Wednesday, February 4, 2009
These little guys are fun to make. They only take one felting needle and about a 1/2 ounce of wool each.
I used a triangular needle, 38 gauge, but there are other types. Two were made from wool roving but the white sheep was made from washed fleece. The bit of pink-colored wool used inside the ears of two of the sheep came from a bit of Kool-Aid dyeing I did a while back. I used about 2 inches (total) of a 4-ply black tapestry wool yarn for forming the mouth and nose on each sheep. One of the sheep has two tortoise-shell beads sewn on for eyes. The others are waiting for me to find suitable small beads in my stash.
The process of needle felting is fairly simple. After deciding what you want to make, break the overall form down into a few basic shapes. (Yes, this is like those drawing lessons where you are to imagine heads as ovals or spheres, legs as cylinders, etc.) In the case of these sheep, each one required 9 individual pieces: 4 same-size cylinders for the legs, 1 large cylinder for the body, a somewhat cone-shape for the head, and 3 flat leaf-shaped pieces for the two ears and the tail.
Take small amounts of wool, mere wisps in many cases, and roll them into the shapes you need. For legs you may want to roll the wool around a wooden skewer or even a toothpick if the animal is small. Then use the felting needle to run through the wool. Over and over again.
You'll notice after the first few tries that the wool compacts where the needle penetrates it. The form will go from being loose and airy, like a light cotton puff, to being more firm. More like one of those cylindrical cotton pads a dentist uses to pack around a gum. Leave a bit of loose wool at the end of the leg where you plan to attach it to the body. Then needle that bit in and out to attach it securely.
Remember that the felting needle is very sharp and barbed. You don't want to accidentally run it through you in the process. Using a foam pad as a working surface is what's most often recommended.
The pad should be thick enough that the needle doesn't extend past the pad when poking it into the wool. Another reason for using a pad is that the action of the needle hitting a hard surface like a tabletop could cause the needle to break. High-density foam (available at some craft stores), upholstery foam such as used for couch cushions or firm pillow forms, and even the packing foam used for electronic equipment can work for this purpose. Just don't use styrofoam or similar substance that will crumble when penetrated by the felting needle.
Instead of a foam pad, I've been using a folded Shetland sweater I fulled in the washing machine. (The sheep are standing on it in the photo above.) Folded, it offers a decent surface for stabbing at the wool. Drawbacks, which haven't bothered me so far, are every so often I have to pick a few hairy strands of wool from the sweater off of the sheep piece I am working on and the working piece and pad can stick together like they've been velcroed if I'm not careful about pulling up the working piece every few jabs. The last problem isn't one for me as I like to turn the working piece in my hand after every few pokes with the felting needle to be sure it's felting evenly and that the shape is staying as I want it. Not flattening out, for example.
DH wants to try this craft and is determined he's going to make a llama so we can have a flock of needle felted sheep made from our sheep's wool with a guardian llama just like Andy, too. For me, I want to try working with some dyed wool, perhaps making a sun, moon and stars mobile or a fiery-faced sun with wool locks coming out from his head like sunbursts.
Later this month I'm going to do a short class on making these sheep for my fiber guild's meeting. Since the other members inspire me with their hand-dyed tops, lacy shawls, inkle-woven shoelaces, etc., I've decided to work up a white sheep/black sheep needle felted design for the yoke or bottom edge of a long-sleeve denim shirt I found at the thrift store last month. What better way to demonstrate the many uses of a felting needle, right?