Beth Phillips chats with six needle-felting artists about their miniature creations, the felting process and collector appreciation.
Needle felting: The concept sounds simple enough. Take a ball of wool and stab it with a special barbed needle, again and again, and voila—instant art! The execution, however, is much more difficult.
But all one has to do is look at the listings on eBay to see this creative process is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, along with the abilities of the artists involved. While any of these creations seem marvelous to me, I am especially intrigued by the work of artists who create needle-felted miniatures: tiny creations that are breathtakingly and painstakingly detailed and packed full of personality. How do they do it?
I thought it would be fun to gather together some artists and talk to them about how they learned to do this and what inspires them. Of course, logistically it would be impossible to actually sit them down at my picnic table for a chat, but e-mails allowed me to ask each of these six artists the same questions and just pretend they were sitting around talking. These artists—Sue Bauhof, Barby Anderson, Amber Rose Lawrence, Karen Cormier, Geraldine Santos and Emily Meyer—represent just a few of the talented creators who make needle-felted sculptures.
How and when did you begin to needle felt?
Sue Bauhof: I started needle felting in 2005. I used to see all the beautiful bears on eBay and thought, I can do that. I did lots of searches on the computer on how to get started and what was needed to make a bear.
Emily Meyer: About three years ago I was injured and confined to the house. I purchased a bear kit out of boredom and curiosity. After the first bear I was hooked.
Barby Anderson: The summer of 2006 I attended a Denver quilt show. As I walked by a booth I noticed someone stabbing wool. That was it…I was hooked! I am self-taught and am still learning new techniques every day through trial and error.
Geraldine Santos: I started needle felting February 2007. I saw needle-felted items on Etsy and eBay, and thought, I can do that! I purchased a needle and unspun some wool yarn and made a dog. In the beginning it is like trying to write with the opposite hand and it is very awkward and slow.
Amber Rose Lawrence: My mother taught me to needle felt around ten years ago. She had felted a few items and found it wasn’t for her—too tedious—but I was interested so she taught me the basics and gave me all of her supplies and I fell in love with it.
Karen Cormier: I discovered needle felting about two years ago by purchasing a kit off eBay. It was a panda bear. I enjoyed the process very much, and as time went on I developed my own techniques and designs.
What is your favorite thing to needle felt?
ARL: I love to needle felt people’s pets. I just love the challenge of doing custom work and the response I get from the pet’s owner when they receive the finished product. I also love creating the more exotic creatures of the world. My average size range is between 2 to 4 inches. I love working with this size because they are so cute and tiny, great for collecting but still large enough that I can get lots of the detail in.
EM: I love to felt cats, but I like to felt a large variety of things. The average size of my minis is about 3 or 4 inches.
BA: Mice! They are my favorite critter to sculpt, as I raised white mice as a child. I also enjoy creating needle-felted bunnies and dolls. I have created a few hamsters and squirrels too. I generally love creating chubby “off the norm” types of critters with big heads, fat rosy cheeks, large rumps and endearing faces. Previously I created 3- and 4-inch mice, however, they now average around 2 inches tall or less from a sitting position. I have made mice as small as 1 inch tall.
GS: Dogs and puppies! I especially love making little replicas of people’s pets. I specialize in custom dog commissions. The owners are so thrilled when they open the box and many times they have happy tears. I do a lot of sculptures “in memory of” pets from the past.
KC: I make all sorts of animal sculptures, but the little dogs are my favorite to create. The average size of my sculptures is 3 to 4 inches.
SB: I like making bears most of all. I have done a few other animals, but I really enjoy doing the bears. My bears measures between 2½ inches to around 4 inches.
GS: Even though my sculptures are 3 to 4 inches, they take many hours to create. This is a nice size for collecting and also I can include lots of details on that size sculpture.
Are your creations jointed or unjointed, and how long does each creation take to make on average?
GS: All my sculptures are made on a wire armature. This makes them able to pose in any position. My sculptures can stand, sit, lie down, play bow, give a paw, stand on hind legs, turn heads and look up or down—whatever you can think of. Even the tails are poseable. They take eight hours or so to make, sometimes less if [the creation has] a short coat and longer for long coats.
SB: All my bears are five-way string jointed. I may work on a bear for a few hours a night. It takes about three nights to finish a bear. I like to work on the head first. I love watching the little bear start taking on a personality of it own. The next night I may do the body. I also decorate it with ribbon, clothing and beads. Then the third night I will do the arms and legs. I would say it takes about six to eight hours to finish a bear.
EM: I make both jointed and unjointed items and also use wire armatures; most of the time it takes about six to eight hours to complete one creation.
KC: They are unjointed; each takes about eight hours of work, but this also depends on the breed.
BA: I have made both jointed and unjointed mice and bunnies. I prefer creating unjointed mice, so I may sculpt a nice curvature of the spine and rump area that blends into the shape of the extremities. I like to finish a mouse in a day or two. Sculpting is very natural to me and is extremely relaxing.
ARL: I create both poseable and fixed sculptures. The poseable [creations] are either five-way jointed or have wire armatures, but I prefer to create fixed, unjointed sculptures. They are a wonderful true soft sculpture. The length of time varies, depending on size and detail, but anywhere from four to six hours for the majority of the minis.
Do you think the public understands and appreciates the amount of work involved? Why do you like doing something so labor-intensive?
GS: People are becoming enlightened slowly to the value of needle-felted sculptures. It is true that it is labor-intensive, but anyone can do it; all you need is a felting needle and some wool. You can make anything you dream up! It is like a miracle to create an adorable puppy dog from a pile of fluffy wool. Sometimes they are so cute it is hard to sell them. I love them all!
SB: I think it’s catching on, but on the Internet only. If I talk to people in the crafts stores around where I live, no one has ever heard of it. For me it is very relaxing. I can sit almost anywhere and start creating a little bear. You don’t need to be in front of your sewing machine or in a special room to create your craft. I can sit outside, in front of the TV, where ever I want to sit.
EM: I think it’s hard to understand unless you actually try needle felting. I was attracted first to the appearance of the needle-felted creatures. Some of them were whimsical and some were quite realistic. It was hard for me to understand how someone could take raw wool and make it into something so beautiful.
KC: Needle felting is almost unheard of in Canada but seems quite popular in the United States. It is very labor-intensive. For me, it brings joy to my heart to be able to create someone’s precious little dog in wool. I get e-mails almost daily with nothing but praise.
BA: Yes and no. I make sure I state that needle felting can be very laborious in my eBay listings; however, when one works with an inch or two of wool, a critter can be completed easily in one day or two. I like to see my creation come to life in a day or two. Needle felting is still very new and collectors seem to appreciate the art form. However, one can never truly know what is involved without trying it firsthand. Many of my collectors have become needle felters!
ARL: Needle felting has been around for quite some time. I learned to felt over ten years ago. However, many people still have never heard of it. Even so, it doesn’t take much for people to understand and appreciate the art. Like I did, most fall in love with the little sculptures once they see and feel them and understand the many hours that go into creating each one. I have never had anything but wonderful response to my creations. It is very labor-intensive and tedious. I can remember even a few years back when there were only ten or so of us felters selling on eBay, never more than one of us at a show, and now just over the past few years there are many new felters on eBay, many new websites, and I can actually meet someone who has heard of this art in my everyday life. A lot of people come and go—they try the art thinking they’ll make a quick buck and then discover it’s not very quick and tougher than it looks and that not all items sell.
Is this a business, hobby or diversion for you? Where do you sell your creations besides eBay?
GS: All three, really. My hubby is handicapped, so I have to stay home to take care of him. The goal is to make money since my hubby can’t work, but it is also a diversion and a hobby. I sell through eBay, Etsy and locally. I used to do shows, but I have no time for those anymore.
SB: Needle felting is a hobby for me. I enjoy making them. I love to see their little personalities come out as I am felting them. I sell my bears on eBay. I do have a website where people can see all the bears and their friends I have created.
EM: At first it was a hobby, but now I would have to say it’s a business and hobby. I sell through eBay and I have a shop on Etsy.
KC: It’s more of a hobby for me. I have physical limitations, so needle felting helps to fill my day. I sell only through eBay.
BA: This is a full-time business for me in my front room of our home. I have a splendid studio with a wall of small cubicles my husband built for my palette of gorgeous colors of wool and fiber. The second bedroom is now a warehouse and I work 12-hour workdays, five days a week, needle felting and selling my creations. I sell on eBay auctions most of the time and occasionally on Etsy. I am not involved in shows nor do I have a website, as my eBay store is just like a website. I try to list three or four wool mice or bunnies per week. I have had success on eBay and prefer letting the public dictate the price for my critters on auctions. I rarely accept special orders now.
ARL: All three! It started out being strictly a hobby, but then so many people loved my creations I started getting orders just by word of mouth, so it became a business. It also helps me relax. [I sell] mostly on eBay at the time; I do shows every once in a while; and I still, on occasion, have my sculptures on consignment at a few shops. I also get orders through my website, but most sales are though eBay or referrals from past buyers/collectors.
What would you like to tell collectors about your creations?
GS: My needle-felted creations are made with love. They are all one-of-a-kind, unique works of art. I use a wire armature inside all my sculptures for strength and posing ability. The core is firmly felted for durability. I use lovely fibers such as alpaca, wool, silk, mohair, angora, llama, camel down, even cashmere. These are gourmet fibers, hence my [eBay] name, gourmet_felted. I carefully match your pet’s fur color, shine and texture with the perfect fibers. Many times, several shades are blended together or layered to create realism and depth. I use glass eyes and I sculpt the noses for each dog. They also have the cutest paw pads! My initials “GS” are on the tummy in tiny letters, showing that this is an original artist sculpture made by me. All my sculptures also come with a photo certificate of authenticity, signed by me, with a description. I am extremely fussy with all my sculptures and include as many details as possible so my sculptures will look just like your precious pet—made for you, from the heart!
SB: I would like to say that each little bear I create is truly a one-of-a-kind. They all have their own unique personality. Each one is created with a lot of love.
EM: I create for the love of it but also for the collector. There’s nothing that feels better than good feedback from a satisfied customer.
KC: All my sculptures are one-of-a-kind, designed and needle felted by me without the use of patterns or kits. Much love and careful attention to detail goes into each one I create.
BA: Most of all, I hope collectors feel joy when they hold one of my warm critters in their hands. I love to share this wonderful art with collectors and the public. My father was a naturalist at a forest and taught me that loving all things great and small is pretty much what life is all about. I enjoy passing that feeling onto others through my creations. Each little wool mouse or bunny has their own soulful look and their personality shines through as they sit in the palm of your hand. I am most grateful to the dedicated collectors and friends of my wool critters and dolls. They have made it possible for me to make a living doing what I love.
ARL: Needle felting is an art I have enjoyed for over ten years. Out of all the types of art I do, this is my favorite. Many of my artist friends who have tried it think I am crazy because it takes so long and is very labor-intensive, but I just love creating these little critters. I never know how each one will turn out and am surprised by the personality of each creation, especially when I put on the last touch: my signature handmade, hand-painted eyes. It really brings them to life.