Endowing her felted dogs with a personality and human attributes has brought Von Allen a legion of fans. Sharon Dale reports.
Anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics to an animal, is almost as old as the human race.
The practice has proved particularly successful in literature, film and TV – think Paddington, Bagpuss, Snoopy and Mickey Mouse.
Von Allen wasn’t thinking about the dictionary definition, when she created her needle felted dogs with glass eyes and recognisable expressions. They just happened.
“At first I made them on four legs and then one day I wondered what they’d look like stood up on two legs. They looked funny and then I thought, ‘that’s the same size as a Sindy doll, I could dress them up’. It shouldn’t work but somehow it does and when I showed them to people there was a huge amount of enthusiasm.”
Giving each model its own character was inspired by her own rescue dog, Barney, a cross between a collie, a Staffordshire bull terrier and a whippet.
“It was Barney’s ability to change personality according to what he thinks it might get him. Plus, most pet owners I know treat their dogs as little people, though non-dog people really don’t understand that,” she says.
Each of her Heartfelt dogs is a one-off and is no particular breed, and they all come with a name and a phrase that offer a clue to their profession and personality. They include Chester “anxiously he waited for his audition to start” and Conrad “oblivious to the traffic he headed to the museum”. And, as Von explains on her website, “all hail from West Yorkshire – where the wearing of an overcoat is needed most of the year”.
Their clothes belong to various vintage dolls, including Sindy and boyfriend Paul, Ken, Action Man and G I Joe. She sources them from eBay and they are highly collectable. She also makes some little of the outfits herself and has branched out into making dogs that are walking their own little dogs.
The clothing has made them even more compelling and the Heartfelt dogs, which start from £145, have a growing number of fans. A one woman band, Von is racing to keep up with demand, while juggling her work as a freelance arts project manager.
“I stared making things to sell about 18 months ago because I wanted to see if I could make a living out of my crafting. That is looking like a possibility now,” says Huddersfield-based Von, who has worked in the performing and visual arts for over 30 years.
She’s explored many crafting hobbies, but says: “With dry needle felting I feel like I have come home. Taking barbed needles and raw wool and creating something 3D them is a very magical process.”
Those who want to see her dogs in the “flesh” can visit Art in the Pen at Skipton Auction Mart, August 15 and 16, where Von has a stall. She will also be at Crafts in the Pen on November 21 and 22. Von has also been selected to take part in the Made showcase event at Yorkshire Sculpture Park from November 14 to February 28.