Halloween is pretty much my favorite holiday, it’s creative and fun and it inspires me; this year I’ve needle felted several Halloween puppets. Most of these puppets were time intensive and they have lots of details; I want to share some of my techniques and thoughts about needle felting faces in this post. Not all portraits have to be photo-realistic, cartoon techniques and-caricatures are also good ways to make needle felted portraits. My needle felted portraits tend to be realistic. NOTE: This is an advanced project but it can be simplified. This puppet is not a toy because of the hair and eyes which can be choking hazards for children. If you wish to make a puppet as a toy, needle felt the eyes (don’t use glass or plastic eyes or fake eye lashes) and felt the hair firmly so it can’t be pulled out.
These puppets can be used for puppet shows and they can also be conversational pieces of sculpture for your home or business.
I start every project by bunching up a ball or an oval of polyfiber-fill (pillow stuffing); I hold it all together by wrapping sewing thread around the shape. I make sure that my starting shape is very firm and then I felt the shape wool the color of the puppet’s skin. Before you start your needle felted portrait, you should look at all the shapes that make up the face. For a needle felted portrait, I start out with an oval and build upon it.
These diagrams should help you to pick out the basic shapes that are in your puppet’s face:
- I’ve made my basic oval shape and felted it with peach wool and a little black where the “big” hair will be. I rolled up wool for the nose and made indentations where the eyes and mouth will be.
2. I added nostrils and shaped up the mouth and chin a little more. I made the face wider. Make changes in small increments, don’t over-exaggerate shapes such as the cheeks.
3. Glass doll eyes give a puppet or doll a more realistic look; you can also choose to needle felt your’ puppet’s eyes. If you’re using glass eyes, use scissors to cut small slits where the eyes should be. Push the eyes into the slits and continue to felt the upper and lower lids. Position the eyes so the pupils are looking in the same direction before gluing into place. I order all my eyes from http://www.glasseyesonline.com , these specific eyes are under glass doll eyes here, they are size 14. You may need to experiment with eye sizes depending on which style of eyes you choose to use and the size of your puppet head. This puppet head is 7″ tall x 6″ wide at the cheeks and 15″ in diameter (not including the hair). The whole puppet is 18″ tall (not including the hair), 24″ tall (with hair).
5. I felt a flat oval piece of wool a little longer than the eyes for the upper and lower lids, I then felt them into place and shape them as I go. Notice that the pupils are not pointing in the same direction at this point and they must be repositioned later.
6. The upper and lower eyelids are felting into place and I’ve shaped and defined the lips more.
7. The puppet head is shaping up, I’ll now start to add color and work on the hair.
8. I’ve added color to the lips (the top lip is darker than the bottom), I’ve rimmed the eyes with black on top and pink on the bottom and in the corners of the eyes. I felted brown into the nostrils and started felting on the eyebrows.
9. Many time I let my felted piece sit for a day or two and when I come back to it I can more easily see mistakes or important changes that I need to make; here I refelted the eyebrows a lighter shade of brown. I glued fake eyelashes over the eyes for a very realistic look (you can cut the lashes to fit over your eyes if they’re too long).
10. I felted a high pile of hair on the Bride of Frankenstein and then I shaped it by added more hair at the top to make the top of her hair wider than the top of her head. Use poly fiber-fill to make the shape of the hair (you can felt most types with felting needles) then felt over the tall shape with black. Felting all the hair from black wool could be expensive; after I made and felted the poly fiber-fill hair firmly I cut open the shape and took out as much fiber-fill as I could to reduce the weight of the puppet head. I felted curly black wool locks all over her hair after the shape of her hair was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I felted curly white wool locks to the sides of her head-her signature look!
11. TIP: Before you finish your needle felted puppet head take breaks so you stay “fresh”, hold your puppet head in front of a mirror and/or look at it upside down because this technique will point out mistakes or things that aren’t even become very clear.
I’m including the pattern for a puppet body, which can also be slightly altered (made larger) and sewn into a dress or shirt for the puppet. Cut the body from felt (felt doesn’t fray like fabric so it makes a good puppet body.)
The puppet pattern measures: 10.5″ wide (at the hands), the body is 7.5″ wide x 12.5″ tall. You need to cut a hole in the bottom of the needle felted head, pull out at least a handfull of stuffing and glue the middle of the puppet body into the head.
Print out hand diagram as a guide: hand-diagram
The needle felted hand from the top of the middle finger to the base of the palm is 7″ tall x 3.5″ wide. The puppet hand is a bit smaller than my hand (I have small hands); these size hands are good for a puppet with the head dimensions above. If your puppet head is smaller than the above dimensions, make the hands smaller also.
- Start the hand by making a round, flat but thick base (.5″).
- Cut wires or pipe cleaners about 3″ long, cut a slit along the top of the flat palm circle and insert the wires. NOTE: don’t glue the wires into the hand or it will be hard to felt. Insert the fingers and felt them one at a time.
- Wrap wool around the fingers and gently felt the wool around the wires.
- Felting a bit of a wrist and arm (the square in the photo) is optional.
- Cut a slit into the palm or arm, insert glue and insert the hand nubs into the needle felted hands.
Dress your puppet:
If you redraw or enlarge the puppet body pattern about 10% larger, it can be sewn together (leaving unsewn areas at the bottom, ends of the arms and at the neck) as clothing for the puppet. Pull the clothes onto your puppet from the bottom of the body, not over the head.
TIP: Liter water or soda bottles make great puppet stands!