I remember the interview for Vermont College, when I was asked what I hoped to be doing in 10 years. I remember enthusiastically relaying that I wanted to have my own folk school, teaching traditional skills and keeping them from becoming lost arts. That was in 2004.
Ten years later, classes and workshops were part of our initiatives at Farmstead Creamery & Cafe, with limited success. There was wreathmaking and pumpkin carving and a few fiber arts classes. But the events just weren’t kicking off as I had hoped. In 2017, I started offering afternoon fiber workshops through the local technical college. Some classes were well attended, while others struggled to have enough enrollment to run. But the audience was widening and so were the diversity of classes I was offering.
Then something changed this winter. As with other years, I put together a slate of classes, posted them on the farm’s event calendar online, and made events for them on the studio Facebook page. At first, attendance was small (as usual) but enjoyable. It was December, and the weekend classes were themed as needle felted ornaments. We made cardinals, Santas, and angels, but the last class before Christmas was a needle felted snowy owl ornament. The project looked cute and fun, and I’d hoped folks would sign up for it.
Little did I know how much the cute and fun factor would have an affect! I’d heard about pictures or videos going viral online, but I’d never heard of classes going viral. I was certainly not expecting one of them to be mine. First the Saturday afternoon class filled, so I added a Saturday morning class. Then that filled and I added a Sunday class. As the weekend approached, I madly tried to contact the several dozen people who had marked themselves as “going” online to finalize the reservation so that folks wouldn’t simply show up to find a full house! Over 70 more had marked themselves as “interested.” This list was almost entirely filled with people I didn’t know.
The trend continues into the New Year, with two fully-booked cardinal classes last weekend and a rematch on the snowy owl next week. Almost every student is new to needle felting, but they couldn’t resist because of the cuteness of the project. So even in the depths of winter, when the snow and wind and darkness keeps folks at home–cuteness is a motivator that breaks through.
Some students come as mother-daughter duos, others are on their own or come with a group of friends. Many have never visited the farm before. How wonderful that the desire to make (cute) art was enough to transition from “yeah, I want to check that place out sometime,” to “I’m going!”
Prepping for more classes also builds ideas for new needle felting kits–an option that works great for potential students who can’t make the class. It’s also a great way to use the beautiful, hand-dyed wool from our farm.
While a back-to-back day of needle felting classes can be exhausting, it’s also a joy to be sharing the skills with others so they can add needle felting to their palate of creative expression. There is no end to the magic of creating something with your own hands, especially when it starts from amorphous ingredients like fluffy wool or a pile of yarn.
My hope is that the trend will continue and that, eventually, students will be interested in additional, more complicated classes–weaving, punch needle rug hooking, tapestry. The space is built, maturing, and gaining reputation. Now it’s building the audience and interest. Who knows, maybe that folks school really will happen someday.