Lockdown has brought out the creativity in many of us, with some taking to ancient crafts to while away the hours.
Nadine Bishop is one of those people. She took up needle felting, a technique dating from around 2,000 years ago in which wool fibres are matted together to create an unwoven textile.
Nadine finds that the long concentration process helps relieve anxiety and encourages mindfulness. She’s had a tough year coping with family illnesses and caring for parents and finds her new hobby helps her to relax.
As the legend goes, felt was discovered by a shepherd boy who lined his sandals with wool to prevent his feet from getting cold. By the end of the day, when he removed his footwear he noticed that the wool had felted. This would have been due to the sweat, heat from his feet and the friction caused by him walking.
According to Hobbycraft, felt is seeing a renewed popularity as a craft and there are several different ways of making it: wet felting, needle felting and nuno felting.
Wet felting uses water, soap and agitation to interlock and compact wool fibres together, needle felting uses barbed needles to stab and tangle the wool fibres together, and Nuno felting bonds wool fibres to sheer fabric, usually silk to make a lightweight felted fabric.
Needle felting is also known as dry felting. The most important tool needed for needle felting is the felting needle.
Felting needles were initially designed to be used in industrial needle felting machines, (which can hold thousands at one time), to make commercial products such as filters, liners and even tennis ball coverings.
In the 1980’s someone had the ingenious idea of using a single felting needle to make wool sculptures and so the craft of needle felting began!
Says Nadine: “I have a dog, a Poochon and I’m in a Facebook group. A girl in the group had bought a felting kit and made a Poochon model, which was brilliant. I thought it was something I’d like to do. So I started doing some research and found a tutorial called The Wishing Shed. I followed the tutorial and made a rabbit. I started researching more and really got into it.”
Next came wool research and now she has so much of it that it’s taken over her Victorian Terrace in London.
“I don’t have a lot of spare room and I used to have a bit of OCD so my house was really tidy, but now I’ve got wool absolutely everywhere. I have it in shoe carriers on the door, on the dining room table, everywhere. The kids even bought me a pack of wool for Mother’s Day.”
But felting is not for the impatient or those looking for quick results. Nadine spends up to 30 to 40 hours on a commission – “I’m working for about 20p and hour because it’s such a long, long process.”
Part of that process involves stabbing the wool to harden it before it can be sculpted and that takes hours.
So far, Nadine has created uncannily realistic models of friends’ dogs. She’s also a master at turning a dog’s head into a Christmas bauble. She works from photographs and owners who have lost their pets have called upon her talents for replicas of their lost pets.
One source of inspiration has been Jo Hobbs, of CurlyjoCreation, a felting artist who sells all over the world and can command high fees.
She writes: “In my younger years sewing lessons at school filled me with dread!
In the spring of 2015 my beloved Dad passed away suddenly and I tried to navigate my way through a time of sadness and grief. Often reminiscing on fond memories, I cherished my beloved childhood rag doll, Penny.
“Bought by my parents as a surprise for my birthday, Penny had lost her features and elastic from her pretty floral green dress. I embarked on the task to restore her which bought great joy! It was at that moment I felt inspired; something I had always wanted to do as a child was to make my own dolls. Crippled by my sewing inadequacy, I failed at that time. Now I began, inspired by the antique French dolls with dangly limbs and the beautifully talented Jess Brown I began to create my own.
“As time went on and I became more confident in my new found creative side I discovered needle felting, I just found a passion and excitement about what I could sculpt out of a ball of fluff! I simply love to use the finest wool, silk and Liberty print fabrics to create my little animals.”
“Her work is amazing,” says Nadine. “She’s what you’d call a real artist. I consider myself an amateur, but I love learning more and more. I’m so happy I’ve discovered felting. My creations make people happy and I find I’m more relaxed when I’m focused on getting the details of someone’s beloved pet just right.”
How do I start?
You will need a felting needle which can be found in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Needles are sized by diameter, in gauges ranging from 12 – 42. The gauge is defined by how many needles will fit per square inch, so, the higher the gauge the finer the needle. Most beginners to needle felting will find that a 38 gauge needle is the most versatile. Essential equipment needed for needle felting is a pad, felting needles and wool. A needle grip will make the dry felting process more comfortable especially if you are working for long periods at a time.
Other supplies include core wool, pre-felt and embellishing materials such as glass eyes. Core wool is used to build the inner ‘core’ of 3D wool sculptures. Pre-felt is wool that has been industrially needle felted and generally comes in the form of a sheet which can be cut into shapes to use as embellishment.
Useful contacts and tutorials (click on links)
Nadine is on Instagram @felted_magic
Tips for beginners: https://lincolnshirefenncraftsblog.com/how-to-needle-felt-for-beginners/