Fiber artist Sara Setzer is bringing her love and talent for felting and needlework back to the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies the second week of July. Her popular needle felting course on July 11th and 12th teaches the basics of working with wool and natural fibers. Entrants leave with a framed original artwork of their chosen design, ready to hang.
The designs for the class are prepared and stenciled in advance, so it’s like a paint-by-numbers situation (minus the color), Setzer explained—but it’s also a craft-and-give session, she added smile added. Or sometimes there’s a quiet when everyone’s in the zone and the only sound is wool poking around, she said. The process evokes the charm of the traditional folk art setting where women would sit and quilt or weave for long periods of time.
Once she has her students set up and their projects started, there isn’t much left to teach, so they just work, Setzer explained. She walks around, checks in, and offers help if needed, but for the most part it’s a simple technique.
Needle felting involves manipulating the wool by pricking it with a barbed felting needle. One type of wool can be applied to another and just sticks together, she said. Wool fibers have scales, so they close together when they move. The felt pad, needle and all other materials are provided so participants do not need to bring anything.
The felters leave happy, she said.
She often has repeat participants, so she always looks forward to meeting up with friends.
“I miss it down there,” she said.
The Setzer family (Sara and Eric and their two children, Odin, 10, and Sage, 5) live in the Pennsylvania mountains outside of Dushore, about 20 minutes north of Ricketts Glen. But Sara Setzer (née Tillison) is from Manahawkin, and Eric Setzer grew up in High Bar Harbor. As such, her annual week at LBI, which coincides with summer camp (7-13 year olds) and the adult needle felting classes Sara teaches at LBIF, is a homecoming, or “working vacation,” as she called it. It’s also a beach birthday party for Odin.
Setzer mainly works with wool and silk to create felted and eco-printed items. She crafts and dyes her wares by hand. One of their specialties is nuno-felting, a labor-intensive method of interweaving wool and silk into a fabric by rolling, felting and fulling, ie adding heat/pressure/moisture. With nuno-felting, Setzer makes scarves, baby blankets, soaps and other felted goods. Sara Setzer Feltworks includes such felted gifts (dry bulbs!) and decoration as well as wearables and instructions.
The funny thing is, she went to school to tag bears. She was planning to study wildlife management and had traveled to Kenya to study.
Felting “isn’t the kind of craft that people fall into,” she said, but that’s exactly what happened.
A friend from Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School for wilderness/survival training had a lot of wool that she no longer needed, so she gave it to Setzer, who then lugged it around for years. One day she dived in and started playing. She liked it straight away. That was 10 or 12 years ago, she recalls.
At first her entire hobby of felting fit into a tote bag – then a larger tote bag. It didn’t take long before it got a specific cabinet, a room, a studio space.
Setzer began selling her work when Odin was around 18 months old. Her public introduction of Sara Setzer Feltworks was at the St. Francis Community Center’s Holiday Craft Show. Since then she has taught herself – it’s a craft joke – felting, fiber arts, running and promoting a business, and art education.
By guiding, she passes on her love of the craft and hopes participants will gain something useful from it.
A self-taught success, Setzer sometimes pauses to reflect, “Wow, I did it” — as in, built a business she’s proud of.
While she doesn’t tag bears, Setzer enjoys life in bear country, where encounters with young birds and other wildlife are common, and where her environment encourages her eco-friendly art by providing plenty of raw materials and inspiration.
Follow Setzer all over the web, on Twitter @SaraSetzerFelt and Instagram @SaraSetzerFeltworks.
– Victoria Ford