Needle Felted Pet Portrait

It’s the saddest day ever when we lose a pet! Nothing will replace their love. Let me offer you a tiny way to feel better; by making a Needle Felted Pet Portrait.

My Dearest Sweetheart ever!

It’s a good thing you can’t see through the screen… it’s not been a pretty sight lately! After quite a few months I’ve had to say good bye to my beloved side-kick Pip. He was the most precious companion (velcro-dog specie; Havanese) that anyone could want. I could not even write a post last week, but somehow this portrait does give me a bit of comfort. Any way I can keep the memories in my heart makes me feel better…

To make a good replica portrait you need to start with a good picture. If the eyes are too dark use some software image adjustments to bring out the sparkle in the eyes. I use Photoshop but basic editing software lets you adjust the dark and light. To be able to needle felt on fabric you will need to have an image to transfer to it. I use and iPad Pro & apple pencil to trace the lines I want in the Procreate software. It lets me make layers (like tracing paper) to create a drawing that is only lines.

Once I have the line drawing I need a paper version (yup digital to analog) in the size that wan the finished product. I was working to about 8.5″ x 8.5″ image on letter size paper.

Transfer to Fabric

Needle felting can be done on a variety of fabrics, but the weave should be tight enough as the fabric will get ‘stabbed’ many times with the barbed needles. The popular choices are linen, wool (pre-felt and felted) & cotton. I chose a tight weave of cotton. I hand-traced the image from the picture onto the fabric with a light-box method. If you do not have an ipad (use a white screen) you can also tape it to a window. The idea is to get the areas of value and colour mapped out. You can be really fussy or less; art does not always mean that it needs to be perfectly replicated!

To transfer the image I use a erasable gel pen; as it will be able to disappear when heat is applied. They are great for this. There are also heat transfer pencils that can transfer a traced line when ironed onto a tight weave fabric, just be aware you need to mirror the image. So to this point you really do not need fancy drawing skills…

The Needle Felting Supplies:

I like needle felting because it is clean and quite easy to stop and start. You will need a few of the special Needle Felting Needles. They have barbs along the side that catch the fine hairs of the wool and push it into the backing fabric – a simple concept. Yes, you need to ‘stab’ many many times to make it permanent so there are some special tools that will multiply your effort x6 or more.

You want to have some secure surface to allow easy ‘stabbing’ as well as being stable. Some people use some foam or even a burlap bag of rice. I wanted a nice flat and dense pad that was deep enough to not have the needles go through so I made one (of course)

It’s been a really rough time as EVERY thing I see reminds me of my sweet Pip! (darn, water works again 😢) I never knew how absolutely devastating such an experience is. I knew it was coming when they said he likely had cancer in his sinus over 2 years ago… but it still did not prepare me.

To save my lap from being stabbed I made a thick pad from vintage wool blankets, which have been washed and felted so they are thick and dense. The inside has 6 layers and the outside holds them together; about 1.75″ thick.

Now that the picture is on the fabric you can start to fill in the colours. The material is called roving. Roving is wool that is dyed and combed to be neat and ready for felting. You can pull bits from the end and use it to apply to areas by ‘stabbing’ it into the fabric. Sounds novel doesn’t it?! If you’d like to see it in video form:

Watch the Video:

Place the roving in areas that you see the colour in your reference picture. The areas fill in slowly as you keep adding.

Be careful not to stab your fingers! You can add smaller pieces on top of larger areas, depending how the picture looks. Since I am trained as an illustrator I know that getting fur to look layered is a challenge in some media. That is why I like this method since it allows the ‘layering’!

It also allows you to twist the fibres to look like their fur. My Pip never really had fancy grooming; he got my haircuts so he always looked like a puppy; even at almost 11! It’s a therapeutic art form since it can be a work-in-progress. If you do not have a complete range of ALL colours you can manually mix some strands of colours and the eye will not notice from a distance.

Final Details:

Look for the small details such as high-lights in the eyes to make the Needle felted pet portrait come alive. Here’s my artist’s trick; squint your eyes to see if you have the basic values (light and dark) correct, as sometimes we can’t see that since we get so obsessed with the details! It’s the same as standing back from work to check.

Every so often pull the fabric off the mat so it does not completely stuck down. Silk fibres from a silk duvet also add a nice shiny look of fur.

These dogs have a natural sweet temperament (no terrier at all) and pick one person that they will not let out of their sight; that is why they are called ‘velcro dogs’. I feel like I lost a limb…

What do you think? It’s a shame you did not get to meet him…

Finished Needle Felted Portrait

After I cleaned up all the fuzzies around the edges tidied up loose strands I gave it a good felting with the multi-needle tool’. To help keep the wool on place even more a good pressing helps. I stretched the fabric over the canvas frame and popped it into a ready made frame. I did not add glass

Yup, he followed me and watched everything I did. Imagine all the wealth of knowledge he had?!

Can my heart ever be mended? At this point I’m not sure… Hopefully the memories will fill some of that void and become stronger that the pain. Go hug your fur-babies. They give us so much love that the deserve whatever we can give them, and I hope my portrait is worthy of that. Always in my heart – my sweet Pip! ❤️

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  1. Barb, I too feel for you regarding your sweet Pip! My Spike kitty declined very suddenly August of last year (2020). I had to make the decision by myself, still haunts me . However ,I know it is the last good thing I could do for him since he wouldn’t eat, showed he was in pain. My Nearly 16 year old wise cat needed me to be brave for him. I don’t regret it. I miss him, his voice, his understanding, his greetings, our traditions, his warmth. The world just doesn’t seem right without him in it! Very nearly Daily Don and I still speak of him. It is getting better, but oh, the loss of your heart can take a long time to heal.
    He was was very much our therapist. He was the best confidant. Friends, furry or otherwise can not be easily replaced. Love is love. We can’t be afraid to love because the end hurts. We must love, to live and to live is to love. God bless you and Pip.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! Every day I still feel like there is a huge void, I cry with just a couple thoughts. Pip was a permanent attachment to me, and only me, as that is how the breed is. I am actually considering getting another someday but I need to heal first and recover from the trauma of a sick pup. I spent over 2 years always observing, stressing and wondering how he was since the vet said the tumour in his sinus was probably cancer… ‘Miss my Pip!

  2. To say I’m sorry doesn’t seem to cover the kind of pain I know you feel. They are part of the family and the grieving process doesn’t change much. I lost my Baby (a rescue toy poodle mix left on the streets!) after 17 years. I rescued another dog, a Morkie named Ziggy, when her “forever family” was about to turn her over to the pound, about a year before Baby died. I hadn’t intended on keeping Ziggy, but was unable to find a family that I felt could care for her and devote the time for the puppy that she was. As it turned out, I still had her when Baby died. Somehow, I felt like that was the bigger picture all along. She didn’t take Baby’s place, but I was sure glad I had her with me. That was 7 years ago and Ziggy is still with me.

  3. I didn’t even comment on your felting! It is beautiful and your love shines through it! I’ve often considered trying felting, but I doubt I could accomplish the amount of realism you have put into this wonderful portrait of Pip. I didn’t know such realism was possible with felting; now my imagination is running wild!

    1. It is very much like painting. Perhaps for your first one keep it simple. As an illustrator by trade it does quite excite me to needle felt and not have paint to clean up! Have fun!

  4. You are so talented. Our furbabies certainly leave pawprints on our hearts… I have a little cat who loves me in the same way that pip loved you (and of course it’s mutual) and I’m not sure how well we would survive without each other (sorry hubby- I love you too!)

    1. Oh, I know that all too well! I do firmly believe that everyone has a talent if they give themselves the chance to explore and learn. I’d much rather fit some shards together than a pre-printed jigsaw puzzle…

  5. Our pets give us such joy, and then one really bad day. Sounds like he couldn’t have had a better mom! Most of the pain will turn to smiles as time goes by. Your portrait is just beautiful!