It started with the Down on the Farm newspaper article I’d written on teaching needle felting classes. Readers in Washburn clipped it out and sent it to a friend who now lives in California. Not long afterwards, I receive a call from Elena–full of enthusiasm. She’d seen the image of my hands holding the two small cardinals, and she wanted a pair of her own! After receiving the charming birds, she wanted several more and some lambs…then chicks and foxes…then pigs. Each shipment brought such joy to her home.
“I’ve made a little corral for all my animals,” she exclaimed in her charming accent. “They want to go outside and play, but I told them I can’t let them do that.”
Shortly after the shipment of little pigs, Elena asked if I could make a likeness of her cat Queenie. A 12-year-old longhair marbled tabby, Queenie was a rescue kitty who had suffered serious burns in her early life but is now a special companion to Elena. (The embroidered pillow in the background is also a likeness of Queenie).
I had seen amazing images and videos of needle felted pet portraits but had yet to try making one. Now the challenge was on! With a few photos as references and plenty of wool color choices on hand, I began the process of forming a wire armature along the neck, spine, and tail (to help make the tail pose-able) then began wrapping white roving in layers to build the base form.
Queenie enjoys laying down, so I opted to work with her classic pose, which also meant no wire support was needed in the legs. To keep the little cat comfy, I crocheted a little blue bed for her. But the eyes were a special challenge–not quite green, not quite blue, not quite yellow. Elena says they change with the light, even appearing gray in the evening. Fortunately, the lady who made the glass eyes I used in last year’s feathered chicken tapestry also makes glass cat eyes in this supremely mysterious catty color. The order was placed, and I continued working on the base while waiting.
While my previous three-dimensional needle felted critters had firm, well-poked exteriors, the longhair nature of Queenie would have to use an airier method, like when making the needle felted fairies and angels. However, in order to hold the complex form of the cat, the figure itself would have to be firm. This meant building a hairless cat and then felting wool tufts onto it to make the fur. I began by working the face and legs, making decisions along the way about how to layer and blend colors, before tackling the long fur of tail, back, and mane. Oh, and don’t forget all the fuzziness inside those ears!
Here you can see the parts of the white base cat, while the eyes have been added and the face structure and color is started. The sweet little white paws with a rim of brown and black legs are coming along, but there is still much detail work to go! Projects like this benefit from working a while and then letting it set a day or so while your mind works over how to tackle the next piece. Trust the subconscious and solutions will arise.
My sister Kara was also instrumental in helping me shape and tweak little Queenie as she is the cat owner in the family and knows their form well–a bit more ruff here, a stronger hump to the back, thicker ears, etc. For the long fur, I began at the tip of the tail and worked my way up slowly to the back of the head, layering on a little at a time and using the felting needle to carefully tease out the ends of the fibers and feather them with the previous layer.
With finishing touches of fishing line whiskers, Queenie’s likeness was sitting proud on her little pillow and ready for her journey to California. What had begun as a little wire and a pile of wool was now transformed. “I want to reach out and pet her!” Elena exclaimed when I emailed her photographs. “You will hear me scream with delight all the way from California when she arrives.”
Now both Queenie and her miniature likeness are happy in their California home. Would you like me to make a pet portrait of your cat? I’ve created an Etsy listing just for this project. It was a fun challenge, and yes, very petable too. Queenie spent the weekend at my gallery before heading off in the mail, and she was the star of the show. Here’s to little Queenie and her happy home with Elena!