Blog, News, Members

Nancy Shafee - on making end-of-life decisions

Many of the members of The Surrey Guild of Craftsmen enjoy more than just one craft – for example weavers who are also knitters or spinners who are adept at dyeing. Indeed a number of our makers work in more than one medium – like one of our jewellers who is also a ceramicist (and formerly a calligrapher).

Nancy Shafee, our current Chairman, is one such multi-discipline member. She enjoys her primary craft – feltmaking – but also works with textiles and plaster as well as weving with willow, cane and rope.

Nancy’s road to feltmaking has not been a straight one, however. From simple dressmaking and embroidery as she was growing up, it was while working for Courtaulds that she was encouraged to apply for art college, leading on to a job in Finland designing childrenswear and, perhaps more bizarre, workwear for their Russian market!  

A chance meeting lead her in an entirely different direction, and Nancy found herself in publishing. Later, as a freelance consultant in public relations and marketing, she enjoyed working for companies as diverse as The British America’s Cup Challenge, BMW and Smallbone Kitchens. She subsequently launched her own magazine which some thirty years later is still a successful business, albeit now in different ownership.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Nancy discovered feltmaking. As a medium it is incredibly versatile – different breeds of sheep produce wool with different qualities – harsh and hairy, soft and lustrous. And of course other animals also provide the raw ingredients – camels, alpacas, and rabbits, for example. Nancy has even taught a lady who makes beautiful items incorporating hair from the cats she grooms! 

Natural plant fibres – like nettles and bamboo – provide yet more interest, as does silk, both as fibres and fabric. ‘It’s not just the texture’ Nancy says, ‘merino wool, which I usually use for teaching, comes in more than 100 ready-dyed colours’. While she admires the work of many fellow feltmakers who work in the natural colours of wool, particularly British breeds, it is the colour combinations that attract and enthuse her the most.

This month Nancy Shafee launches a new business, one that has taken some thirteen months from conception. While helping a friend choose an urn for her mother’s ashes, both were struck by the paucity of offerings in textiles. Her friend finally chose wood as the nearest material to something ‘softer’ than the beautiful metal or ceramic designs they found. And so Nancy’s idea for Well Urned Rest was born – ‘the soft option’.

The designs she is introducing will all be individually handmade in felt and are thus bio-degradable, making them suitable for natural burial grounds. They are, however, very decorative and for anyone who wants to keep a loved-one’s ashes at home, or choose an urn to enjoy knowing it will be their own final resting vessel, these are a true celebration of a life. 

Some handmade felt urns depicting the Elements - Fire, Earth, Air and Water

Some handmade felt urns depicting the Elements - Fire, Earth, Air and Water

As we all get more comfortable with discussing death and our own wishes for our end-of-life arrangements, we now have the opportunity to choose one of these lovely creations for our ashes, giving us the opportunity to explain its ultimate use to friends and family.

They are lovely items for any home, whatever you use them for!

The new website – - will also offer other items for cherishing memories and honouring a special life.