Felting with fibres: prep is crucial

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This week I tried felting with bamboo fibres.

Bamboo feels tougher and “squeakier” than wool, but felts quite well. The result is silky to touch and very lightweight.

The first time I tried it, I didn’t separate out the strands before starting. That was a mistake. It’s much easier to get the needle through when the fibre clump is light and fluffy.

Cutting and fluffing the fibres

Bamboo taught me what I should have learnt when working with some dyed wool a few days earlier. I bought the wool online. It arrived looking like locks of human hair. Ewww.

I applied the locks directly to the surface of the bear I was making. The result was rough and hairy. I didn’t enjoy handling the wool either.

With hindsight I had two better options. I could have cut the wool into shorter sections and fluffed it up before pressing it onto the bear’s surface. Or I could have cut the wool into 2cm long strips and tried to embed the strands as if they were individual hairs.

Dyed wool or natural wool?

I bought dyed wool from several sources this month. It varies in quality. Some of it is soft and some of it definitely isn’t. It’s got me thinking that it might be better to stick with undyed wool. Wool comes in a range of whites, greys, browns and blacks anyway. Does it make sense to buy wool that has been dyed brown?

New to crafting

I am new to crafting. I started with weaving, then loom knitting and now felting. Crafting is great for me for five reasons.

  • It teaches me to plan projects carefully.
  • It’s a problem solving activity.
  • It’s meditative.
  • It’s an outlet for my desire to produce nice things.
  • It gives me the opportunity to find common ground with more people. Crafting is a very popular hobby.

I have been looking at felting projects on Instagram. Felting seems to be very popular in Russia, Ukraine and East Asia. The quality of the sculptures is tremendous. Go on the internet and search for “advanced felting projects.” I promise you will be amazed at what can be done with fibre and a needle.

Needle felting is remarkably simple

Have you heard of dry needle felting? It’s the process of making solid shapes by repeatedly stabbing natural fibres with a notched needle. The notches catch the fibres and pull them together.

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The toy in the photograph looks solid doesn’t it? It started life as bundles of fluffy wool.

With needle felting we can make soft toys, sculptures and textile pictures without sewing a single stitch or using any glue.

Making the shapes is very intuitive too. Imagine yourself pressing clay into a ball with your fingers. Felting a ball out of wool is very similar in the sense that the angled needle takes the place of the pressing fingers.

The toy in the photograph is a harbour seal. It’s obviously not a real animal. There are expert needle felters who can make realistic animals. (I’d love to know how they do it.) Click on this link to see realistic felted dogs.

I am a felting novice. So far I’ve made a brachiosaurus, a harbour seal and most of a baby grizzly bear.

When I started out, I hoped to go down the realism route. While working on the harbour seal’s skin patterns I realised that there is another path. i.e. Making animals that don’t look real but are identifiable and attractive.

Realistically, achieving total realism won’t be possible for me unless I take classes. Realist felters are using techniques that I know nothing about. But I don’t see why I can’t aim to make creatures that are attractive, identifiable and non-real.

At this point, I can see decisions have to be made in several areas when trying to make an attractive non-realistic animal.

1. Proportions

2. Size

3. Colouring

4. Texture

5. Additional features such as glass eyes