It was a long way from life as a director of an energy research at Stanford Research Institute in the United States to a historic Wimbledon woolshed, but Michael Mckubre was keen to learn a new skill.

Accompanied by his wife, Spanish-born Esperanza Alvarez, Kiwi-born Michael said making a felted bag with wool wasn't so far removed from his life in scientific research.

"They are both similar," he said. "This is applied nature and doing this hands-on work you realise how incredibly genius early man was."

Louise Geerlings, left, Jane O'Callaghan and Jenny Ryan, all from the Havelock North Spinners and Weavers group, coming to grips with felting bags in Brian Hales' woolshed.
Louise Geerlings, left, Jane O'Callaghan and Jenny Ryan, all from the Havelock North Spinners and Weavers group, coming to grips with felting bags in Brian Hales' woolshed.

Michael lived most of his life in the US, in Silicon Valley, working to develop new energy systems which do less harm, before retiring to Taradale two years ago.

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While in California he met Esperanza, a chemistry researcher.

"We're both keen to learn things," Michael said.

Alan and Alison Sutherland from Masterton thrilled to be using wool from Brian Hales' rare breeds. Alison is on the national committee of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society.
Alan and Alison Sutherland from Masterton thrilled to be using wool from Brian Hales' rare breeds. Alison is on the national committee of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society.

And while Esperanza might take the felting craft further because she loved the experimental nature, her husband was just happy to acquire a new skill.

The two free felting workshops led by tutor Melissa Fryer from Feilding, held last week at Brian Hales' woolshed, were fully booked, with people keen to make their own bags and slippers.

"We set a limit of 30 and we got those numbers, no trouble at all," Brian said.

"We've people here from all around the North Island and the enthusiasm is contagious.

"Retired ex-teacher and behavioural specialist Alison Sutherland and her husband, Alan, a retired engineer from Masterton, both have a passion for historic rare sheep breeds and thought the felting workshops were an exciting initiative.

Felting expert, Melissa Fryer, right, from Feilding, showing a group of 30 at last Thursday's workshop how to make the handle for their bags.
Felting expert, Melissa Fryer, right, from Feilding, showing a group of 30 at last Thursday's workshop how to make the handle for their bags.

Alison said: "We've a lot of respect for Brian, we are lucky to have him.

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He's so generous and has a genuine love for New Zealand's rare breeds.

"If we don't do something like these workshops to teach new skills with the wool, we will lose the rare breeds.

"There is so much to learn, so many ideas to help conserve our beautiful, unique rare breeds, but so little time."

Alan said the old skill was taking him back to the colonial years when nothing was wasted.

"We'll have something to show our grandchildren after today," he said.

The felted bags, using gotland and merino wool, can keep a hot chicken hot, or a frozen pack of icecream frozen while on the way home from the supermarket.

For Katrina Hart and son William, 9, from Tiraumea, the felted bag workshop was about learning to use wool to make an alternative to replace plastic bags.

"I want my son to know the alternatives and how to make them," the keen knitter and spinner said.