Friday, April 11, 2008

Playing With Needle Felting

Regarding art making and crafts, in keeping with my word of the year “content” I am trying to not long for new art and craft materials but instead am tying to use up what I have on hand, and to be content with what we own rather than always longing to buy new things to do.

In 2000 I made my first Waldorf style doll by hand. I was not a person who sewed but the idea of spending over $100 on one doll for a three year old boy to play with didn’t sit right with me. I bought a kit for $25 from Weir Dolls and made it myself. I struggled through it and it came out pretty decent. It also took me about ten hours to complete. In 2001 I made one for my younger son. That was back in the days when I was inspired in our homeschool by some of the Waldorf education theories as well as using some of the Waldorfy toys and arts and crafts. At that time I also added in with my order, some wood roving, dyed and undyed, thinking I’d make some finger puppets or little figures out of it.

One thing I had wanted to do back in 2000-2002 was felting. In 2000 or 2001, had bought two books and a big bunch of undyed wool roving. I also bought a small sack of colored wool roving. In 2002 while at a La Leche League breastfeeding and parenting conference, there was a Waldorfy company there and I bought a kit to make felted Easter eggs. All these felting methods were using wool roving, hot water and soap and friction to felt the wool.

In 2002 I finally made one Easter Egg from the kit using their directions. My hands were made raw by the soap and the friction with the wool. I decided never to do that again. I figured “felting was out for me”. I put these materials away and shelved the books.

In 2003 our family attended a Harvest Festival at a local Waldorf School for something fun to do on a Saturday. A woman was doing needle felting and making lovely human figures and animals. She was demonstrating how to do it and insisted it was easy. Her fancy finished creations looked anything but easy. I was intimidated and thought I could not do that, but wished I could. I also didn’t own felting needles and thought the only place I could get them was by mail order.

Last month I was inspired by the idea of needle felting with a single felting needle, by hand (not using a sewing machine) because I suddenly recalled having seen it demonstrated in the last year on one of the craft television shows. In the years between 2002 and 2008 apparently felting has become a mainstream fiber arts craft, one that is no longer just being done in Waldorf circles. So while at A.C. Moore (for something else) I checked and lo and behold they had a small felting display with dyed roving and hand felting needles. Well last month I took everything out of its storage place in boxes in the basement. Then I headed back out to A.C. Moore. I did have to buy the needles. Using a coupon, I paid about $3 at A.C. Moore for a set of two needles, a piece of Styrofoam and a small bit of roving and felt and directions. The kit wanted me to make a flower on the felt. I rejected this and used the white and black dyed roving to make an abstract design. This was fun.

I figured then that maybe I could do three dimensional felting. Since I had a ton of undyed, unbleached roving what I did was use the undyed roving to make the shape then I used the colored roving as a thin top layer. Going by memory of what that Waldorf mom had told me five years ago, I just started by folding the felt and jabbing at it with the needle. Magically the felt began to transform into the shape that I had hoped it would. The needle felting compresses the shape and makes it thicker and firmer, more solid feeling rather than being soft and squishy. When I needed to change the shape I could just add more roving and attach it with the needle. It is hard to describe but trust me when I say you just work at the area with the needle and the shape changes immediately. To fix a mistake you can just add more roving and cover it up.

I was doing this needle felting in the hour that my husband and I watch a television show with our children which we do right before bed. Also sometimes after the kids went to bed I would spent up to an hour more working on my project.

The first thing I made was a little triangle with abstract designs. Somehow that got lost so I don’t have a photo of it. The second project is a little gift box with a ribbon and bow that is in a color similar to Tiffany blue. I then moved on to making Easter Eggs, since Easter was coming up soon and since I was inspired by that old kit (even though I was needle felting not felting using water and soap).

After that I made a teddy bear (it started off as a Gingerbread Man but the color brown was too dark and looked just wrong so it morphed into a teddy bear). I also made two bluebirds—at first it was just an Easter Egg that was leaning to the side (not good) so I morphed it into what was to be a cute monster creature thing but it started to look like a bird body and head so I changed it to a bird. Since I had the right colors for a bluebird it became a bluebird. I later made a man. It was time to make an ATC for my CMP Circle ATC exchange so I decided to felt one! I then made a flower onto a piece of felt, switching to work on a flat surface to use up some last bits of certain colors we had left over. The last thing I made was a race car, using up the fuchsia colored roving and the last of the black roving for tires. I even put racing flames on both sides of the car.

After seeing me do the needle felting on night number one my children begged to do it (as usual, they want to do all the art making and crafts that I do). They started off by alternating who would work on it in the evening as I didn’t have enough needles for the three of us to do it together. Then I got another set of two needles ($2 after coupon) so we could all do it at the same time.

My boys began by making colored balls. My younger son made a collection of fruit (yellow apple, lemon, banana, and an orange). My older son seems a bit stifled and afraid to make three dimensional projects that are something other than a simple ball.

I recall seeing felted balls selling at a parenting conference for $10. Some contained jingle bells inside, giving a little jingle when the ball is tossed. That would be very easy to do.

We have used up almost all of the dyed wool roving and about half or more of the undyed roving I had on hand. The kids are begging to do more projects and they want me to buy more colored wool roving. It is expensive especially if you buy it at A.C. Moore were tiny bits about the size of a Tablespoon sell for $1.50. I took out my books on feltmaking and in one book they talk of using unsweetened fruit drink mix to dye it with. I have unsweetened Kook Aid mix on hand (about 40 cents a packet) as that is what I use to make homemade modeling dough. I also remembered that another thing I bought once but never used was a kit to dye fabrics with natural dyes, so I might use that. The new plan is to dye some of our undyed wool and to use it up.

The kids really love doing felting by hand with the needle. They have not injured themselves, yes they have accidentally jabbed themselves a few times but no cuts were made and no blood was drawn. They are begging to do more felting.

I will upload scans of our felting projects soon. So far I have photos of about half of the projects I’ve completed.

If I can find the time I’ll publish book reviews on the two books I own about felting since I’ve scanned through them in this last month. The two I bought in the past were Magic Wool: by Dagmar Schmidt & Freya Jaffke and The Art of Feltmaking: by Anne Vickrey. I do not own a book just about needle felting and I did not need a book on that to jump into this craft. Today I see there are more books on felting on the market than were available back in 2000-2002.

Wool roving that is colored, dyed can be found in both chemical dyed, bright colors as well as in the more subdued plant based natural dyed. Flat felt can be purchased made from real wool also available in chemical dyes and natural dyes.

One last thing I want to share is that if you are going to do felting onto a flat felt surface I would ask that you consider using real wool flat felt instead of the acrylic felt. There is just such a difference with the tactile feeling of the real wool felt. Although I used the acrylic felt that I found easily in my stash for the two projects I did on flat felt, I really wish I had been able to find my small stash of wool felt to use instead—that remains for now, hidden in my craft supply stash.

I really enjoyed this craft because I like working with the soft wool roving. It is a clean craft to work on—our family did it while sitting in bed watching (listening to) television. The finished products are so soft and unique; they invite you to touch them. The three dimensional felted things are so different than any other fiber art.

I am happy that my boys loved doing the feltmaking too. I consider the time they spent making these projects as 'homeschool art class'.


Weir Dolls has a huge selection of roving, dyed and undyed

A Child’s Dream Come True has felting materials including flat felts and plant dyed felt too

Nova Natural Toys & Crafts (Waldorf supplier), sells some wool roving, do a keyword search on roving. This is a good place to order dyed roving especially if you are placing an order for something else there such as their great toys and games for young children.

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1 comment:

themagiconions said...

I love your eggs and birds... what a great idea for easter! I made my first needle felted doll for my daughter for Christmas (there is a photo on my blog) and was amazed at how lovely she turned out, not perfect by any standard, but gorgeous all the same. In needle felting I have finally found something I can do! It's so nice to be able to create such lovely things. Thanks for sharing your work.