. The more you prod the firmer the shape becomes.
Some felt their makes quite loosely but I have discovered that felting the creatures more firmly gives them greater longevity as they do soften up a bit over time.
If you want to try felting for the first time you’ll need a foam pad, felting needles (size 36 and 38 are best) and some wool tops.
The biggest tip I can give is to watch your fingers as the needles are very sharp! There are lots of great kits from makers we admire such as Miss Bumble and Domenica More Gordon – but once you have a bit of practise under your belt you can let your imagination run riot!
Lastly where should we go for a look at some of Baths independent businesses selling wool interiors, fashion and craft items? What would be your top five recommendations for a fleece-filled day out?
Bath is a fairly small, but wonderful city and we have a modest but thriving woolly community. For all your best yarns and good wool advice we have Laura Shipley’s team at Wool Bath on Old Orchard Street. Based on Walcott Street we have Katherine Fraser who weaves her textiles on site and holds regular weaving workshops.
A Yarn Story is also based on Walcot Street and stocks many quality yarns from around the world [CFW: read about A Yarn Story in our Edinburgh Yarn Festival round up]. The Makery on Union Street, Bath runs in-store textile workshops including courses in needle felting and stocks good quality making supplies. The Foodie Bugle on Abbey Green Square source and sell delicious artisan food and also run courses on life skils and crafts.
You can see our collaboration with Katherine Fraser until the end of May and we hope to develop further collaborations with the independent traders in Bath city and are already in discussions with a well known local business which could be a very exciting new project – watch this space!
Katherine Fraser’s store is at 74 Walcot Street. Check online for a schedule of forthcoming classes.
Wild and Wool photography throughout Carole Melbourne.