Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Genesis of a cardinal

Some readers were interested in more details about how we're making these birds. We're less than a week into this experiment with needle felting and are totally self-taught, but for what it's worth, here's how we're doing it. We start with a hunk of fleece about 12 - 14" (30 - 35 cm) long. We're just using stuff we washed and carded ourselves. If you're using commercially purchased roving, you might need to lay three or four such lengths of roving alongside each other to get a hunk about the right size.

Bend the fleece in half and turn it into a little ghost. Grab it by the neck. Using your felting needle, begin to poke all around the head, especially at the neck. Soon you'll be able to let go of your ghost's little neck and its basic head shape will remain.

You can continue felting the head, but at this stage you can also begin working on the body and tail, which encourages your ghostie to morph into a proto-bird. Here I use a foam rubber block. Thanks to electronics purchases long past, we have some of this stuff hanging around looking for something useful to do. I hold the proto-tail in my fingers on the block, and then felt it flat, atop the foam, where it narrows from the body ... first on one side, then the other.

My birds seem to have a tendency to obesity lately, so at this stage I start madly trying to felt them into more svelte proportions. I refer to my bird guides frequently at this stage, trying to get the shape right. Some birds have heads that are like little ping-pong balls sitting atop hackey-sack bodies. Other birds are more like airships. Some have distinctive shoulders and ample breasts, others are more streamlined. Judicious poking with the needle in the too-prominent areas will help shrink them down to more appropriate sizes and shapes.

When the basic shape is about as good as I can get it, I start adding colour. The tail will be made almost entirely out of the coloured roving -- it gets too thick if it has a base of white -- so in the photo you can see I haven't worried much about it yet. I lay bits of coloured roving on running in various directions until I almost can't see the white beneath and felt it on. Then I add another thinner layer if needed.

We've been making crests and beaks separately from little bits of coloured roving and then affixing them with the felting needle. We've occasionally done wings and heads this way too ... if the bird's head is more of the ping-pong ball type, or if the colouring of these wings is very distinct and contrasting.

Colour blending and detail work is much more an art than something that lends itself to how-to instructions, especially by someone who is as much a beginner as I am. Sophie has figured out a few things and taught me ... like how to felt a tiny bit of flat stuff and roll it up into an appendage like a bill or crest. I've discovered that needle-felting a line along the middle of a puff of embellishing colour and then folding the loose stuff back along the line is a good way to get clean boundaries between colours. I'm sure there are books and classes that teach these things and many more. We're just trial-and-error crafters here.


  1. Thanks for make it look really easy ;) I have all the materials here and am going to give it a try!

  2. oh - thank you for sharing! I have a lot of alpaca wool to card, and we may try making some birds too.


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