This week I caught up with Needle Felter Jessie Dockins the (very talented) designer behind the Three Dogs and a Cat Felt Art Company. I was a big fan of her work before, but now I know what actually goes into the commissions I’m completely in awe of her skill. Not only do the miniatures look exactly like the dogs she’s commissioned to model, but she also somehow manages to capture their personalities and expressions. A true work of art and an original keepsake.
WW: What is needle felting?
Jessie: Needle felting is a relatively new art/craft and many people I meet are unfamiliar with it. Needle felting involves using a barbed needle to sculpt loose wool and other fibers into three-dimensional shapes. The barbs on the needle cause the individual fibers to tangle, eventually creating a solid shape. Basically, I repeatedly stab at piles of wool till it forms the shape I want- it’s very stress alleviating!
I’ve been needle felting for about 5 years, though I did take a 1 year hiatus when I had my son. Benji is one year old now and is finally “allowing” me to felt again, at least when he’s asleep!
WW: What inspired you to start your business?
Jessie: Enough people told me, “you should sell those,” that I finally listened. I love animals of all shapes and sizes and I started by making and selling all sorts of critters, such as frogs, chipmunks, and owls. However, my business has been evolving towards focusing solely on dog commissions. This is a natural fit for me, because I love dogs and I love the joy it brings people to receive a replica of their beloved companion. Right now, my felting business is part time. I also work full time managing science labs at a local community college. My dream is to one day grow my felting business so that it can be not only my passion, but my full time occupation.
WW: Where are you based?
Jessie: I live outside of St. Louis, Missouri in the rolling foothills of the Ozark Mountains. I am pretty much smack dab in the middle of the United States.
WW: I’m guessing from the title of your business that you share your life with some furry friends, we’d love to know a bit more about them.
Jessie: I love to talk about our dogs! We have three dogs (hence the name of my business, Three Dogs and a Cat). Alice, our shepherd mix, is nearly 15 years old now. She was a starving stray someone found in a nearby park. Alice had many physical and behavioral issues when I first got her, but gradually, over the years, we were able to resolve most of them and now she’s a happy, sweet, and slightly chubby senior dog. She’s been with me for 14 years and I can’t imagine life without her- she is my soul dog. Alice is a “dog’s dog”- she wants to be patted on the head, scratched on the butt, and then she wants to be outside, surveying and monitoring her domain.
Fern was also a stray. I found her as a puppy wandering along the side of the highway. I was camping and brought her back to my campsite and she’s been by my side ever since. We guess she is a boxer mix, maybe with some pitt and hound mixed in. She is a 75 pound spoiled lap dog who wants to be on top of someone or stretched out on the couch at all times.
Willie is our tiny dog. He is a rescue as well. We really have no idea what Willie is; we guess he might be a Havanese mix. He however, thinks he is an alpha wolf. He spends most of his time trying to dominate Alice and Fern, by guarding the food bowl or being the first out the door or being in front on walks. Thankfully, Alice and Fern pay him no mind so Willie is safe in his delusions!
Our dogs are part of our family. We spend most of our free time outside, going for walks and hikes. Now that we have a human baby as well, we make quite a party when we hit the trails!
WW: Do you have a background in design?
Jessie: Funnily, not at all! My background is in the sciences, biology to be specific. But I’ve always been crafty. Actually, my biology background has helped me a great deal in my felting. In my biology day job, I’ve had to learn to pay close attention to details and that has permeated into my felting. This attention to detail is what makes my custom dog sculptures look like the real dog.
WW: How does your commission process work?
Jessie: After someone places their order, they send me photos of their dog. I ask for many high quality photos, taken from various angles. It is important that I am able to get an accurate idea of what the dog looks like from the front, back, and sides. We also discuss any unique markings or characteristics the dog has, as well as the dog’s personality. I like to get to know the dog a little before I start on his or her sculpture- it makes the process more enjoyable for me and I think it makes the finished sculpture more realistic.
Before beginning a sculpture, I research the dog’s breed. I look at skeletal structure, musculature, coat type, and facial details. I am surrounded by diagrams, figures, and photos as I work on my dogs!
I begin my dog sculptures by creating a wire armature, like a simple skeleton of sorts. I wrap this armature with wool and then I am able to felt shapes onto it. After I’ve created the basic shape of the dog, I add details, such as the coat patterns and facial structure. The neat thing about using a wire armature is that it makes my dog sculptures complete poseable. The dogs are able to be positioned into any pose- this is my favorite part of my dog sculptures!
As I work, I stay in communication with my client. I may ask them about details that the photos did not or were not able to capture. When the felt dog is complete, I send photos to the client for approval. And then, the felt dog is off to his new home, usually to meet his real counterpart!
WW: Tell us about how a typical day in your life would go when you’re working on your commissions?
Jessie: Well, I work on my commissions in the evenings, after I get home from work, and after I put my son to sleep. I have a felting “station” my husband made for me in the corner of the living room. It is filled with all types and colors of wool and other fibers, needles, and photos of the dog I’m working on. I usually put on some music or talk radio and get to work. I used to felt for hours without taking a break, but now I’ve learned to felt just a little at a time. If I can get away from my pieces, even momentarily (long enough, say, to make tomorrow’s lunches!), then I’m able to see what I’m working on with a fresh perspective when I return. I do this a lot when I’m at the refining stage of my dog sculptures. Little tweaks here and there are really what make my dogs come to life.
There’s lots more to see on Jessie’s ETSY page – she does lots of other animals too. If you’d like to talk to Jessie about a commission you can contact her through her HERE Jessie’s also on Facebook HERE.