Pet models evoke heart-felt memories

March 19, 2023 - 08:24
While the art of needle felting is nothing new, Thế Võ’s works include detailed features that he takes time to perfect.

By Nhật Hồng and Lê Hương

A pet’s life might only be a fraction of a human’s, but it often leaves a lasting mark on the owner’s heart. One man in Hà Nội has been using needle felting to make lifelike models of pet animals so that their owners can remember them long after they’re gone.

While the art of needle felting is nothing new, Thế Võ’s works include detailed features that he takes time to perfect.

He told Việt Nam News: “The art has actually been well-developed since the 18th century in Europe. But only recently have artisans, mostly in Japan and Russia, used wool in such a delicate and skilful way to make these hyperrealistic animal figures.”

Thế Võ was inspired by a Japanese artisan when he found her works on the internet.

“[She] makes beautiful woollen toy cats with needle felting. I was curious, and tried to see if I could do it too," he said.

"Gradually, I became immersed - I feel like I have found a connection with this art. I was always a person who did things quickly. But in this craft, I have found a sense of slowness, calmness, and patience. When you have enough patience, you will achieve great satisfaction with your results.”

MORE THAN A FELINE: Thế Võ perfects one of his needle felted artworks. — VNS Photo Nhật Hồng

His background in architecture has also helped him to approach shapes and colours while pursuing this craft.

While Thế Võ has been experimenting with making models of various animals - including dogs, wolves, lions and horses - he now primarily focuses on cats to better understand their anatomy, which means more accurate depictions.

“I’m studying the anatomy of the cat to understand the structures of the skull, the skeleton, the muscles, the joints and how they connect. Needle felting is different with sculptures made from clay, for example. Because instead of putting on layers of the material, we have to ‘plant’ the wool, which is more complicated,” he said

HEADS UP: A feline skull model made from wool using needle felting, which Thế Võ used as an anatomy study. — VNS Photo Nhật Hồng

Cats have a special place in Thế Võ’s heart, as he has had them as pets since childhood.

“I try to convey the cat’s personality and liveliness in the portraits I created. The results bring me joy, and I hope that they can serve as memorabilia for animal lovers as well,” he said.

Most of Thế Võ’s customers are pet owners who want to keep a lasting, lifelike image of their furry pals, or people who are looking for a gift for their animal-loving friends.

A typical project often starts with studying the ‘model’ through pictures and footage sent from the owners.

Thế Võ then makes a sketch of the cat to understand and grasp a feeling of how the needle felted portrait of the animal should be. The eyes are also hand-painted using tiny glass half spheres to best portray the individual spirit of his feline models.

Each of his works is made from scratch with a dedicated barbed needle and loose unwoven wool, the colours of which he mixes to match the actual fur coat of the cat.

Sometimes, pet owners even send a few strands of their four-legged friend’s hair, so Thế Võ can place them inside the 'sculpture'.

A needle felted portrait of a pet, with its head, torso and paws, is complete in one to two weeks. Price ranges from VNĐ3-5 million (US$120-210), depending on the size and how complex the fur is.

Although Thế Võ’s business is a modest one, serving customers who know about him by chance or through word of mouth, he makes sure that every one of his creations has the highest level of craftsmanship possible.

Nguyễn Chu Thanh Hải, a customer, could not help but show her excitement upon seeing Thế Võ’s portrayal of her cat.

“It is so lovely. I really love it because it looks like my real cat, and the eyes are identical to his.”

The cat, who Hải’s children have endearingly named ‘Mr White’, is about seven years old.

MR WHITE: The 3D needle-felted portrait of a pet cat— VNS Photo Nhật Hồng

“The average lifespan of a cat is only about 10 to 12 years. That is why I want to save his image, so then I can always remember him,” she said.

The art of needle felting is still in its early stage in Việt Nam. For Thế Võ, this means challenges in terms of support, in addition to finding determination within himself to keep things going.

However, he already has plans to spread the hobby of needle felting to more people through workshops and training courses.

“Dogs and cats are man's best friends, and so maybe my work could raise awareness [of their wellbeing],” he said. — VNS