Explore Fiber is a collaborative website showcasing and exploring fiber as a fine art material.
I found my way to needle-felting quite unexpectedly last fall with the loss of my father. Grief became a new friend, and I needed a way for my heart and my head to heal, quietly and in relative solitude. For years, our Christmas tree and holiday decorations centered around a Mexican Navidad theme with tiny pinatas, dolls, punched tin ornaments, and Santa Clauses wearing serapes. But after losing my father, I could not face those boxes of holiday memories, and quite frankly, I just wasn’t in the holiday spirit. I decided that the only way I could keep some of our family traditions alive that year was to completely start anew, and only a Woodland Christmas theme would do.
I threw myself into weekly trips to our local thrift stores, finding greenery, red flannel, and the occasional pine cone. In my child’s eye, I believe I was trying to recreate the imaginary world my mother had created for me and my sister when she would make up bedtime stories about two little girls who lived in a big tree in the woods. They would go out and interact with all the forest animals, having great adventures, and would return home each evening to order pizza and watch Laverne and Shirley. What I could not find, without spending a small fortune, were those imaginary animals to be placed among those new decorations with sweet expressions and plenty of personality!
As I researched how to make my own little animal sculptures, I discovered needle-felted woodland creatures and how-to videos. My first animal was a little owl that I bought with a small kit from a local craft store, and with that one decision, I became completely captivated in learning as much as I could to make the animals from my childhood memories come to life. With each creature, I improved…both in the skill sense, but also in the healing sense. Eventually my thrift store excursions were focused more on finding unique eyes in stuffed animals, holiday clothing, and accessories like small socks and shoes, jewelry, and purses. I gave each creature a name and before long my menagerie was threatening to take over every surface in my living and dining room! Working with my hands, having a creative outlet, and enjoying each animal’s unique personality lifted my spirits. I worked in waves, furiously poking those needles into the felt and into my fingers, too. Being able to focus all of my thinking in one direction provided welcome rest from the chaos of the day and the void that loss leaves you.
I know my creatures are far from perfection, but they give me great joy and others find them cute, too. Now that the holidays are behind us, I’ve turned to making other felted friends. I currently have a needle felted green-eyed dragon wearing high heels on the mantel in my living room. Her name is Mary Grace, and she is so special because a friend who has long loved the fiber arts gave me the tie-dyed Irish wool roving as a surprise. I will be forever grateful to the talented people who shared their craft knowledge with me. You never know what your gift of knowledge will mean to someone else, and learning the fiber art of felting was my lifeline through those stages of grief. At my father’s memorial service, I shared many examples of how he was a maker. Now, I am a maker, too.