Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Needle Felting: Just Stab it Until It Looks Cute. Wait, What?

I want to tell you all about the newest craft I've discovered, called needle felting. Felting is a process by which fibers of some kind (unspun wool, in the case of most felting craft) become matted together to form a denser form of fabric (think of what you typically picture when you hear the term 'felt'). In needle felting, this is done by stabbing a special notched needle (or a few needles) repeatedly into a ball of unspun wool roving or top until it forms a dense shape. I heard about this from Gromek's friend Dana Pixie (she's been felting a lot, see her blog here) A lot of people haven't heard of needle felting, but I am loving it because it's something you can get started with to make 3D creations fairly easily. I didn't time it, but a simple 3D critter took me about 4 hours total and I know I will get faster at it. I'm going to show you the process to making my very first creation here:

First, you start with wool roving (washed and carded wool fibers) or top (washed and combed wool fibers). The terms are often used interchangeably, but they are technically different. You can use either for felting, though! You can buy dyed and undyed roving or top from yarn stores (sometimes), online (etsy is always a good resource), and even chain craft stores like Michael's or Joann's. This is what it looks like:

Supplies: Wool Roving and Cat

As you can see here, in addition to your wool and felting needle, you also need a felting pad (either a foam one, like this, or there are some that look kind of like a brush). The felting pad lets you stab without worrying about stabbing yourself. Well, without stabbing yourself too often. You can also buy thimble-like things to protect your fingers. And I nearly forgot-you need a cat. A cat is always important for crafting, and cats seem to love fiber crafts almost as much as dangling earrings and chains! (Maybe the roving still smells like sheep to him? It doesn't smell to me!)

All needle felting sculptures start out with simple shapes. For my first project I started by rolling some black roving into a ball and felting it into an oval. All you need to do is roll the ball as tightly as you can, then stab straight into it with the needle so that the 'barbed' end part of the needle goes into the fibers. This causes the fibers from the outside of the ball to tangle with the fibers in the center of the ball. You will feel the shape getting denser and more solid as you go. Here's me working on the first step, with all of my necessary materials, including the needle:
Step one: stab roving into ball with needle. Don't forget cat. 

OK, ok-here's a closer shot. It's the best shot I was able to get at this point, but it's still blurry, can you guess why?
Stab, stab, stab
Here's that black oval first at the halfway stage and again when I decided it was solid enough (when it didn't squish too much in the middle anymore). You can see how quickly it gets to a stage where it stays in a ball shape by itself:
Halfway felted

Fully felted
Next I took long pieces of yellow roving, twisted them into a long line and felted some stripes onto my creation. The technique is the same here, stabbing the stripes until they tangle into the rest of the creation. This is the fiddly part, though, it's easy to lose control of the stripes while you stab, so go slowly and keep a close eye on what you're doing. Can you guess yet what it will be?
Adding stripes. Note helpful use of cat at this step of the process.
Please note-even though Gromek and I are messing around in these pictures, these needles are
sharp and it hurts if you stab yourself! I even ended up bleeding a couple of times, so be careful!

Here it is again with all 3 stripes felted on:
Stripes fully felted
Now, here's the part where I forgot to take pictures at every stage because I got too excited . . . (Sorry about that) I felted a small piece of white roving into 2 small flat round shapes, leaving a bit of loose roving at one side of each one. I then attached the shapes by felting the loose roving onto the back of the main creation. Then, I sewed little black seed bead eyes onto my creation. When sewing on eyes, I was advised to start from the bottom or back of your creation to hide the knots. If that's not good enough, you can also felt a patch over the knots.
And here's my creation in it's final form! (Yeah, I'm sure by now you'd all guessed it was a bumblebee!)

Finished bee, with wings and eyes added!
So, what do you think? I bought my materials as a starter kit on etsy-there are many kits you can buy for specific animals, but I used a more general kit and a book called Wool Pets that I got from the library. I highly recommend the book for more detailed instructions than I gave (though still not perfect). I also recommend The Complete Photo Guide to Felting if you want more tips on needle felting or want to learn about wet or nuno felting! You can buy your materials at Michael's or Joann's although I love supporting the indie peeps on etsy! (Plus, they have kits!) Just make sure any kit you buy includes a felting pad, needle(s) and enough roving for at least one project to get you started.
We found this to be a fun, cozy, and relaxing craft to do!

A relaxed cat makes a great work surface.
Here is my second ever creation. It took longer but it's much more complex. But it just goes to show, once you've got the basics, you can make anything! 
Felted penguin
I love the science-magic aspect of felting (it's amazing to watch loose wool turn into something!) I am thinking of adding these types of things to my shop. I'm also experimenting with needle/wet felted beads! So, what do you think? Would you buy something like this? Would you like to try it yourself?


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