Needle Felting

Teacher: Michelle Hickman (of Furzie)

From: Ledbury, Herefordshire

Lesson: Needle Felting

“You’ve made an aardvark. How nice!” – The response from Matthew’s girlfriend when he showed her the hare he’d spent the last three hours making…

Joining the aardvark in the Teach Us line up was Nick’s club foot bushbaby and Alice’s General Woundwort (the evil rabbit from Watership Down). Still, we were proud of our little freaks. Until that afternoon, we had no idea that it was possible to create a solid structure with just wool and a needle. No glue or sewing required.

Michelle was a great teacher, having had a lot of practice over the years with Furzie. Patient and calm, she explained that it was virtually impossible to mess up a needle felt sculpture ‘because you can just rip it up and start again’. Like so many of the lessons we’ve had that have involved working with our hands, the experience was therapeutic and rewarding.

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Taking two thin, flat, strips of wool, we placed them on top of one another on a foam board and began frantically stabbing with a barbed needle. As well as being cathartic, this process binds the wool fibres together, resulting in a piece of felt that it rigid enough to create any character. Pieces of felt can be bound together using the same process, enabling the maker to create any shape they desire.

After three hours of stabbing, shaping (and reshaping), we took some time out to talk to Michelle about what she gets out of needle felting and the steps she’s taking to turn it into her full-time career.

What do you do?

When I’m not working as a freelance secretary, I run a needle felting business, called Furzie. I’m hoping to do more and more crafting as the year goes on.

Where did the name Furzie come from?

My house is called ‘The Firs’, and Furzie just sounded nice!

What have you been teaching us today?

I’ve taught you how to needle felt sculptures from a single piece of wool, in about three hours.

What level are you at?

I’ve been needle felting for about five years, but I’m still learning. It’s an evolving process. I even learn from my students.

How and when did you start?

I saw an article in a magazine about a lady who made character greyhounds, sat in a cafe, with their legs crossed smoking a cigarette, and was fascinated to find out that you could do that with wool. I went out to buy the equipment – just a few felting needles and wool – straight away and had a go at making my own greyhound. I was very pleased with the results and haven’t looked back since!

How did you learn?

I learnt from YouTube, but only take from it what I need. The rest I sort of just make up as I go along without following the advice too strictly. This is one craft that has no rules!

Can you tell us one interesting fact about needle felting?

Most people are surprised to find out that you don’t need any glue, or any sewing skills. It’s just needles and wool. You don’t need to be particularly artistic either. It’s an intuitive craft that just sort of creates itself as you’re making it.

What do you like about it?

I love that you can take away from it and add to it whenever you want, and that needlefelt sculpting with wool is so forgiving. It’s so hard to make a mistake.

What’s been your proudest moment as a crafter?

There have been so many wonderful moments, but it’s lovely when someone says, ‘oh that sculpture you made me as a memorial for my dog brought tears to my eyes’ or ‘I bought a hare off you a few years ago and it makes me smile every day’.

Have you done much teaching, and do you like it?

I’ve been teaching for about two years, and now run five or six courses a month. I never thought I’d like teaching before I got started, but now I love it. I was just nervous, but as soon as I realised that everyone is nervous, I got over it. I love the look on people’s faces when they create something spectacular after having thought they’d be hopeless.

Can anyone learn this?

Yes! I strongly believe that they can. I haven’t had a student fail to make something yet, and I teach people enough of the basics so that they can go home and develop the skill fully.

What are the most common mistakes made by beginners?

It’s hard to make mistakes in needle felting, but beginners often have too high expectations for their first piece. This is often because they’re making it as a gift, and I always advise newcomers to make something for themselves with the goal of learning the techniques. If you have a genuine interest in learning the skill, you’ll be alright!

How long would it take us to make something that looks more realistic?

If you came for a day and took the kit home with you, you’d be fine. The key to making something that looks realistic is concentration and having a good source photo to copy.

How were we as students?

You were excellent! You concentrated very well and created three lovely hares.

Is there another skill you wish you had?

I love learning new crafts, but I’m a bit hesitant to start anything else at the moment because I’m already addicted to wool! I have been on a few courses recently, though, including one on learning how to wet felt and how to create gossamer wool scarves.

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What we learned

  • All that’s required to make a needle felt sculpture is a few bits of wool and a needle felting needle
  • The more you stab the wool, the firmer the felt becomes
  • Needle felt sculptures can always be ripped to pieces and started again
  • It’s easy to make something but harder to make something that looks realistic!