Meet the Maker: Art Felt Fibres

From rather mundane beginnings in the 1800s, when it was made from shredded woollen garments, human and animal hair and even the slightly grisly fibres from slaughterhouses, felt has traditionally had a wide variety of industrial purposes. From carpet underlay to gaskets; tennis balls to body armour; felt continues to be a wholly useful and sustainable material but it’s only since the late 20th Century that we have begun to appreciate its beauty and versatility as an art medium.

A wealth of adorable cuteness!

CraftCourses maker Cecily Kate, founder of Art Felt Fibres, initially discovered the joy of needle felting with wool fibres 12 years ago as a way to relax and unwind. From those early days of discovering a new hobby, she has gone on to create a truly gorgeous portfolio of work, building communities of like-minded creatives and creating some of the most endearing and adorable little critters you've ever seen! To say her work is visually compelling would be an understatement. From bunnies to squirrels, fairies to unicorns, acorns to autumn leaves, hedgehogs to hens and hounds, her work is charming, enchanting, and irresistibly cute. We asked Cecily Kate to tell us about her work and she did not disappoint!
A stunning autumn array of pumpkins, leaves and acorns

Full disclosure: Cecily Kate very graciously said that we could 'chop' her answers if they were too long but we think you'll agree, her story is well worth curling up on the sofa with a lovely cuppa! We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Q1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was first introduced to needle felting back in 2010 when our two year old son started attending a little Walforf Kindergarten in California. Basic techniques were passed down much as they would have been in a traditional crafting circle. During those autumn parent evenings at Apple Garden, we'd perch on tiny wooden chairs while teacher Catherine would read poetry as we needle felted seasonal treasures for Advent and Christmas. 

I immediately knew I had been introduced to something special and could make good use of my earlier career as an award-winning Stage & Costume Designer with those honed skills for making 1:25 scale set models. We also learned how to create a simple nature table to help our children (and ourselves) honour and celebrate seasonal festivals. Having grown up in the countryside with the added bonus of my mother running Six Apples Craft Centre which specialised in traditional East Anglian crafts, it felt as if the stars had aligned and my life had come full circle.
Is that an elf?

At the time, as a mother of a young child, needle felting gave me opportunities to sit down and relax with a cup of tea and pick up a bite-sized project. I loved how natural it felt to fashion delicate clouds of fibre into soulful creatures that lured our whole family into a world of dreams and heart-centred joy. My son was completely enchanted to have a mummy that could conjure up fairies and unicorns from a cloud of wool!  Many a cosy evening was spent with him making simple woolly creations by my side and one year, just before Valentine’s Day, he asked if we could make individual fairies for everyone in his kindergarten class, so together we gathered all the various coloured wool for hair and clothes and slowly but surely each friend’s character began to emerge!
Valentine fairies

It was beautiful to witness him seeing his idea come alive!  I have other cherished memories of upcycling second-hand woolly jumpers and experimenting with shrinking and reconfiguring them into felted costumes … and despite my now 6 foot tall teenager cringing at the thought of ever wearing such a thing, I am delighted to share that these felted outfits have found a new lease of life serving as backdrops for my current felty photo shoots!!
Mushroom children surrounded by repurposed pixie waistcoat

There’s a story behind every homemade piece… each creation helps to build up confidence and inspiration for making a more complex piece.  Those little fairies and felted costumes from my early felting years were the foundation for me becoming a professional heirloom needle felter and before long I was known for making needle felted unicorns, something that was a bit 'out there’ back in 2010!  Needle felting unicorns was actually more than a craft ... the energy from these pure ascended beings was very tangible, like a wave of light pouring into our life! 

Like most artists who are open, I channel energy and it felt like I was helping to anchor this exquisite energy.  During that time my husband and I fine-tuned our soul purpose and together we founded our vision for Music For Global Change.  Needle felting has always had a spiritual dimension for me - the fine fibres are like filaments of light waiting to be expressed into something beautiful. It’s fair to say needle felting has helped me weave a web of wonder in my world that continues to strengthen the fibre of our family life, friendships and community, no matter where I live on the planet.
Unicorns and Fairies

Q2. Could you describe your workshop space?

The Oast Studio is nestled in the rural environment of the Ashdown Forest. It is a real jewel in the crown when it comes to workshop spaces! It has a very special atmosphere and it’s a treat to experience and teach workshops here. The cosy warmth of the old beams upstairs is highly conducive to being in that focused creative zone. There’s always mouth-watering cakes being made on the premises and plenty of fresh organic tea and coffee. With the location just a stone’s throw from where AA Milne wrote Winnie the Pooh, you really feel held by something beautiful. Crafters have been known to take a break during lunch and visit Pooh Sticks Bridge which is just down the road.
The Oast Studio
I also have my own home studio where I teach private one-on-one sessions and needle felt commissions and work on course creation. The space was once a double bedroom but is now completely dedicated to Art Felt Fibres with an entire wall of shelves that hold glass storage jars full of beautiful wool* - I get so much pleasure being around such a vibrant spectrum of colour! The space has a large picture window that allows light to flood in which is ideal for needle felting and also for watching and listening to the songbirds chirp amongst the trees directly outside.  Recently there has been a flurry of hen commissions so I may take a hen to an Oast Studio workshop which is lovely as it allows students to see my work while also fuelling my dream of having my own flock again.

*tip: Storing wool correctly in air tight containers is essential for preventing moths from laying their eggs in the wool (it's the protein in the fibre that provides food for the moth larvae).  I’ve heard many a sad tale of people opening up their cherished needle felted Christmas nativity only to find the remains of Joseph or the donkey dematerialised into a pile of dust. So be sure to store your creations properly to avoid heartbreak!  

In the studio I also have a four metre wrap-around desk which is a godsend.  It’s really ergonomic and gives me plenty of surface area to work on. When I’m seated in my swivel chair I can easily access everything I need - felting needles, wool, crafting tools, pencils, my 100% wool felting mats, woodland treasures, wire armatures, reference books, my Mac Book Pro, printer and filming equipment. I have a large year planner on the back wall so I can glance over and see how student sessions might fit around workshops and seasonal festivals, term time and holidays etc. 

My cork board is full of inspiration alongside a list of outstanding commissions and a 'prep & make' list for my upcoming Art Felt Fibres Christmas stalls.  I keep a dedicated binder full of course material and new course ideas, rough make-along instructions, templates and lots of sketches like this pen sketch below. It was scribbled on the back of an electricity bill early last Spring and quite unexpectedly this sketch materialised into the fully fledged “Blue Tit & Blossom Hoop” workshop at the Oast within a month!  ... so it’s always good to get any idea down on paper, no matter how rough that first sketch might be.

Q3. What do students learn on your courses?

Depending on the course, my students will get to experience some wet felting, flat felting, 3d felting, how to make armatures and wrap them, working with various types of wool and how to use different gauge needles. They will also learn how to use a template to help them maintain shape and proportion.  I like to have as many artisan techniques, tips and tricks up my sleeve as possible as well as interesting facts and fun details that I’ve researched during my course creation for the animal, bird or woodland pieces that we will be making that day.

Recently at the Oast Studio, we completed a four-week evening class called the Autumn Series. For a month every Wednesday evening from 7-9:30pm, the same seven women gathered together around the crafting table as the nights closed in. Some of them had decades of experience teaching and crafting while others had no crafting experience at all. Most of the women had never met until they arrived for that first session! I am immensely proud of what they achieved over four evening sessions!  The results speak for themselves but of course these sessions are so much more than what you see in the final make.
The Autumn Series

I learn just as much from my students as they learn from me and that includes the wide-eyed 5 years olds in my after school clubs and everyone up to my 75 year old students. The most heart warming aspect of teaching needle felting is seeing how each creation reflects its maker.
Cute autumnal hedgehog

People come to a crafting workshop not only to learn a new craft or hone their skills but also because they want to connect with like minded souls. Many of the students who book onto our courses at the Oast Studio become repeat customers. I am always honoured when a student asks me for extra private tuition to help them make something they’ve envisioned which might be proving too complex to start by themselves. 
Creating an adorable vignette

Last week, I had a one-on-one session with Maya Morgan, co-founder of Helios Homeopathy and a powerful healer in her own right. She was one of the wise women on the recent Autumn Series course.  She asked for some private felting sessions because a Raven had started to frequent her property and she was being guided to needle felt one!  Raven medicine is definitely knocking on her door!  It’s been so interesting to work on this Raven together and to learn about the fascinating mythology surrounding these intelligent birds.

I also tutored renowned children’s author Dawn Casey recently who had wanted to needle felt a Jenny Wren for years - that was a special experience as she had such a keen eye and knew the features if this bird so well.
Final sketch and Jenny Wren in progress

Q4. Tell us about your team.

I’ve teamed up with Alison and Annabelle, dear friends who started the Oast Studio just a year ago!  Alison runs the overall business side of things, including all the marketing, bookings and front of house and also bakes professionally from the Oast Kitchen. Annabelle is a fabulous seamstress and crafter who regularly works with Molly Mahon. Like me, she has a professional design background so all in all it makes for a rich combination with shelves piled high with gorgeous fabric, the whirring of sewing machines, her block printing, crocheting and macrame workshops coupled with my array of wool, eye catching seasonal displays and needle felting workshops.  The mouth-watering aromas of Alison’s legendary baking wafting up the stairs from the kitchen certainly adds to the special atmosphere too! 
One of Alison's delicious creations!

I talk with Alison a few times a week about upcoming workshops and new ideas and, of course, we work together and set up as a team for each workshop. Often Annabelle and I will teach simultaneous courses at the Oast as the premises has two floors.  Some students cross-pollinate between our courses which is an excellent way to expand our crafting community, so recently we introduced joint social sewing/needle felting evenings that take place on the first Wednesday of each month. 
Oast Studio

Together Alison, Annabelle and I make a great team - we work really hard to deliver new exciting artisan courses at the Oast Studio and are constantly rewarded by so many new crafters signing up to learn from what we have to offer.
Workshop in progress at Oast Studio

Q5. Describe a typical month as a maker.

During a typical month I will teach around twenty four classes ranging from my eight after-school clubs (5-11 year olds);  my regular 12 year old private students; and the adult needle felting workshops (full days and half days) and private sessions.  This month in particular, I am facilitating four morning crafting sessions for parents in our new school café at Michael Hall where we needle felt items to sell at the Advent Fair Craft Stall this weekend. There’s no better way to help cultivate resilience and a heart-centred community than to gather around a table and craft with fellow parents. I was introduced to needle felting in this way so it feels meaningful to pay it forward.

Throughout the month, I will personally respond to online orders with a quick note of thanks as well as weighing out wool and packaging up Artisan Bunny & Snow Hare kits ready for mailing out to customers.

Typically, each month I will also needle felt three bespoke commissions which could be anything from a Jenny Wren to a hen, a hedgehog, a badger, a pet dog, a lion, a cat, a squirrel, a rat, a dove or flower fairy.
Lion! Grrrrr!!

Corresponding with clients takes time, but customer care is really important to me so I do my best to forge meaningful relationships, especially with those who are entrusting me with a beloved pet that may have passed away. Pets come with an added pressure and responsibility so for these bespoke commissions, I need to be super focused and dedicate a few days to studying the breed, choosing and sketching their typical expressions and deciding on the perfect pose. I then make the armature and finally build up the core shape, and needle felt in the full character and fur colouring and markings. 

I find pet portraiture quite an intense part of my job and I will do my very best to tune into the spirit of the pet and convey it’s essence and personality through my needle.  I consider the process as much a healing journey for my client as making a beautiful piece which is why my healing skills play such an important part when communicating with clients for these special commissions.
Magnificent Beechwood Blue 'Glas'
"Thank you very much for making Glas... I have seen (and bought) quite a few needle felted hens over the last few years, and when they arrive, I am usually quite disappointed, because they never look quite right, however yours is just amazing … It has been a very emotional experience. She was very special and I think you have done a wonderful job, almost bringing her back to life again!... I left her on the kitchen table for my husband to notice (he knew nothing about me having her made, and usually hates the needle felt hens I buy!). His reaction ... "Oh my God, I thought that was a real chicken on the table... and it looks like Glas"! Believe me, that is high praise indeed". We've got used to her on the kitchen table and both of us have even been talking to her! Amazing piece of artwork by an amazing lady." - Lila
Needle felting beloved pets

Self care is also important, though it’s easy to neglect when I get so absorbed in my creations. I attend a ninety-minute Iyengar yoga class every week to help my body stay in alignment and stretch out from all the muscle tension that comes with being a professional needle felter.  My husband and I will walk into the village every morning for groceries and if I’m lucky I’ll receive at least a dozen spontaneous shoulder massages from him during a month as we both work from home, so he often comes up to my studio and rubs my neck after I’ve been felting for hours on end.

Q6. Do you design any kits? 

Designing kits is not something I do full time but I have three kits that I have been working on over the last eight months (including a Chicken & Chick kit) and they are coming out soon. I do all the writing, illustrating and page layout myself for the Art Felt Fibres kits and have to dig deep to translate my own intuitive process clearly and simply into words so a beginner or intermediate needle felter can easily follow my instructions on the page.

It requires endurance if you want to produce a quality kit and then, of course, there’s that holy grail of finding the right niche and price point for what you have to offer. My niche is providing quality kits for nimble beginners and intermediate needle felters who are looking for an artisan piece to replicate while learning new techniques along the way. It’s also important to me that I find fair trade, quality, natural, materials that speak for themselves and are sustainably sourced and plastic free. They may cost a wee bit more but it’s worth investing that little bit extra knowing I am supporting a local business or a fair trade worker in Nepal who makes the 100% wool felting pads in my kits.
"Very satisfied with kit and delivery. Very detailed instructions and excellent quality materials. Attractively packaged also so very suitable as a gift."

“Excellent service and goods. Highly recommended."

"This PDF had me at Masterclass! I am always looking for ways to improve my felting. The best way is to follow the best artist ... Honestly, Cecily Kate makes it seem easy and fun …

Q7. Do you still craft in your spare time i.e. when you’re not teaching?  

When I’m not teaching I catch up on outstanding needle felting commissions.  That said, sometimes a wave of inspiration will carry me in a different direction so I’ve learned to follow that rather than fight it. For example, recently I had an obsession with British song birds and couldn’t stop making them …  suddenly I had a whole new needle felting course to offer without planning it! The “Beloved British Songbirds" workshops are currently underway at the Oast Studio - the first Robin Redbreast workshop sold out quickly and took place last weekend - I was thrilled with the quality of everyone's gorgeous robins, especially considering six out of the seven students were completely new to needle felting! 

Due to the success of this workshop, Alison and I have opened up two extra dates (November 27th and December 9th) which have also nearly sold out!  As I write, someone has just messaged me via CraftCourses to find out if there are any spaces left so this little Robin Redbreast has proven to be my most popular workshop to date and The Blue Tit and Wren workshops are also selling fast so it pays to let those creative waves carry me as they nearly always bear fruit.
Robins on parade!

Q8. What other craft/s do you love apart from that which you teach?

I love to paint and sketch.  I’ll often use organic lavender essential oil to cut my oil paints as this thins them and gives my paintings a luminosity.  My current obsession is ‘painting’ with wool and making Felted Soap Pebbles (a soap pebble is like a loofah, miniature painting and soap in one). They smell divine and shrink as you use them so the painting becomes more and more defined. Blending my own organic soaps with pure essential oils is a passion that seems to bubble up in me around this time of year as they make such unique gifts and stocking fillers with the organic doTerra essential oil in the soaps filling the room.
Felted soap pebbles - can you spot Stonehenge?

I also wrangle willow and make large lanterns - a throw back to my theatre design days. I’ll team up with fellow creative folk in the community and we'll come up with a theme for a lantern festival as a way to bring light to the long winter nights. While I was living in Edinburgh, we created the Duddingston Lantern Festival and got the local primary school children involved who harvested the willow and were taught how to make their own lanterns and cover them in a tissue skin. Crafting and collaborating on this scale is exhilarating, especially when the community comes together as a co-creative unified body. 

Q9. Who/what is your biggest source of inspiration professionally?

Nature, pure and simple. Needle felting animals and capturing the essence of each season has absolutely opened up a whole new level of appreciation in my heart for the beauty of this Earth we live on. When I venture into the Ashdown Forest to unplug from the studio, stretch my limbs and connect to the exquisite beauty all around, I am in constant wonder  - my walks always take longer than expected as I’ll keep stopping to chat with the birds or pick up woodland treasures - everything from acorn caps, eye-catching leaves, a piece of bark peppered with holes made by a woodpecker, silver birch branches for my needle felted birds to perch on, green moss, white downy feathers to line my wet felted Song Thrush nests and countless other precious items that I can utilise in my classes and creations. 
Inspired by nature

Other sources of inspiration come from my Archangel Animal Oracle Cards by Diana Cooper that sit on my desk and provide beautiful insights into the spirit of the animal I am making.  I also use the Native American style Medicine Cards - The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals which I brought back with me from my life in California. Diana’s Unicorn Cards are also on my desk and I will use them when I need help to see a situation from a higher perspective. I have lots of books, but the current favourites are my childhood copy of Cecily Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, The Hidden Geometry of Flowers by Keith Critchlow, a recent purchase of Life-Size British Birds by Collins and a fabulous copy of  Sciencia published by Wooden Books which has my illustration on the cover!

To help me access inspiration, I like to have a steady flow of Tibetan flute music playing in the background which puts me in that relaxed Theta head space where everything slows down, time disappears and inspiration flows in. I also regularly play my crystal singing bowl which has an amazing sound and vibration that cuts through any energetic clutter in my space and helps raise the frequency, especially useful when I have a Soul Healing session with a client.  These sessions are nearly always done remotely or via phone rather than screen so I don’t have to worry about the odd woolly hen that might be roosting on the shelf! 
'On the shelf' hen!

Q10. What advice would you give to other people looking to teach their art?  

Say “YES” to showing up for your dreams. Start with taking one simple action.  It might be offering a free craft evening to a couple of friends - even if only one person shows up it will get the ball rolling. Don’t compare yourself with others and know that any mistakes you make along the way become valuable teaching tools in the future. Spend time living and breathing your craft.  Striving to help others improve will help you improve ten times faster - make your classes all about your students, not about you.  Practise at least three versions of the piece you will be teaching so you can thoroughly impart each step of the making process during a workshop.  Have fun, trust what makes your heart sing and enjoy the journey.
Live and breathe your craft!

Q11. Finally, what is the funniest/most interesting/most poignant thing to ever happen on one of your courses?

I have so many funny stories due to the fact that there are lots of body parts involved in needle felted animal workshops and this can trigger peels of laughter in even my most senior lady students! However, rising above that, I’d say the most poignant moment was this Autumn when I took my 5-8 year olds in my needle felting after school club on a treasure hunt under the canopy of a big oak tree. I instructed them to find three leaves, three acorn caps and three acorns… soon enough, due to this year’s incredible acorn bounty, every child had their stash and sat down next to me under the tree.  We studied the leaves and we talked about Autumn, the Seasons and the life cycle of a leaf and why the colours in them change. I then asked each child to hold an acorn in their hands and to form a circle around the huge trunk and close their eyes… I guided them through a simple visualisation of connecting with the roots of this mighty oak, imaging the light from the canopy pouring in and flowing down through their bodies into their roots, filling them with light … then I posed a question: 

“What do you think this acorn has the potential to become”?

One little voice suggested  “food for the squirrels” but other than that there was a sense of bewilderment, so I asked them to close their eyes again and move close to the trunk so they could feel their heart beating against it …
Felted acorns and leaves

“This tiny acorn in your hand has the potential to grow into a huge oak tree like this one, with strong deep roots, a powerful body with wide open arms that stretch up into the sky … and did you know that you were also once the size of this acorn in your hand … and that each one of us has the potential to grow tall and strong like this oak tree here - connected to the earth and reaching to the sky to fulfil our dreams” 

I will always cherish the wide-eyed wonder in their eyes and how they reverently returned to the classroom and made wet felted acorns and needle felted leaves with their tiny hands, open hearts and keen eyes.

"Investing in our communities through crafting while working closely with Nature can create tangible currencies of abundance, good will, kindness and compassion.  Even the simple act of meeting up with a friend to craft together or learning a new craft at home with our children helps to cultivate enduring resilience. Resilient self-sustaining communities help forge heart-centred nations and heart-centred nations sustain peace in the world. While children are losing connection to their inherent creativity and being sucked into virtual realities through VR headsets or corporations are introducing artificial intelligence to ‘hand pick’ fruit from trees in order to streamline profits, Nature and our connection to the Earth becomes our refuge. You could say that joining together to Craft is one of the most radical things we can do during these uncertain times! It can offer us more than a refuge - it can be a way to make a living and nourish our souls." - Cecily Kate

We couldn't agree more Cecily Kate!

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