In the fall of 2003, my daughter Katy was in the 4th grade at our local Waldorf school. The parents put on an annual Elves Faire for the community. One of the features of the fair is an “Angel Room,” in which only small children are allowed, to “shop” for small gifts. To stock the Angel Room, parents make handcrafted small items out of natural materials. was on a sabbatical from my straight job and showed up for one of the crafting sessions. They had needle felting stuff, and showed us the basics. I got the knack pretty quick and made a little wizard with a long beard. I was the only guy there and all the moms made a big fuss over it. So the next day I made a little bobwhite quail. Next day a little owl.
When they did a promo article for the fair in the Nashville Tennessean, they put me in the article with some photos of me and the birds, and quoted me talking about Waldorf and Katy. In a previous life, I had been an artist-blacksmith and had made an OK living at it. Hoping to make my sabbatical permanent, I sent in some slides of the felted stuff to a juried craft fair. I got in to the fair, and sat down and listened to books on tape and started making a stock for the fair. I felted until I was blue in the face and had bags of otters, badgers, frogs, caterpillars, foxes, walruses, carpenters, and mice. One night my appendix burst and everything stopped. I had a long, slow recovery. I had to cancel the crafts fair, and once I got well I ended up going back to my straight job.
I didn’t needle felt again for eight years, until recently when I started thinking about retiring. I went back to a parent crafting session at the Waldorf school (my daughter is now in college), and I made a little squirrel for the Angel Room, and I still had the knack. Now that I have started doing it again, the pieces are much larger and more detailed and I have more patience now then I did then.
Needle felting for me will always be associated with images from stories I read when I was a kid. I love the illustrations from those old books and try to honor the illustrators. I also like that the subject matter usually reminds people of a time when they weren’t so harried. With wool there are no hard edges or truly parallel lines, just like in nature, which is what relaxes people when they go to the forest or the beach. I love that needle felting is meditative and calming for me. I also love what I call the moment of animation, when I add something or make a small change that makes the character come alive in my hand. Almost always when I do the eyes. It always surprises me and is a very cool thing. I’m learning that shading makes a huge difference. Also I’m discovering that floral wire armatures can make the characters stand up on skinny legs which opens up a whole new set of possibilities.
Come on out and see me and my felted storybook characters at the Arts & Ag Harvest Market October 19th on the beautiful grounds of the Grinders Switch Winery!
–By Chris Armstrong