You hear “bling,” and you think sparkle, but the soft textures of wool fiber can be just as striking in jewelry as any gem or precious metal. And Scottish artist Aileen Clarke has the work to prove that theory.
From her home in rural Fife, a peninsula in eastern Scotland, this former florist-turned-fiber artist creates colorful pendants, brooches, wrist cuffs and other fine fiber collectibles with silk and merino wool, including some hand-dyed wool from the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland. And while fiber is the star attraction, she often punches it up with silver-plated accents, hand embroidery, beads and even heat-fused copper foil.
We were first attracted by her scenic little pendants dotted with tiny sheep, but then our eyes strayed to her leaf brooches with their subtle stitched and appliquéd accents. And, well, the earrings that juxtapose cool silver against colorful, tightly packed blobs of wool and sari fibers…sigh! One glimpse of her bright, sometimes heathery, palette, and it’s easy to see what sparks her ideas.
“I take much of my inspiration from the rural and coastal areas of Scotland and Ireland. I live in a beautiful part of north Fife, surrounded by fields and countryside and a herd of highland coos!” she says. (Note: A “coo” is Highland-ese for “cow.”)
Aileen says got interested in textiles by accident when she began making greeting cards using leftover organza ribbon from her work as a florist. Then she branched out into bigger framed pieces and then into felting. Her best friend taught her wet felting, and she mastered needle felting on her own. She works by hand, but also uses a sewing machine and an embellishing machine for some effects. (And she says she’s just tapped the surface of what that nifty embellishing machine can do!)
Next on the experimental agenda is hand dyeing with local natural dyestuffs, she says. And she’s also interested in exploring other fibers, such as the hair from her beloved Highland coos, which she’s already made some attempts to felt. Results were mixed, though
“My neighbors gave me some combed Highland coo hair to see what I could do with it,” she reports. “It was pretty smelly and matted together when I tried to wash it. When I hung the pieces out on the line to dry they looked like a row of dead hamsters so I gave that idea up!”
Fiber jewelry by Aileen Clarke Crafts
Prices for brooches, earrings, wrist cuffs and pendants range from $20 08 USD to $33.47 USD. Go to her Etsy shop, Aileen Clarke Crafts, for full details.