Friday Interview with Noёl Margaret of Wanderlust Woolves November 28, 2014 12:00 1 Comment

Introduce yourself and tell us about your handmade business.
Hi! I’m Noёl, founder of Wanderlust Woolves! I design and knit miniature animals inspired by natural history. I observe, both living and mounted taxidermy specimens, in person, in books, and on the internet too! I also draw a lot and this is where every single animal I knit begins – pencil on paper. Drawing has always been my foundation in creating and it’s something that has translated nicely into the process of knitting for me. Each medium informs the other, especially during the designing phase of my knit beasts.

Can you describe your studio?

My studio is in a loft-like bedroom in my house with lots of natural light. It overlooks the front yard, street and neighborhood, so sometimes I get to do people and animal watching. It’s a space I also share with my husband and daughter.

I have everything I need to create my faux taxidermy beasts: a small dresser filled with yarn, assorted by weight; a rolling shelf with packing / shipping materials, yarn swift, ball winder and stuffing; a shelf with specialty yarns, works-in-progress, experiments and orders ready to list on Etsy or to Ship; a box with display and photo props including animal bones, stones, antique books, odd trinkets and shadow boxes I’ve collected over the years. I also have a “Travel Studio” which is an oversized basket with a handle where I keep my needles, hooks, yarn bowl and threads so I can easily bring an in progress piece with me wherever I go! Luckily, I work in a medium that can be transported relatively easily.

What's your creative process, how do you find inspiration?
I can be a little loosey-goosey when it comes to an established pattern of creating, but this is typically how I get a new design going: I research my chosen animal (observe it in person if possible, look at pictures, read about where it lives, its diet, the perception people have of it – yeah, I know it’s a little nerdy) and then make some sketches. Next, I get my needles and some scrap yarn and knit a prototype, writing down EVERYTHING I do so I can fine-tune or repeat the design again.

I am obsessed with natural history – it’s totally amazing to me and has been a source of inspiration for me since I was a little kid. I have collected animal bones, stones, interesting leaves and other natural objects since I was 5 years old…or at least this is the earliest I can remember. I grew up my whole life with animals – domestic, wild and preserved. For me, nature is the ultimate source of inspiration because it’s never stagnant and always awesome, and I mean awesome in the truest sense of the word! 

Is there a story behind how you first created the faux taxidermy sculptures?
Where do I begin?! Well, it’s a long story, so here’s the mini version.

I started making sculptural faux taxidermy things at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). I worked at The Nature Lab for 3 years, and although I had been drawn to places like it, this was the first time I got to be so close to the specimens, mounts, and soooo much more and it informed my work in ways I didn’t expect. I couldn’t stop drawing the animals and other natural objects you can find at The Nature Lab. Eventually I started using clay and fibers to explore plant and animal forms and played with making stoles from faux fur for skeletons to wear while also making odd outfits for the taxidermy to wear! So, the interplay of people wearing animals and animals wearing human-made things grew on me. I ended my Senior year at RISD with a thesis show that explored dead animals and how people seemed to either be completely repulsed by them or found them to be beautiful.

After I graduated, I moved back to my home town and began making a body of work that was strictly of animal heads – these were drawings and soft sculptures. And, even though it took quite a few years after this, I started knitting the faux taxidermy sculptures and that was that. Now, I dream about knitting animal heads when I’m sleeping and doodle ideas for what’s next when I can’t be knitting!    

Do you have a favorite natural history museum or exhibition?
This is tough! I love so many natural history museums and specimens, but I think my favorite exhibit is The Hall of Biodiversity at The American Museum of Natural History. It’s pretty amazing and beautifully put together -- it’s worth the trip! My favorite single taxidermy specimen, however, resides at The Edna Lawrence Nature Lab! There is a small bunny with wings in a glass box with silver tape along the edges, or at least that’s how it was when I worked there. I love the whimsical nature of the winged bunny and how it beckons me to think on the sometimes unbelievable things we observe as well as the things we think we see in the wild. Of course this delicate creature is not actually a real animal we find in nature, but in 100 years, who knows! This little winged lovie will be one of the more than 20 taxidermy inspired designs in my book MountedKnits, a project I’m currently funding via Kickstarter until 12/22.

Who taught you how to knit?
Technically, I learned to machine knit first while I was at RISD in 2005. I had attempted to learn to hand knit many times prior to this – my mom and a few different friends tried to teach me, but it just didn’t make sense to me. Well, after I learned machine knitting everything clicked and I started hand knitting in 2006 and I haven’t stopped! So, I guess a knitting machine and books taught me to knit…weird, isn’t it?

How did you become involved with Craftland?
I learned about Craftland from my sister, Criss Ellen, who lives in RI. I had moved back home to Upstate, NY by this time so I checked it out online. A number of years back now, I applied to be in the Holiday Show with the yarns I was spinning. Since that first time working with Craftland a lot changed in my life; I went to grad school, had my daughter, Stella, chose to stay home and focus on child-rearing, and in the last 18 months really busted my butt to re-focus on making and in doing so founded Wanderlust Woolves. I knew I wanted to work with a shop and I had such a great first experience with Craftland so many years ago that I decided to apply again and was thrilled when my work was accepted this past summer!

Guilty pleasure you'd like to share?
Black Licorice … yes, really, it’s the most delicious treat I, and I love it!