several small pumpkins with a hand holding one
society of dabblers

In which I learn to needle felt

Back in spring of this year (when everyone else seemed to be learning to make sourdough), I decided to give a different hobby a try– needle felting! Why? Why not! Honestly, needle felting is something I’ve known about for a while and has been relegated to the “someday I want to try that” mental bucket, so with the extra time I had after finishing school in May, I decided to give it a whirl.

a wooden furniture top covered in small wool felted pumpkins
So. Many. Pumpkins.

Felt is made by interlocking animal hair fibers (sheep, goat, camel) into a thick mat and then shaping it into useful things. Felt making itself is super old. Like, suuuuper old: this textile-making technique dates back thousands of years. The oldest method is “wet” felting where the fibers are rubbed together with soapy water until they stick. Other methods like using needles to “dry” felt by punching the fibers together are more modern. Dry felting small things by hand (aka needle felting) has only been around for about 4 decades!

To create a needlefelt sculpture, you begin with “core wool” which is usually a natural wool color (mine is sheep’s wool and tends to be cream) and use needles to mold it into the rough shape you want. Then you layer on the colors and continue shaping the piece until it looks more and more like the object you want. Smaller needles do finer work, so you can add details after the bulk of the colors are on. You can see some of the process here: the body of the cat is just core, but I’ve already started adding color to the head, which I will attach once I’ve put color on the body as well.

cream core wool body of cat with black cat head sitting beside
This is a pre-capitated cat 😛

So. What have I been felting?

Pumpkins, pumpkins, and more pumpkins. Ha!

But I started much smaller– the kit I first purchased to try felting came with a tiny amount each of a wide variety of colors, a set of needles with a single needle handle (you can have handles that hold multiple needles, and my go-to is an 8 needle), and a foam felting pad to keep from stabbing the furniture. With that variety of colors, I started with tiny mushrooms.

several small felt mushrooms, red with white spots on cap
cute lil red Amanita muscaria

I also played with felting a bunch of really tiny animals. Most of the little animals have been gifts for people, so Jared got a really small otter eating an even smaller sea star. A friend who loves gorillas got a really tiny silverback as a going-away-good-luck-with-your-PhD gift. Another friend got a belated foxie birthday gift. (These are all very early felting projects of mine and you can see how small they are from the gorilla compared to my hand.)

The pumpkins grew with the season, of course. I had a bunch of wool bits in various orange colors from a shop in Michigan, so it made sense to turn it all into mini pumpkins like the kind people use as centerpieces in the autumn. Why not make some that would last a lot longer?

several small pumpkins with a hand holding one

Mostly I make little palm-size pumpkins, but I’ve made a few interesting ones as well. My favorite is this large pumpkin lying on its side; I tried to make it look like the giant pumpkins on the farm in North Carolina where we always used to get them when I lived there.

large felt pumpkin with a curly vine stem
the big pumpkin needed a bit stem

Don’t worry, I haven’t stopped making little animals, either.  I have a new set of needles that pulls core wool from the center of the piece to create a really cool layered, furry effect, so I made a porcupine friend to go with the black cat!

little felt porcupine with black bead eyes sitting on a table
little porcupine friend

So there’s a little sampling of my needle felting! It’s very satisfying to repeatedly stab something, but you’ve got to be careful and not be distracted or take your eyes off of the wool you’re working– my fingers have been stabbed so many times in the last six months it’s almost ridiculous. (I’m getting much better at not stabbing myself though. Heh.)

If you were going to try needle felting, what would you make?