P.O. BOX 120


AK 99826


"Gustavus is a unique community located on a large plain created by receding glaciers. Sandy beaches offer an inspiring contrast to snow covered peaks of the Fairweather Range to the West and Chilkat range to the East. Tlingit indians used to forage here and fish the Salmon River to acquire food to last the dark winters. In 1914, settlers homesteaded this alluvial fan now known as Gustavus."


"Gustavus is approximately 50 miles west of Juneau, Alaska’s state capital. It is the starting point for most independent travellers to Glacier Bay and other Alaskan adventures. It is located on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by national park. To the south lies Icy Strait. Visitors arrive by plane or boat as there are no outside roads connected to this area." [GUSTAVUS VISITORS ASSOCIATION.]

I arrived in Gustavus in April 2002 after spending almost a week in Juneau. I flew out in a 4 seater plane and enjoyed a birds eye view of the seemingly endless mountain ranges stretching as far as the eye can see. I immediately felt at home in Gustavus as I was welcomed with open hearts and enthusiasm by both adults and children. The school and community became so involved; bringing in supplies of wool and other fibres, tools for carding raw wool, samples of felt already made and magasine articles on feltmaking. I was almost overwhelmed by the generosity of this small and volunteer-focused community.

The support I received from the ever-patient teacher, Ellie Sharman was particularly appreciated. She helped to inspire the children to give their impressions of Gustavus both in felt art work and in writing. [Their words are written in bold italics.]

"Gustavus is the best community in the world. It has lots of people who are nice, everybody knows your name. It has lots of clean air and it doesn’t have much garbage on the ground. We have the best dump and lots of people recycle. Gustavus has lots of places for tourists to stay. People follow the speed limit and the streets aren’t crowded. We have the best strawberry plants and blueberrie and other berries. The flowers are pretty too." [Mickey]

"It is nice to live in Gustavus because there’s a huge beach and the capital, Juneau, is nearby. We are remote and small and our population is 396, at least it was the last time I counted!! There are 400 moose here also! The most students and teachers ever in our K-12 school was 63 people." [Andrew]

"Gustavus is a very small town and yet I live in it. People here always welcome our new guests with warm smiles, food and friendship. A lot of fireweed grows here and chocolate lillies too. (Plants) We don’t have a movie theatre or a swimming pool. How do we survive? We survive on stuff like TV, games, bike rides and playing with friends. There are lots of things we do to survive." [Maggie]

"Gustavus is the best place in the world because it is a great town. The ocean is there and my dad takes me out on his boat. Gustavus has the best fish and the best whales. Sometimes I take my kite to the beach when there is a lot of wind and I fly it. Gustavus has the best donuts. You get them at the airport." [Kenny]

"A place that is very cold with not a lot of sun. A place that deer and moose like to live. A place where salmon swim in the summer. A place called Gustavus. I wonder if there is another place better? I do know that the fish and everything in Gustavus is PERFECT." [Landon]




The project began with story-telling. The children described the fascinating history of Gustavus and its surrounding area to me and I answered questions about where I’d been already. Ireland was of particular interest to them all! I also told tales of where felt comes from and how it was discovered; by travellers with weary feet.


"How to make felt in your shoes. First you get a clump of wool and put it in your boot or shoe. Then you rub the wool that’s in your boot or shoe by walking on it. It will take a few days to make felt. The wool will start big and it will shrink." [Sol]


FELTING — Earth Balls!

In order to use the few colours we had to their best advantage, before I got the chance to dye some more wool, I decided we could make ‘Earth Balls’ as our first project.

"We started by making earth balls. You take different colours of felt. Take water and soap and the soap makes it all stick together in one big clump. You gently rub the ball and put it under water and roll it and squeeze it out." [Chelsey]


The science teacher showed the children what the wool looks like under a microscope so they could understand the technical reasons why wool felts.

"Because each little hair on wool has scales that will stick together with other scales on different hairs in wool. When they stick together it makes felt. You are supposed to use water and soap, you need soap to make the wool stick." [Landon]



The children had already done some drawings before I came and they out these and others together on a large sheet of paper to get an impression of what the felt piece could look like.


The teenagers of middle school agreed to help with the images for the borders of the piece, which left the main picture for the fifteen 1st to 5th grades to work on.

They had to think about all the animals and birds that live in the area and choose which ones they wanted to draw.

"Every day you see wildlife. Sometimes it’s moose, bears, whales and otters and sometimes it’s just geese and sandhill cranes. In the winter you usually just see moose. But in the summer you see 2 times more animals because the bears come out of hibernation and the whales and birds come back from the south. I really like living in Gustavus." [Dakota]


In order for the children to get a ‘feel’ for felting images into a flat background, it was important for them to make a flat piece of felt.

I decided to use the imagery of faces for inspiration. They cut out shapes from semi-felted coloured pieces and felted them into background wool to make a face of their own choice!

The Tlingit indians use a lot of strong shapes for images of faces in their art work, both wood-carvings and fabric patterns.




When the faces were felted and strong, the children had to then rinse all the soap out of them. If the soap stays in the wool it will eventually destroy it and before that it just makes the felt smelly!!



The picture above shows how we were carding some wool using hand-carders. We also had the use of a drum carder which cards more wool at one time and is usually great fun turning the mechanical handle!

"My favourite part of the felting process is carding the wool. I like doing it in a hand cranked carder, The carder partly felts the wool so you can shape it but you can still felt it on to a bigger piece." [Forrest]

The carder takes all the knots and tangles out of the wool and and makes a ‘batt’ of wool with all the fibres going in one direction. The batts can then be laid down next to each other to make the background wool for felting onto.


We were lucky to have a chance to go and visit some neighbours in the community who had recently put up a couple of yurts. The children got the chance to be in one of these beautiful, circular spaces and imagine what it would be like to live in one.


Swarupa and Julie who owned the yurts told us how they put them up and we talked about the ones that the nomadic people in central asia live in.

We also made time for singing songs in harmony and playing music. They really are an inspiring place to be in.

"We went to the yurt because people would put thick wool around them."

These yurts were designed for the usually rainy Gustavus weather and had insulation and waterproof canvas over them!

"Thank you for showing us the yurts Swarupa and Julie."






The next step of the felting process was to cut out the animal shapes and the other motifs we’d decided on for the picture. We cut these out from felt that the middle school had made in their class, using our paper drawings as templates.

Then began the exciting part of laying it out ready to felt.


In order to prevent the partly felted images from shifting their positions when we are felting the picture we lay it all out upside down. This means that we have to put things back to front and remember that what we put down on the ‘rolling mat’ first will be what is seen first. We then need to cover this up with background wool which means we can no longer see the images.

We decided to do this in groups, the rest of the class went elsewhere while we set this up. This meant that each child only saw their section being laid out and it made the main picture a great surprise to everybody!


This picture shows the motifs being covered up with the background coloured wool.

We would lay down usually three layers of carded wool which will felt together to make the picture quite substantial and strong.



Carefully we rolled up the whole picture of dry wool in the tweed, rolling mat. We used a wooden dowel to roll it around. It is really important to try and keep this as tight as possible. We need a good tight tying system to keep it all together.

It is now time to pour hot, soapy water into the roll, which needs many hands to help with! It was such a beautiful day that we took basins of water outside with the roll. This meant we didn’t need to worry about spillages!!


"HEY, HO…."

So began the rolling! This is the most important part of the felting process as this helps to shrink and felt all the wool together. It’s a good time to sing songs to while away the time and keep a rythmn!

After rolling for a good while we opened up the roll and wet it down with hot, soapy water and began to rub our hands over the whole picture. We used clear plastic to stop our hands ruining the felt!


This can be great fun using soap so that our hands slide over the plastic but are still working on the felt below! We had enough hands to rub the felt until it was felted enough to turn it over.


We carefully pulled the tweed off the felt and then had to rub over it again to make sure nothing was disturbed and all the motifs would felt into the background wool. Then we began the rolling again!


We rolled it up from all four sides to make sure that it would felt and shrink evenly! We spent the final week with a bit of the panel rolling, writing up about the project and getting ready for a "show of work".

Below are some animal stories written by the children.

"I saw a puffin when I was on the Spirit of Adventure (boat offering trips to the glaciers) floating in the water. Floating in the water quietly, I like seeing puffins." [Kiana]

"I was eating my hamburger when a bear came and looked at my hamburger. Then I knocked on the window but the bear didn’t go away." [Kelly]

"We live in a rainforest in southeast Alaska. It is different than a lot of other places. It’s quiet and peaceful, there’s more animals than people and some of those animals are HUGE…. It’s a scary feeling having a moose staring at you with her ears up when she’s only 20 feet away from you and you are on your bike! [Dustin]









A BIG thank you to all the children who worked so hard to make such a beautiful picture and help teach other children around the world about their fantastic corner of the world in Gustavus, SE Alaska.





After much deliberation we came up with the idea of making a fox mask with the words ‘Gustavus Foxes’ written around it to celebrate their school team!
















-----------------------------031144697856008 Content-Disposition: form-data; name="userfile"; filename="image1.jpg" Content-Type: image/jpeg 1