A Magical Manifestation: Sara Renzulli

I have told my felting story many times. Since we are beginning the Sarafina Chronicles, I will decree this as the official, never before heard, version. ;)

I am often asked, “How did you discover needle felting?”  My first words in response are always, “Well, my sister said, ‘We have to try this.  It’s called needle felting.’”  And that’s the simple truth of it.  My sister, Beth, is always pushing and pulling me into the things she comes across:  I have managed to avoid ice climbing; I did not escape handing out candy in the giant puppet parade; I did turn her down on the triathlon and cold immersion…  Perhaps I shouldn’t throw her under the bus since that fateful day, when she said “this is what we are doing,”  I found my purpose!  Who knows what other chapters of life I could unlock if I listen to my sister!  I certainly have enjoyed many of the adventures she encouraged me to take with her, needle felting being the biggest and most important to date.

On that first day, we had pieces of wool fabric or felted sweater remnants, a handful of colors of wool fluff, a few needles, and a few pieces of foam.  I happily stabbed at the fluffy tufts of white until I tamed them into a circle on top  of a circle.  I added some black eyes and I had a snowman.  It was a miracle!  What is this magic?  How can I do more?  I have heard many similar stories after 15 years of pursuing the craft.  So many people share in this eureka feeling the first time they feel wool and use a needle.

Next I used the handy internet to find a kit from The Woolery to make three mice.  They had a simple pipe cleaner armature.  Those wacky little mice still grace my tree every year.  Thank you to The Woolery.  But aside from that, I was not finding a good source for wool or information.

Soon I found myself at Maryland Sheep and Wool.  It’s an annual fiber festival about 90 minutes from my home.  I was there alone; free to meander and marvel and soak it all up and buy it all up.  I met some vendors there that I still use today!  I made a lot of bad purchases like my roving that confounded me by not felting - turns out it was cotton.  I made some good purchases too, like a lofty short staple roving that in time I would coin “core wool.”

At that point in my life, my kids were still young, about 3 and 5.  I was working at home as a fine artist/painter and wrangling the boys and many animals.  I did fairly well painting, as well or better as any 35 yo artists I knew.  But I wanted to break out of the limits and loneliness of painting, as much as I loved it.  I wanted to be a part of something.  (It’s funny to be introverted but need connection so intensely.  That’s for a different blog.)

I am a morning person; so I told myself that I would paint during my productive early hours and only felt in the afternoons.  Over a year or two, that plan flip flopped until I was painting less and less, fitting it in around felting which I jumped on in the morning as soon as I could.  I was making small sculptures and selling them on etsy.  My husband said, “Who is buying this stuff!?”  I said, “I don’t know but if I make it, it will sell, so I am going to keep going!”  (mentioning no names, Monica.) I was in good company on etsy with Hannah Styles, Daria Lovarski, and many other established felters.  But there were not many of us. 2012 was my busiest felting year ever with over 300 creations made and sold.

Enter Talbot!  Talbot was a good sport, trying to help unorganized me in the midst of the chaos of my house.  But right away I knew I needed his calm and his thoroughness.  He helped me with my etsy shop and we even produced our first tutorials together on paper.  You know, the kind you hold and read.  I also taught Talbot to wrap armatures.  My thinking was that if he helped me with that phase, I could make more.  The truth was that I could warp fairly quickly and it did not increase my productivity.  Although, Talbot passed me perfectly wrapped armatures every time.  Talbot was soon lured away out of state to another job.

The need for instruction and supplies became apparent to me.  Since I had learned everything, after my little mouse kit, through experimentation and trial and error, I felt encouraged and qualified to share what I knew.  Which was not much at that time!  The need for more space also became apparent.  I am sure most of us can relate to the overflowing dining room table or insufficient craft space.

The Mill

The Mill

A couple of things came together at the same time; the move to The Mill and meeting Kyla.  The Mill is a historic landmark very close to my house.  The owner let me pay a low rent to use about 400 sq ft of space inside of it.  It was quaint, better than my attic or dining room, and had heat.  I carved out my workshop there.  Now I just needed the person who could help me make video tutorials.

I met Kyla through our boys.  Max was invited to Kyla’s son’s birthday party.  He had a great time and when he returned, a mere two hours later, he had a CD with a cool cover, scene contents, and edited video that the boys made while they were there.  I asked Max what else they did and he said “You know.  All of it.  Cake, presents..”   All I thought was, “Thank you, Universe, for sending me this person!  I have to meet her.”  I introduced myself and explained what I wanted to do.  Kyla wanted to be sure I knew that she was no professional.  I assured her, “Neither am I.  It’s ok.”  We will figure this out.  I could not pay her that first summer so she traded me for some art and an IOU.  Together we made our first video - May 23rd, 2013 Small Armature!

I met Jennifer in a similar way.  Our boys went to the same KungFu school.  We struck up a conversation and I asked Jennifer if she needed employment.  I was a growing business after all.  Jennifer stepped in and did whatever we needed before she established herself as bookkeeper and spatial organizer extraordinaire.

We had a few other helpers along the way in the Mill days until Talbot’s return.  Yay!

We were exploding over the edges of The Mill.  It was time to find a proper business space.  We found it at our current location.  We grew space by space,  building by building, until our current size consisting of two buildings and about 5,000 square feet.  We are 8 people strong here now and a future blog will share more.

 From the early days in our current space

Corrina oversees the shop

On a more personal note, felting and the journey it has led me through, was unforeseen and is inexplicable.  Some people are lucky to know their purpose very early on.  I floundered around for a while; attempting to support myself with odd work while I pursued art and eventually raised my boys.  I was a farm hand, a line cook, a retail worker, a restaurant server, a stall mucker, and racehorse exercise rider.    I love painting but I knew it was not my best, most able contribution to my own life and the world that I might reach.

But everything I had done and learned through each strange job and experience, groomed me for the very purpose that had eluded me.  I was very driven to connect, create, and support myself.  Felting gave me the ability to support myself and my kids.  It gave me a path, which followed, led me to creating my word.  It gave me friends.  It gave me confidence and confirmation in sharing.  Thank you for being a part of this story.


  • Deb Willet

    Hi Sara, I so enjoyed reading about your beginning in felting! I started felting with your sleepy mice kit about 7 years ago and fell in love! But as it happens, life got busy and I just stopped. I recently retired and rediscovered this wonderful artform. I so love watching your videos and learning more. I feel like I want to just learn all there is RIGHT NOW! lol Not only are you a wonderful teacher, but a calm and humorous gift to all. I look forward to many more videos, felt alongs, community interactions and connecting with new felting friends. By the way, that picture of The Mill would be an amazing 2d painting!! Let me know when the tutorial is ready! lol

  • Leone Simkins

    So much you have shared I have experienced with my own life and my own female run business I ran successfully for 39 years. But only until I retired at age 69 did I realize that all I really wanted to do in life was needle felt!!! I have a feeling there are plenty of us out there with similar ambitions, feelings, yearnings, and set backs but still with the a “never quit” mentality. Meeting you (through cyberspace only) and hearing your story has been somehow lifesaving. Knowing I’m not alone? Totally admiring your talent? Appreciating your emphasize on creativity as well as technique? Running a successful business that is both fair, friendly, and caring? After the mountains I have climbed, finding needle felting and you I believe are my rewards. I’ll share my story (opening and running a business while female) but right now I REALLY need to re-work my donkey’s head, she seems to be in a bit of trouble!

  • Polly Parnell

    Sara. Your story inspired me so much. I worked 50 years as an RN which I found rewarding. I loved crafts my entire life. I made my 1st doll when I was 5 out of a cotton sack shaped like a gingerbread man and left the head open to stuff it with cotton right out of the fields. I wish I could have known you earlier bc you and Kyla have made needlefelting my favorite hobby ever. Ya’ll just complement each other. You are a super great teacher and so willing to share everything you know! I’m never going to be able to sell or be in business but I love how your business came together and now I get to be happy for you. You’re one in a million. Thank you so much!! Polly

  • Sue B

    Sara, These stories are wonderful, touching and inspiring! Just another way you make this Sarafina community so strong and supportive.

  • Patricia O’Brien

    Awesome! Inspiring! Left me teary-eyed. 😀 I’m SO happy that people so deserving are successful and enjoying their lives. And I’m more grateful than I can say for everything you’ve taught me, shared with me, sold to me. I tell everyone who will stand still long enough about you, your shop, your people and the fun you have, and your enormous generosity. I SO much wish we lived closer ( I’m in Southern California) but never mind. It’s all good. Thank you again for everything and keep up the wonderful work.

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