So you have spent hours making your fabulous needle felted sheep, only to realise you don’t have any curls to finish it. Grrrr! Not to worry, just grab a ball of wool, yarn or similar and make your own. It’s really easy and creates a whole new look for your needle felted animals; Scroll down for video tutorial.
It is also very calming and saves you sitting by the post box like this, impatiently waiting for your curly wool to arrive.
Here is a quick video (part 2) showing you how easy it is. I have used a coarse rug yarn but any yarn with an element of wool in it will do.
Use any yarn you have in your craft box; It is easier to apply if it has some wool content. I have used a coarse rug yarn and a really soft Merino for these two gorgeous sheep.
You will also find out how to add this lush, art yarn (video part 1) to your projects. I used a 40 triangle needle as it is a little easier but a standard (usually a 36 or 38 gauge) will do just fine.
One of the trickiest things to do when creating face details is getting the really fine lines for the mouth and nose. It’s something I always spend time on with my workshop students so they don’t feel disappointed with the finishing touches. Practice, practice practice is the answer, a firm base on which to work, and less is more when it comes to the wool. When I say less is more, think even less than that. You only need the tiniest strand of wool to create really impactful details, add in a few simple techniques and you will soon be adding those details with confidence.
Top Tip: If it doesn’t look right don’t try and rectify it. Pull the wool off and start again. I often do this and it takes much less time than trying to fix the problem. Also, preparation is key so make sure the head is firm before starting. If the head is soft and squidgy you aren’t going to get the nice straight lines you want to achieve and your sheep or animal will look like they’ve been on the sauce.
Whatever your design, this technique can be applied to your project in many different ways.
1 Create an impression of the mouth – Do this by ‘drawing’ the mouth onto the face with your felting needle. ‘Draw’ a V for the nose, a line down the centre and two shallow curves each side. Go over the lines you have drawn until they are clearly visible and defined. This is where your wool is going to sit and makes it so much easier to maintain a nice, even shape.
2 Roll a very, very thin wisp of wool between your fingers to gently mat it together (not vital but it helps). If you don’t think it is thick enough you can go over it again later. However, start with too much and it ends up looking like you have drawn it on with a felt tip. Place it on the top left of the V shape you have created and gently tack it down towards the bottom of the V shape. Top Tip: Make sure the wool is at least twice the length you need as it will be pulled into the face as you felt; you can trim it later.
3 Continue back up the V shape and leave the ends loose.
4 Use another thin strand of wool (longer than you will need) to create the line down the centre. Top Tip: Keep the wool taught with your free hand. This will help create a straight, even line and avoid a drunken grin.
5 Leave all the strands loose until you have completed the mouth.
6 As before, use a very thin strand of wool and felt along the mouth. Repeat for the other side.
Top Tip: Don’t be precious over the shape of the curve as this can be teased into shape before you finish.
7 Make sure the wool is secure before trimming and shape the mouth by gently rubbing the tip of you finger on the wool – in the centre – to pull it down slightly.
8 Your head is now ready for the eyes and that’s another easy tutorial. You can watch it Here or keep scrolling for the written tutorial.
Top Tip: Sometimes the mouth can look a little off centre or lopsided. This is easily fixed by squeezing, and moving the head in your fingers – wool is still quite pliable, even when felted – until the features straighten out.
How to sew eyes onto your needle felted animal
Needle felted eyes look great but I also love the sparkle and shine you get from a glass bead. I always find it funny that, when some of my students have spent hours creating their needle felted animal, they say they find sewing on the eyes the hardest part. I think it is because they seem a little bit fiddly but here is a quick way of doing it, in five minutes and four easy steps.
1 Use black thread and needle and sew through the side of the face – where your eyes will sit – and repeat a few times until your thread is secure.
2 Pop your bead onto the tip of your needle and pull it through.
3 Push your needle back through to the other side and pop on your second bead.
4 Repeat the process a few times until you can pull quite firmly on your thread, and both beads are secure. Finish by sewing through the back of the head a and cut the thread.
As I sat down to make a sheep at the weekend I decided to take some of my own advice and step out of my comfort zone. I have been wanting to make a pig for months but time, as always, ran away with me and other aspects of the business demanded my attention. So, I changed tack and pulled up various images of pigs on Google; even if your creations are not true to life a photo is always great for reference, proportions etc.
Now, you would think pigs, with their simple shapes and obvious snout wouldn’t be too hard… Not so. Their perceived simplicity means that there is nowhere to hide when it comes to making mistakes and that body and head shape took way longer than I expected. However, now I know what I would change for the next one. Overall I am pretty pleased with the end result but I would definitely do a few things differently next time; bigger snout; change how I assembled it; more work on the face.
As far as technique is concerned I tend not to use full body armatures*, preferring to work with a much more solid shape and my favourite British wool tops. Instead, I used 1mm paper covered wire for the legs only to aid stability and create a leaner leg. I prefer paper covered wire as the wool holds much better when wrapping and negates the need for any messy waxes or glue. I wrapped each leg in a base layer of white Jacob top then added another layer of carded Corriedale flesh leaving the trotters exposed for contrast.
*Some pieces require a full armature, especially if you want to pose your piece when it’s finished. Carded wool usually works best for this and creates a much softer sculpture requiring much less use of the felting needle.
The body core is grey Jacob top which is a lovely coarse wool top that felts really easily and is still one of my favourites after six years of working with it. Felting the core really firmly allowed me to shape the wool once it was finished creating a nice curve along the back. See video tutorial: HOW TO CREATE A FIRM BODY
I actually made the body, head and snout as one piece but would definitely make the snout separately next time because it lost a lot of its definition and I had to build it up again. I then covered the whole piece in a lovely carded Corriedale flesh, felting just until it held using my 38 needle at a diagonal angle to reduce needle marks.
You may be wondering why the core colour is a complete contrast to the top layer; this enabled me to create that lovely dark wiry detail that you will see on many pig breeds which sits in dark contrast to the really light top coat. This contrast is achieved by using a 32 reverse needle to pull through the dark grey Jacob wool top, enabling it to sit on top of the flesh colour. Wool tops work really well for this as they have a much longer fibre length than carded wool which allows them to be pulled through the body without breaking off.
Ears were the easy part and using a photograph for reference makes it much easier to get the correct shape and proportions. My needle felted ears tutorial shows you my favourite, super easy technique for creating animal ears: TAKE ME TO THE TUTORIAL
Finally, I covered a short piece of 0.5mm paper wrapped wire in carded flesh to create the curly tail; roll vigorously in the palm of your hands once the wool is attached. This will create a lovely firm finish which stops the wool from ‘sagging’ when it is curled.
Add a couple of glass beads for eyes and hello Twiggy The Piggy*
*I claim no responsibility for the name. Blame lies solely with my good friend, Nancy (author of the amazing Maine Coon cat tutorial) who named her ‘Twiggy The Piggy’. I told her it was only marginally better than Babe but she insisted…
Needle felting kits for all abilities are available on the website and Etsy: