Quickly pinpricking at fluffy pieces of dyed sheep's wool, Liza Hamilton demonstrates the unique art of needle felting.

Quickly pinpricking at fluffy pieces of dyed sheep's wool, Liza Hamilton demonstrates the unique art of needle felting.

She uses a needle to tangle the wool and form it into three-dimensional shapes, this time creating an owl, while sitting on a couch in her studio in the basement of the Ashland Art Center.

"It's kind of meditative," says Hamilton, who can spend six to 10 hours on a small animal sculpture. "It's slow and Zen, until you poke your finger."

Hamilton, 27, first took up needle felting in 2006 while attending the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Unlike wet felting, which uses soap and water to tangle wool fibers, needle felting uses a single needle to tangle. The result is a soft, two-dimensional art piece or a three-dimensional felt sculpture that attaches to a shaped wire frame.

With her studies focused on illustration, Hamilton began to use felting to fulfill most of her class assignments, creating murals and sculptures, small and large.

After graduating, Hamilton traveled around in a van and worked on farms through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program until she stumbled upon Ashland. She decided to move permanently this spring.

"As soon as I came to Ashland, I loved the energy here, the vibe," says Hamilton. "I was looking for an artist community, and Ashland just spoke to me."

Hamilton found the Ashland Art Center at 357 E. Main St., which has a gallery and art supply store in its ground-level storefront and about 20 artist studios in the basement and on the second story.

She shares the rent for a studio space with another fiber artist, and is able to hold classes and sell her work from the studio.

She also sells her work through her Etsy shop, www.feltedfuzzies.etsy.com.

Most of her pieces are of animals, including many of customized dogs commissioned by their owners. A small commissioned piece ranges in price from $75 to $300, with larger, life-size pet portraits negotiable, too.

Her first custom pet portrait was of her parents' border collie, and since then she has been commissioned for dozens of other two- and three-dimensional pet portraits.

"Each one is totally one of a kind," says Hamilton. "It would be impossible to create two exact pieces."

Most of her pieces are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, while others are much larger, including a life-size green sea turtle Hamilton made while living in Hawaii.

Hamilton refers to the turtle as her masterpiece, and it hangs in the Ashland Art Center storefront window for people to see as they walk by.

This summer, Hamilton will be teaching several themed needle felting workshops, showing students how to create their own animals, including custom pet portraits.

She says that beginning needle felting is surprisingly easy to learn.

"It's really forgiving. It's really hard to mess something up permanently," she says. "I love sharing this art form."

She will teach a drop-in beginner felting class from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays beginning July 8 at Studio 4B in the Ashland Art Center. Other classes taking place throughout the summer are listed on Hamilton's website, www.wooliza.com.

She spends at least 10 hours each week in her basement studio and says those interested in needle felting are encouraged to drop by and see her space.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.