Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What is Needle-Felting?

I have been talking for most of the year about making wool sculptures using a technique called needle-felting.  What is needle-felting?  It is a process of felting (fusing the fibers of wool together) using a special needle that has tiny barbs on it.  By repeatedly poking the wool with the needle, the fibers of the wool compress and lock together.  With the needle, I am able to shape the wool into just about anything I like.  I can fuse different colors or pieces of wool together without the use of glue or sewing. 

Needle-felting began as a craft form in the mid-eighties, starting primarily as a way to create flat applique on fabric.  Since then, it has grown into making three dimensional sculptures and even wall art.  Stephanie Metz has been one artist who has turned needle-felting into a fine art.  Her work is large, highly detailed pieces that are developed from a theme and are shown in gallery shows. Her work really pushes the boundaries of how needle-felted sculpture can is viewed.

I am interested in similarly pushing the boundaries of needle-felting.  Right now I am exploring the natural world by creating sculptures of birds and animals, some with little micro-settings.  My work will soon be shown publicly at several shows I have lined up this summer, later to be made available for purchase online through my website and my Etsy shop. As I develop the sculptures, experimenting with complexity and technique, I plan to create more pieces with a theme, perhaps considering gallery shows of the sculptures as well.

In the meantime, I will show some sneak peeks of my sculpture.  Today, I will share a little overview of my needle-felting process:

Step 1: I take wool roving, which I purchase from Beth Marcellus of Warm n' Woolie Farm, a local wool farmer, who raises the sheep, processes the wool and dyes the wool by hand.  (I also buy my free-range eggs from her.  If you haven't had free-range eggs, you don't know what REAL eggs taste like!)

Step 2: Using the special barbed felting-needle, I felt the wool roving into various shapes, which will eventually be fused together to make the whole sculpture.  Each pieces can take several hours to felt into shape.  That's thousands of individual pokes of the needle!

Step 3: Once the separate pieces are made, I fuse them together using the needle.  (No glue or sewing involved)  Then I begin the shape the overall piece.  In this case, I am smoothing the line between the wing of the cardinal and where it meets its body. Then I will add the beak, felting more wool onto the head to smooth the transition between the beak and the head.  That's several more thousands of pokes of the needle.

Step 4: Now I begin to add the fine details.  Here I add the black mask on the face of the cardinal. I add some black details on the wing and tail feathers.  More shaping of the head, adding cheeks, and body, adding a puffy chest, takes place as this stage.  Yet more thousands of pokes of the needle.

Finished Piece: Once the final details are added. I sew the glass eyes on and the sculpture is finished.  In this case, the sculpture is an ornament, so I sew a string on as well.  This is a small sculpture (about three inches high) and takes between six and eight hours to make.  Sculptures larger than four inches, and those that have legs or other more complex features can take from 15 to 35 hours to complete.  I don't even want to imagine how many thousands of needle pokes that is!

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