Since I love working with fibres and fabric it is natural that I embark into the world of 3D needle felting! After my 2D pet portrait I’m experimenting with making wool forms. See how it went and what I’ve discovered during my first 3D Needle Felted sculpture – A mouse!
What is 3D Needle Felting?
In short, this sculpting method uses barbed needles to anchor wool (and other) fibres together to become forms. One of the great things about this craft is that it can be quite simple and perfect for all kinds of subject matter. In this post I will present some of my initial tests and how it went… and how I re-did some things!
What tools are needed for 3D Needle Felting?
The tools needed are quite simple and may already be in your drawers. Needle felting is pretty intuitive so it can be a great beginner project. I think that is why it is so popular as a sculpting medium; clean and forgiving. The most important tools are the barbed needles that are used to push the fibres (almost always wool) into a shape by repeated ‘stabbing’. For beginners some basic needles (fine needles, coarse needles) will work quiet adequately.
As with any art form once you progress to be more detailed you may find the need to get more sophisticated needles that come in different gauge sizes and different shapes of shaft for specific purposes. If you are new to needle felting I would not be too worried about that quite yet; a couple sizes will be enough.
There are specific tools that make holding the needle easier and some multi-needle holders that allow more than one needle to be inserted. Yes, the repeated poking through the wool is what makes the form more solid. Using more than one needle at a time will make less work for you.
The forms often start with a wire armature as a base for the shape so having various wire gauges is useful.
If you are making any kind of animal or creature you may need some eyes as well. I like to use glass eyes so that they will not get scratched if poked from a needle. Depending on scale you can also use some beads as eyes or create the eyes out of felting.
How to start the needle Felted Form:
Some types of creatures are easier to felted around a wire armature. Just like a skeleton is the core of an animal this will allow some ability to hold & adjust the shape. There are many wire gauges that can be used. Test the amount of flex according to size and scale of sculpture; doubling will also stiffen the armature.
Before adding the initial bulking of form some pipe-cleaners will help the initial wrapping grip to the form. These are basic techniques but may vary depending on your specific shape and form. This interpretation of a mouse has some loops on the hands and feet to allow more addition of wire for fingers and toes.
Building up the Basic form:
As with any art method there are variations that will still work. Since the core building will not be seen a variety of materials & fibres can be used. Polyester fibrefill (like pillow stuffing), wool roving, core wool, wrapped yarn, even strips of fabric can work. I suggest testing what you have and up-cycling some fibres.
For this fellow I used some pillow stuffing and although it was polyester it did felt up quite nicely and firmly. My tip would be to make some larger/thicker wads and felting them on the felting pad and then applying to armature so that less layers are needed. This is something that you will start to get experience with as you practice. Be cautious of the depth of poking when near the wire skeleton, adjust the angle to avoid the needle hitting the wire. Please see the VIDEO for a longer explanation.
What is the difference between Roving and Carded Wool?
Carded wool fibers are medium-long and moderately crimped with minimal shedding once felted. This carded wool consists of multi directional fibers, making it much easier to work with for felting projects. The roving (often merino wool) is long strands of fibres that have been carded. It can work for bulky with a bit of pre-felting to add directions to the fibres.
How to make details; Toes, fingers, noses….
Depending on your subject matter you may want to create some anatomy details that are not furry or hairy. Felting purists tend to not use a lot of glue or other mediums. Bees wax does have some ability to bond some of the wool roving as fingers (see video) by wrapping the wires. Noses can also be made by dipping some wool into beeswax and shaping it as it cools with some metal sculpting tools. Another option is to use an acrylic medium or PVA glue to adhere wrapped roving.
I found that this technique works pretty well but next time I may wait until closer to final stages as I was damaging the toes/fingers with my aggressive felting.
Some pigment can be added to the beeswax (I added a bit of crayon pieces) and be kept fluid on a cup-warmer in some tea light containers.
Building up bulk I wrapped the armature with the wool roving. This works but in areas that are going to be less thick it may have too much visible direction of the wool. Carded wool would show less direction. To remedy that you can roughly felt some flat pieces and then wrap with it and poe to attach them.
As I was experimenting I just kept adding… and adding and adding. I added to the face and set his (her) nose into place. The eyes are set into some holes with a dab of glue. I enjoyed the process as it was pretty easy-going and slow. To flatten larger areas and have faster felting you can use the multi-needle tool. That makes this sculptural felting much quicker than a single needle.
How to make the felted ears:
To create the ears the pieces were felted as flat sheets on the felting mat or (made with thick wool blankets inside wool pillow) or foam mat, lifted often and felted more. You can also use pre-felt (sheets of felt) and add more fibre on top. I layered an outer colour combination with inner colours and once it was dense enough I cut the shape. Wow, are they big…
The Redo: editing and revising:
Well, I kept looking at his face and decided I’d try a few things! I am very critical of my own work and tend to be ambitious to get the look I want, even if I have to back-track. Sooooo, I ripped and tugged some of his face off, snipped & cut until I liked the shape. (see the video)
To make the ears more realistic I made some flat holders to allow some needle poking from the sides without any finger stabbing. It added stiffness to the edges and folded over the sides.
The great thing about this media is how easily the pieces can be attached to each other with the piercing of the barbed needles. I think where beginners have frustration or go wrong is when they do not continue the ‘stabbing’ long enough. The firmness that can be achieved can be as hard as a tennis ball!
How to finish off the 3D Needle-Felted Mouse:
Since this is made of individual fibres which are really like hair; some stray strands can make it look fuzzy. For a smooth finish use a smaller needle ( 40-46 gauge) so that the holes are less visible. Try to direct stray hairs into the surface. Small scissors, a sweater shaver, or smaller moustache trimmer can help clean up any stray fibres. I keep a hand-vac nearby…
A final rubbing with your hands will also smooth the surface. I enjoyed the poking so much I found it difficult to stop.
Making some fun clothes:
Memories of sewing overalls for my kids & a stash of denim to up-cycle hatched this idea! Honestly, it’s quick to sew up… What do you think?!
Furry Chubby mouse:
There is a reverse felting needle that will pull fibre out. That can be brushed with a mascara brush or a few strands of wire, eye brow comb and create fur if you so desire.
A couple seams and he’s ready to get dressed. I did however have to cut a hole for his tail in the back.
Presenting my first 3D Needle felted Sculpture; Mr Mouse with his thimble bucket. Wire buckles finish off Mr Mouse’s overalls. The areas that were cut and adjusted are quite stiff and dense; so glad I revised it!
As usual I now have very lofty ideas on how I can push the limit of this media even more! I am excited and just hope I can sleep… What is the most amazing 3D needle felted sculpture you’d love to see?!