Artist Profile: Marty Elkin

Imagine you have your own farm. A fiber farm. And on your farm, your sheep produce enough fiber for you to generously stock not only your own studio, but your own farm store with plenty of roving, batts, and delicious hand-dyed fiber. Sound like a dream? It’s a dream come true for fiber artist Marty Elkin. One of her specialties is needle-felting and she’ll be offering a two-part class this year at Fiber College. Let’s meet Marty! You can sign up for her classes here.

What does “Do It Your Way!” mean to you as a fiber artist and teacher?

Marty needlefelts

Marty needlefelts in her studio

There is something truly satisfying when I see completed projects that show individuality and experience the joy that comes from creating with natural fiber.  I love to encourage people to “Do it your way.”

How did you decide to become an artist?

I am first a teacher.  I did not decide to become an artist at all ~  It just happened.  I know my grandmother was an artist. My mother encouraged me to explore art at an early age. I did not think I was good at it.  As an adult I enjoyed Tole Painting using oil paints, mixing colors, shading for a pattern applied to wood.  Later in life as a college student taking electives toward a bachelor degree, I was challenged in one of my classes to do something I had always wanted to do and did not think I could.  For that assignment I used oil paints and a blank canvas to create a scene with my young son outside in a field behind the house.  That turned out to be a life-changing experience for me.  I discovered I really could paint from the beauty of the landscape.  It opened my eyes to the world around me in new ways.

Marty's crockpot reveals beautiful colors!

Marty’s crockpot reveals beautiful colors!

What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?

One of my most consistent creative patterns is a weekly dyeing day.  I try to make Mondays my day in the dye kitchen.   I use Cushing’s dyes using crockpots to dye rovings for needle felting, creating a palate of over 50 colors 3 – 4 ounces at a time.  We package these colors for over 40 needle felting kits including farm animals, pets, flowers, birds, and more. Occasionally I am inspired to dye yarn.

What would a student be most surprised to know about you?

I was first a nurse, then a teacher of nurses.  Then I became a teacher for mothers learning about childbirth and how to nurse their babies.  It was an easy transition to assisting ewes to give birth and learn to nurse their lambs.  Now I am a teacher for people who want to learn about creating with wool.

How does your early work differ from what you are doing now?

My work is becoming more and more detailed.  People often comment that they have never seen needle felted images as detailed as mine.  I am also finding that I use more and more different colors in a piece.  I am working almost entirely from photographs now.

Elkins creates a background using wet felting

Elkins creates a background using wet felting

At Fiber College 2014, Marty’s students will create their own wet-felted landscapes across two days.

Tell us about a proud moment you’ve had as a result of your students’ efforts.

Two of my students for needle felting have submitted their work into serious art competition in Massachusetts, and won blue ribbons. When I have taught a class on the creation of a portrait of a sheep, everyone goes home with a unique piece and a smile on their face.  I have been rewarded by people of all ages who are thrilled with their creations.

Marty and one of her lambs

Marty and one of her lambs

You’ve just run into an old friend from high school. How do you answer the question, “What do YOU do?”

I am a sheep farmer and enjoy our diversified farm…and especially the creation of products from our sheep.  I love that our little rural farm store sells almost exclusively yarn, roving, batts, and kits made with wool from our own sheep and that our business at A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm has grown by leaps and bounds.

Tell us about your studio space and how you work.

We have a fabulous fiber building, built in 2010, which is spacious, well lit, warmed by solar panels on the roof, and filled with incredible color and art.  People who come for gatherings (wet felting and precision dyeing classes, individual beginner spinning and knitting lessons, and weekly knitting groups) are appreciative and encouraging. When I begin creating I lose myself in the process and continue without much awareness of time…. it can be hard to stop.  This can happen any time at farmers market, on a Sunday afternoon, first thing in the morning, or at the end of the day.

A felted fairy created by Marty

A beautiful fairy landscape created by Marty

As an instructor, what would be the best advice you could give to a student?

Believe that you are a creative being. Experiment until you find the creative outlets you enjoy and go with it. I can not tell you how many people have said to me things like, “Your needle felting project is beautiful but I could never do it,” or “I am not crafty, so I could never do that.” And when they give needle felting a try, they smile and decide they could do it after all.   It gives me great pleasure to offer tools and fiber that promote art that anyone can do.

What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?

“Fantasy” is a 16×22 inch needle felted piece I created this winter.  It is one of the largest ones I have done. From a distance it looks like a watercolor painting.  The depth, composition, and colors came together very well.  I am pleased to say the wool is from our own sheep, washed, carded, and dyed here at the farm.

My website/blog urls are:

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