Ok, I have absolutely no historical ground at all for including this on a historical website as needle felting was apparently only invented in the 1980s but hey, it’s just nice to write a blog about something different, so let’s call this a history and crafting blog site. There are only so many KS1 castle workshop visits you can write about.
On Saturday my friend and I went for a needle felting workshop in Warwickshire with needle felting artist Sophie Wheatley. The course is run in a lovely garden workshop at her parents house. As you’ll see from one of my previous blogs this is not the first time that my friend Lenny and I had tried our hand at needle felting but it is the first time we had a professional teacher guiding us and showing us what to do and I think this really shows in what we produced.
Sophie specialises in needle felted portraits of peoples dogs but she was happy for us to come along and have a go at recreating whatever we fancied. As I’ve never owned a dog, only cats and I’m lately becoming something of a twitcher after installing bird feeders in my garden, I asked her if it was ok for me to make a Goldfinch as my piece of work. Sophie had never made a bird before but was happy for me to have a go. Why a goldfinch I was asked. Simply because until I started feeding the birds a year or two ago, I never even knew that there were goldfinches in the area. They’re such vibrant little birds. They look like they should be living in Africa not England! They’re common visitors to my bird table.
I learnt so much in my first half hour there that I already felt that I’d received my moneys worth of teaching. We discovered that the wool used is very important. Most books seem to advise using Merino wool which is very fine but apart from ethical reasons to do with the way the wool is harvested from the sheep, she finds a lot of the other sheep wools better as they form a shape much quicker. She said merino wool was good to use for finishing touches. She passed around different types of wool for us to feel. All very different to each other, some are very tough and woolly, others much softer. The wool we mainly used was Jacob wool from Jacob sheep.
We started by forming the bodies of the various animals we were making. Three people were making dog portraits and Lenny and another lady were making teddy bears. The fibres are loose to start with and rolled up into the basic shape wanted and then the needle is used to repeatedly stab gently into the wool and it gradually starts to pull together and form the shape. The needles themselves have tiny barbs on them and come in different grades of thickness. Finer needles being for finer shaping work. Sophie herself only uses a few different types of needle out of the many that are available as she doesn’t think it necessary to use so many different types. The loose fibres of wool very quickly form quite a firm body shape, rather like a fat sausage.
The next step was to add the legs. The legs of my bid were wired, I believe that she said that this was florist wire. A simple loop of wire was laid over the wool sausage and more wool felted over the top to hold it in place. The next step for me was to cover the legs with more wool. This was felted on the body and then wrapped and felted around the legs. Admittedly neither of us were sure how to create the feet, never having done this before but I think I’ve thought of a way to create realistic feet for my next bird. The head was formed next by taking more loose fleece and gradually adding and moulding it on to the body. Similar with the beak which was formed rather like the ears of the teddies.
Then we moved on to details, which for me was the wings and tail and the colouring. The wings were formed individually, I had to remember to create them opposite with opposite patterns. The colours of the wings were felted directly on to the wings and then the whole wings felted on to the body. Mine are just joined on the top so that they can flap like normal bird wings. I then made and added a tail in a similar way. I then added colours over the head and the eyes. As she had no glass eyes, mine were also made from felt.
Lenny and I were both really pleased with our finished animals. It was a fantastic day and Sophie was a very informative and helpful teacher. We were kept well fed throughout the day with cakes and wonderful food cooked by her mum, including a lovely pavlova. I’d really recommend the course to anyone interested in the subject.