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Heart Felt: Castle of Costa Mesa

Heart Felt: Castle of Costa Mesa

You know that feeling when you see something so painfully beautiful – made with such genuine talent – it knocks the breath out of your chest and cracks your heart in two? When the full expression of human imagination hits you like a ton of wool?

I Heart Costa Mesa has discovered that kind of aching beauty and real-deal genius right here, in our city, and they call themselves Castle of Costa Mesa.

Felting Artist, Jzin Teng, and Her Creations In Costa Mesa, California

Artist Jzin Teng Makes Handmade, Felted Creations, Each With A Unique Personality

photographer: brandy young

The Original Elf On A Shelf: Handmade Gnome Finger Puppets, Each With A Unique Personality

The talented crafting team behind the castle wall is Costa Mesa artist Jzin Teng and her luminous daughter, Elena. We sat down in their wonderland of a workspace to learn more about the handmade dollswool reliefs, playscapes and puppets they love to create.

“I’m a big believer in putting down roots,” said Teng. “Not just roots, but giving back to your town by making the place you live as beautiful and unique as you can. Costa Mesa is where we are and this is our contribution; our little way to make the city more beautiful.

“So when we were coming up with the name, I thought to myself, ‘This is my little castle, my little world, my art, my way to add beauty.’ So now, we are the Castle of Costa Mesa. It plays into the fantasy feeling of what we do.”

Pirates, Princes, Mermaids and Fairies Look On, As Elena And Her Artist Mother, Jzin, Felt Together

photographer: brandy young

Pirates, Princes, Mermaids and Fairies Look On, As Elena And Her Artist Mother, Jzin, Felt Together

And what they do is bring fantasy to life using an ancient, woolwork art form called felting. It predates more modern techniques like knitting or weaving, and some believe felting originated as far back as 6,500 B.C.

Felters moisten, massage and manipulate hand-blended tufts of sheep’s wool into soft shapes, sculptures, structures and reliefs; then add silk, kid mohair or other “ingredients” as finishing touches.

You can purchase Castle of Costa Mesa creations through their online Etsy shop.

“Slowly we’re making it into a small family business,” said Teng. “Elena has even sold some of her own dolls and pictures online. She’s sold mermaids, too.”

What A Relief: Teng's Work Isn't Just A Sight To Behold, It Soothes Her Soul To Create It
Jzin Teng At Work On A Woof Relief For Castle Of Costa Mesa

What A Relief: Teng’s Work Isn’t Just A Sight To Behold, It Soothes Her Soul To Create It

photographer: brandy young

Jzin Teng's Hands, Hard At Work, Felting A Wool Relief

“Mostly, for me, it’s very cathartic. As a mom of three children – two of whom have special needs – life is a bit like running between the raindrops. This is my way to stay Zen. When my two boys were younger, they were hospitalized many times. Sitting in the hospital, I realized that crafting is very helpful for dealing with grief and stress.

“Since then, this has all taken on a life of its own,” said Teng gesturing to the shelves behind her. “Now we just do it because it brings a lot of joy into our lives.”

Teng’s warmth, intelligence, and infatuation with all things make-believe, have a truly spellbinding quality. Her woolwork is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Photography just cannot convey the intricacy, detail, delicacy and expressiveness of each whimsical creation. When you see them in person, it’s nearly impossible to believe that every rosy cheek, wistful maiden and star-crossed lover started as basic tufts of wool.

A Felted Hansel And Gretel Lost In a Felted Wood, At Castle Of Costa Mesa
Wooly-Wooly: The Art Is All Based in Wool Felting, But Finished With Other Natural Materials

Wooly-Wooly: The Art Is All Based in Wool Felting, But Finished With Other Natural Materials

photographer: brandy young

Felted Otters In A Felted Sea At Castle Of Costa Mesa
Handmade, Felted Mermaids And Mermen At Castle Of Costa Mesa

Each piece, in and of itself, invites contemplation and delight. But being in her workspace – surrounded on all sides by gnomes, princesses, maidens, heroes, dwarves, unicorns, swashbucklers and swans – made us feel like we’d stepped into Camelot or The Shire. As if to underscore the enchantment of the experience, a butterfly literally hatched over Teng’s doorway, mid-interview.

“Look at that! A butterfly is born,” cried Teng in pure delight. “Happy birthday, butterfly!”

Witnessing Teng in her realm of fancy and felt, it’s hard to believe she’s a former Molecular Biologist who used to spend all day in a lab. How did someone with such a mind for science discover she had the soul of an artist?

“Illness is a transformative thing,” said Teng. “When I was six years old I was very sick. I had appendicitis and was in the hospital for a long time. I was so ill and so bored, my father brought me a drawing pad. I had nothing else to do so I started drawing, drawing, drawing. That experience brought out my inner artist. I spent my childhood sketching and painting.

Fairy Tale Beginnings: Everything In Teng's Workspace Is Made Naturally, Even The Butterflies!
A Newly Hatched Butterfly Feels Right At Home At Castle Of Costa Mesa

“As I grew up and went to college and became a researcher, I stopped doing any art at all. I was more serious about the science. But there was this suppression, there, this void.

“And then finally, I allowed myself to get back into the art just a little bit and – bam! There was an explosion of creativity! Art everywhere!

“I don’t think it does anyone any good to deny their creativity. We all have a “scientific” side and an “artistic” side. I think we need both sides to make a person whole.”

When Teng isn’t felting fantasy of her own, she’s teaching others in the community how to do it. She shares her joy of working with wool through a series of hands-on workshops at local, Costa Mesa locations like Piecemakers and The Waldorf School of Orange County.

Thank You, Jzin and Elena, For Sharing Your Warmth and Heart-Felt Beauty With Us

Thank You, Jzin and Elena, For Sharing Your Warmth and Heart-Felt Beauty With Us

photographer: brandy young

“Crafting together has a magical quality,” said Teng. “Sometimes when your hands are busy together you feel more connected. And in a bigger sense, I think we are all trying to feel more connected, to find a sense of community.

“Community starts with each of us. Wherever you are, grow your own garden of beauty and creativity around you. Your hometown is already unique just because you choose to live in it. So give something more! Your gift may not be felting, but every person in Costa Mesa has something beautiful to give.” ♥

About The Author

The Mesa Maven

The Mesa Maven is a writer, entrepreneur, community organizer and - most importantly - Costa Mesa Superfan!!! She's simply mad for this Mesa On The Coast and all the creative, independent, amazing, everyday things happening in our sunny backyard. The Maven lives with her husband, two kids and guinea Costa Mesa, of course!

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