Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tutorial: Intro to Needle Felting!

Welcome to my first tutorial! Today I'll be giving you an introductory guide to the wonderful art of Needle Felting (which has so many uses!) by teaching you how to make this lovely little Penguin.

This version is the detailed text-and-images version; if you'd like the simplified version (everything is a giant image!) check it out at my DeviantArt, here.

The Tutorial

Supplies: The following are the supplies you'll need in order to begin needlefelting. The most important advice I can give you here is NOT to buy from anywhere that does not specialize specifically in wool and felting. Generic craft stores are not going to have the quality or variety you need for a reasonable felt, and they'll be charging insane prices on top of that. You can find most of the supplies you need at specialty stores near you (if you're lucky), or online - either on Etsy or at a specialized online felting retailer (my personal favourite is Living Felt. Some stores also offer starter kits which include most basic supplies (although they may not always contain the colours of wool you want).

Wool: Every project you do will require you to have specific wool, in regards to both colour and amount. When you get started, it can be a little daunting - there are a large variety of different types. My personal favourite is Merino top, but a fine Corriedale will work as well - Corriedale is just not quite as fine a wool. Generally there isn't a huge price difference, but you might be able to find the colours you need in one but not the other. For this particular project, you'll need both white and black wool (I tend to buy them in large quantities, as it's cheaper and they're very commonly used), as well as a small amount of orange. I suggest buying the black and white in large individual quantities, but the orange you can either buy individually or in a multi-colour pack. Multi-colour packs tend to be slightly less expensive then buying all the colours individually, and may have the colours you want in smaller amounts than you'd be able to buy otherwise.

Needles: Felting needles are nothing like needles you'll use for other projects. These are made specifically for stabbing wool, and tiny indents and barbs in the needle will pull the fibres of the wool together, "felting" it into a solid piece. There are a variety of different shapes and gauges, but for starters I advise buying two variety sets - such as this one. You'll want two of each needle in case you break or lose one - and this is especially true when you're starting out. As you get more comfortable with specific needles, you'll know which ones you want to buy more of.

Foam: While this is not technically required, you'll have a very hard time doing any detail work without it - either as a backup to keep you from stabbing yourself/ the table, or to keep your piece clean. I use a 4x5 piece from Living Felt, especially made for needlefelting.

Reference Picture: Unless you're inventing a completely new, unrealistic character, this is essential. You can modify the character, certainly, but you should at the very least have this reminder of what they look like and how they're structured. This also applies if you decide to do some sort of realistic creation. Since this penguin is very stylized, I only used one image as a loose reference.

Getting Started:

Once you have your supplies, you're ready to start!

First, you'll want to pull some of your black wool out (obviously we don't want to use all of it!). The picture below shows about how much wool you'll want in comparative size (remember, the foam is 4"x5").

Next you'll want to roll that wool up into a... well, a blob. Keep in mind that this blob is quite a bit larger than your finished penguin will be - felting will be pulling all those loose fibres together, so everything will end up lots smaller than you started with. You can always add wool on top, though!

Now that it's rolled up into the proper blob, you'll start stabbing with one of the general (non-detail size) needles. And stabbing. And stabbing. (Try not to stab yourself, though!). You'll want to stab everywhere, in order to get a very rough base shape. At this point, you don't need to stab TOO much in a single area, but you do want to hit everywhere you can so it doesn't just pull apart.

Once you've got that rough base put together, it's time to start doing some serious stabbing. Your goal now is to get the actual base shape of our little penguin friend. An important thing to remember now is that you're not likely to stab TOO much. As a general rule, your needle felts will be more secure the more you stab them, keeping their shape better. Don't worry about all the little pokey pockets - they'll eventually even out.

Yay! Your base shape is complete! I know mine looks a little roughh right here, but he looks much smoother in person :) Squeeze him a bit to make sure he's pretty solid - if there's a lot of give and squish, you likely haven't stabbed it enough.

Next we'll be adding the white of his belly - here's about how much loose white wool I pulled, relative to the finished base.

I suggest using a detail needle for the top features, if you have one. You'll want to lightly poke the white into the general shape you want for his belly. You can stab more once you've gotten it evened out (colour and texture smoothness is important for a good felt!), but be careful not to pull black fibres on top of your white. You can always add some more white on top of what you've pulled if necessary, but your penguin will look better if you don't have to do that too much.

Are you starting to see it? I hope so! Next we'll be getting just a TINY bit of orange (yes, the picture is to scale).

You'll want to pinch it between your fingers, like so, and carefully poke consistently around the perimeter, rotating as necessary.

After a short while, it should look something like this:

You'll then pinch it in half, and stab it until it becomes a somewhat flattened cylinder, very firm and to proper scale. You'll then take this cylinder and carefully attach it to the bottom of your Penguin's body. Sometimes doing so can flatten part of the foot more than you'd like; remember that you can always add more orange and black wool to even out the look - and that seldom will the bottom be seen ;)

And... repeat for the other foot!

We'll be making the beak next, using a similar method to that we used for the feet. This time, though, you'll want to make a triangle. Make sure to leave extra loose wool on one side, as that'll help secure the beak in proper position.

Stab like mad! Keep going until you're sure the beak is properly secure on all sides. If it is, there'll likely be a noticeable indent in your penguin's face.

We'll fix this by adding some more black wool, which will not only make him smooth again, but also provide additional support to the beak.

Doesn't he look handsome? But something's missing...

Eyes, of course! Just like you added on his belly-white (though on much smaller scale), you'll want to give him a nice white iris. Make sure to do this with the finest-point needle you have!

Using an absolutely MINISCULE amount of black, you'll next add in his pupil.

Repeat and... you're done! Make sure to give him a name, though (mine was named by my friend, who dubbed him Sven (2.0)).

Congratulations! You've now completed your first needle-felt. Keep an eye out in the future for more advanced projects, tips and tricks... but if you absolutely cannot wait...

Further Information:

While I do hope to have more advanced guides in the future, I know that this is only one type of felting, and my style may not be what you're looking for. The following are some books I recommend if you're hoping to try out some different styles.

Little Felted Animals: This was the book I used when I started, and I found it very useful. It's great for anyone who's looking to felt realistic-looking animals, and goes in detail about some techniques I didn't cover (and some I personally don't use at all, but you might like). For some different projects and techniques, you could also check out Wool Pets.

If you're looking for more ways to use Needle Felting specifically (not limited just to animals - or even sculpting, for that matter! - check out Sweet Needle Felts.

If felting interests you beyond just needle-felting, you should definitely check out Uniquely Felt or Quick and Clever Felting. Both these books cover all sorts of different felting techniques and projects.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Wonderful Miss Caitlin

As far as Theatre goes, I'm a relative Newbie. I'm not-quite-twenty (less than three weeks, though!), and just going to enter my junior year of university. Thus, people with more experience than me and advice to give are a godsend. Caitlin is one of those people. She was a senior my freshman year of college, and tends to be made of awesome ;) She's also started her own very-useful blog, and I wanted to take this chance to poke you all and tell you to go there, now!

So... hurry up already!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stock Photographs

One of the major resources that I think any crafter or props technician should be aware of is Stock Images. From Wikipedia: "Stock photography is the supply of photographs licensed for specific uses. It is used to fulfill the needs of creative assignments instead of hiring a photographer."

While a lot of high-quality Stock Photography (such as that used in professional advertisements) requires a fee, the casual user can find a lot of good stock available on websites such as DeviantArt. A multitude of artists there put up their work for you to use, provided you follow their terms of use - and almost all of them are very reasonable. The stock available is huge in variety, and is a godsend for the casual crafter, hobby graphic editor, etc.

I personally put up a lot of stock photographs of flowers and backgrounds - today I added two flower stock packs featuring high-resolution images from Monet's Garden at Giverny, and plants on the big island of Hawai'i.

The majority of stock images available are models, and some of those are incredibly professional and varied - MJRanum-Stock, for example, is a stock-exclusive account from a professional photographer.

Locations are also big - you can find ANYTHING! The below example is one of many photographs I took in France, and have since made available to the general public to use.

So what are you waiting for? Start looking around!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Needle Felting

One of the crafts I'm really big on is needle felting. I have so much fun sculpting some of my favourite characters in wool! A lot of my friends and family love them too, so I make them for gifts quite a bit - unfortunately, I tend to give them as soon as they're finished, and forget to take pictures (Pity, because I was fond of both Jack Skellington and the Cheshire Cat). Others just didn't photograph well before going off. I'm working on a few tutorials related to how I create some of my felted friends, but for now, here are a few I've made in the past year and a half (click on the image to go to the deviantArt page):

Stitch, from "Lilo and Stitch", was a special present for my friend Amy :)

Dory was a present for myself xD I love the character, and it was interesting working with such a thin character - sculpting her face to how I wanted it got me a lot of finger pricks!

Piglet was a special present for my sister. I'm hoping to have an entire Hundred Acre Woods set eventually; Pooh and Tigger are both in the works.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Little Updates

Today I went and made some updates to the little details of this lovely little blog. The sidebars now feature some link sections - Pages I Love & My Pages. The former, as the title suggests, features links from around the internet that I love and find related to this blog. The latter is a quick link-collection to my pages around the web - my personal blog, deviantArt, and etsy, and is located directly below the "About Me" section. I hope you enjoy checking out some of these new links!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fabric: Tutorials Galore!

I was on Sew, Mama, Sew! today (very useful for tutorials, even if you, like me, are NOT a "Mama"), and found some excellent tutorials, both on their site and others, that I thought could be very useful for both real life and theatre :D So I decided to compile a list of props-related things that can be accomplished by using fabric!

Best part? Once again, you can co-operate with the costuming department! I personally think everyone should know how to sew, but it's always nice to be working with people who know a bit more than you ;) Not just about sewing, but about fabrics, good deals, etc...

So, here are some that I wanted to share!

Reupholstery / Recovering / General Makeovers

I want this chair. Chances are, you do too - especially if you've got some rather ugly furniture sitting around in storage. Thankfully, jcaroline creative has put together a how-to detailing the entire process - and she even sells the fabric in her store!

This chair has a rather similar fabric - and no wonder, it's by the same designer! While the previous tutorial was by the seller of the fabrics, this one is done by the graphic designer who created a ton of cool fabrics for the jcaroline store - Jessica at How About Orange. It's a fairly simple process, and doesn't use too much fabric OR paint - if you're in theatre, you can probably get the supplies from your scenic and costume shops without a problem! Check out the details here!

Desk Chair

If you're looking to recover a desk chair (or make a matching set), look no further! While this tutorial is rather sparse in text, it's got quite a few images - and if you've done any upholstery at all before, this should be a cinch!

Sometimes stock lampshades are ugly - and sometimes they're just plain boring. Never fear, though, Tresa Edmunds at Reese Dixon has got your back - with her tutorial on how to recover a lampshade, you've no need to worry again!


Sew, Mama, Sew! wrote an amazing three-part tutorial on making a slipcover for furniture a while back - it's absolutely loaded with images, and covers all the little details, which is perfect! From drafting, to draping, to sewing! Incredibly useful for all those times when you need something to look different but can't re-upholster (aka borrowed or nice furniture). Check it out here: Part One Part Two Part Three.

The Little Details

When it comes to props and set dressing, it's all about the little details - you might not notice things are there, but people will certainly notice that something is off if they aren't! These tutorials are helpful for when you're looking for that extra bit that brings things all together.

Ribbon-edged Towels

jcaroline creative has a wonderful, simple tutorial on how to embellish plain towels with pretty ribbons. It's a great way to dress up old towels, or to match them to the decor - especially if the characters in the play are those who'd have nicer items! You can also use similar ribbons to match up slightly different towels into a nice set (such as putting a white ribbon on blue towels, and a matching blue one on white towels). Check it out!

Recycled Fabric Napkin Rings from Saran Wrap Tubes

Kathy over at Merriment Design has a fantastic tutorial on how to use fabric scraps and old tubes (either from saran wrap or similar items) to make lovely matching napkin rings! If you've got any sort of table setting, this is an awesome (and super-cheap!) way to embellish it a little bit.

That's all for today - but hardly all the great tutorials I've found! I'll definitely be featuring more in the future; for now, I hope you've found something of use!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Blogs and the like

Blogging like this has been rattling around in the back of my brain for a while, but what made me decide to actually get on it was some of the other fabulous crafty blogs and sites I've been keeping an eye on. So, for the first actually helpful post, I'd like to feature a few of my favourites and share what I love about them.

Martha Stewart Crafts

As I'm sure you'll soon know all-too-well, I have a bit of a fixation with Martha Stewart. This, the crafts section of the Martha Stewart Website, is filled with what seems like endless tutorials of every kind, from the simple to the complex. There's also a Crafts Dept. Blog, run by the members of their crafts department.


The website of Craft: Magazine is another tutorial overload, although they focus more on linking to tutorials around the web, rather than their own (although they do have several awesome ones!) They also have it niftily arranged so you can either view all the blog entries, or just search by the type of thing you're looking for - multiple craft types, fashion, cooking, gardening, etc.

How About Orange

How About Orange is constant source of entertainment, if you're anything like me. Jessica Jones, the creator, shares all sorts of things - Tutorials and info on her own pieces (she's even designed several lines of fabrics!), links to interesting tutorials, resources, and graphics. I love her style of writing; it's so fun just to sit and read through the whole thing - which I did, the day I discovered it!

Today's Creative Blog

Kim, the creator of "Today's Creative Blog", is a genius. Not only does this blog constantly highlight creative blogs from all around the web (and world), but she also is more than open to suggestions from crafty readers and bloggers! She also holds crafty giveaways quite often, generously sponsored by a variety of sources. I also love how she keeps this blog and her personal blog separately - so I can browse what I will, rather than navigating through everything :) Her layout is also quite lovely!

Better After

This blog is always so fun to look at - it's a collection of renovations of all kinds (the majority are furniture items) done by regular people. It's a fantastic source of inspiration - both for personal and theatrical use. Seeing as a lot of furniture that theatres have in stock bears a striking resemblance to these thrift store finds...

That's all for today, but I'll certainly be spotlighting more creative blogs I love in the future!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Hello, and welcome to my new blog! I'm a theatrical tech and design major at Drake University, as well as an all-around arts and crafts enthusiast (and blog-reading addict). I adore looking through all sorts of crafting sites and blogs (and anything Martha Stewart I can get my paws on), and especially enjoy thinking of ways all the different techniques and ideas I come across could be applied to theatre and related venues.

Despite the title, this is not just a blog for people interested in props - so many of the things I've come across can be incredibly helpful to scenic designers, set dressers, costumers, etc... not to mention everyone else!

With this blog, I hope to share some of my thoughts, ideas, and finds with other theatrical designers (prospective or current ;)), as well as anyone else who may happen to stumble upon it. Above all, I want to be able to help at least one person out there to learn something new that they can truly appreciates.

Here's hoping!