Needle felting is an easy technique which uses roving (unspun fiber, usually wool, mohair or silk) to create felt by pushing the needle straight up and down through the fiber. This is a simple way to sculpt small animals like the sheep in these instructions.
To needle felt you push a special serrated needle straight up and down in a punching motion through a ball or line of fibers. As you felt, the fibers will pack closer together, so practise is needed in order to create something which is a particular size. Depending on the amount you felt your fibers you can create very small, hard items, or softer, less dense felted sculptures.
The technique is easy (and repetitive). You can fix any errors by adding or subtracting fiber from your sculpture. The more you practise, the better you will get at sculpting animals from fiber on a wire frame.
To Make a Miniature Felted Sheep You Will Need:
- Roving or unspun fiber - in white, black, or a brown/white blend. Most yarn stores sell roving for felting, often in silk and wool. Costume suppliers and doll making suppliers usually have mohair roving for dolls hair or actors beards and moustaches. If necessary you can use wool fibers from old sweaters or yarn from knit projects, try to pull it out into loose, straightened clusters before using it for felting.
- Black or Beige Embroidery Thread - To mark the mouth and nostrils on your sheep's face. If you find this technique difficult, you can use a fine permanent pen instead.
- Pipe Cleaners - Depending on the size of sheep you are making you will need one or two pipe cleaners. Use thin pipe cleaners for scales smaller than 1:12, and thicker ones for larger scale sheep. Fibers on pipe cleaners make it easier to catch the wool roving as you felt. If you don't have pipe cleaners, use wire, something around 24 gauge should be fine.
- Needle Felting Mat or Brush- or piece of thick foam to protect the surface you are working on and help keep your needles from breaking.
- Felting Needles - Medium, fine, and extra fine needles are useful. These are very sharp long needles with notches up the shaft, which pull and mat fibres together. They are available from yarn suppliers who sell felting materials and are also available online. I use sizes 38, 40 and 42 for miniature animals. If you intend to work only with wool, sizes 36, 38 and 40 are also suitable.
- Sheep Photo - It is far easier to get the shapes and proportions right for a sculpture if you have a photo in front of you. These instructions include some photos of plastic model sheep you can use for reference.
- Glass Eyes or Beads - I used 1.5mm wire ended black glass teddy bear eyes (not suitable if these sheep will be near young children) You can also sew or glue on suitable beads, or felt eyes in place with black fiber.
- Sharp Scissors - to trim the sheep's coat to shape.
- Wire Cutters and Tweezers or Needle Nose Pliers - to cut and bend eye wires and pipe cleaners into shape.
- Ruler - to measure body frame parts.