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Art articles written by Harlan

Hello and welcome to my Live Chat on Needle Felting and the Sheep Pin Cushion Project!

Felt is one of the oldest forms of textile. Felt is created by densely matting wool or other animal fibers together. Needle felting is relatively new. The first use of felting needles in this manner that we know of was in the early 1980's by artisans David & Eleanor Stanwood who used a woolen mill industry tool on a small scale and began needle felting by hand. These needles have barbs which grab the fibers. Poking with these needles assists the fibers to bind together -- to felt.

For a close look at what these needles are like look via Foster Needle USA

Needles come in a variety of sizes. Most felting needles are triangular in shape but there are others which are four sided (called star) and other variations. They are all extremely SHARP!!! And should you decide to try this amazing craft I must warn you, you WILL bleed!!

The good news is the longer you needle felt the less often you will accidentally puncture yourself but it will happen. These small punctures tend to heal very quickly.

Needles are also very fragile! You can insert a needle from any angle into the wool roving and you must remove it in the exact same angle. If you attempt to change your angle between this movement into the roving and out of the roving you are going to break your needle.

Wool and other animal fibers have "scales". When these fibers are agitated either by traditional felting techniques or by the use of a felting needle the scales lock together. The more the fibers are agitated or needled the tighter and firmer will be the resulting felt. The deeper into the roving the needle is inserted, the firmer and denser will be the resulting felt/object.

Wool is the most commonly used fiber for felting but certainly not the only fiber. Alpaca, llama, angora, dog hair, cat hair and even silk can be used for felting to name but a few. And all wool is not the same. Each of the fibers I have mentioned has their own particular characteristics and there is a wide variety of characteristics when simply considering sheep's wool.

Wool can be very coarse and wiry or very fine and every variation in between. Needle felters often discuss what wool they favor and why. They can even be fussy about whether the wool they use comes from the top or the inside of the fleece. The finer the fiber the more difficulty it is to felt. Believe me, there is a lot to know about wool fibers and all its variations but explaining them all would be rather boring so instead lets get on to the Sheep Pin Cushion Project!

  • Felting needles
  • Foam pad or clover brush pad
  • Very thin knitting needle(s)
  • 2 black beads
  • Thread and needle
  • Wool batting
  • Grey wool (I use merino)
  • Curly fleece

    For this project I will be using some wool batting for the foundation:

    Some grey merino wool for the face and legs:

    Some curly wool for the fleece:

    I'll use couple of beads for eyes and needle and thread for attaching the beads as well as defining the face.

    I will use a variety of needles ranging from size 36 (coarse) to 42 (very fine). I have made tools out of polymer clay for holding multiple needles.

    While I find these multiple needle tools extremely useful, this project can be done without the use of such multiple needle tools -- you only need the wool roving and a felting needle.

    Most needle felters work on a foam pad so that the needle can be thrust through the roving and into the pad -- this prevents the needles from breaking. Foam pads come in various densities and needle felters all have their own particular favorites. I personally prefer to work on a Clover Brush Pad/mat:

    This brush pad provides wonderful firm support for the felting project while causing no harm to the needles. The pad does not break down over time as will any foam pad. To prevent the bristles of the pad from grabbing some of the wool roving, I cover my brush pad with a piece of fabric. From time to time this fabric does need to be replaced but the brush pad continues to provide a wonderful work surface. The brush pad was designed for doing flat needle felting work but works very well for three dimensional pieces.

    Okay -- let's begin!

    Here is my inspiration piece:

    Grab some of that wool batting!

    "How much" you ask??

    Oh, a wad about the size of your fist will do. This should be a semi-compressed wad, not a real loose and fluffy wad.

    There is no convenient method for measuring the quantity of wool roving whatever its form. A wad of wool batting about the size of your fist is going to felt down into something much smaller. We may have to add more or we may have too much. Only hands on experience will make choosing how much easier.

    Coarser needles felt faster so to start off I'll be using some 36s to felt the batting. I am aiming for a half egg shape. First I'll roll up that batting into a fairly firm log:

    Now that I have a log shape I will use the needles to stuff the fuzzy bits on either end into the center of the log and with lots and LOTS of stabbings begin shaping it into a half egg. Because I am working on the clover pad the bottom will automatically be flat. You will need to pick the piece up and needle the edges at the bottom so that they are also getting firm.

    It's not perfect but it doesn't need to be. This part will later be completely covered with the curly wool. I needle some minor definition into this form to indicate where hips and arms would be:

    Set this piece aside while we make some pieces parts!

    Take a small bit of wool roving -- maybe about 1 inch by 2 inches and hardly thick at all. Fold that in half and then roll it perpendicular to the fold to form a tube. Needle only the portion near the fold to make a nice little tail!

    If you used too much wool batting -- pull or cut off the excess! If you didn't use enough, add some more -- needle felting is very forgiving!!

    Place the tail on the sheep and needle it in:

    I am using Merino wool for the legs and head. It is very fine wool and takes a lot of effort to felt. I happen to like it because it results in a wonderful finished surface. Most of the needle felters I know hate merino wool and prefer wool that is not quite so fine such as Romney or Icelandic. If you wish to try this project you may also prefer to use coarser wool.

    Let's start with the legs.

    I pull off a hank of grey wool of roughly 6" in length:

    Divide that in half and set one of the halves aside for later:

    Divide one of the halves into thirds:

    Take one of the "thirds" and while holding one of the fuzzy ends on a very thin knitting needle wind the wool roving around the needle. You will over lap the roving as you wind the roving down the length -- you want to have a wound section oh roughly 2.5 to 3 inches long.

    While the roving is still ON the needle -- needle the roving (avoid hitting the needle). Turn the needle and continue to do this -- the more needling you do of the roving while it is on the needle and still very nicely shaped the less you will have to do when you take it off the needle and it all wants to become a really wobbly messy bit that will never ever look like a leg!

    That bit is particular tricky with merino wool because it is so fine. You want to continue needling to form a nice tube. It should be fairly firm but it does not need to be really firm as it won't have to support any weight. If you like you can shape hooves and ankles and whatever you like. It is all just a matter of how long you want to needle it. I did do some hoof details but I doubt that it is very visible in that photo.

    Next we want a heel or a hock or whatever that bend is called! Look at your leg tube and decide at what point on that would look right for the heel and stab it!

    Keep working at it until you have a nice bend! Now we're going to put some flesh on those thighs -- grab some of the wool batting and wrap it around the thigh of the leg.

    We don't need to be really concerned about the shape of the sheep's leg. Just a general indication of bulk will suit our need.

    Repeat to make a second leg!!!

    Kewl -- let's attach that to the body!

    And attach the other leg to the other side:

    Take the last of the "thirds" and wind that on the knitting needle making a tube that is about 2 inches long at most! Needle it on the needle and off the knitting needle until it is a nice tube that will wrap nicely around the front end of your sheep body:

    Needle this piece across the front of the body -- yep, just stab right on through it into the body. The more you needle the more secure will be the joining of these two pieces but you don't have to go over board because next we're adding the chest:

    Take some of the white wool batting and attach it to the neck area of the body and wrap it over the arms and around to the bottom -- needle it all into place. This will keep the arms nicely in place and look good too!

    Now -- pick up that half of grey roving that we set aside earlier and divide it into thirds.

    Using one third roll it and needle it into a nice lozenge shape -- needle as you roll it up. Take another one of the thirds and wrap it around one end of your lozenge, needling as you go to form an ACORN shape:

    Shaping the face!! I'm not going to go into the super detail sculpting that I do for my Pritten faces but even they start out pretty much like this --

    Decide where the nose is and start defining it by needling a "Y" shape at the front of the muzzle.

    With merino wool this is very difficult -- it is easier to get definition more quickly with some of the coarser fibers but persistence will win out -- so sculpt, sculpt, sculpt.

    You can define some of these areas simply by using thread very well. Just make yourself a nice happy sheep face!!

    Take the last of the thirds and tear it in half.

    Reserve a bit of the wool to lie across the two halves as you place them on your pad -- this reserve wool should be placed below the half way mark of the long roving:

    Fold the top half over the bottom and begin needling these together -- while needling fold in the upper edges gently to form an oval tip of the ear. You will be making ears that are about ½ inch long and there will be fuzzy bits that are unfelted!

    Pick each ear up and needle them from the opposite side and do it all again until you have two nice ears.

    You can add a little bit of white to the inside of the ear as well as folding the ends of the ears together to cup the ear. Once you have two nice ears --

    Attach them to the head!! Most of the fuzzy ends from the ears can be felted into the back of the head nicely -- but leave it a bit fuzzy because this will be useful for felting the head to the body!

    Place the head on the body where you want it and needle all the way around the head to attach it to the body.

    Take the curly wool

    and lay it over the body needling it into place. The idea here is to firmly attach the curly wool without over needling it so that the curliness disappears. If you like you can really define the thighs and shoulders and whatevers -- it is just a matter of needling more and more:

    Once you have the fleece attached -- turn your piece around and around and make whatever correction you like.

    And here is the finished pin cushion:

    I've also been told that the lanolin still on the wool makes such a pin cushion very good for your needles!!

    Thank you very much for coming to my Live Chat presentation! I hope you found it interesting and informative.

    (The end)

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