Tuesday, April 19, 2011


One of the nice (yet oddly complicating) things about doing this blog is that it forces me to try crafts that I have thought about doing someday and then never remember to get back to it, or am not yet ready to put down my favorite craft to give a new one a whirl.  But hey!  If I can't do it how am I supposed to expose you to it?  I have been comfortably writing about knitting (yay, knitting!!) for a while now and even I recognized the need for a bit of a change-up before this became The Knitting Librarian (hmmm....uh oh, focus...!)  After all, one goal of this blog is to explore the possibilities of inspiration located in the sewing and craft sections of the library with high hopes of enticing the browser to try something out.  This time it worked on me!

 I knew I needed to step away from becoming the Knitting-Only Crafty Librarian but I wasn't sure what to do next.  Guess where I went?  Yup, the craft shelves in the library.  Almost immediately my hand settled upon a book by an author, Laurie Sharp, whose first book, I recalled had elicited innumerable "ooohs" and "aaahhhs" from any one who saw it, including myself.  Literally.  And so, here I am holding two books by the same author, Laurie Sharp, on the subject of needle-felting.

Needle-felting is a fiber art technique in which a very sharp, barbed needle is stuck repeatedly into dry wool fibers thereby encouraging them to mesh together. The more "needling" the fiber artist applies, the more compact, or dense the item becomes.  Other than the needle, the only other supplies you need to needle-felt are a piece of foam at least 2" thick and some wool batting or "roving" (which is batting that has been processed into a sheet of fibers.)  The foam is used as a surface to absorb the stab of the needle - which is much better than destroying your table or body parts!

I read and used Ms. Sharp's two books in reverse publication order, so I am going to review them in reverse order as well and start with the newest of the two - Wool Toys & Friends by Laurie Sharp.

As the title suggests, the book provides step-by-step instructions for handmade wool toys.  Most are simple needle-felted sculptural pieces such as a pop-up prairie dog puppet, a hedgehog, an elephant pull toy, a tiny teddy bear, and the sock monkey shown on the cover.  But a few projects involve a simple "wet-felting" technique that creates a felt fabric which is then used as a base for those projects, such as her star shaped
beanbags or, her finger puppet "pocket pals" that go inside a felted child's storybook.  Since I have never needle-felted before, I chose to focus on the projects that would allow me to explore that technique rather than the wet-felting ones.   Each step is accompanied by a photograph which gave me a sense of confidence.

After glancing through the lists and descriptions of the materials, supplies and techniques I purchased the very basics and launched right in.

This is the needle I purchased, if you look very closely you can see the barbs notched in it.

I flipped through the book and selected the cute Pixie character to start with.  After all,  folding pipe cleaners for an armature, rolling wool, and jabbing a needle into fluff sounds like great therapy to me.  How hard can this be anyway?

Well, I can't believe how long I fumbled around with Step One - bending the pipe cleaner into the armature.  For one thing, I read it too fast and made assumptions (because it was so easy); for another because I mistranslated the direction (again, it was too simple!)  I literally said "duh!" when I finally latched on to the simplest of steps.  Needless to say, when something directs you to "fold the larger piece over and around the arm piece, going through the legs," it means: wrap the "head" end of the body piece over over the arm piece and through the legs to secure the arm piece in place.  I was busily trying to wrap one side of the arm across the body, around the other side and through the legs.  Bit of a mess and not a good start.  Oh well.  Some Crafty Librarian I am...  I decided to actually read the steps instead of trying to second guess them based on the pictures.

Step Two:  Roll a 5"x2" piece of wool into a ball.  Well, the photo shows a completed rolled ball but I am at a  loss as to how thick or thin this initial 5"x2" piece should be...a picture of that would be helpful!  Some amount of experimentation is required.  The wool sheet I initially laid out is about 12" long so I tore a 2" wide section off,  folded it in half length-wise, and pushed it into a 5" length.  Then I started rolling.  After fumbling around a bit timidly I decided to check the Techniques section to see if there was any guidance.  Come on, really?!  On rolling wool into a ball!?  But yes, the Basic Techniques section had information, again one picture or two shy of being completely helpful but I worked at it some more.  (To be honest, I think I was trying to delay using the Really Sharp Barbed Needle.)

Once I got brave enough (and frustrated enough) to poke at the "ball-shaped" wool with the Really Sharp Barbed Needle though, darned if it didn't start holding together.  In the end, I had exactly what the book said I needed. Huh!  Hint: just don't over think this stuff.  It is as simple as it looks, it is not rocket science.

Steps Three and Four: Use large needle to poke hole in base of head. (Simple.) Then place dab of glue (quick check to list of supplies in front of book - yup- suggests best type of glue to use) on head end of pipe cleaner and twist head onto it.  Yay!

Step Five:  Thin wisps of wool are wrapped around tips of armature to form hands (how much is a wisp?).  Somehow the first hand comes out great, but I struggled and redid the second hand several times.  Go figure.  Ultimately the form has two hands (although the second is a bit clubbed..)  Oh well, I remind myself that crafting is a very individual process of creativity and move on.

Steps Six through Ten involve wrapping and needling the body, arms, feet and legs.  Note:  The needling action caused wee bits of loosened wool fibers to cover my table.  Just be aware of that if you have allergies.  Hmmm...the tiny, lighter colored typeface at the bottom of the page instructs one to "try to wrap firmly and evenly.  Avoid loose wrapping."  Wish I had read ahead and seen that "hint."  It might have have with the bulbous hands and loose body.

Steps Eleven and Twelve are all about the Pixie's hat.  I needled some wool into a fat triangle, then folded and needled the seam together, placed it on the head and needled it to attach.

Step Thirteen:  Needle a few wisps of hair tucked under the hat (still am not sure how much a wisp is but I like the lyrical feel of the word "wisp.")

Steps Fourteen through Sixteen involve creating the facial features.  Usually the face of a character can make or break an entire piece.  I was not terribly confident that I could produce as "cute" a pixie as the author but I plunged ahead...the pictures make it look very easy.  The nose is tricky business - my first attempt involved jabbing it through the center a gazillion times and produced a flat pock-marked disk.  I removed it, formed a smaller ball and found that jabbing it around the edges formed it much better.  This takes a little practice.

The author never mentions ears in her instructions but her completed pixie definitely has ears.  I later observe that this proves to be a common issue with her creations - elements that show in her finished creations are not referred to in her written instructions. Once again, I am reminded that creativity is a personal process and I decided to wing it based on what I have learned.

All done!  I turned her into a knitting pixie, of course. And yes, those are toothpicks I used for knitting needles.  And yes, I knit the teeny tiny thing for her.  And yes, I probably have a knitting problem and need to join knitters anonymous!

About the time I finished the Pixie, our Children's Department staff changed the tree display in our stairwell - adding cherry blossoms to the branches to honor the people of Japan in their troubled times.  (You may recall the tree, decked out for winter, in one of my earlier posts:  Some More Holiday Decorations.)

I decided to add to the honor by making the Japanese Doll project from the book before I moved on to the cute critters in her original book.  The techniques were similar to the Pixie with the exception of the pipe-cleaner armature.  This figure has no such armature in it.

I do everything backwards, so having given my due diligence to the projects in her second book I finally open Laurie Sharp's first book (the one with the cover art that had everyone purring).

WOOL PETS by Laurie Sharp

Isn't the cover art adorable?  Reading through this book made me very aware that Wool Toys & Friends was a follow-up book. Right away I discover that this book has information that would have been great had it been repeated in her second book (and I hope, any books she might come out with later.)  Most importantly it included the instructions for the basic techniques of needling, rolling the shapes, and making flat pieces (like my Pixie's ears and hat.)  However, the quality of the photographs and the variety of the projects are just as good as her other book. 

Wool Pets has instructions for 20 needle-felted critters that can be used as toys, magnets, even jewelry - simply by adding the appropriate hardware.  In addition to the penguins shown on the cover (and the critters I made and will show you), there are instructions for a variety of creatures including, for example, a turtle, chipmunk, border collie, bat,  mermaid, and a gnome girl.  After lots of needle jabbing here is the collection of critters I created:

A sweet little chicky - just right for an Easter basket!

My little sheep with his happy face has elicited his own "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from visitors which is a very satisfying thing for a crafter to hear.

A couple of insects later and I feel comfortable enough with this craft to call it a day.  I used tiny pins for the eyes instead of trying to sew seed beads on and I didn't put any antennae on but I like them well enough(again, while the author did not refer to that addition her finished product did have a set!)

All in all I am very happy with the characters I have created.  While not exactly the same as the authors pieces they have their own level of cuteness and my friends and family have all been impressed.  What more can I say, other than: give needle-felting a try -  it doesn't require a whole lot of space or supplies and there is no limit to what you can create.  Here's the whole gang from both books.

While I initially thought that the repeated stabbing of the needle into the tiny bits of fluff would be somewhat somewhat therapeutic, I am now very weary of the action.  A firm structure requires a fair amount of needling and in the end, cute as they are, I decide not to make any more right now.  There are tools that I did not buy that might have made the process quicker such as a handle with multiple needles affixed.  If you decide this craft is for you, then you might want to invest in such a device!

You might also be interested in:

Sweet Needle Felts by Jenn Docherty.

Naturally, I looked at this one after I finished my pieces and it seems provide some very good instruction and pictures of the steps which I missed in the two books by Laurie Sharp.  The projects in this book are very cute also.

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