Sunday, December 2, 2012

Shedding the Velvet: A Wreath of Felt and Steel

 On this weekend of torrential rains, which swelled up Wildcat Creek to a foamy froth and knocked the bays and alders over at their roots, I've been inside, working on a felted wreath-commission.

We have no fireplace, alas, only this blocked-up hearth. But I lit the candles anyhow, as the winds whipped the redwoods in a wet gale outside, drank quite a lot of black tea, and teased out this wild and organic wreath design.

The metal spiraling behind it was made by Ferrous Studios. It is a meeting of steel and wool. A dark star, a nest, antlered felt-branches, all at once. I'm not sure quite what to call it—dreamcatcher, woodland star of David. It is a ragged wreath at the heart of a winter forest. The brown tendrils along the edges make me think of shedding antler velvet. There is another great image of this here.  (I don't want to risk any copyright issues by putting them here, otherwise I would! Beautiful photos.)

Whitetail shedding velvet
I'm fascinated by the lifecycle of antlers, how they are grown anew each year, how the velvet is there, a skin, to supply oxygen and nutrients to the rapidly growing bone, and then is rubbed off when the antler has finished its year's growth. Velvet antler, in fact, is of high importance in the world of Chinese medicine—the whole young antler is ground up, velvet and bone together, to treat a range of ailments, including cancer. I wonder, when that velvet is shed, if small creatures use it in their nests? If birds or shrews nibble at it, for nutrients, for healing.

The spirograph-star-web design was Simon's idea, drawn up from childhood sketching memories. I love the meeting of geometry and tapered pelt-shape. There's something alchemical about it.

Alchemical symbols in Kitab al-Aqalim by Abu’l-Qasim al-‘Iraqi

The strands, ropes and "antler-velvet" of this wreath were all wet-felted with merino wool from Jean Near's Utopia Ranch, in Mendocino County, Mrs. Meyer's basil-scented dish soap, and hot water. And the friction of my two palms, of course! All colors are wildcrafted—the brown is black walnut, from a tree down the road, the pale green of the big star is coyote brush from Tilden Park, the other green and the yellow strands are Japanese Maple from the tree right out of view in this photo, and the thin strand of grey-purple is elderberry, from a harvest last year in Marin County.

It is a web-wild woodland thing, what emerged! As the gale spun the trees outside, I listened to a Chirgilchin disc on repeat—Tuvan throat-singing, from Mongolia, where much of what we know about the traditions of wet-felting originated. I didn't think about this connection as I was felting, it just put me in a bit of a trance, and I couldn't stop listening as I rubbed and dipped and soaped the wool.

This is truly incredible music, from deep in the heart of the body and the heart of the earth. It blows me away. And yes, that whistling is coming from the throat. Miraculous!

By the end of all this mad felting, as you can imagine, I was just a little bit batty, picking away at the sweet seeds of a pomegranate for sustenance, and so took a quick walk with my father by Wildcat Creek and Jewel Lake as the sun came out. So much water!

The branches of the alders look like strands of felt. Or, really, the other way around. I love this blending, this correspondence between the wilderness and the creations of our hands.

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