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Janet Watral, front, spent weeks creating by hand an astonishing Nativity set for her friend and fellow Sherwood Assisted Living employee Rena Keith. Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Janet Watral, resident manager of Sherwood Assisted Living in Sequim, decided this was the year to give a very special gift to her friend and co-worker, Rena Keith. The result is a stunning Nativity set, with a dozen delicately hand-crafted figures.
Watral and Keith, the assisted living coordinator at Sherwood Assisted Living, have been friends for 22 years — ever since they were both hired at Sherwood in the late 1980s.
Watral created the figures using “needle felting,” a painstaking process that begins with building forms with “core fiber.”
Then all of the details — the cloaks, the sandals, the facial features, even the camel’s eyelids — are added by plunging a special barbed needle over and over into the form.
With each puncture the needle permanently affixes dyed wool to the form.
Watral said the larger characters — Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the camel — took about 15 hours each. All told, she spent about 150 hours creating the set.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be a work of this magnitude,” she said with a laugh.
Watral is an inveterate crafter. “I’ve always sewed, knitted or crocheted,” she said. She took up needle felting three years ago.
“I have to give my granddaughter credit,” she said.
When little Willa Gradillas was born in October 2007, Watral started creating needle-felted hats for her.
“This will end up being an heirloom,” Keith said.