Photograph by Laura D. Roosevelt

Eleanor Stanwood

Eleanor Stanwood has been working with wool for four decades. “Her distant ancestors were nomadic Mongolian shepherds,” says Stanwood’s husband, piano technician and inventor David. “It’s in her blood.”

In the mid-1970s, Eleanor learned to shear and raise sheep in Vermont. A few years later, she found a means of salvaging “waste wool” from small farms that raise sheep for meat alone: she arranged for the wool to be woven into a durable, springy batting that could be used for a variety of purposes. After moving with her husband to Martha’s Vineyard in 1981, she began turning the batting into felt through a process involving heat, moisture, and motion, and she used the felt to stuff comforters. “The biggest problem she ran into with comforters,” says her website,, “is that people who sleep under them don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.” Later, she began dying the felt, appliquéing it, and fashioning it into jackets, scarves, and shawls.

Now she is making jewelry from wool. She came up with the idea while touring a felting mill in East Germany with David, who was researching piano felt. There, in a little showcase, she spotted a small, solid pyramid of densely compressed wool. “That would make a great pendant,” she thought. Now that same mill makes basic, bracelet-shaped circles for her, and she dyes and molds them into curvy bracelets, pendants, and earrings. She learned by accident that the circles were moldable: one day, when wringing out a bracelet that she felt had too much dye in it, she discovered that when wet, it held whatever shape she twisted it into.

“It’s the perfect jewelry,” says Eleanor, explaining that it is extremely strong (“you could pull a dogsled with it”), it’s made from a renewable resource, and it will never wind up adding to a landfill since it’s 100 percent biodegradable. “You can throw it on your compost pile.”

But who would want to?

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