Needle Felting: All the Rage for Bear Makers
By Nancy Cavanaugh
Bear makers all over the world
have been talking about needle felting (also known as dry felting)
lately. It is a simple and easy-to-learn process that takes a lump
of wool and turns it into a piece of felt that can be used to make
a multitude of projects.
According to teacher and bear
maker Kathy Hays, needle felting "is the matting of wool fibers
with a specially shaped needle. A medium to coarse fiber is placed
on a foam mat, then needles are poked into the wool. The needles
have tiny barbs in the shaft so as the needle goes into the fiber,
it drags the fiber into the other fiber. This 'tangles' the fiber
to keep it firm."
Kathy, who lives in Seminole,
FL with her husband and two children, is a traditional felter but
took up needle felting four years ago. "I use soap and water
to create felt. Needle felting had been floating through the very
small felting population, so I decided I wanted to know what the
chatter was!" she said.
Felting has been Kathy's primary
focus. "During the past year and a half, I have really focused
on making hand-made felt dolls and defining my own work. I create
because I enjoy the act of creating," she commented.
Fellow bear maker and needle
felter Bobbie Ripperger, who hails from Illinois, has been needle
felting for about as long as Kathy. "I've been a bear maker
of miniatures under three inches since 1990. I bought my first needles
three years ago but didn't do much with them due to lack of time
for experimenting," she said. "August '02, some family
health situations improved and gave me some breathing room, just
as I discovered that after twelve years of intense, twenty-five-stitches-to-the-inch-sewing,
arthritis was affecting my fingers too much to continue work as
I'd known it. Not wanting to give up my minis, I picked up the needles
in August and made my first 'something.' It wasn't turning out right,
so I put it aside and made a rabbit based on one of my fabric patterns.
I went right into realistic animals, especially polar bears."
Compared with other crafts,
Bobbie, who will be 61 in the Fall, said, "I think I've finally
found my true art niche!
"When designing a teddy
bear or other soft-sculptured animal in fabric, all of the design
thought process goes on before the scissors touch the fabric. The
'skin' is then cut, sewn and stuffed, like working from the outside
inward. In needle felting, one starts from the inside - the basic
shape or skeleton -- and builds up the muscles and final outer surface
one bit of wool at a time. There is no pattern and it's almost impossible
to get identical pieces. These are truly one-of-a-kind works,"
Needle felting is a relatively
inexpensive craft to start. "The cost to begin needle felting
is cheap. It takes a few needles -- an assortment is good -- ten
dollars for a dozen. Small quantities of wool fiber, perhaps another
ten dollars," Kathy said. "Needle felting is for beginners,
it is simple and easy to learn."
Bobbie recommends a foam cushion
as well. "In the beginning (you should use) a foam cushion
about twelve inches by fifteen inches by three inches, to keep from
jabbing your hand, leg or tabletop with these very sharp points,"
Bobbie thinks it is definitely
something the family can do. "All of my grandchildren have
sewn, knitted, crocheted and even tried tatting. Our fifteen-year-old
grandson took one of my felted bases (the 'skeleton' inside) for
a polar bear and turned it into a goose. Our eleven-year-old granddaughter
tried it briefly but she lives twelve hundred miles away, so hopefully
this summer she'll have a longer go at it."
Noggins created by Kathy Hays using needle felting. Students
can create their own Noggins in her class for beginning needle
felting at Crafty College.
Kathy had a few tips for beginners.
"Patience! For most people, learning to handle wool is the
biggest hurdle. I come from a fiber background and know how to handle
the carded wool, or roving. I have seen numerous students struggle
with fiber. They want to treat it as a fabric, when in fact it is
very flyaway. The other problem is that students want to work too
fast and look for instant gratification after about ten minutes.
To get a piece to look good, it takes time."
Bobbie's tips: "Take
your time. Practice, practice, practice. Use your imagination and
let the wool become what it wants to be. If you start off making
a teddy bear but it looks like a frog, go with frog!"
Kathy began teaching needle
felting online three years ago. "I am a fiber artist, doll
artist, felt maker and bear maker," she said. "I teach
online at Crafty
College and really enjoy the venue. I do offer workshops locally
and do travel outside my home state to teach doll making or felt
Kathy feels that online classes
in needle felting can be as good as in person. "I teach it
online and in person. When good instructions are given, [along with]
plenty of photos, you can easily learn."
Bobbie has also designed a
course for needle felting. "I've developed an online class
for students to work at their own speed. The kits are bought and
sent to the students, then I send the class lessons individually
to them when they're ready. The kits are eighteen dollars and the
class costs twenty-five dollars."
For more information about
the kits, classes or supplies, you can contact Bobbie by e-mail
at RKR4CDS@attbi.com. You
can also purchase needle felting starter kits and project kits from
many online stores.
Nancy Cavanaugh, is a stay-at-home
mom and avid crafter. You can find lots more fun crafts for
kids, ages three to seven, at her site: Kids Holiday Crafts www.kidsholidaycrafts.com
is a craft that requires the use of a very sharp needle. This
craft is not recommended for children under the age of 12. It
is recommended that beginners wear band-aids on their fingers
when first learning how to do this craft to minimize possible
injury to their hands.