One member of the FeltLOOM community is All Sorts Acre, a sheep farm in Guelph, Ontario, Canada; raising grass fed lamb, producers of wool, and a talented fiber artist in their midst. With a flock strongly aligned to Shetland Sheep lineage, Shetland Sheep lineage goes back thousands and thousands of years in the Shetland Isles, it is presumed that they were brought there by the earliest Viking Settlers. They are known for their natural hardiness, lambing ease, longevity, and ability to survive under harsh conditions, they are known as primitive, short-tailed breed.
Did you know that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson grazed sheep on the White House South Lawn, selling the wool as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross? All Sorts Acre may not have “Old Ike” President Woodrow Wilson’s tobacco chewing ram, but they surely have a good-sized flock of Shetland Sheep bred for their beautiful and colorful wool. They also have a FeltLOOM!
“Our sheep can produce some beautiful colored fleeces. We love and appreciate the natural colors. It is hand washed, processed and dyed here at the farm. We use environmentally friendly soaps to preserve our water, and both eco-friendly and natural dyes. We also offer a variety of felted products from wool.”
Meet Jennifer Osborn, Sheep Farmer, grass-fed lamb producer, wool seller as well as fiber artist. Many producers have their wool processed into yarn, roving, blankets, or crafts and market value-added products.
Fleeces sold to hand spinners need to be of high quality. Feeding, housing, health care, handling, and harvesting; are all critical to the production of high quality wool. It goes without saying that fleeces should be skirted. Skirting is when the undesirable parts of the fleece are removed: belly wool, top knots, leg clippings, tags, stained wool, cotted wool, and short wool.
All Sorts Acre Feltworks sells Jennifer’s felted fiber artwork, she uses a Lexi model FeltLOOM® to create her beautiful fiber artwork, from scarves, to clothing, to felted candle holders, and even sculpting little critters.
Jennifer shares her talent in workshops in needle felting, wet felting, sculpting, technical wet felting, dyeing, and home wool processing. And 2014 was packed with exhibitions and juried art shows where Jennifer’s art work was on display in galleries, art fairs and at market.
When asked what foundational experience comes into play when dyeing wool, Jennifer says, “I have found my art training helps immensely. My original dyeing experience was using acid dyes. I found it quite fascinating, but often acid dyes have non-paint color names. As a painter I used a limited color palette, around 10 colors. All colors were mixed using these 10 base colors such as alizarin crimson, cerulean blue, and cadmium yellow. I had no reference for the dye colors from a mixing standpoint. I now create my own colours that I name myself. If I am acid dyeing I use Greener Shades exclusively. I am in the process of developing dye formulations that are similar to paint colors.”
When she began using natural dyes, Jennifer was struck by how similar they are to earth tone paints. Dyeing with natural dyes helped her make smooth and rich color selection. They all go together beautifully. “I love the idea of having the colors you are using reflect the landscape you are in.”
We wanted to learn more, so we interviewed Jennifer directly at All Sorts Acre:
FeltLOOM: When you weigh all the different factions of All Sort Acres (dyeing the wool, creating one of a kind artwork, felting, teaching, farming, etc.) if there any part that you like over the rest, or dislike over the rest?
ASA: It is the variety that I love so much. Being a part of a farm to fiber, education to art endeavor has given me an incredible variety of things I will do in a day, a week, or a year. It is incredibly inspiring. I never have the same day twice. I don’t like doing repetitive tasks, but the pattern and rhythm of the year I love. It is repetition on a longer scale. Touchstones such as lambing time, shearing, and color harvesting time all contribute to the creation of artwork. I imagine it would be similar to renaissance painters having to create their paint before even beginning a painting. Growing my fiber and color gives me a lot of time to be with my materials in a very meditative way. I think the sheep have influenced me that way. They are almost like little woolly Buddha’s.
I get immersed in the stages of the process of creation from shepherding to final touches. When dyeing wool, I am fully present in the activity. Playing with the color possibilities, techniques, experiments and mistakes is engrossing and then and there I am in love with color. When up to my elbow in sheep juices, trying to make sure a lamb will make it, I am in awe of the experience and I would rather be nowhere else on earth. I get so excited the first time a student sees what they have created from loose fibers. Creating artwork requires its own space as well. I need to be in that space fully, not thinking about what to dye, what fixing needs to be done, or if there is weeding to be done. I need to focus on my tasks fully. I feel I need to acknowledge the art and craft of each activity.
I guess if there was one part I have decided I do not need to be quite so immersed in, it is the fibre processing. That is due to time and equipment constraints, and other people can do it faster and better. I now got to Ute, owner of Freelton Fibre Mill a couple of hours away. She is great.
FeltLOOM: What interests bring you to your artistic creations (i.e. nature, color, etc.)?
ASA: Life itself is inspiring, which can be overwhelming for an artist. When I switched media many aspects of my work changed. After many years of painting, I am rediscovering many things I chose to put aside when deciding to focus on two dimensions. Being able to incorporate sculpture, texture, and more abstraction into my work is artistically exciting. As a painter many of these things never felt right. As a fiber artist, it fits like a glove.
As a painter, subject was prominent in my paintings. I still like to depict nature in both realistic and abstracted styles, but I am also exploring the possibilities of material, technique, process, color, emotion, and viewer interaction.
Texture and pattern take on a whole different feeling when done in felt. With every piece I have 20 more potential directions the next piece could go. I am deliberately focusing on exploring a specific technique, topic, or theme to see how far I it can go. Unlike modern paint which is often very consistent, using wool can be variable.
I am also inspired by the thought that a viewer will touch the piece. I try and encourage it when I am at art fairs. Painting is very much a hands-off activity; you look with your eyes. Felt is, well, meant to be felt. This is new and exciting to me.