By Christina VanGinkel
A good friend made me the most adorable black bear figure, perched atop of a jack pine branch and base that she constructed herself, both the figure and the base. The figure is made from a technique referred to as needle felting. I would personally call it sculpting, or sculpture in felt. I have also heard it referred to as punch felting. Whatever it is called by; my new little black bear friend is adorable! He is sitting in a place of honor on top of our entertainment center, out of reach of my young grandson, who believes that the little fellow should go home with him! A note here is that these are not toys, and while an older child might love to have a needle-felted critter, they would probably not hold up as a plaything!
My friend that was sweet enough to give me one of the first bears that she ever made, also told me that what attracted her to the craft in the first place, was that it was something she could do while sitting in the living room in the evening with her husband, while they watched a show or two together on the television. She had been browsing online and stumbled across a site that sold finished bears and figures, and was intrigued by their detailed designs. She found a person who sold instructions, along with the required needles, on Ebay. She already had a supply of the felt, or wool roving, which was needed to make the actual figures (she had purchased it for another very different craft having nothing to do with sculpting). In addition, the farm that she had purchased the roving from was still in business. She went on to say that finding wool roving online was not difficult at all though, and that there were several places that sold it alone, or in kit form with instructions and needles to try this craft for anybody wanting to have a go at it.
Bears are not the only things being made with this technique either. I have seen some of the most fiendishly fun elves and funky looking dolls created with any craft, done up in punched wool. Other animals, such as lions and tigers, elephants, hippos, even giraffes, all can be made from wool, specialized needles, and the determination to make them.
I was intrigued by my new little bear enough that I decided to check out, if this were a craft that I would like to learn, and if so, to make some friends for him myself. What I learned was that this craft is currently going through what I would call a craze, growing in popularity in part because it is somewhat easy to learn. Most people who participate in it say they learned to basics within a day. The sculpture part itself though, the ability to give your figures personality, will take a bit longer to learn, and having a bit of an artistic side to your crafting would only be a major plus to learning the finer details of felting.
The basic tools that you will need are the needles, washed and carded wool, or wool roving (available in a variety of colors), and detailed instructions. There are numerous starter kits available with all of these components bundled together to get you started and keep your initial investment low until you know whether this is a hobby for you. Once you have determined that it is, you can also consider additional embellishments to make your designs as unique as you want. For example, my bear is sporting moveable arms and legs, and glass beaded eyes, which give him even more character than you can imagine!
If you have been searching for a hobby that is fun to do, provides you with a finished product that can be used for gift giving, maybe even selling for profit, and requires minimal space to participate in it, then needle felting, or sculpting with felt may be just what you have been searching for all this time. Check online for supplies and instructions, and before you know it, you might have your own little felted friend, that you can tell everyone you made all on your own.