Wild and Wooly

What a wonderful day I've had at the first day of my wool felting workshop! I'm here at the Oregon Garden Resort for a two-day workshop with Heidi Leugers. Saturday, I will attend the Stitches in Bloom quilt show. If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you may remember the whining and moaning I did when I attended a workshop preceding the show last year. I had such a good time last year, that this year I've been raring to go for the past week. It's a great way to combine a class with a quilt show since I paid one time up front. Room, meals, class, and quilt show admission are all included, which makes it super simple. For this workshop, I didn't even need a sewing machine!

So here's what happened today:

When I came into the room, my kit was all laid out. Here's all the stuff that was in it...different colors of wool, some crewel yarn, needles (those were cruel...I'll say more about that later), and that big sponge you see there in the middle.

Also, there was a little display of all kinds of cute little things. Look at this sheep.

And may I just say, Squee! There was this doll...about 18 inches tall from head to foot,

holding the cutest Teddy bear. Her clothing and the bear are made from reclaimed wool sweaters. Heidi told us that 80% wool or better, washed in hot water in the washing machine with a small amount of detergent, then rinsed in cold, is all you need to make this stuff. And, bonus! It doesn't ravel. Those edges hold as fast as if they'd been stitched.

A large selection of these little roses.

And these adorable Santas...about 9 inches tall from head to foot.

That's all well and good, I thought to myself. A rank beginner like me isn't going to make anything as cute as that. Boy, was I wrong. This was so incredibly easy and fun, so flexible and forgiving, anyone can do this. No artistic skill required. Think about molding clay with your fingers. You'll be doing the same thing using fibers and needles.  

So, you use these needles. They are different from sewing machine needles in the way they're sized. The higher the number on the needle, the finer the needle. We worked mostly with size 38 needles today, although we also used 40s and we have a supply of 36s that we didn't use. They are tapered as you see with a little hook on the end under my thumb. The business end is the end I'm showing you there. You use the thinnest part of the needle, about 3/4 inch in length. If you were to roll these on a table, you would find that they are triangular in shape, and they have tiny, nearly invisible barbs on the end.

Essentially, they "agitate" the fibers, causing them to cling to one another to create "felt" (the process of "felting") in the same way that hair forms into dreadlocks. (That was her analogy and it was a good one.)

She passed out this tool from our old friends at Colonial Needle. In case I haven't made it abundantly clear with my arrows and underscoring in red (the color of blood), those suckers are sharp. We had a little first-aid station set up, and Heidi admonished us to have our tetanus shots up to date if we're going to get serious about this. The tetanus shot is a "no kidding" because recall that we are working with wool practically right off the sheep. Sheep play in the dirt, and so that tetanus shot truly is a good idea.

The knob you see in that image above unscrews revealing this piece underneath. You push the needles through that hole so that you can work with more than one at a time. 

It will hold 12 needles total, but we worked with three. I ended up taking mine apart and just working with two at a time. Screw the knob back on, and you have your tool

Our first project was to make one of those roses I showed you up above. (WHAT!?!? I CAN'T DO THAT! I shouted to myself inwardly.) Then she proceeded to show us, ignoring my inaudible protestations.

And you rip off a hunk of wool from your fiber roll and sort of stab it to death about a million times, and it flattens out into a piece of "felt".

Cool! And for shaping it, you can sort of stab it from the side. And let me tell you right here and now, you could tie your hand behind your back to get it out of the way of those needles, and the needles would find you anyway...that was the "wild" part of the day. I lost count how many times I stabbed myself, even when I tried my darnedest not to.

That was the leaf. Then she showed us how to make the flower. In this case, we made a sort of narrow flat piece in two different colors.

In order to get a nice smooth edge, we folded them in half the long way and then stabbed them some more to get the two sides to adhere to one another. (I can't stress enough how easy it is to do this. It sticks to itself like glue, but only when you're ready to stick it with the needles.)

Then, you roll them up like a cinnamon roll. When you have it all rolled up, you stick it with needles to adhere the end.

Here we switched to a single size 40 needle to bring out the definition in the petals...again, easy as pie.

So then we were ready to give it a try. We had two colors of green for the leaves, and two colors of red for the flowers.

You use the sponge as your work surface. The sponge is the same kind that a tile mason uses, and it's about two inches thick. (If you wanted something larger, you can use that too. In fact, some artists use very large pieces that can be obtained at an upholstery shop.) The needles will not penetrate all the way to your table below, which would break them.

So I ripped off a hunk of wool and rolled it up cigar style on the leg of my jeans.


Then you fold it in half, which helps to get the center vein of the leaf.

You roll the end between your thumb and index finger to bring the leaf to a point. (Pause here for a moment to admire the callouses on my index finger from all the hand-sewing I do. Impressive, no?)

Then you sort of stab it to death (it's a great hobby for working out aggression, I'll say) until it's stabbed into submission. You can add a second color as well, just stabbing and stabbing and stabbing and shaping by stabbing it from the side. Fine work is done with a single needle. But honestly, it is so easy, and so forgiving, YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN'T MESS UP (except by stabbing your fingers, which hurts). Here are my two leaves. It took me about five minutes to do these.

I'm skipping ahead a little here, but when it was finished, I'd made this rose. Heidi gave us the supplies we needed to turn these into hair clips or pins.

Now remember that doll I showed you up above. I want you to pay attention to the detail in her face because all of this is done in the way I showed you just now. How flat and fuzzy something is simply depends on how long you work it with the needles. The more you stab it flat, the flatter and less fuzzy it will be. And Heidi has used tiny bits of fiber to felt in the eyebrows and other markings on the face. Look closely, and you can see that there is a tiny eyeliner just above the eye. Amazing.

Next up we made a sheep pincushion. Is this the most ridiculously adorable thing you've seen today?

We could choose the colors we wanted to use, and so I chose white for the sheep and brown for his face, legs, and ears. These fibers are practically straight from the sheep.

The base is made from some oval cardboard shapes that are covered with reclaimed wool sweater fabric and then stuffed with wool. I felted those legs on.

Then I added the body.

The ears were added next, and then the head was made separately. The ears were felted on first, then the head, and we used our one needle to shape the head.

Then we used crewel yarn to embroider on some grass and French knots for the flowers.

If someone had told me this morning that I was going to make something so cute, I would have called them a lying liar right to their face...because that's how I roll. No nonsense...even when I'm wrong...and especially when I underestimate myself. And by that time, I was a pretty happy camper.

Here are the ones made by my classmates. Mine are the ones on the lower right.

One of my classmates took a class once before. She brought this cat to class to show us what she'd made first time around. I would absolutely kill to have someone show me how to make this. It's about two inches tall. Allow me to repeat myself here: Squee!

We ended the day with the beginnings of our Santa. The walking stick is made from felting wool around a pipe cleaner. The little sack is made from a reclaimed tweed suit jacket. The boots are from some black fibers. They're left intentionally fuzzy on the top end because they'll get felted to the bottom of the Santa right there.

She says we're going to make one of those cute Santas tomorrow. And me, I said, "Heck, I can do that!" Who's the lying liar now?

28 comments from clever and witty friends:

WoolenSails said...

You did a beautiful job on your pieces and so fun to do something like this in a class, helps to get over the fear that we are going to totally mess it up, lol. I have a cat book for felting and if you want to do kitties, you can get a pdf book on etsy. It as only a few dollars and has tons of cats, even though it is in japanese, you can still figure it out with the photos.


crazy quilter said...

Quite impressive! You are a master just on day one! I have to say I have never taken a class in this but have tried it for a small quilt project, it is quite addictive! Enjoy

Ann Bassett said...

So fun. I love felting wool. Your sheep pin cushion is precious and raw wool is good for your pins and needles. Nice job. Can't wait to see the Santa.

Junebug613 said...

How Awesome!! (sorry, my 80's teenager just snuck out) I always thought that felting would be so hard. Now I'm tempted to add it to my overgrown list of hobbies!! You go Barbara!!!

Vroomans' Quilts said...

Just adore the little sheep pincushion! You did darn good your first day!

Kate said...

I kind of want to count how many times you said 'stab' in this post. Cool stuff! And I almost believe you when you say it's easy. ;)

Christine M said...

You've done a fantastic job, Barbara. I just love the roses. The sheep are very cute.

Marlene said...

Looks like a really fun class and glad you are enjoying it. love your projects and especially the sheep pincushion-living in New Zealand where there are more sheep than people it really fits us here!!! Have fun tomorrow and look forward to seeing the Santa.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

On my way to bed you grabbed my attention w this post. Three words: Love Love Love. So incredibly cute. I want to know how to make that kitteh too please !~!

quiltzyx said...

Yay! I'm glad you're having so much fun AND ending up with such cute (& recognizable) goodies. I just lurve the curly sheepie! I bet you'll be able to do a cat in no time after tomorrow. Your felting needle tool looks cool too. The ones we used didn't have the ability to be changed - just had permanently attached felting needles. I like that you can change yours in size and in number too.

Celtic Thistle said...

I thought your felted rose was lovely, then I saw your sheep - Awesome!

Dana Gaffney said...

Wow that's amazing for the first day. I love the Santa and can't wait to see him. I'll bet you can figure out how to do the cat, although I think Smitty will steal him.

Jeanie said...

What fun! I'd love to take a felting class. I've done a few smaller projects and agree that there is no way to come out without a poke or two. Love the sheep!

beaquilter said...

aww I want the sheep! how adorable is THAT!!

Barb H said...

What a wonderful class! And a second day of felting fun coming up!

Lou said...

Great job!!! Wish I was sitting right next to ya!!!
Can't wait to see your Santa... I LOVE the cat too!!!!

Diane Wild said...

OMG I want to do this. Can I get that felting thingie at Hobby Lobby? I have wool. And, I'm use to stabbing myself so this would be easy for me.

Nita said...

I see you got over your dislike of weekend workshops, lol! This looks like so much fun!

KMSC said...

I don't need another hobby but this looks like a lot of fun! I would have been so intimidated taking this class. Your finished products are very cute.

Jacque said...

So much fun....and a serious overload of cuteness! Can you really just use old wool, like discarded sweaters and such? How do you prepare it?

Linda said...

I can see you're hooked! It looks very difficult to me; so interested in following you with this. Maybe you could do Smitty ! Thanks for sharing!


Tami C said...

You did a lovely job on your pieces. Your little pincushion is adorable and your classmates kitty really is beautiful!

Vivian said...

What an interesting workshop! That felting tool definitely looks way more dangerous than a rotary cutter though!! You've got some really cute projects working up there and the potential is unlimited in terms of what you could make. Enjoy the rest of workshop!!

Michele said...

Wow! You rocked it girl. I can't wait to see what else you make.

Kate said...

Wow, looks like lots of fun. I have to agree the sheep pin cushion is just adorable!

Catherine Lane said...

Hello Barbara, I loved reading this post, although the photo of the felting tool facing towards your hand made my toes curl! A stab from one needle is bad, but a stab from multi needles in a felting tool is well, toe curling! I do sculptural needle felting, so I use individual needles mostly, rather than a felting tool, but I feel your pain! Individual needles are easier to control, but you do still stab yourself. The good news though is that the more experienced you get, the less you stab yourself.

Your post reminds me (again) that I really must look into running a needle felting workshop. Thanks for sharing!

Brown Family said...

That looks like fun! I might have to try it! After I update my tetanus shot! I mean, I an a klutz aroung sharp objects and should probably get one, any how!

Dar said...

You did a wonderful job on your little sheep pincushion and rose. I'd say you were a "natural" felter at heart. What a great workshop and your picture taking was the best too. I think I could almost do it from your tutorial. :)