How to Make 3D Needle Felted Birds

The world of Fibre Arts has expanded! How exciting it is to be able to recreate sweet creatures from from nature with some natural materials. I’m often asked; how to make 3D needle felted birds

Let’s see how to get that ‘almost real’ look to your wool sculptures!

Needle felting is a versatile and creative craft that allows enthusiasts to bring their imagination to life. With some basic tools and time the results can be mind-boggling! One particularly charming and popular needle felting project is crafting birds.

Whether you’re a seasoned needle felter or a beginner, creating these feathered wonders can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. They can be simple or very detailed! In this blog post, we’ll explore some valuable tips to help you make your needle felted birds come to life!

Use High-Quality Wool Roving:

I will be using some of the ‘balls of core felting’ that I made when testing different core material. That will provide me a starting form and I have a collection of roving.

The roving that is quite long strand can still be used but may need to work with the needle or some of my own carding to jumble the fibres. The wool that is already carded (bottom left, upper right) does tend to felt faster when building a sculpture. ‘But don’t let that limit you as many thigs can also make your birds unique like added fabrics, yarns or embroidery.

Gather Your Materials & Needle Felting Tools:

You’ll also need felting needles (single or multi-needle holders), a pad of some type to work on (wool pad, sponge, burlap bag of rice, felting brush), wire for armatures, scissors, pliers, combing brushes (dog brushes) Having a well-organized workspace will make the process smoother and more enjoyable. After dealing with a jumbled box of wool and roving I organized it easily into sections and it provides a much better palette for colour choices.

Study Bird Anatomy:

As a teacher of drawing forms for decades I know that proportion is one of the most important things. Before details (we often get obsessed with small things) we need to look at the major forms. Work at getting a rough shape & overall shape accurate first. Collect some photographs and images for quick reference & inspiration. ‘just do not be too crucial of your work yet…

My chubby birds are based on a sphere that has an addition for the head and section under that tail. The beauty of working with wool is that you can add more or take away. Felt up a wad of wool into a rounded shape and then use some coarser needles to attach it to the main form.

The way wool wads are folded into shapes is similar to how bread dough is formed into a ball as well; pulling into a centre. (I worked in a bakery decades ago!)

To create realistic needle-felted birds, it’s crucial to study the anatomy of the bird species you’re attempting to recreate. Use the relationship of the sizes of parts as a guide. If you print a template then you can measure from it. I do like to sketch the basic shapes first. Understanding the proportions, shapes, and characteristics of different bird species will help you achieve a lifelike appearance in your creations

Start with Basic Shapes:

Begin your needle felting project by creating basic shapes for the body and head. A ball of felted wool, foam ball can be the start. Adding amounts of wool to gradually build up layers to achieve the desired size and shape. Patience is key, so take your time to ensure a smooth and even surface. (much more can be seen in the video tutorial)

Since there is such a creative community these days there are many kits and bird tutorials.

Once the main form (line of the shape) & curve are to your satisfaction colours can be added almost like layers of paint.

How to make eyes:

There are many choices for eyes in needle felting. Felting a small ball of wool and adding a tiny white highlight does make eyes look quite real as well.

I bought an assortment of glass eyes on wire posts. Before inserting into the place I poke the area to indent an eye socket and make the eye sit into the head. Using an awl or scissor tip make a hole to insert the post (with a bit of glue) Always check for symmetry and how the eyes line up with other features like the beak.

How to make Wing and Tails pieces:

The making of the wings seems to be the part that creates the realism. Using a shape of a wing template (draw a teardrop shape) I cover a piece of felt (wool or craft felt) with thin layer of some carded roving and fold it around to the back. (see video for full action) Do not use too much wool.

Poke the roving into the felt multiple times. Make sure to peel it off the matt before it is too attached.

The trick of having a nice clean edge finish and less bulk is the side poking. To do this safely I made my own tools; some transparent plastic shields. Cut some rounded shapes from a vinegar bottle/jug. The key is that I can see through these and also not poke myself.

I squeeze the wing quite flat while I continuously poke from the side with a thin felting needle. Form the edge scallops of the wings this way. The top edge of the wing is left quite fuzzy so that they can be attached to the birds body.

Repeat the process for the second wing and the tail section.

Incorporate Color Blending:

One tip that like to pass on is that realism comes from colour. In nature colours are often a mix and not that flat. Pulling a few fibres and mixing by hand or the combs will add detail.

Once the wings and tail are flatter, have a nice density & edge add some slim lines of roving to show feather edges. It does not take much wool

Attach the Wings & Tail:

Attach the wings allowing the sides of the wing to stand out a bit. To cover the top a small section of roving covers it. The process for the bluebird is similar with an added comb on his head.

Making the beak:

Bird’s beaks can be made of a few different types of materials. Wood, polymer clay, felting, wax on wool or in my case leather.

Fold the 2 parts that overlap to create a beak that is soft enough not to break but also to hold shape. I am afraid to use something like wax that may melt or be damaged.

Adding glue to folded pieces and clamping until dry works well (I designed this technique in (My bird making pattern eBook). Make a small slit into the felt that will allow the beak to be glued in place. If working with wire armature it could be attached at end.

How to make the Birds’ feet:

I get asked this question often; ‘how do you make your real looking bird feet?!’ Having the proper shape and colour creates realism. When you look closely at bird feet you notice they are not that flat; the talons do hook quite a bit.

To capture that characteristic in the feet I make sure to bend the wire with the curves on the end. To mimic the thickness at toe ends I use either floral Tape (sticky and easy to wrap) or some other material. It depends on the scale of bird I am making what I use. Use some acrylic paint to seal it in place. Wax often does seem to get damaged. The floral tape takes paint well too.

This fellow got copper feet…

Thin cotton twine or thread will also work.

To add realism to the feet a bit of paint variation will make a lot of difference. If you want some variation in the birds colour add small bits of wool on top of the layer of wool.

One the main reasons I love making birds is that they are quite simple, no paws or complicated shape! You can just imagine a type of faux specie; but feel free to research your favourite birds.

I hope I’ve inspired you to make your own… I can think of a lot of birds I’d like to make; goldfinch, blue tit, fabulous robin, woodpecker, hummingbird… and the list goes on.

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14 Comments

  1. You are so clever barb… I wish I lived next door to you… but then you’d probably get sickmof me hanging out and watching you! :0)

    1. You are not the first to say that! Sometimes my neighbours are seeing me out in the yard and asking; ‘what are you doing now?!’ I was out there in the misty weather with my basket of birds… taking some pictures! Natural light IS the best!

  2. There isn’t a thing in this world that your hands can’t make more beautiful. Looking over the box of roving, which I used frequently when I had a loom, made me sorry I sold it. I was good at it. I enjoy your work so much because it excites the artist in me. Thank you for publishing your beautiful work.

  3. Thank you kindly for sharing your techniques. The leather beak is cool. I am at a loss in shaping the wire to make bird feet. What size/type wire works best?. Do you use one single wire per foot? Any help with this is most appreciated. Feel free to email me. Laura

    1. Choosing the wire gauge depends on a few things. I know specific answers are not always possible. I like to choose the gauge according to scale/size of bird, how much dexterity my hands have, what breed of bird, where the bird will be, how realistic I want the end result. My grandson sometimes plays with my birds so I might make the feet extra durable. ‘But generally working with a thinner, easy to bend wire lets you have more control. Twist strands of the wire for extra strength, work from leg down to toes, one at a time, add back toe. Having some small needle nose pliers may save your hands. Once the shape is satisfactory you can wrap with floral tape and the wire will not be visible any more. Some use a thicker wire and a thin one to join the toes. I like using a floral wire (usually around 22 gauge, bigger number = thinner wire) for the smaller birds. Wire is cheap, once you make a test piece, you will know your lengths. Happy making

  4. Amazing work! But you always make incredible things. So generous of you to share your process too. I’m finding myself very excited when I get your newsletter wondering what you have made this time.

  5. Thanks for your video !
    Some very helpful tips. Especially love the vinegar bottle trick, will
    Be trying that today 🙂
    Thanks again and happy
    Felting