Tuesday, November 24, 2020

REVIEW: Needle Felted Kittens: How to Create Cute and Lifelike Cats From Wool (nonfiction book) by Hinali, translated by Victoria Oyama

Needle Felted Kittens is technically a crafting book, but it could also be viewed as an artbook. I bought my copy brand new.


This book presents examples of Hinali's needle felting work and provides instructions for creating six different cats (well, five cats and a head).

The initial pages feature gorgeous full-color photos of Hinali's cats, and one hamster. The next sections cover the materials Hinali uses (with mentions of specific brands and products that can only be obtained in Japan), a couple techniques for blending wool, the tools Hinali uses, needle use advice, tips for cutting wool so that it looks more like real cat fur, cat proportions, and the three primary needling techniques Hinali uses. There's also a brief Q&A section.

The first set of instructions, for the little orange and white tabby kitten, are the most detailed (although it should be noted that even the tabby kitten instructions don't say how much wool the project requires, not even a ballpark amount). After that, the instructions mostly stick to body posing advice, how to fill out the wire armature with core wool, and which needling techniques to use on which parts of the body.

I didn't buy this intending to do any of its projects. In fact, I wasn't sure if it even contained any - it was tough to tell from reviews. Instead, I bought it hoping for a few tips and tricks I might be able to use in my own needle felting work. And if the book didn't have anything like that, well, I figured it'd at least make a nice artbook.

I loved the photos of Hinali's work. These cats and kittens are amazingly lifelike. There are certain aspects that aren't quite right - the noses and ears, in particular, have a definite felted look, and the fur doesn't have the sheen of real cat fur - but I only noticed that after reading through all the techniques and looking closely. I'd love to be able to needle felt as realistically as Hinali.

However, I have several limitations. First, I'm not actually a great 3D artist. I can see a photo of something and try to recreate its shape and appearance with wool, but the end result is generally off. (Granted, I've only finished three small projects. But Hinali's very first needle felted animal was better than anything I've done so far, and she apparently did it without a pattern.) Second, I don't have a lot of good sources for materials yet, particularly eyes. Third, I don't have Hinali's level of dedication to the craft. And fourth, I don't really want to spend the amount of money I imagine Hinali spends on supplies. A lot of her work relies on poking wool on and then cutting off the excess until it looks right, and all I could think was "I wonder what she does with all that wasted wool?"

If I ever do try any of the projects from this book, it'll probably be the "cat head, cutely posed in a frame" one, simply because it's smaller and therefore less daunting. I do think there are some tips and tricks I'll probably end up using at some point, though, even if I never do any of Hinali's projects. Her needling techniques could come in handy once I finally get brave enough to try flocking, although I'll probably apply them to less daunting (and smaller) projects found in other books. I also liked the info on cat proportions and materials she uses for whiskers. There was also one wool blending technique that was completely new to me.

Unfortunately, this book is probably not going to help anyone who has trouble recreating the shape of cats' faces and bodies so that they look real and natural - Hinali's advice amounts to "use photographs" and "study cats a lot." But if you can manage the basic shape (which is what I suspect my biggest initial problem would be, even though I've lived with cats for years), I imagine there's some good advice here for needle felters who want to take their flocking techniques to the next level. Although I suspect that even that aspect isn't as easy and effortless as Hinali makes it look.

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