Friday, June 30, 2017

Seashells by the Seashore -- Finding Beauty in What's Broken

One of my latest felted jewelry collections, "Coral Reef"
with real coral, starfish, and conch shell as props

Jill Newman © 2017
This being my first blog post in a very long time, it may be a very long one...  with lots of deep thoughts and musings and other nonsense. I am looking forward to an upcoming beach vacation, which reminded me that I've had a lot to say about seashells.  My whole life, I have enjoyed walking along beaches and searching for beautiful shells. (This is not the best exercise as you have to walk slowly to spot the good shells. On the other hand, there's a lot of bending and crouching, so maybe it's good cross-training.) Anyway, I always looked for "perfect" shells and tossed back the ones with any knicks or holes -- or defects of any kind really.  

But something changed two years ago.  As a felting artist with a love for shells, I made some attempts to incorporate my "perfect" shells into felted wool jewelry.  (I will add photos of these efforts at the end of the post.)  I experienced some disappointing failed experiments.  Then I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that if the shells had holes, it would be easier to incorporate into my felting, as I could loop wool through the holes to create strong connections.  I briefly thought about trying to drill holes into my shells, and then I remembered all those imperfect shells I had discarded over the years.

Me showing my husband my haul of broken shells :-)
So, on our next beach vacation that summer, my search for shells was completely different  This time, I tossed back the perfect shells in search of well-worn shells with holes. And you know what, they had a beauty all their own.  I suddenly saw the worn holes and skeletal look of these shells as even more entrancing than their whole "perfect" cousins.  In fact, without shells breaking down and disintegrating under the pounding of the tides, we would not have sand -- the very essence of the beach.

I had some transcendent moments there on that beach.  It felt truly enlightening and uplifting to suddenly see the beauty and usefulness of things that I had previously viewed as "broken."  In how many other areas of my life have I dismissed or overlooked the value and beauty in things that were damaged or not whole?  Actually, I often save broken things in the hopes of making them into something new. Honestly, I had considered this a bit of a "hoarder" tendency, but now I see this as a virtue.   It can be very rewarding to give old things new life.  And it is a good attitude to have about life in general.  

My array of gorgeous and useful shells with holes
I am trying to apply these lessons to my own life.  I lost my husband to brain cancer a year ago, and I truly feel broken.  But I have hope that I can rebuild my life and find the beauty and strength in all of me, even the broken parts.

Ok, so enough deep thoughts:  here are the photos of my initial failed attempts to incorporate shells into my work and then my successes with the shells with holes.


These initial attempts failed for a few reasons.  For one thing, the sand dollar did not survive the wet felting process.  I crushed a few before giving up.  Second, and more importantly, although I could enclose the seashells in the felt, once I cut open a window to view the shells, they just fell out. No matter how small I cut the openings, the shells were not secured and found a way to escape.  By the way, after crushing all those sand dollars, I felted some wool ones that were far more durable.  

Once I had those shells with holes, the process of incorporating the shells into my work was much more satisfying and successful. Hopefully, you can see that I was able to form strong connections and points of attachment by threading the wool through the holes.  I was especially happy with the earrings and the clasp on the necklace.  I look forward to finding more holey shells this summer and exploring more creative ways to give them new life. 

Felted "Caribbean" collection -- necklace, earrings, and sand  dollar brooch.  Jill Newman © 2015.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring Gathering of Artisans

One-of-a kind Zazzy Peacock Felted
and Beaded Swirl Bracelet by Jill Newman
After this bitterly cold winter, what better way to celebrate the vernal equinox and welcome the coming of spring than by shopping for bright new accessories for you and your home! On the very first day of spring, a "Spring Gathering of Artisans" will showcase the work of seven local artists, including myself.  The show will be held at a private home in Glen Echo, Maryland by invitation only on Saturday, March 21 from 10 am to 4 pm, with a preview showing on Friday, March 20 from 7 to 9:30 pm.  

This show is a great opportunity to find something truly unique to brighten your home or your wardrobe.  Bring a friend (but not the kids, please) and enjoy a glass of wine, hors d'oeuvres, and a relaxed atmosphere while you shop for unique hand-crafted items.   Here are some brief descriptions and photos of what my wonderful fellow artists and I will be offering at the show.

Vibrant Handmade Ugandan Quilt from Amy Gautam

Amy Gautam is offering unique handmade Ugandan quilts.  While living in Uganda several years ago, she designed the quilts, purchased local African textiles, and hired local women to do the sewing.  Of the 120 quilts created from this collaboration, only 8 remain.  Each is one-of-a-kind and features colorful batik fabrics.  Amy will also be offering kitenges -- African cloths with Swahili sayings printed on them.

A collection of Beverly Roger's hand-painted pillows

Beverly Rogers paints beautiful original abstract artwork on canvas, pillows, placemats, and unique totes.  Beverly's lively art and home decor focus on color, balance, and connection.  Beverly can be reached at

Debi Sacks creates colorful abstract oil paintings on canvas as well as  mixed media collage.  Her bold, expressive use of color captures abstractions of nature and conveys deeper meaning.  You can see some of Debi's work on the Marin-Price Galleries website.  

More adorable Tutu Bags handmade by Nancy Marshall

Nancy Marshall creates unique handmade gifts including silk and beaded purses, personalized ballet tutu bags and aprons, children's hair ribbons and accessories, super hero capes, and chalk placemats.  Visit her Etsy shop, Fancy by Nancy, to see more.

Betty Farrell -- Unique jewelry made from semi-precious beads and crystals.

Unique Lamp from Crystal Luxe Lighting

Aldeane Josephs designs elegant custom-made lamps from Crystal Luxe Lighting -- each made from a one-of-a-kind exotic crystal or semi-precious stone set on an acrylic base with nickel hardware and a custom silk shade. Crystal Luxe Lighting lamps were featured in the 2014 D.C. Design House. See more of these sophisticated lamps in the Crystal Luxe Etsy shop.

Jill Newman -- Yes, that's me!  I make hand-felted and beaded jewelry and accessories.  My wearable art pieces are all one-of-a-kind and incredibly comfortable. And my vibrant color palettes are perfect for Spring!  I was recently juried in as a member of the Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.  A selection of my work will be available there, hopefully beginning with their April show.  In the meantime, you can see some of my work on my website at Zazzy Peacock Studios.  

So, as you can see, there will be something for everyone at this Spring Gathering of Artisans.  If you receive an invitation to this special event, please go enjoy the show -- Friday, March 20 from 7 to 9:30 pm and Saturday, March 21 from 10 am to 4 pm.  Hope to see you there!
"Crop Geometry," oil on canvas by Debi Sacks

Zazzy Peacock hand-felted and beaded swirl bracelet and ring

Close-up of one of Nancy Marshall's handmade ballet tutu bags

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fun with My First Felt Hat

Me in my Funky Felted Hat
Just about the only good thing about this frigidly cold winter has been that I get to wear the very warm and very funky hat that I made for myself last fall.  I had been wanting to wet felt a hat for myself for a long time, but I wasn't sure how to go about it.  After reading a couple of books, lots of blogs and watching several online tutorials, I came up with a way that worked for me.  To make a long story short, I needle felted on a rudimentary homemade foam hat form, then wet felted on a ball.  Then, I did my Zazzy Peacock thing and needle-felted a fun piece to decorate my new hat -- including a peacock motif, swirls, leopard print, and all the colors in my winter wardrobe.  I love it!

My homemade foam hat form

Here's how it happened:  First I tried to go straight to wet felting on a ball, but that didn't exactly work out.  Using that method, you're supposed to lay the wool roving out on a ball and then somehow magically stretch pantyhose over all that loose wool without messing it up.  Then, voila, you wet felt on the ball.  But as you've probably surmised by now, I completely messed up the wool trying to get the pantyhose on.  Granted, the tutorials warn that it's a two person job and to go very slowly.  I was just one impatient person, and it was a no-go for me.
Layers of wool laid vertically on foam hat form

Then I read about needle-felting on a hat form.  I knew I wanted to wet felt the hat, but since  I prefer needle-felting, I thought I could at least do the pre-felting with a needle and then wet felt once the wool was holding together.  

You can buy hat forms, but that gets very expensive.  Most suggestions for making your own foam hat form involved using spray insulation foam, which is economical, but it sounded complicated and messy.  So I decided to try to carve a form from a block of foam.  For me, this was an inexpensive option because I happened to have two 16" foam blocks from two cube seats that my kids had outgrown.  I used my electric carving knife (yes, the one we use to carve the turkey) to do the job.  The form is rudimentary, and there were little bits of foam just about everywhere, but it worked!  (If you're making your own, remember to size up to allow for lots of shrinkage during the wet felting process.)

Horizontal layer of wool fibers
I laid out the first layer of wool vertically, then horizontally, then vertically, etc., lightly needle-felting the wool in place between each layer.  Most tutorials recommend three layers, but I somehow ended up doing four or five, which is why my hat is extra thick and warm and cozy.  To create the rolled edge, I created a rope of wool (using needle and wet felting); then after laying down the last vertical layer of wool, I turned the hat inside out, and folded the loose ends of wool over the rope along the bottom edge of the hat; then I needle felted it all together.

Ball secured to canister with duct tape

Once I was confident that the wool was holding together and that the layers were even throughout, I transferred the pre-felted hat to a ball for wet felting.  With the ball secured to a canister, I rubbed the wool with hot soapy (using olive oil soap) water for a while.  When it seemed strong enough, I took the hat off the ball and threw it on my counters for a while.  Wow, that really got it firmly felted and fast! I then did some final shaping directly on my head.  

When it was dry, I shaved it very carefully with an electric razor to achieve a smoother finish.  Then it was time to create my personal fascinator.  I needle-felted it separately rather than directly on to the hat.  This gave it a more sculptural quality with more dimension.  Also, I initially thought I would just pin in on so that I could swap it out  at some point, but I loved it so much that I just needle-felted on to the hat. 

By the way, my rolled edge didn't exactly come out even, and I made it worse by trying to create a scalloped edge.  What was I thinking?  At some point, I'll fix that -- the beauty of needle-felting is that you can always continue to add wool -- for more detail or to correct imperfections.  In the meantime, I have been getting lots of use out of this hat during what has been the coldest winter I can ever remember.  It is warm and fuzzy and very me, and I love it.  I think there is more hat-making in my future!
My unique Zazzy Peacock felted wool hat with its colorful peacock heart, swirls, and animal print

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My First Big Non-Fiber Craft Show -- Sugarloaf Craft Festival, Here I Come!

Zazzy Peacock "Feather" necklace, one of a new series
in which I'm felting 
several felted components together
to form larger sculptural pieces.
After going to Sugarloaf Craft Festivals for over fifteen years, I am getting ready to do my very first one as a vendor.  It is literally a dream come true.  Even before I poked my first felting needle, I used to go to these shows and think -- I wish I could have a booth here someday.  Well, that day is only about a week away now!

From Friday, October 17 through Sunday October 19, Zazzy Peacock Studios will be at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in Gaithersburg, MD.  The show is held at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.  My indoor booth will be #79 in Building 6B (on the lower level).    (I am also doing two more Sugarloaf shows this fall -- November 21-23 in Gaithersburg and December 12-14 in Chantilly, Virginia.)

Zazzy Peacock Geometric Statement Necklace
Not only is this my first Sugarloaf show, but this is really my first big "general" craft show -- with one small exception, every show I've done so far has been a fiber or wool show.   There's a big difference.  For one thing, I'm expecting a whole lot more competition.  These Sugarloaf shows have lots of jewelry vendors, whereas fiber shows have very few.    On the other hand, I'm hoping more customers are there actually shopping for jewelry, whereas I'm used to customers looking for yarn -- or wool or supplies --who are often surprised to find themselves buying jewelry in my booth.  I guess, we'll see how it goes.

I'm also expecting that most people will have no idea what needle felting is.  At the fiber festivals, most customers have an appreciation for how time-consuming and detailed my work is.  In fact, the most rewarding sales I've made at the Sheep & Wool Festival are to the customers who are experienced needle-felters.  The fact that they appreciate my work enough to pay for it is especially encouraging.  For this upcoming show, I have a feeling that I'll be doing a lot of explaining about my needle felting and wet felting process. (Have I mentioned that I needle felt everything about one millimeter at a time, then I wet felt it, then I needle felt it again?)  I usually have a little felting demonstration going, but that will be more important than ever next weekend. And I'm hoping the intricacy of my designs and my unique color palettes will speak for themselves. In any case, I'm excited to see how my Zazzy Peacock felted jewelry is received by the craft-fair-going crowd.  

Zazzy Peacock felted Cascade Petal Necklace with matching earrings
I should be crazy busy getting ready, but by some miracle, I am feeling quite prepared.  I've got plenty of inventory, most of which is well-organized and ready to display.  And my booth design worked really well as the Sheep & Wool Festival, so I'm sticking with that.   I am way overdue to post about the evolution of my booth and what I've learned (a lot!) since my first show back in May 2013.  That's next on my to-do list...

In the meantime, you can check out more of my work on my website.  Or better yet, come visit me next weekend in Gaithersburg at my very first Sugarloaf Craft Festival.  Hopefully, it will be the first of many!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fall Gathering of Artisans for Special One-Day Show

Amethyst Lamp from Crystal Luxe Lighting

This fall, a Home & Fashion Accessory Showcase will feature the work of six talented local artists.  The one-day show will be held at a private home in Bethesda, Maryland by invitation only on October 18 from 10 am to 4 pm.  

Bring a friend (but not the kids, please) and enjoy a glass of wine, hors d'oeuvres, and a relaxed atmosphere while you shop for unique hand-crafted items.  It's a great opportunity to get in some early holiday shopping or to treat yourself to a one-of-a-kind gift.    Here are some brief descriptions and photos of what these wonderful artists will be offering at the show.

Aldeane Josephs -- Elegant custom-made lamps from Crystal Luxe Lighting -- each made from a one-of-a-kind exotic crystal or semi-precious stone set on an acrylic base with nickel hardware and a custom silk shade. Crystal Luxe Lighting lamps were featured in the 2014 D.C. Design House. See more of these sophisticated lamps in the Crystal Luxe Etsy shop.

"Girl Power-Let's Run Ms. T," acrylic on canvas by Beverly Rogers © 2014

Beverly Rogers -- Beautiful original abstract paintings on canvas, pillows, placemats,  and unique totes.  Beverly's lively art and home decor focus on color, balance, and connection.  

Kathy Berbakos -- Hand-knitted scarves and "corsage" bracelets.

Betty Farrell -- Unique jewelry made from semi-precious beads and crystals.

Personalized Ballet Tutu Tote Bag from Nancy Marshall

Wenzell Carter -- Original photography, note cards and holiday cards made from original photographs taken by the artist all around the world.

Nancy Marshall -- Unique handcrafted gifts including silk and beaded purses, monogrammed ballet tutu bags and aprons, children's hair ribbons and accessories, super hero capes, and chalk placemats.  Visit her Etsy shop, Fancy by Nancy, to see more.

So, as you can see, there will be something for everyone at this Home & Fashion Accessory Showcase.  If you receive an invitation to this special one-day event, please go enjoy the show -- Saturday, October 18 from 10 am to 4 pm.  

Note:  I unexpectedly had to pull out of this show.  I apologize to my customers and especially to my fellow artists for any confusion or inconvenience I have caused.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Awesome Guitars! From Cool Centerpieces to Fundraisers for a Great Cause

Photo credit:  Josh Barry Photography ©2013
Wow, I have so much to catch up on, I'm just going to jump right in with what's going on  now...  Well, it's been a while since my son's bar mitzvah, but we are finally following through with his mitzvah project.  This weekend, we are donating five electric guitars to a wonderful organization, Guitars Not Guns.  In a few weeks, our family will be volunteering at two fundraisers for GNG, where they will be raffling and/or auctioning off those guitars.  (See more about events below.)

So how exactly, you may ask, do we have five extra guitars to donate?  Well, for my younger son's bar mitzvah, we had a guitar-themed party.  He's been playing guitar since he was seven years old, so this was a no-brainer.  But as I'm not a big fan of styrofoam centerpieces that just get tossed after the event, I decided we would collect used electric guitars to add to my boys' small collection of electric guitars and bass guitars.  We would use those real guitars as centerpieces and then donate them to charity after our event.  It worked out great!  The guitars, which are really works of art in themselves, looked awesome on the tables lit up on shimmering CDs scattered with custom picks.

Photo credit:  Josh Barry Photography ©2013
I can't tell you how excited I was when we found the DC chapter of Guitars Not Guns.  This was just the perfect organization for us to help.  With locations across the U.S., they provide free guitars and lessons to foster kids and at-risk youth. In their words, "Using music as a catalyst we encourage children and teens to use their creativity to foster personal development and to help divert them from self-destructive influences such as drugs, alcohol and gang-related activities. By providing free guitars and lessons we hope to engage their creative potential and help them achieve their dreams."  How awesome is that?  As if that's not enough, please watch this video about their amazing DC director, Gregg Hammond, and then go to their website and make a donation!

GNG's great work was inspiring and got me thinking -- what else can we do to help?  Someday, my son hopes to volunteer for GNG giving guitar lessons.  In the meantime, we had plenty of guitar-themed stuff from the bar mitzvah that we could sell to raise money.  Most fun of all for me, I made pick jewelry for party favors for the bar mitzvah, and I had plenty of leftover supplies.  So for these upcoming fundraisers, we will also be selling some unique pick jewelry, with all proceeds going to GNG.  We also have some cool guitar pens and inflatable guitars that I'm hoping will be a big hit at street festivals.

Assorted handmade (by me) pick jewelry with my custom Rainbow Rock design, along with resin guitar pens.  The black picks have my son's name on the back (also in a unique design) and were used for the party favors. I made sure to order extra picks (all from Pick World) for GNG fundraisers.  Designs © Jill Newman 2013.  

So if you're in the DC area, come out to one or more of the GNG fundraisers this fall.  On Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 7 pm, a benefit concert will be held at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC.  Three bands will be performing, and we'll be there selling raffle tickets and pick jewelry and taking donations. Click for details.  On Sunday, October 12, 2014, we will be at the GNG booth at the Courthouse Arts & Craft Beer Festival, a music and beer fair in Clarendon, Virginia.  We can't wait!

For those considering a guitar-themed party, here are a few more photos to give you some ideas.  Feel free to ask for more details.   I had fun doing it and would be happy to share my experience. :-)

I got a few miniature replica guitars -- this is Joe Strummer's "Trash City" Telecaster--
to decorate the cocktail tables.  Photo credit:  Josh Barry Photography © 2013
I made this sign out of plywood, enlarged prints of my custom pick designs,
rope lights, and a styrofoam guitar.  Yes, I caved and bought a few foam guitars from to decorate spaces where real guitars
wouldn't work (and because how many guitars could I buy?!).
Pick designs © Jill Newman 2013; Photo credit:  Josh Barry Photography © 2013
This was clearly overkill, but I got little prints of famous guitars (also from to decorate the favor bags. I'm quite sure the kids barely noticed!  And yes, those are paper coffee bags, which were the perfect size.  I got them from one of my gift wrapping suppliers, Nashville Wraps.
I painted a replica George Harrison "Rocky" guitar for
 my son.  But that's a whole other post for another day. ;-)
Photo credit:  Josh Barry Photography © 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Zazzy Peacock felted rings even look good on this creepy witch hand  ;-)
This year, I will be missing my very favorite holiday -- Halloween, of course.  I'm a little sad that I won't get to dress up with my kids and greet trick-or-treaters, but I'm pretty sure being a vendor at Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago will be worth it.  

This will be the first time -- I think ever -- that I won't be dressing up for Halloween.  It's also the first time in many years that my house is not the most creepily decked-out for Halloween on our street.  Sure, I put out the life-size mummy on the porch and the giant eighty-foot tall witch at the edge of the driveway, but where are the ghosts, the gravestones, the skeletons, spider webs and rats?  Oh, and the bats!  I have a few giant bats I hang every year, and then there's the fifty or so little bats that I made out of pom poms, felt and pipe cleaners about fifteen years ago.  Oh yeah, and I managed to get a couple of nice pumpkins, but I didn't have time to carve them into Jack-o-lanterns.  How sad is that?  

Well, I will miss all that fun Halloween stuff, but there's always next year!  For now, I couldn't be more excited to be heading to Chicago to sell my Zazzy Peacock felted jewelry at Vogue Knitting Live.  Do you think I could at least wear some vampire fangs on the airplane?  Happy Halloween!  Here's a glimpse of some of my favorite Halloweens past:

Halloween 2002 in Fairfax, VA

Harry Potter Halloween 2005 in front of our house pre-remodel (see remodel post)

Halloween 2009 with our scary witch