My First Attempt at Felting: Project Plush Gnome

As an avid gnome collector and semi-obsessive enthusiast, I have a Google News alert set up to receive notifications about all gnome-related happenings in real time. Well one day recently, I came across an article from a local Vermont newspaper interviewing a woman, Susi Ryan, about her felted gnome products.

Felted gnome products?!

My ears instantly perked up. I headed over to Susi’s Etsy page, The Felted Gnome Knows, to learn more.


There were lots of awesome things for sale here, including needle felted birds, hats, and of course, gnomes. But then I stumbled upon her Needle Felting Gnome Kit.

What if I could make my OWN gnomes?

Just like I’d always wanted to! Plush gnomes that I could carry around with my as I travel without fear of breaking!

However, I was confused and a bit nervous about the whole process. I knew what felt was, like those felt squares you buy in bulk packaging. But feltING? What exactly did that entail and was it feasible for a crappy crafter like myself?

Felting kit

According to Susi, “Needle Felting is a unique art. It is not an old technique, it started in the 1980s when some artists found that by using a machine felting needle they could shape wool by stabbing it. It takes many stabs, hours and bleeding fingers to sculpt wool but the results as you can see are terrific. There is something magical about wool felt creatures and paintings. It emanates warmth, strength and evokes a time when play was innocent.”

IMG_3313So I pushed my crafting insecurities aside and placed an order for the gnome-making kit. It arrived quicker than expected and was very cutely packaged with everything one would need to make – not just one, but several – felted gnomes. Inside the kit I found:

  • Felting needles
  • Foam square base
  • Skewer,
  • Core wool,
  • Hand dyed green, red and grey or brown wool.
  • Hand dyed accent wool of blue, flesh and black.
  • Complete picture instructions

Most of the wool is sourced in Vermont and Susi hand-dyes all her own wool. Now that’s hardcore.

To get started, I emailed a crafty friend for advice and encouragement, and she sent me a few YouTube videos. I found the most helpful one to be Basic Tools and Techniques for Felting by GypsyFelting.

IMG_3314Before even having a chance to get started, I broke a couple needles in half just trying to get them out of the packaging. This taught me very quickly how fragile these needles really are…even though they don’t look like they’d be. Susi was kind enough to send me a few replacement needles in the mail. Now that’s what I call a great Etsy shop owner.

After watching a couple YouTube videos, I concluded that the basic idea of felting was little more than stabbing fluffy fabric with a sharp object onto a sponge. Seems reasonable, right? I’m not here to make it look glamorous; I’m here to share a really accessible craft that is quickly becoming one of my new favorites.

IMG_3315In an effort to bring more ethnic and cultural diversity to my gnome collection, I decided to create a handsome brown gnome, who I like to say is of the Indian persuasion.

I worked on shaping him for about an hour on a Sunday morning and then for another hour or so later that afternoon. Sure, he’s not that big or anything; but gosh was I surprised how quickly he took shape and began actually looking like a gnome!


I finished this nameless brown gnome, my first felting project, in just a single day and couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. It was a warm sunny day in Atlanta so I took him out to pose on my Jeep for a mini-photo shoot.

Like most crafts, felting made me incredibly intimidated before I mustered up the courage to just give it a shot. But with Susi’s kind, encouraging words and a couple hours of free time on my hands, I’m sure glad I did. Felting has become one of my new favorite crafts now, and I love the idea of making fun, plush dolls to give as gifts.

In fact, just today I was researching monkey felting projects and found this fun felted chimpanzee pattern. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I think this might just be my next craft project!

Have you tried felting? I’d love to hear about what you made and how it went!

And if you don’t have time to try it yourself at the moment, I’d still highly recommend Susi’s Etsy shop. She has lots of ready-made stuff on there that’s super unique.


Needle felted rabbit mask, anyone?

*A version of this article is scheduled to appear in the next edition of the International Gnome Club Newsletter! 

Mooching Off Vermont’s Free Samples

When you’ve been eating little more than luke-warm beans out of a can rolling around the back of a Jeep for a few weeks, a day of free samples is a day to go down in the history books. Out of all the states that I’ve been too, I found more delicious free samples in Vermont than anywhere else. More specifically, the Waterbury area is a malnourished gal’s wet dream.

With minimal travel time in between, here are some amazing places to fill up on free stuff while driving through the Green Mountain State.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill

There aren’t a ton of samples here, but it’s still worth a stop so you can say you’ve been to a cider mill. Make your way through the gift shop and satisfy your need for consumerism as you scour the tables for food laying out. There are a couple homemade jams and mustards with pretzel sticks near the door, so push people out of the way until you see where the grub is.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As you walk to the back of the mill, you can pour yourself a tiny glass of free apple cider and watch an informational video about how they make the stuff. Apparently there’s an apple shortage this year, because the mill limits you to one tiny cup per person (that is, unless no one’s looking). Unfortunately, these folks don’t really believe in hard cider.


Grand View Winery

Unlike some winery tastings, this one isn’t actually free so you’ll have to pull two whole dollars out of your pocket to get some sips. Although the actual winery is in East Calais, they have a tasting room directly across from the cider mill so you don’t have to re-park your car.


You get to taste six wines for your Washingtons, and the portions are smaller than average. All the wines they produce are fruit wines, rather than grape wines, so everything is really sweet and refreshing. The cost of most bottles is in the $14 range, but buying one would have broken the golden rule of Free Sample Day.

Cabot Cheese

Hands down, Cabot Cheese wins the award for Best Free Samples in Vermont. Drop your car off in their parking lot and stick your head through the cow cut-outs to snap a picture as you walk in the front door. A gift shop welcomes you as you walk in and there’s plenty of local beer for sale in their coolers as well.


The free cheese sample bar has about twenty-five different samples of cheese, all of which are amazing. One side of the sample bar has standard flavors of cheese that you see everywhere, and the other side has random flavors like Tomato Basil, Hand-rolled Tuscan, and Horseradish. But the samples don’t stop there! The sides of the bar and nearby tables feature popcorn with Cabot cheese sprinkle, cheese dips, and butter dips. Grab a handful of toothpicks and settle in for the long haul!

Lake Champlain Chocolates

Leave your car parked at Cabot Cheese and walk your cheese hangover off across the parking lot over here. I didn’t expect to find too many samples here because fancy chocolate can get pretty pricey, but there were two sample areas at this chocolate shop. Most of the shop is filled with things to buy, but if you venture up towards the counters, you’ll see some lonely chocolate pieces lying about.


As you snack on a square or two of free chocolate, read through the shop’s recommendations for chocolate tastings. That way, you’ll feel (and look) like you’re learning something about what you’re tasting instead of just scarfing it all down like a fatty.


Alchemist Cannery

When I first saw a sign for this place, I didn’t even consider stopping because I assumed a cannery was all about jellies and jams. But much to my surprise, there was beer inside! Oddly enough, this brewery (that brews in only cans) only makes one type of beer. It’s an 8% double IPA called the Heady Topper. As a newly emerging fan of certain types of IPAs, I must say that their one creation is pretty delicious.


We received two 3-ounce samples for free at their tasting room, which was situated among rows of brew-themed merchandise. Their “self guided tour” was more of a room that you could walk into and take a look at the brewing equipment from afar. They usually sell cans of beer at the tasting room, but happened to have run out this particular day. I guess I’m not the only one who liked it.


Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory

 Although the sample of ice cream is “free,” there is a catch. You have to take the factory tour, but it only costs $4 per person, which is just $4 away from free. The tour starts with a seven minute video about their company that actually didn’t put me to sleep. My very pink monkey in socks, Ginger (a.k.a. Dunkey), accompanied me on this tour because she’s as big of an ice cream fan as I am. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can’t take any pictures through their production area, but a perky teenage guide will point to different pieces of machinery and sort of tell you what each does. After listening as long as your attention span allows, your guide leads you into the tasting room for a sample. Mint chocolate chunk was on the menu this particular day.


Hang around after everyone takes their sample, because there will likely be leftovers for you to snag on the way out. The portions were decently sized, and you can always stand in line to buy another bowl after the tour if you’re truly hardcore.

Needless to say, I didn’t need to eat any beans for lunch or instant noodles for dinner on this particular day in Vermont. Whether you’re looking to get a taste of local goods or just be cheap about your dietary intake, free samples are the way to go. And in my experience, free samples are harder to come by in the rest of New England, so stock up while you can!