This week we meet author, illustrator, teacher and felt artist Stephanie Cowburn.
Stephanie lives in Cheshire with her husband, two children and their family pet dog Heidi. After her children started school Stephanie went back into teaching part-time, allowing her to be around for the children as well as earning some money.
Stephanie has always been creative and tells of the times when small children would sit on her knee as she knitted, sewed and made her own lace. She had already developed her drawing and painting abilities but her love of learning new skills led her to teach herself how to felt. Her initial learning tools were somewhat rudimentary with her beginner’s felt making kit consisting of some wool tops, a piece of netting and a car mat.
“I began making small flat pieces of felt but I always like to challenge myself and so I quickly realised I could make three dimensional pieces if I used a template to wrap the wool fibres around. I made myself a handbag with a big felt flower on the side. The bag attracted lots of attention whenever I used it and people started to ask if I would make them one too. I was naturally very flattered that something I’d made was actively being sought after. Having made handbags for friends and family I needed a new challenge and began to make animals, something I’ve always had a soft spot for and by their popularity, I’m not the only one to love animals.”
Stephanie also uses her creations to tell a tale or two. “I also write stories for children and decided to create some of my story characters in felt. Felt is a very tactile material and almost invites you to pick it up and feel it, therefore it seems the ideal material to use to create appealing animals.”
Felt isn’t just a creative tool to Stephanie – she is also a fan of its educational benefits too. “I’m a visual learner, I avidly read but especially if there are pictures to go along with the text! I adore textiles, I love texture and colour whether it’s woven, printed or sewn. As a teacher I know how valuable art is throughout the curriculum, whilst felting I teach the children about rotation, quarter turns, 90 degrees, half turn 180 degrees to a full rotation of 360 degrees. We count how many times we roll the felt whilst shrinking it, we talk about fibres knitting together and bonding. Already in the act of felting we’ve broken into language, mathematics and science. Art and creativity is all around us and for me it plays a vital role in how I understand the world and everything within it.”
Stephanie recently launched her website to showcase her creations and explains how no two are alike. “A lot of my work comes from commissions and individual pieces. Although I make several cats or penguins for example, they each get their own different name and personality which makes them unique and desirable. People can request anything they’ve seen through contacting me via my website. Recently I was invited to sell my felt animals in a high quality handmade crafts shop called Authentic, in Uppermill near Saddleworth, which is doing really well. I also sell at Altrincham Sunday craft market which is a posh market for quality handmade and crafted goods. Any artist will say they love to create. I love creating my felt animals and products and naturally the more I sell the more I’m justified in creating even more, so I’m often looking for outlets to sell through.”
Looking back on her own journey, Stephanie offers the following advice to crafters and artists who are just starting out. “Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the best artists and craft workers began knowing very little and it’s only with time and practice and the desire to improve that you develop your skills and become great. The beauty with being creative is that there’s no right or wrong way to present something, so if it works for you and you’re having fun, keep going!”
And of her own hopes and plans? “I have quite grand ideas for my work which I’m hoping others will help me with. I have done a range of humorous felt taxidermy scenes which along with some larger felt pictures I’d like to exhibit in a few galleries. I’d also like to continue selling more of my animals and taking on more commissioned work so that eventually I could ‘give up the day job’ and felt full time.”