Meet Our Advertisers: Irene Heckel-Volpe - Following Her Dream

Over 30 years ago, Irene Heckel-Volpe picked up a needle and thread and some mohair fabric and started creating teddy bears. The bears were designed as adult collectible teddies, made from high quality mohair and alpaca fabrics, fully jointed with glass eyes and hand stitched details – teddies that she loved and others seemed to love also.

advertisters1Before long this hobby brought Irene to a crossroads as she found herself fighting for time with a full time job as a bookkeeper and requests for more teddies. Within a year, teddy bear magazines in the US and Europe were doing articles featuring her bears and some of their unique qualities. Magazines such as Teddy Bear and Friends, Teddy Bear Review in the US, and the Bär Report in Germany, and Teddy Bear Scene in England all did features on this ‘new’ artist. In 1998, Irene opened her first studio in Riverhead NY and received TV coverage for the studio and her for teaching the art of ‘bearmaking.’

In 2001 Irene came upon a new fiber art called needle felting. She fell in love with this art form and began to combine her two loves – teddy bears and needle felting. Needle felting was in its infancy, with not a lot of information available, yet the new art form had caught Irene’s interest, so much that she was devoting at least half of her studio time to perfecting and honing her skills. Over the years some of her pieces gained recognition, and awards, at the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck NY, the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, and the Taos Sheep & Wool Festival, and at SAFF in WNC. Last year one of her needle felted sculptures, a Cheshire Cat, earned a First Place, Best In Show, Judges Choice, and the WNC Fiber and Handweavers Guild Award at the Mountain State Fair, plus, not to be left out of the mix, one of her mohair teddy bears won a First Place and a Judges Choice.

Teaching needle felting classes became part of her schedule as she taught workshops and offered programs in her studio in NY and around the NY, CT, and NJ areas. Workshops were also taught for many years at the International Doll and Teddy Bear Expo in Orlando FL.

In 2014 Irene and her husband made the move to Asheville and shortly thereafter, she began teaching her needle felting classes at The Knitting Diva in North Asheville and The Wool Room in Hendersonville. Recently she has taught a beginning class in a couple of Henderson County libraries. Irene has also been displaying some of her fiber creations at Kress Emporium in Asheville and at Susan Austin Gallery in Hendersonville.

advertisters2Her students learn to make everything from animals, like dogs & cats, to gnomes, trolls, fairies, and monsters, flowers and clothing embellishments in 3D, as well as felt paintings and ornaments for the holidays. Some of the items her students created can be seen on her Facebook page (Irene Heckel Originals), as well as some of her works in progress. An updated website will soon display all the art and teaching results ( She also has a DVD available to help those who would like to learn but are unable to attend a class.

Irene has said, “Needle felting is a free flowing art with no real patterns or forms and is limited only by your imagination. At each of my classes I want every student to go home with a finished project they can be proud of.”

For more information on anything you have read in this article, you can contact Irene by email at or call her at 516-527-4633.

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