Needle felting is one of the easiest way to make soft sculpture animals from wool. The technique is not difficult to learn, and all you need to begin is unspun wool, a piece of thick foam and a set of felting needles. You can create everything from simple animals with few fine details or replicas of animals with true-to-life details. Regardless of the complexity of the project you want to complete, once you learn how to create a basic needle felted figure, such as a dog or cat, you will have the knowledge necessary to create any animal.
Pull a tuft of fibres from the carded wool and fold it into an egg-shaped oval. This oval will form the base of the animal's body. Place the oval on your foam block, punch the felting needle into the wool, and pull it back out. Keep the needle perfectly straight as you complete this action. As you drive the needle into the wool and pull it back out, it will tangle the fibres together and begin forming them into a cohesive, firm piece.
Continue punching the needle into the fibre, working over the entire surface of the body until it holds its shape. As you punch, be careful not to allow the needle to push all the way through the fibre. Only push the needle tip as far as the shape's centre.
Tear another section of fibre from the carded wool and wrap it around the oval. Punch the felting needle into the new layer until the wool is well adhered to the shape. Add subsequent layers of wool, and needle felt it into place until the body is close to the desired size. When you finish, you should have an oval shape that's slightly wider on one end.
Roll a section of fibres into a tube that measures slightly longer than the finished animal's front leg. Punch the needle into the tube to tangle together the wool fibres. Bend the leg into shape with your fingers and work over it with the felting needle to make the shape hold. Leave the top bit of the tube untouched as you work to refine the leg shape. If the leg becomes too skinny as you shape it, wrap a second small tuft of fibre around it and continue poking the fibre with the felting needle to fuse everything together.
Position the leg on at the point where you want it to extend from the felt animal's body. The unfelted end of the leg should rest against the body's side. Use the felting needle to adhere the leg to the body. Make three additional legs in the same manner as the first, doing most of the shaping before you add the leg to the body. You also can make a tail for the animal using this method.
Add additional details to the leg. You may want to add rear haunches to the animal. Gather a small tuft of wool and punch into a flattened ball shape and place where the rear legs meet the body. Felt the additional wool into place, focusing especially around the edges, to create the haunches. Add detail to the paws by needle felting contrasting paw pads onto the bottom of the feet. To make paw pads, ball up a tiny amount of wool, felt it to the lower half of the foot bottom and felt four smaller circles into place along the lower circle's top edge.
Shape the neck and head. The head will begin as a rounded tuft of wool, and the neck will begin as a stubby cylinder of wool. Begin needle felting either shape until they begin holding together on their own, and then attach the neck to the base of the head. Hold the two pieces together, cover with a small amount of additional fibre and needle felt over the join between the two pieces until they hold together firmly. Continue shaping the head and neck, adding additional layers of fibre and sculpting the piece into shape with your hands and felting needle.
Attach the neck to the body. Position the neck where you want it to extend from the body, and punch around the join with the felting needle until the neck can stay in place on its own. Wrap a tuft of fibres around the neck, covering the base of the neck, the join and the top of the body, and punch the needle through the new layer of fibre to keep it in place.
Embellish the wool felt animal with fine details. Felt thin patches of different-coloured wool onto the felt animal's body to make striped or spotted markings, and add tiny dots of coloured felt on the face for eyes. If you want to create a crease for the mouth, punch the felting needle back and forth across the line where you want the mouth. The fibre will begin to nip in as you work. You also can use this technique to add detail to the tops of the paws and the eyes.
Wash the finished wool animal in warm, soapy water, rubbing gently to work the soap into the wool. This will further tangle the fibres together and help make the felted wool animal sturdy. Rinse the animal multiple times to remove the soap. Once you've allowed it to dry, go over any spots you want to touch up with the felting needle.
The more you puncture the wool shapes with the felting needle, the firmer and more compact they will become. You can make the felted wool animal as hard or soft as you prefer, but harder figures will retain their shapes better than softer figures. If you want your felted wool animal to look fuzzy, comb it with a dog brush once you've finished. This will loosen the ends of the fibres and cause them to stick up over the surface of the wool animal's body.
Always felt over your foam block, and not while holding the figure in your hand. Felting needles are extremely sharp, and when you puncture your skin with one, it is painful. The needle are also delicate, and felting over the foam block will ensure you don't break the needle tips as you work.
Tips and warnings
- The more you puncture the wool shapes with the felting needle, the firmer and more compact they will become. You can make the felted wool animal as hard or soft as you prefer, but harder figures will retain their shapes better than softer figures.
- If you want your felted wool animal to look fuzzy, comb it with a dog brush once you've finished. This will loosen the ends of the fibres and cause them to stick up over the surface of the wool animal's body.
- Always felt over your foam block, and not while holding the figure in your hand. Felting needles are extremely sharp, and when you puncture your skin with one, it is painful. The needle are also delicate, and felting over the foam block will ensure you don't break the needle tips as you work.