Cream of the crafts

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 12:34 PM

Jill Yutan returned from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival last May with a bag of wool in shades of moss, emerald and celery. Those greens inspired her to create a forest of 13 needle-felted trees, chosen as the winner of the first Washington Post Holiday Crafts Contest.

No coincidence, Yutan, 49, is a landscape architect for Arlington County. "I plant trees for a living, so these were a way to combine the love I have of two things: trees and needle felting," she says.

It took Yutan, an avid knitter who started needle felting only a couple of years ago, about 40 hours to create the trees over several weekends. There are four sizes, ranging from three to nine inches tall.

The subtle colors of the trees inspired this comment from contest judge David Brooks, co-owner of the Appalachian Spring crafts galleries: "At first glance, this calm, serene felted sculpture is just that. However, upon closer observation, one discovers many levels of interest from the unexpected yet perfectly blended shades of greens and bluish greens."

Yutan assembled the trees by wrapping Styrofoam forms with wool roving, a piece of combed wool fiber that has been lightly twisted. (This is the kind of wool that is used by spinners.) The wool roving is attached to the form using a barbed felting needle. Each tree has a star of white felt, is dotted with beaded pins and stands on a wood disc bottom. The materials cost about $100.

"I've always been kind of crafty," says Yutan. She designs her own greeting cards that are stamped or covered with glitter or felt. She recently started designing baby blocks, cut out of felted wool she produces from recycled thrift-shop wool sweaters. Yutan washes the sweaters in hot, soapy water and gives them a cold rinse, which shrinks the fibers and produces a matted fabric. She cuts that into squares to create the blocks.

She taught herself to knit about four years ago and is usually busy knitting scarves and hats for family members and friends. She started a knitting group at her office that donates members' handmade scarves and blankets to charities that distribute them to soldiers and local organizations.

The crafting room in her Arlington colonial is a cozy 9-by-9-foot spare bedroom. She and her husband, Ron Kagawa, a landscape architect for the city of Alexandria, both have crafting stations there. "We like to go to Michaels together," she says. His station is a small desk where he ties fishing flies; hers is a drafting table with lots of neatly labeled boxes holding supplies. Yutan keeps an album of photos of most of the things she's created so she can refer to previous projects for inspiration.

"On weekends we are both usually in here for a few hours together," says Yutan. "It's relaxing."

She says she finds crafts an important way to express herself. "I always have these creative ideas going around in my head. In response to all this technology, it's great to spend time making things by hand."

Yutan was thrilled to win the Holiday Crafts Contest because she has entered the annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest three times, twice making the semifinals.

Now, Yutan says, she's done crafting with marshmallow. She's sticking to wool.

Meet the judges The contest was judged by Local Living Editor Liz Seymour, staff writer Jura Koncius, crafts editor Hannah Milman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and David Brooks, co-owner of the local Appalachian Spring crafts stores.

Holiday Guide Find more craft and decorating inspiration at .

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