Needle Felting Part II: Painting with Fibre!

In part I we covered the basics of needle felting and described the technique used to make a felted pin. 
Painting with fibre is a lot like making a pin on a larger scale.
Meeting By The Old Stump Frame
raven2 Star Bearer (Blue Angel)


Selecting Your “Canvas”:
First, you will need a piece of fabric to perform the same function as a painters canvas.  It is necessary to choose a fabric that will bond with the fibres (in my case rovings) you will be painting with on it. There are many fabrics that will work, felted wool or wool blends are popular choices. Brenda Franklin (the designer who introduced me to the art of felting) mentioned that according to her research synthetic fleeces worked as backings. I have often been greatful to her for the passing reference.  Fleece is a readily available, economically priced  material that has served me well.
This technique can be used to make lovely wall hangings, however, I stretch my completed work over gallery stretchers the way you would a painting.  How you plan to finish it and the amount of fabric required to stretch, hem or edge the painting or hanging are all important points to remember when you measure out the fabric you have chosen to use as the canvas for your painting.
As with any other type of painting the background can form part of the picture, or be completely covered.  However, unlike other kinds of painting when you felt the fibres into the fabric they will become part of it and blend their colours together.  Also worth remembering is that a fabric in a colour that contrasts dramatically with your fibre is more likely to show through, or need a thicker layer of fibre to cover it thoroughly.


Painting In Your Background:
Your fibre painting is built in layers up from the canvas, and while felting is very forgiving, and will allow you to peal off and add fibre when you wish to add or alter details the bottom layers will be increasingly difficult to work with as your painting develops.  Therefore selecting and felting in your background is an important step. 
In the picture we made to demonstrate this technique the green (grass) forms the background
as well as the foreground (creating a framing effect),
 and thanks to the over all design of the painting applying it was simple. 
As an example of a different background the painting Never More (the raven), was done with several colours that were blended and worked together. In this painting the sky completely covered my fabric before I began work on the rock or bird. raven
So when planning and painting your background it is important to keep in mind the over all size and effect you wish to achieve.  


Felting The Painting:
For this painting the central focus is the old weathered stump. The rabbits in the painting are beside and in front of the stump so it needed to be almost completely worked before I added them. Because I like texture and a two dimensional quality in my paintings I used thicker pieces of roving, pressing and using my needles to sculpt it to create the effects I wanted. The grey wool was placed in a thick layer in the general shape of the stump with large branching roots.
stump felting
Then I felted it.  I added some dark brown rovings to help streak the bark.
dark brown roving
I did this early in the process so that the brown would be thoroughly worked into and blended with the grey. 
blending dark brown and grey roving
I continued to touch up the trunk the entire time I worked on the painting (and at one point added substantially to a portion of it to allow my rabbits paws to rest on it),
blende colours in the stump
but I probably spent close to two hours doing the initial texturing and shaping of the trunk and roots. 
 trunk and roots done
Then it was time to make my rabbits.  I made the one lying at the foot of the trunk first.  His body was built in layers, with extra padding to create the raised back haunch.  The head was made in a small ball (a technique described in more detail in part III of this series) and felted to both the rabbit and the fleece/canvas. 
lying rabbit
The little rabbit standing on the root and peering around the stump was next.  Again I layered rovings to make the body, then twisted small amounts of wool for the forelegs and paws.  Lastly I again made the head and attached it.
standing rabbit
After their basic shapes were created I used different sized needles to refine the shape.  Since each time I use a needle I’m compacting the fibres the rabbits got smaller.  Once they were close to the size and shape I wanted I added their tails, and then sewed size 6/0 beads in place for their eyes.  After the beads were sewn on I worked small amounts of fibre on to their faces over the beads to give their heads and faces more of the shape and look of a rabbit, before tipping their noses with black.  Then each ear was made and attached to the rabbits heads.  The rabbit looking out at you from the base of the stump is relaxed and his ears would be laying flat along his back but he has turned his head to look straight at you so now they rest at a slight angle against the stump.  The little shy one to the side has his ears up, alert and ready to catch all sounds as he peaks around the side of the stump to see if it is safe to join his companion in the open.
(For any fellow lovers of Richard Adams Watership Down I had Hazel and Fiver in mind while creating this painting.)


The Final Touches:
First as you work you press and move your fibres.  And second, some times you end up felting in bits you didn’t expect to interfere with when you first laid in your fibres.  So it is important to again go over the painting as a whole and fill in any gaps or thin spots.  For this picture I ended up adding some grass, and (as previously mentioned) built up the stump a little since that was much easier then moving my rabbit.  I added a little more texture to the stump, and decided that a few tiny flowers would add a nice touch.
  For the flowers I rolled small balls of yellow rovings, then partially wrapped them in white, and ran the needle through to thicken the white while bonding it to the yellow.  Then I placed them and felted them on the grass and stump.
 Meeting By The Old Stump.
Once I was satisfied that I had the picture as I wanted it to be it was time to stretch it over my frame of stretcher strips.
To do this the fabric was pulled firmly over the rectangle of strips, and a staple gun used to secure the fabric in place.
Meeting By The Old Stump Frame


And here you have it: Meeting By The Old Stump! an original fibre painting.


As with any other art form the techniques used and the results achieved in fibre painting are very personal.Here are photos of two other paintings I completed recently and of one in progress. These paintings give you a small representation of the wide variety of possibilities available to the fibre painter.


Star Bearer (the angel) while two dimensional is only slightly raised from her background. However, she has many embellishments in addition to the basic textures, blending and layering achieved with needle felting.Star Bearer (Blue Angel) Her eyes were made using 6 mm faceted beads which were sewn into place. (Her face was refined and shaped after the eyes were sewn in.) Her cuffs and collar were made using cotton thread and size 11/0 beads in hand-knitted lace that was then felted in place and became part of the painting. The pitcher she cradles in her hands is a three dimensional fibre sculpture that was made separately and again felted into place. Round size 8/0 beads and 12 mm star beads were strung and sewn into the pitcher. And finally, size 11/0 beads were strung on a 30 gauge wire which was twisted into a circle and inserted over her head to form her halo. In contrast, Never More (the raven) is made almost entirely of felted fibre. The raven, sky and rock are all made of wool rovings. The clouds and the gold outline edging the raven were done using a metallic dyed nylon fibre. The rock was partially sculpted as a three dimensional form before it was attached to the canvas.raven rockThe raven was worked in thick layers and built directly onto the background sky. Baby yarn was twisted to form each leg, and coiled into a flat shape to create each foot. A bead was sewn in place for his eye, and pewter coloured metallic nylon felted in place to form clouds. Lastly he was backlit (or edged) in the gold nylon fibre.raven2Breasting The Current (the swan) is a close relative to Never More in construction. swanThe wool rovings foundation for the watery background was laid in first. Then using the same method as for the raven the basic swan shape was roughed in on the water. Once I was sure of precisely where the swan would be I returned to working the water, wanting to show the details of the waves the swan was encountering as it swam against the current and something of the waters “texture” and ripples fanning out in its wake.swan detail.jpgTo finish the painting I will add creamy foam to the edges of the ripples, as well as the swan’s bill and a bead sewn in for its eye. This painting will be made in wool and wool mohair blend rovings with the one addition of a bead for the swan’s eye.
These are just a few examples of what can be done by combining different fibres, materials and techniques in your fibre painting.
In the third part of this series we will explore how to make a felted sculpture, the technique used to create Taffy-Belle the adorable teddy bear we are giving away. 
Taffy Belle
Remember you have until midnight June the 5th (EST.) to enter to win either the flower pin
yellow flowerwe showed you how to make in Part I, or Taffy-Belle.  Entering couldn’t be easier, just leave a comment or question on one of the needle felting posts.  (And remember Les Belles Bouclettes ships world wide.) 
Have you experimented with any form of needle felting?  We’d love to hear about your projects and experiences!

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