60 – 120 min
What Will You Learn?
An unusual act of crafty repurposing, needle felting is the art of sculpting wool with a barbed needle. The specialty needle was adapted for art from its original use in industrial and automotive machinery. Needle-felting machines, which can hold 250,000 needles, are used to manufacture air bags, oil and fuel filters, and non-woven upholstery. In the 1980s, crafters began using the needles manually to make art. As a medium, carded-wool batting can be manipulated into any shape. Infinite varieties and colors of wool are available to make flowers, dinosaurs, cats, dogs, robots, jewelry, or any sculpture. The supplies are inexpensive and the techniques are simple and fun.
Wool You Look at That?
Needle felting uses dyed wool batting. Ask campers where wool comes from. How is it collected? How is it dyed? If possible share wool samples from different animals (sheep, goat, alpaca) or show them wool from shearings to processed batting or roving. Reach out to farmers or crafters who may be able to visit camp and share their expertise. Learn more about fiber for felting.
Obtain your Supplies
Scavenge! Use an old sponge or a scrap of foam as your work surface. A stiff-bristle brush with bristles facing straight up can be used. Find a sheep to shear, then card and dye its wool with plant dyes or Kool-Aid. The needles will most likely be purchased new.
Buy a kit. Many include everything you need to begin your first project
Warning: Prevent felting injury! Fingers can be poked and punctured — watch the needle and work slowly.
Gather Wool and Begin Needling
Gather wool together and hold it between two fingers. To begin, gather the wool into a mass that suggests the ultimate shape of the sculpture. Push into the wool batting with the felting needle. If you have multiple gauged needles, begin with the smallest gauge (which is the largest size).
The wool easily condenses beneath the point. Gentle pressure will create all the friction necessary for the fibers to entangle. The needle ought to enter the object at a 1⁄4″ to 1⁄2″ depth. It should not be pushed deep into the foam. Push the needle into the wool again and again; not very many strokes are needed to give shapeless batting a new form.
Make Edges and Curves
To refine your object, gently lift and needle the other side. Rotate spherical objects frequently. Visualize a center and turn the felt every few stabs to create dimension and shape. From fluffy and light to dense and firm, change in the batting happens quickly.
If fibers become embedded into work surface, pull gently until wool is freed. Frequently and gently, pull the fibers to untangle the project from the foam.
The wool follows the directional force of the needle. Alternating the angles at which the needle enters the wool will make edges and curves. Any errors can simply be repaired with more wool and more needling; it is also easy to add new colors in this way. Work the project with needles, hands, and fingers until the desired density has been achieved.
Pinch and hold the wool to make edges. Twist it in your fingers, and needle along the very edge to give good definition to small details.
Attach Multiple Pieces
When making an object with multiple pieces, leave the sides that will be bonded together slightly rough. Pierce the parts into each other, being sure that the barbs of the needle entangle the fibers of both pieces. Stab right through the center of both pieces.
To prevent distortion, use greater pressure but fewer strokes. A large-gauge, star-shaped needle is useful for attaching other colors and parts.
To make the seeds for this fruit, use the smallest amount of fibers. A little goes a long way. When adding surface colors be sure to use a light touch.
Once the shape has been created, any kind of detail or color can be applied. These fiber sculptures can easily be sewn with beads, sequins, and embroidery thread.
What was the hardest technique to learn when felting?
What tips would you give a beginner?
What do you want to make next?
About the Magazine
Looking for some projects to fulfill your crafty needs? Look no further! Snag a copy of our sister publication, CRAFT, and delve into a world of DIY delight! From decorative issues, seasonal and event issues, with arts of all types, these mags will quench your crafty thirst! Find it in the Maker Shed.