Alisa’s First Quarter Challenge

Alisa’s First Quarter Challenge

I have a guest post for you today. Alisa McClain is a pretty new felter, she is in my local Facebook group. When she posted her piece for the first quarter challenge I asked her to do a post about it and she stepped right up. Thank You, Alisa


Hello!  I started felting in the early pandemic, and I’ve fallen hardcore in love.  It’s blooming and it keeps me grounded and joyous, and I am slowly developing more skills that allow me greater control, too.  I’m an experiential learner, for the most part, so I just keep doing and figuring things out.  I make art playfully, usually without a plan.

When I first saw these blogs about a first-quarter challenge, I didn’t intend to participate.  You see, my brain is pretty much an open browser with 1,000 tabs open at all times, and I always have a plethora of ideas vying for my attention and screaming, “Pick me!  Pick me!”

And, then one day I took a look at all the photos suggested in the original challenge blog from the decade.  The suffragette posters caught my eye.  Maybe I should make something feminist in petticoats?  That old Disney song starts up in my head:  We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats and dauntless crusaders for women’s votes.  But, I haven’t done human forms and probably can’t pull that off.  That skill is in the not yet pile.

The next time I looked through the photos, I thought about finding an aerial view of the area I live in and got lost in the history of my little corner of suburbia.  No aerial view though from 1900ish though.

And, then the third time I looked through the photos, I thought about nature through a microscope.  In the lounge of the ski hill I frequented in the before-pandemic times, there was an entire heavy book full of breathtaking pictures in a microscope.  Sometimes the wonder of nature just awes me anew.  While I was still thinking of those micro photos, I walked by this piece of art in my home by Wendy Feldberg that I had purchased the previous summer.


Wendy told me that she’d been quite intrigued by the history of the Ottawa River and that many of the labourers had died of malaria versus physical accidents that occurred on the river.  She had done a series of fibre arts featuring the cells of malaria; this one was malaria cells in a placenta.

Overall, I give the pandemic a solid thumbs down, but there has been beauty within it.  The blooming of my felt, yes, but also there has been a cementing of several of my friendships into a deeper, lifelong kind of bond.  I’ve had more time with my children.  I have had a chance (and been forced to, at times) to slow down and think through things.  There is a kind of beauty in this moment, in the midst of the horrors.  I thought about people that I’ve loved that have developed serious medical issues and how, sometimes, those issues forced them to consider what mattered in life, to prioritize, and also to notice a community of love and support around them.

So maybe that’s my theme:  disease and the beauty within it.  I wondered what was happening in the 1900s in the way of endemics or pandemics, and Google brought me to microscopic pictures of typhoid fever (apparently on the rise in Texas, an antibiotic resistant strain?  Enough already this weird time!)

So here are a few pics of the jellyfish-like bacteria responsible for typhoid fever.  I’ve made a jellyfish before that I like and feel proud of so I was pretty confident I could do it.


Of course, along with having a thousand tabs open at all times, I also sometimes fall down rabbit holes in which I refuse to sleep and, instead, decide to read extensively about subjects that will be pretty much superfluous to any conversational moment.  Did you know that Typhoid Mary was pretty much the original superspreader and that she was quarantined for over two decades after she ignored public health advice?  I mean, they did tell her not to cook but failed to provide any kind of alternative income stream for her, a woman in a time where women weren’t supposed to financially support themselves so maybe there is a structural issue with the collective safety net there.   I digress.  Moral of the story:  I guess wearing my mask really isn’t so bad.

I also got lost in the world of microphotography.  See, I already had ideas in my head, but now I feel like I need to felt a few of these, too.  There will be more noisy arguments between ideas about whose turn it is.  But, also, what a great problem to have! (the above and below from those galleries)


But what did I make?

Oh yes, my typhus.  It hits the decade both on the microphotography front as well as a time when typhus was raging.  When it was almost done, I posted a picture for my friends and said that if they could guess what it was, I’d send it to them.  They guessed (before the legs) that it was a paddleboard, a kayak, a UFO and a comet.  Someone guessed it was a jellyfish, and that was the closest someone came.


And, now, I pretty much HAVE to felt covid, don’t I?  As I said, there is a certain kind of beauty in this moment…  if we can’t escape this pandemic or fast forward through to the end of it, we might as well look hard for the beauty that is blooming here.  Neighbours helping neighbours.  Pods looking out for each other.  The recognition that working from home can be a good option for many workers.  I know it’s not universal and I don’t mean to silver line the devastation that is occurring.  If I focus on the kindness, I get through this moment just a bit easier.  That said, you best believe I will be hugging the crap out of my friends just as soon as this over…  the kind of hug you just melt into.  I look forward to locking arms together instead of fibres on a way more regular basis, but for now…  I guess it’s time to pick the next loud-mouth idea.

Thanks, Alicia, microphotography is a really great place to be inspired. Has anyone else been working on the first quarter challenge? you can share it on the forum or if you would like to be a guest blogger just contact us.  we love guests.


16 thoughts on “Alisa’s First Quarter Challenge

  1. I loved reading your fascinating post Alisa – and you could be my daughter’s (Annie) twin as she also has a brain like an open browser with 1,000 tabs open at all times, and she always has so many ideas vying for her attention.

    Being an experimental learner is a great way to have fun and to make original art.

    Your ‘Typhus’ is fabulous and so full of movement – I wonder if it’s because of the way you skillfully used the yellow? But whatever the reason, you’ve achieved the first quarter challenge!

    Annie and I look forward to seeing more of your work and reading more posts from you.

    1. Ah, thanks! I heard that my jellyfish, the original, also has lots of movement. I wish I could say that was the intention.

      My brain is both a gift and a bane. The pandemic has for sure made it worse, as it’s sometimes hard to stay on task… but it also is like a never ending stash of thoughts and ideas and hope and enthusiasm. We make the most of what we got, right?

  2. Excellent project 🙂 Microscopic slides are wonderful for inspiration, a few of my slides look like beaches or space debris. I’d love to do the coronavirus as it is quite beautiful…not sure if I’d like a reminder of this time though. Those rabbit holes are wonderful places to visit and I did the same thing as you with Typhoid Mary, she was very naughty, but what was she to do with no money coming in? Most people had no idea on germ theory in those days.

    1. Exactly! Like, some of it looks like outer space and some of it inner space and what if we’re all just some cells on some giant organism…?

      I didn’t read anywhere that Typhoid Mary had no other income, but I assume. I stubbornly insist that people will do the right thing if we provide them a range of genuine choices that allow it. And, I also imagine she thought, “Wait? What? I am not sick but I make other people sick and this terrible thing just lives in me? And, you folks think I? am a witch?”

      Coronavirus is really pretty. So is HIV. I am very busy with trees with now, but if there are other quarter challenges, it’s probably going to be all virus all the time… <3

  3. Thanks Alisa for a very informative post. Your felt inspired by typhoid is very interesting and I agree that experimentation is a great way to learn. If you keep records of what you try, it will be a real help. I know I have repeated some of my mistakes because I forgot about the first trial.

    1. Oh dear! I put that in the category of I should make a sample… I could? but, I could also just felt something new?

      But, I did also say I could never be bothered with sewing on top of them and then I bought a Bernina last week (of which the typhus was the very first thing to go in it, actually), so the future is unknown.

  4. Oh my, I do love a good rabbit hole! Typhoid Mary has a super interesting story. I believe she could find other streams of revenue (such as housework) but she didn’t want to “stoop that low.” She ended up working in a hospital kitchen, where it is presumed she infected around 40 people and killed quite a few. Wowzas.

    1. Ooh dear, now I need to know more. What class was she born into that she was snobby about work? What formed those messages? What kind of public shame would have gone with cleaning? Given that it was the suffragette times, Black women were excluded from feminist movements for voting because of the Cult of True Womanhood and women’s “morality” was the reason women should vote, but laborers weren’t considered moral… oh, I have to jump back into this rabbit hole now. But, also, what can I felt about Typhoid Mary if I’m not up to humans yet =)

    1. you’re super welcome =) And, yes, this world, despite how unkindly we treat it, is still so gloriously beautiful.

  5. Really interesting post, Ailsa. Although your brain may have a thousand tabs open, it looks like felting has become that pop up that sits in the corner of the screen and doesn’t go away. Glad you’ve got the felting bug (NB not a virus!) and look forward to hearing what you do next.

    1. I have definitely had other pop up tabs like this (upcycling sweaters was the last), but I’ve never had this much free time to engage in them. I’m churning out a new felt about every 3 days and many are pretty decent <3

  6. Loved your post Alisa complete with open tabs & rabbit holes. Your typhus is a great springing point for depiction of other microscopic organisms….I’ll look forward to your next.

    I couldn’t agree more about hugging. I always eagerly looked forward to holidays a chance to explore new cultures and parts of our amazing world. A year long isolation and my wants are more simplified. Now my most longed for activity….to truly hug my family & friends.

  7. covid, HIV, a few others that were really pretty

    I am grateful for the slowness at times, but I also can’t wait for life to go back to something more like before (with hopefully, keeping a few of the really good things to come from this time)

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