Patience Renzulli lives in a world of magical creatures—from friendly squirrels bearing bouquets of flowers to cottontail bunnies with tiny carrots to miniature foxes who can stand perfectly poised and on guard indefinitely. It is a world overflowing with cuteness, and Patience created it all.
It began with her husband Bill’s daughter, Sara Renzulli, who started needle felting and creating whimsical animal sculptures. Seven years ago, Sara founded Sarafina Fiber Art, selling her sculptures, wools, supplies, kits, and tools that she invented.
“I was watching what she was doing,” says Patience who was fascinated by the process and the growth of the art form. “She sent me a supply pack to make a hedgehog, and I thought I can’t do that. I pulled up her instructional video on Youtube and made the hedgehog. I couldn’t believe how it turned out. It was completely addictive. So I got another pack, watched another one of her videos, and I haven’t stopped since.”
Patience explains that felting is one of the oldest textiles. “Hunter/gatherers realized that matted animal coats provided warmth and waterproofing,” she says. “But needle felting, as an art form, didn’t come around until the 80s. It’s relatively new. And Sara has taken it to a whole new level. And it has just taken off.”
In spite of the intricacy of the final product, Patience says creating felt sculptures are easier than one might think. “It’s user friendly,” she says. “Anyone can make something they are tickled with. Anyone. Most people see a finished product and think they can’t make something like that from a chunk of wool. But you really can.”
Each piece begins with a framework—a skeleton, if you will. Patience studies an animal, looking at the places where it articulates. She also looks at all the individual shapes that make up each animal. At the core is a wire frame. Patience then uses wool to create the felt. “Wool has microscopic barbs. In needle felting, along the shaft of very sharp needles, are teeny tiny barbs. By using the needles, it creates a tangle in the wool. The more it tangles, the more of a solid piece it becomes.” Different types of wool offer different results, which gives each creator flexibility for varying sculptures and parts within each sculpture. Each sculpture is also posable. Patience has even created stop-motion animation with some of them.
And there is no limit. She continues to create sculptures for a variety of animals and has most recently dove in to creating fish. “This is a Pajama Cardinalfish,” she says as she peruses photos online. The variety and colors in the aquatic world are nearly inexhaustible. “And I use reference photos like this. Don’t ever trust your brain to remember what something looks like.”
Since that first hedgehog, Patience became a prolific creator of felt animals, selling many of them at the Art Guild of Paducah. “It’s kind of funding my retirement,” she laughs. “I didn’t start out intending to sell them. But I did some for a couple of fundraisers.” For just two fundraisers, Patience raised over $30,000. Through that, she discovered how popular her creatures were.
Beyond a newfound business venture and continued charitable work, she also touts the therapeutic value. “You start out with just blah, and you end up with something somebody wants. It’s really satisfying. It’s tactile. Because of the wool, it smells like I’m on a farm somewhere. And there’s a point in every single sculpture where you think Oh, this isn’t working. It’s a waste of time. I need to start over. But if you keep on going, it comes around.”
For more information, visit sarafinafiberart.com. Also keep an eye on Ephemera Paducah’s future schedule for needle felt classes by Patience.