When Karen Engelbretson and her husband Steve Nusbaum decided to move to the St. Croix Valley, the natural beauty surrounding them became much more than a home; it became the inspiration for art. With a background in graphic design, Engelbretson’s passion for trying new things became the fiber art that many in the area have become taken with.
“My fiber art started when I moved out here,” Engelbretson says, adding she became fascinated with the felting craft from a sculptural point of view. It was due to a call for holiday ornaments for the holiday shop from Grand Hand Boutique and Gallery in St. Paul that Engelbretson decided to share her gift for making realistic birds with the masses.
“It’s a different medium, and it’s really satisfying. The wool is really soft and pliable,” Engelbretson says. “I really love birds, and one of the things that changed for us out here was there was so much nature, attracting them with plants and water. It’s fun to watch the birds.”
What sets her craft apart is the realistic way the fiber birds appear. “They look real,” Engelbretson says. “It’s what a lot of people say, because they have an expression—it’s not that much about the detail. But they look real.”
“I try to share what birds need. We need to revise how we manage our properties down to our urban backyard and habitat and food for birds to survive,” she says.
Making kits for others to try their hand at the art is a happy mix between her craft, graphic design background and her husband’s letterpress company. With her Chickadee Kits, presented in a Kiss Letterpress box, the illustrations, drawings and instructions are all done by Engelbretson. “Everything you need is in there: photos, illustrations and how to apply character.”
“The most satisfying thing,” she says, “is just watching others being delighted with it, seeing them make it for themselves.”
Engelbretson’s most recent and favorite design was featured at Seasons on St. Croix gallery. It was a set of owls that were placed around branches made from extra pieces of felt around the letterpress shop. “I made this little wall piece. It was a response to what’s been happening in life lately, it had a spirit vibe to it, and it sold even before the opening. It was really personal,” Engelbretson says with a laugh, “hopefully in a good way.”
Fiber birds and kits can currently be found on Engelbretson’s Etsy shop KJEFelties, as well as at the Heartfelt Toy Store and at Seasons on St. Croix.