Mary’s neighbor invites her over for an artistic “play-date” with an antique wringer washer, sheep wool, Kool-Aid packets, and black garbage bags. The fun begins as they mix the Kool-Aid and water in the garbage bags and add the wool. As the sun heats the garbage bags, the dye sets. Smiles of excitement beam from their faces as they remove the wool and squeeze it through the wringer. They flip the dyed wool over the clothesline to dry in the sunshine revealing colorful strands for future fiber projects.
Mary Kelly grew up around fiber. From an early age, as she watched her mother sew clothing for their family, Mary picked up the scraps to create her own doll clothes. She always found a way to stay busy with her hands from what was laying around, be it sewing, constructing dollhouse pieces, or later in her teen years, making her own clothing and coats as well as men’s suit jackets. She quickly became friends with a tailor who taught her additional skills she has employed throughout the years.
Attending college, she wished to major in engineering; however, in those times, it was said that, “Girls don’t do that!” Mary went the education route which lead her to teaching for 30+ years mostly in the 6th grade classroom. Although she taught all subject matter in her classroom, she always incorporated art into the curriculum. For example: to practice measuring, angles and precision, she had the class construct a quilt, noting the importance of accurate measurements.
In the early 80’s, Mary entered craft shows making eyeglass cases and dolls. She was single and this supported her well. As the mid-90’s came, she mass-produced pieces such as 200 or more fiber Christmas angels and Santas at a time. This was her way of supporting her children through college. The replication became so mundane that she became artistically drained! This resulted in a 10-11 year break from her artwork.
For whatever reason in 2006, Mary decided to take her knitting needles and wool with her on vacation. This became a turning point for creating once again. She started with knitting and felting purses. This utilitarian craft of practicality soon left her dissatisfied; she wanted to push the pieces to another level. Even now you will find her work evolving as she turns out ideas into new one-of-a-kind pieces.
Mary loves working with wool because it is moldable, versatile and has good qualities. She is a self-proclaimed “Attention Deficit Disorder Artist” who never stays focused on one specific working method or article to make. She will start and finish one thing, then move on to a completely different piece, bouncing around with whatever appeals to her current motivations.
One method Mary utilizes is a technique called wet felting – a shrinking process. Mary lines her kitchen counter with baking sheets laid with bubble wrap, which will roughen the surface of the wool. She pulls out sections of wool working them into a thin layer, then places it on top of the bubble wrap. The wool is sprayed with a soapy water solution, then covered with fabric from a ladies slip, which keeps the wool from sticking. Next, boiling hot water is poured over it and another section of bubble wrap is placed on top. Mary takes the layers together wrapping them around a pool noodle rolling the entire piece back and forth. This allows the wool to shrink slightly and felt, which is the condensing and pressing of the fibers together. Once somewhat set in place, she uses handmade soap and a felting stone to vigorously scrub the wool even more to continue binding the wool for strength. After some time, when she deems the process is complete, a wet felted piece can be transformed into a scarf, flower or other creation.
Another method Mary enjoys is called nuno-felting which is the process of felting wool onto silk. She starts with a base layer, a thin silk scarf. Then she begins pulling apart a layer of roving (unspun wool) adding it to the silk. Look closely, and you may find a few strands of sheep locks left in their curly state. On one such piece, she nuno-felted vibrant flowers onto a scarf to resemble her beautiful flower gardens – a point of great inspiration to Mary. To finish off a creation, she sometimes embellishes it with beads, a button or handmade pin.
These are just two of many methods Mary employs. She also enjoys hand dying silk scarves in colorful patterns. She repurposes old wool sweaters into new, more artistic versions of the former. She knits purses, then utilizes a process called needle felting, to interlock wool fibers into a condensed material creating unique, functional accessories.
Mary wholeheartedly believes, “There is no such thing as a mistake!” She encourages other fiber artists to explore and dive into a project. Be willing to try anything. Rework it if it isn’t quite right and transform it into something new. She is willing to impart her knowledge to others. She finds satisfaction in seeing people enjoy their purchased creation. She is “happy making people happy!”
A long time artist of Artalicious, visit Mary’s tent and savor the array of beautifully constructed handmade scarves, shawls, purses and more!
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