Fine Felted Friends
Discovering this simple yet versatile pastime
Growing up on beautiful Manitoulin Island, I was surrounded by the works of many artists in the area, including family members. My cousin did beautiful beadwork, while my grandmother created everything from quillboxes to canoes. It was also not uncommon for me to see paintings by Leland Bell (an American painter) and carvings by First Nations artist Gordon Waindubence.
Some of my first memories are of creating art. I was forever drawing animals that I loved— there would invariably be horses or some kind of big cat sprinting across the pages of my school workbooks and any scraps of paper I could get my hands on.
I carried this passion with me and, as I grew, my methods and mediums evolved. Now, I love to create in pencil, paints and wool. I began needle felting, which is basically sculpting wool with special, barbed needles, about three years ago. I wanted a little wool creation of my cat and, after failing to track down another artist to make one, I went about gathering supplies such as wool, felting needles and protective gear. The gear includes foam to felt on to protect surfaces and prevent needles from snapping, as well as silicone or leather finger guards to protect yourself from the barbed needles. After trying needle felting for myself, I fell in love with the craft.
Needle felting is such a versatile fibre art. It can be used to create so many things, including ornaments, portraits or sculptures. What makes it so enjoyable is that the materials are fairly easy to obtain and the methods are pretty straightforward. All you do is take a bit of wool and either “punch” it through a piece of fabric with the needle, or use the needle to knot and form a chunk of wool into shapes. It is a very repetitive motion but the possibilities are endless. I still love drawing and painting; however, working with wool has opened up new creative opportunities for me. I’ve had the honour of making several pet portraits and sculptures of people’s current furry family members as well as their beloved pets that have passed on. Often I am able to include a tiny tuft of the pet’s hair to make these mementos even more personal. I have also begun exploring my roots through my needle felted work. I’ve begun creating pieces in the “woodland style,” which is part of my Anishinaabe heritage on my dad’s side. It has allowed me to storytell in a different way, in addition to working with a whole other palette of colour combinations than I normally do when working on pet portraits or other animals. My first pieces are made solely of wool, but I have a few new exciting medium combinations that I have begun experimenting with and hope to be able to share in the near future. Being able to work with my hands and create all of these different pieces has been such a gift. It has allowed me to work with others in my community and build not only professional relationships but friendships as well. Most of all, I enjoy how it has given my mother and I a special activity to bond over—i treasure my “art visits” with her. I look forward to creating many more pieces and cannot wait to see what direction my work will take next. n