CHEYENNE – As bushfires rage across Australia, Eloisa Michelle is hunkered down in her Cheyenne-based hobbit hole, repeating the phrase “time is of the essence” to the tune of her sewing machine’s hum.

The hobbit hole is what Michelle, a full-time fabric artist who grew up in Wyoming, calls her basement studio on Seymour Avenue. 

The World Wildlife Federation estimates that the fires have killed around 1.25 billion animals to date. Hearing those statistics on the news last week pushed Michelle, a self-described “animal lover” to join volunteers around the world in an effort to sew the pouches for displaced marsupials, like kangaroos and wallabies, and crocheting wraps for bats and bird nests. 

Pouches like the ones Michelle is sewing, can help stabilize the health of endangered animals.

“I know there’s tons of disasters and they’re always asking for aid money, but I’m an artist and I have no money,” said Michelle, who was wearing paint-splattered sweatpants as she cut out more fabric patterns. “What I can give is my time and talent. I’m already engaged in environmental issues, so doing this has allowed me to be way more engaged.”

She found the sewing guidelines, which she said are “very strict,” on MoodFabrics.com. On Monday morning, Michelle asked friends and family members for donations to buy the required cotton flannel fabric. “Since it’s winter and the animals are hairless, they need cozy material.”

“By noon I had almost $500,” Michelle said. “I went to JOANNE Fabric & Craft store and basically bought out their entire clearance section.”

She was able to find some colorful patterns, but said “It doesn’t even matter what it looks like. The joeys are in such need and have no inclination of what the pouches look like.”

Michelle brought the supplies back to her basement and scrawled the word KANGAROOS! across her monthly wall calendar to remind her of the project’s urgency.

She started each morning this week around 8:30 and didn’t stop until 10:30 at night, sometimes working straight through lunch and dinner. “Down here it’s easy to sew forever,” Michelle said.

Michelle keeps her workspace tidy. Spools of thread are lined up like a rainbow against the off-white walls. Cut-outs of cozy fabric are neatly piled on a wooden table. “There’s five different sizes. It’s based on the age of the joey,” said Michelle. One yard of fabric, she said, costs about $6 which makes “two big kangaroo bags.”

Before sitting down to work each morning, Michelle drinks a cup of coffee and looks up how many acres of Australian land have burned. She scribbled the number 12.35 million on her palm Tuesday. “I just looked it up and it’s even higher now,” Michelle said on Wednesday afternoon. “It reminds me that there’s just no time.”

It takes Michelle about 45 minutes to make one pouch, from start to finish. And she hasn’t been able to keep up her breakneck pace without a little outside help. After Michelle cuts the pattern, her dad takes the fabric to her grandmother’s house down the street where it’s ironed. Then Michelle’s dad runs it back over to her house and Michelle sews the pouches. Her partner, Michael, hems the pouches when he gets home from work. “It’s a team effort,” she said.

Michelle paid almost $100 on Friday to ship the pouches to Wildcare Australia, Inc., a nonprofit in Queensland that processes the pouches as part of a larger animal rescue effort. But Michelle said that she doesn’t plan to stop there.

As long as she can raise the money for the cost of the fabric and shipping she said she'll keep sewing “until it’s no longer needed.”

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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