In Parts I and II of this series we introduced you to needle felting, and explained how to make one and two dimensional felted items such as pins and paintings. In Part III we are describing how to needle felt a sculpture.
Time is running out! Enter to win either the flower pin we showed you how to make in Part I, or Taffy-Belle, the teddy bear who is the star of this post! Entering couldn’t be easier, just leave a comment or question before midnight (EST.) Friday, June 5th, on any of the needle felting posts. (And remember Les Belles Bouclettes ships world wide!) The winner will be drawn by random number generator June 6th and announced in our June 7th post.
Using needle felting to sculpt fibre is flexible, and forgiving. You can make sculptures that are soft and floppy, or hard and maintain their shape and position. The size of the sculpture is entirely up to the artist. If you would like to you can again embellish your sculpture using other crafts, or other materials.
But in order to demonstrate the how to of sculpting fibre we made the much smaller Taffy-Belle.
Taffy-Belle began as all my animal sculptures do with a piece of roving to make the body. In this instance the roving was fluffy, and in order to help make what was happening clearer I left it fairly large. If you compare the size of the loosely rolled roving I began with to the finished teddy you’ll be able to appreciate how much the fibre is compacted during the felting process.
Luckily you can add to this tube as you go but it is a good idea if the tube is only a little larger then you want the finished body to be.
Next the needle is run through the tube several times, to help felt and fix the fibre.
The tube/body will stay very soft and floppy for some time. You will want to both sit it “upright” and run the needle down through it, as well as to turn it and felt it from side to side to make it firmer.
I mainly sculpt animals, so at this stage I usually prefer to leave the body as a simple cylindrical tube, which allows me to shape and refine the form of shoulders and haunches while I attach the limbs. However, even at this point it is important to keep the general shape you will want in mind . A teddy bear will be rounder (possibly have a bit of a belly) and the tube will be vertical. While for example a goat will be thinner/flatter, and the tube will be positioned horizontally.
I like to leave some roving hanging down from what will be the neck. Usually I stuff this extra fibre into the top of the body, although for some shapes smoothing it down over the shoulders forms a more attractive join. Either way once your head is holding together it is time to attach it to the body, hold it in place and felt them together.
Again it is important to use the felting needle from several different angles. And with the fibre being so soft and the odd angle I tend to be gentle while using the needles at this stage because chances are high that you will jab yourself.
In an upright animal that is sitting on its back haunches I like to make the hind legs next so that the sculpture can be placed in something like its final position for you to evaluate it more accurately as you go along.
You follow the same process to make two back paws, except that they are rolled into a flatter shape with more of a point at what will be the back end. You want to attach them as smoothly as possible, without any joints showing. If necessary an extra layer of roving can be placed over the whole haunch and paw and felted into place to hide any uneven or lumpy bits.
Making the arms is the same basic process, once again trying to start with the same amount of roving for both arms is a big help, although an arm that is too small is easier to pad and add to then one that is too big. If you make an arm or leg too big I’ve found you can often felt it smaller by holding the fibre tightly between your fingers while you felt vigorously using a smaller needle. Some times the only way around it (if you don’t want to or cannot remove the piece in question( is to simply upsize the entire sculpture).
The arms start as longer tube shapes, and I like to leave a generous amount of loose fibre at the shoulder end to wrap part way around the back. It helps to make a secure invisible join, and pads and shapes the back (or for some animals the shoulders) of the sculpture.
Felting and Shaping:
Generally at this point I devote a lot of time to working the fibre. The sculpture is repeatedly lifted and turned so that it can be felted from all sides and at many different angles. For example I will lay a teddy bear flat on its back and run the needle through its head in a semi circle to flatten an area above what will be the muzzle. Then felt sideways through the muzzle before actually felting the lower portion of the face. Then the needle will go upwards defining its chin, only then will I sit it up and felt the back of the head. I use a similar approach to work the body, arms, back, haunches and hind paws.
I also like firmer sculptures so I press the fibres tightly between my fingers shaping and compacting them as I felt.
For a teddy shaped ear I coil a small amount of fibre into a curved bowl shape, then holding it between my thumb and index finger run the needle through to shape it and make it smaller and thicker. You can do some of this on your felting pad, but I’ve found that you have less control, end up with a larger flatter piece then you wanted (along with fingers you have stabbed repeatedly and painfully) and it is hard to pull such a small thin piece off the pad. Once your ear will keep its shape you can place it on the head.I prefer to have both ears ready before beginning to attach them.
Where they are placed, and what angle they sit at have a dramatic impact on your sculpture’s head and you really need to be sure they are where and how you want them to be before you fix them in place. Again I like to leave loose fibres at the base of each ear, it is easy to spread them across the back of the head to tack the ears into place. That way they are securely attached to the head but I can still wiggle them forward, back and from side to side until I’m sure they are place correctly.
Once you have them where you want them,and facing the right way it is time to felt them in on all sides. Then you can shape them some more, smoothing their edges and making them smaller, or (if necessary) taking a few strands of roving and building the ear’s edges up and out to make it larger.
After the ears are in place it is really up to you how much you want to work the sculpture, and if you want to add more details, extra colours and/or embellish it. Taffy-Belle was worked and posed until she was the size you see in this photo. Then size 6/0 beads were sewn in for her eyes, and a tiny piece of black roving shaped and added to make her nose. I’ve found that you almost always need to do a bit more felting to shape the face after the eyes are sewn in place.
I should mention that a lot of sculptors use undyed rovings as their base, make the sculpture in it, then lay in other dyed rovings for colour and felt them in place. I began by using this method but found it had a number of drawbacks when making smaller sculptures. If you only add a thin layer of colour you run the risk of felting it into the main sculpture, so the undyed fibre shows through. Then you need more dyed, and you can end up with parts that are too large/thick, and related problems. Which is the same situation you can face if you apply a thicker layer of fibre, your sculpture will be larger and if this is something you didn’t want then it is a bother. And lastly, if you do manage that happy medium, and completely cover your sculpture without changing its size and then ( as I did) show off your creation to several people, all of whom (not unreasonably) wished to hold it, and pass it around, then once again patches of the undyed yarn start to peak through. (This is the illness the first piece I sculpted, this teddy bear suffers from.) For smaller items, ones that will be more detailed and/or worked more I’ve found it easier and more attractive to do as I did to demonstrate for these photos, I simply use dyed rovings throughout the sculpture.
To give you some idea of the possibilities we are sharing pictures of a few of my other sculptures.
There is Obsidian whom I have already introduced.
His mane and tale are made of black baby yarn, and his eyes are 12 mm beads.
While on a much smaller scale this rabbit
are still a generous size and are an example of using a basic material and techniques to best effect. The rabbit is worked all in wool rovings, while the alpaca was made in actual alpaca fleece (and named for the animal the fleece came from); both rely for their charm on an abundance of sculpting detail. Their eyes are made using 6/0 beads, and the rabbit’s ears are lined with flesh toned rovings.
Then there is Gold Fire, my dragon sculpture.
Gold Fire is mainly made of felted wool, but I wrapped him from head to tale with many layers of gold silk thread, and then felted the thread into place. I tipped his talons with transparent crystal size 11/0 beads on 32 gauge wire and twisted the wire before forming their curved shapes. They were then fitted against his paws before the silk thread was wrapped over and around them to hold them in place. His wings were knitted using the same wire and also have some of the transparent beads scattered through them. I wrapped more of the wire around his body to hold them in place, and then since he wasn’t as straight as I wanted I wrapped a little extra wire around his body to help me to position him. But the wire is only a half inch or so each side of the wings, the rest of the shaping was done simply by pressing and felting. Since some of the wire and wool around his shoulders (above and below where the wings join the body) could not be adequately concealed by the silk thread I used the thread to knit two small narrow patches to cover those parts of his body, and felted them into place. His eyes are 6 mm fire polished crystal beads. He is very light so it was safer and simpler to pin him onto a cloth pad to act as a base.
So there you have the basics of needle felting. We hope you have enjoyed this series and maybe now feel ready to try felting something for yourself. We’d be delighted to see your projects (past, present and future) so please feel free to share pictures and stories about them. We’d also be happy to hear any questions, suggestions or tips you’d like to post.