Saturday, February 28, 2009

Needlefelting a Basic Round Shape

It IS winter, isn't it?
These photos were all taken in my backyard this afternoon. It was too nice of a day to stay
inside, though I wasn't really in the mood for the REAL work that needs to be done outside. Weeding, thinning, fertilizing and more weeding. Where did my restorative indoor time go?
Winter is one of my favorite seasons because everything seems to pause and take a long, deep breath. It seems as though my pace is about to pick up, ready or not!

here is a tutorial on how to make the most basic of basic shapes in needlefelting; the sphere. You will use this to make felt beads, doll heads, animal components, and more.

This is a picture of my best felting friend; a foam block. This is my best buddy because a fatty fat foam block does two important things for me; it lets me protect my fingers from the vicious barbed needles and it allows me to work far more quickly than would be possible without one. Some people prefer a smaller, more rectangular foam for portability, by I prefer the 6x6x6 cube. I never stab through it into my jeans, as I used to with my previous flatter mats. Talk about unpleasant! Woof! Messy, too.

You can choose any size of needle that you want. I usually start with a #36 or #38 and then switch to #40 for finish work. You will find the right combination for yourself as you practice.

Here you see the beginning product. This is wool roving. This particular example has been dyed and is ready to use. When you buy roving, it will usually arrive in a small plastic bag. Some producers roll it in a big ball, some fold it, and some just stuff it in the bag and send it to you. As you get to know new sources for wool, you will find the person/establishment that has the product you like best. I have found, however, that it doesn't matter all that much. I DO know that I prefer coarser, carded wool batts for needlefelting. If the item you are thinking about purchasing says Merino tops, don't get it. I LOVE Merino, don't get me wrong, but it is easier to wet felt it than needle felt. It is too fine and soft. I have needled it just takes a long time to get a smooth finish.

A little wool goes a long way. It is very easy to add more wool if you misjudged the amount needed for the size of the creation you are making. It is REALLY a pain if you start with too much and have to try and re size it later. Err on the side of conservatism.

Gently pull a strip of wool from your batt. It should pull apart fairly easily. Too add more, just lay the new amount right on top of the old one.

Using both hands, begin at one end of the strip and tightly roll up the wool into a ball shape. You will be tucking the sides in as you go, to keep the shape as ball-like as possible. It reminds me a bit of rolling up a sleeping bag. You want as little air in it as possible. This will make it less time consuming to felt. (Technically, I could take that big glop of roving from the first picture and just keep stabbing and rotating it and eventually it would end up a ball. Seriously, though, who has that much time on their hands and patience in their daily lives?)

This is the time when you should be able to tell whether or not you will need more wool. The size of the ball you have in your happy little fingers at this point is going to get smaller, so if you need a larger size ball, add more wool before you start felting. (It can be added later as well, after you have already felted the ball a bit. Remember, going bigger is pretty easy. Going smaller, once you have already started the felting process, is NOT.)

Keep rolling and keep it tight. Trust me, you'll be glad you did! When doing a ball or cylinder shape, the tighter the roll, the faster the felt.

See? That was quick. Just tuck those last little fibers under and you will be ready to start felting. With a needle. Woo-hoo!
As a side note, I just noticed from the pictures that I am developing a major case of man hands. Too much dish-doing and wet felting, I guess! Let's I have time for a manicure? NOPE!

This picture shows the needle going in fairly deep. I just wanted to illustrate that the wool will do exactly what you tell it to do. If you stab it hard, it will bind down upon itself in the area where you stabbed. If you stab really hard in one spot over and over, you will have a big indentation that will be there pretty much permanently.

This is because the needlefelting needles are causing the microscopic binding of the wool fibers onto themselves. It becomes denser and will follow what you guide it to do using the needles. Push deep and hard, you will get a recessed point. Needle gently, you will get surface binding in the shape that you were needling. (This sounds sort of airy-fairy, but you will TOTALLY understand it when you actually have the materials in hand.)

See? This was the first stab I did. I pushed fairly deep, and there is an indentation. Normally, you wouldn't stab THAT deeply at first. You start by firmly stabbing all around the ball, trying to create and hold that ball shape you are working towards. Begin where the "tail" of the roving is, the last place where you rolled the edge where the fluffy bits are still sticking up a bit. Needle firmly until the basic ball shape holds when you release the wool.

This is what you will have. A fuzzery little wool ball. If I let it go at this point, it will stay a fuzzy ball. In twenty years, it will STILL be a fuzzy ball. As I said, the wool will do what the needle tells it to do.
When doing a ball, it is helpful to stop every so often and roll the wool around in your hand, as you would if you were making a ball out of playdough. That will encourage the ball to take on a perfectly round shape. Additionally, if you roll it between your palms and form an oval, you can then continue to felt it into an oval shape.

Because you went around and around, firmly yet lightly felting the ball across the entire surface, it became a ball. All that is left to do at this point is to more finely felt the external surface of the ball.
This is one happy little fuzzy wool ball bead! Just a bit more refining is needed for my purposes.... It still has too many fibers sticking up.

For finish work, I like to change to a finer needle. This is a #40. I like them for "clean-up" because they bind the wool even a bit more closely. Go around with very shallow stabs to refine the surface area of the shape.

All done! A fairly firm, round ball. I can made a necklace by adding some other wool beads or even by sewing glass beads onto it to create a focal point. I can needle deeper indentations in certain areas and make a face. Whatever you can imagine, you can make. But first, you have to try it.

Warning: It is addictive and, once you master how wool works, very relaxing. The repetitive stab, stab, stab is very therapeutic. Don't say I didn't warn you!

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