Craft snippets: Needle felting with Diana Renwick

Angela reports back from the last Craft Snippets event at Upper Riccarton Library. The next event on Wednesday 31 July will feature local artist Therese Boustead.

This month we had the pleasure of listening to Diana Renwick talk about her journey into needle felting. Diana makes customised needle felt sculptures under the trading name ‘HeartFelties’.

Diana Renwick - from farming to felting

Diana originates from Albury in South Canterbury and grew up on a sheep farm. After secondary school she went to Otago and Canterbury Universities and qualified as a Speech-Language Therapist. Her married life saw her back on a farm bringing up 5 children. Diana enjoyed this time of reconnecting to her creative roots and instilling the love of farming in her children. In a change of direction Diana retrained as a Hearing Advisor and also worked as the manager at Alzheimer’s Society South Canterbury and as an English as Second Language teacher. She found living in a small town many people knew her skills and she was often asked to do various jobs. Unfortunately, it was during this time that Diana became chronically unwell and as her health deteriorated, she found that she couldn’t do much at all.

It was during this downtime that Diana came across a needle felted mouse on Instagram. She instantly fell in love with it and wanted to buy it. However, the creator lived in the UK and, having followed Diana’s pet portrait artwork, encouraged Diana to make her own. Doing a search online Diana found a video of needle felting that looked easy enough to do. She made a fox from a kit which she put on her social media and soon friends were requesting one. Next she decided to make her own animals and used her favourite dogs as inspiration. So, a Scottie dog, dachshund and a dalmatian were made. With her background as an illustrator (as well as an animal artist) the dogs were comical looking and people loved them.

Going viral and media attention  

Social media was the launching pad for Diana’s business and fame came quickly by way of a newspaper article in a local newspaper that led to an online article on the Stuff Business pages. Diana received many enquiries so decided to choose a name for her business and HeartFelties was born. The name is a play on “heartfelt” which is how Diana feels when making her sculptures of loved pets. Most of her animals have some of the pet’s fur shaped into a heart and felted inside the body.

Her business quickly grew and a friend of hers knew a journalist who was looking to interview people who had a “weird” job. With some encouragement from the friend Diana was not only interviewed but a had drone zooming around recording her in her backyard holding onto some of her felted pets! The interview went viral on Stuff with over 250K views, and it made to the front page of the Dominion Post. Diana was in a dairy that morning after dropping off her youngest son at school when she saw her picture in the paper and immediately regretted having gone out in her Ugg boots and dressing gown to do the school drop off! Hours later TV3’s The Project show rang requesting an interview. They also asked if she could make a felted version of Josh Thompson, one of the presenters. Diana reluctantly agreed being it was the first attempt of making a human and her creations typically take many hours. Whilst she was in the process of felting a Josh, John Campbell rang to ask her to appear on his show the same day. Diana managed to finish making Josh however she didn’t get time to make clothes for him, so he was naked with just a bit of hair on his chest.

HeartFelties boomed after all the publicity with emails flooding in with commission requests. This took Diana by surprise, so much so she took a week off just to come to terms with what was happening. She approached a business advisor for some guidance and came up with a business plan. Eight years on Diana has completed 300+ commissions, has 5000+ social media followers and completed 12 workshops in 2023.

Not one to sit still for too long and with the need to keep her brain active in 2021 Diana retrained as Interior Designer. Her dreams of opening an interior design business had to be put on hold with ongoing health issues, so now she is a manual drafting tutor at Ara Institute which involves teaching students how to hand draw house plans and room perspectives.

The felting process

The following is an outline of Diana’s process:


Felting mat; single barbed needle and a 3 needle felting tool. One inconvenience of all the needle punching is RSI so sometimes Diana uses a holder; awl for making holes for the eyes; scalpel to make a slit in the fur to insert the eyes; glass eyes from USA – the eyes have to be right and look real; 18 gauge wire from Mitre 10; long nose pliers; tape measure from Trade Aid – it is cute; nylon thread for eyelashes and fishing line for the whiskers.

Felt animals start with a metal "skeleton"

The armature is the metal skeleton for the animal. It has to have the right proportions and Diana has a natural eye for calculating this. The skeleton is then wrapped in pipe cleaners as this gives the wool something to grab onto. If the body is too small, it is very easy to stab oneself while needle punching and if it’s too large a body it takes too long to make. Dacron is secured with thread around the armature to fill out the head and body.

Muscles and fur from wool

Corriedale wool has a heavier micron and is very good for wrapping around the wire. Once the musculature is sculpted on the animal then Diana chooses the type of wool for the topcoat. For most projects she uses Merino wool. Some other types of fibre that she has used is alpaca, mohair, and silk blends. These varieties take longer to felt. Some breeds of dogs have “wool” hair, e.g poodles, that can be used for felting as the fibre has barbs which can be felted. A good source of natural and coloured wool is from the Wool Yarns Fibre shop at The Tannery and Ashfords in Ashburton. It usually takes 10-15 hours to felt a smooth top coat or a furry coat with longer fur. Diana typically uses just one needle. The more stabs you do the harder the felt becomes. Sometimes for the longer length fur Diana hand cards the wool to blend fibres and colours. When doing a commissioned pet Diana is given many photos of the animal so she has a clear idea of the features, the markings and appearance of the fur, body pose etc. It is very hard to keep separate contrasting fibres, for example black and white fibres on Border Collie dogs.

Details, faces and finishing touches

The eye socket is sculpted around the eyes, which have a ring of black wool around them, to give the eyes definition and make them pop. Muzzles can take a while to do. Diana says it feels like the animal is alive when getting nearer the end. Whiskers and eyelashes are added as a final touch.

The tags on the collars have Diana’s logo and business name on them. Diana found Alibaba the best source for supplying the tags. The leather collar hardware comes from USA and Diana makes the rest of the collar herself. The noses are made from Fimo which can be very fiddly to make. Packing is the best part as she knows her customer will soon have a sculpture of their treasured pet. Customers tell her they are emotional all day when they first receive their HeartFelty.

Every pet comes with a story: rescue animals, funny habits or maybe they died in a tragic way. If Diana has fur from the pet she will make a heart from it and insert it in the sculpture. Some people have been buried with their pet HeartFelty. Many share their stories about their pets on social media.


In 2020 Diana held her first workshop at a retreat in Lake Tekapo. She had 20 attendees and found that she didn’t need to be worried as it all went well. In 2022 Diana had people around her kitchen table making felted Christmas ornaments and one scheduled holiday workshop quickly expanded to six. Now she has people wanting to attend her workshops at different venues around the country. She has run some of her workshops online to meet the needs of people who can’t attend in person. Diana also tutors at the Methven Summer School. It can be intense at times instructing how to sculpt a dog over a weekend. Hares are quirky and popular.

Diana has now set up in her new West Melton property a workshop space above the garage. She obtained a large conference table and cabinets on Marketplace so now she is all set up for her homebased workshops.

Find HeartFelties online

It was a real pleasure listening to Diana and learning about her journey and her craft. We wish her all the best for her future endeavours.

Craft Snippets May 2024

Items shared at our May gathering

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