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.
My mother always told me not to talk politics or religion in polite company; that’s a tall order when writing or felting about the 2016 American presidential elections! I’ve been working on these needle felted puppets for months, inspired by the news and daily political events. I wanted to name the body of work but I’ve had a hard time choosing between: The Greatest Show on Earth, American Horror Story or Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue! Felting and re-felting the puppet faces for just the right look and creating the costumes for each puppet (mini suits and collared shirts are not easy to make). FYI: each puppets is wearing a handmade designer-suit because I bought designer suit fabric at my favorite fabric store and Hillary is wearing a little red crepe-georgette number of the highest quality!
My conundrum was that I wanted to “put my two cents worth in” but really not offend anyone while doing it because I have dear friends on both sides of the debate. I couldn’t bring myself to trash talk anyone but sometimes just reporting on the behaviors of the nominees was enough. My thing with the election is just how “down and dirty” it has become and personally I find it distasteful and embarrassing for America.
I think I can express myself just by “reporting” on the events or very similar events that have transpired over the last campaign year! Needle felting a portrait is either kind of easy or very difficult depending on your subject. Hillary Clinton has a delicate nose, she has no major defining features except maybe for her pronounced cheek bones; felting Hillary was tedious!
Bernie Sanders was the easiest portrait to felt because he has a pronounced nose, a facial shape that’s easy to recreate and hair that is “free” and easily recognizable.
Here, Donald Trump says that he’s number one; there are abundant poses that can be used and that help with “the Donald” portrait! There are so many familiar physical characteristics that define Donald Trump that one would think felting him was very easy, but not so. Trump’s cotton-candy hair was the easiest part of his portrait but Trump also has a small, delicate nose that was very hard capture.
Barak Obama was easy to felt; his features are not delicate and his look is easy to capture (salt and pepper hair and flying ears). I felted Obama eight years ago at the time he won his first presidential election. Eight years ago I didn’t have the right color of beige-brown to felt him so I had to mix the wool and I called the color Obama-brown. Today I have many more nuances of wool colors which helps immensely. You can see my progress from today’s Obama puppet portrait compared to the first Obama portrait of eight years ago!
I had a lot of fun felting “situations” and even more fun felting the election 2016 video:
My election felting has come to an end and I’ll now be riveted to my sofa in front of the t.v. to see who wins in November. In the meantime, Halloween felting continues and then onto Christmas felting!
Arts Business Institute | Artist Profile: Laura Burch
June 3, 2016
Fiber artist Laura Burch presents her delightful portfolio. We spoke with her about building a business, and her advice for others.
ABI: How did your move to Israel change your life and your art business?
LB: Moving to Israel changed my life completely; I had to adapt to things like the metric system, using Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, using a different currency, a different language and make peace with living as a foreigner.
When we lived in Chicago we bought a lot of Disney costumes because the girls loved to play dress-up and wear pink, sparkly things and those types of beautiful, quality items didn’t exist in Israel. I started making the girls’ costumes as well as classic style dresses for birthday parties and special occasions.
Other parents noticed the costumes and beautiful clothes and asked me if I would make these things for them too; this is how my store, Burch and Daughters, came to be and my entrepreneurial life started. We created a magical store filled with handmade treasures for children. I also wrote two craft books (with patterns) showing how to make some of my most popular toys: Sew Magical for Baby and Sew Magical for Kids.
ABI: You have a new studio and a new direction. Tell us about that.
LB: We bought and historically restored a home in Jaffa, Israel. The building is at least 150 years old, its architecture is Ottoman and it used to be a barn. I have my studio in our home, it has stone vaulted ceilings, stone walls and arches divide the large spaces and serve as the shape for the windows. I am in the process of “fixing” my studio; it is an overwhelmingly ancient looking space balanced out with very modern elements such as the cement floors, modern furniture and modern decorative pieces.
As the girls have grown up my interests have changed; I still make some of the things I used to but now they are more geared for adults. I base my artwork on the dry-felting, textile technique of needle felting. I’d like for my work to make a difference; I’ve recently become somewhat of an animal rights advocate so I’d like to make a body of work to promote awareness about animal rights and I’d like to show it in galleries.
There are many needle felted dogs and animals on my studio shelves, I’ve been needle felting these miniature sculptures, selling them and taking custom orders on my Etsy and Artizan Made sites. I donate proceeds from specifically designated sales of the dogs to my favorite animal rescue organizations.
ABI: Given your extensive background as an entrepreneur selling her art and other products, what advice would you have for new artists who want to follow their dreams?
LB: When I was in university, business of art classes weren’t offered. I would highly recommend learning the ins and outs of business pertaining to art. I’ve found that Etsy has many helpful postings on all business related issues for artists. Business skills are not only knowing what to sell, how to sell, negotiation, how to price your work, where to find the best sources, how to deal with business loans, what the difference between a C corp or an LLC is. It’s also knowing what your rights are as an artist and how to protect yourself.
Copyright your work, negotiate royalties and make contracts at the beginning of business ventures. Also layout your goals and course of action in writing. The more experiences you have, the smarter you’ll be (art contests, art shows, classes, seminars and lectures on your chosen subject, attending and/or participating in craft trade shows and jobs).
Learn everything you can about your chosen medium! Most importantly: participate in everything you can because you will become recognized and doors will open because “one thing leads to another!”
Needle felting is the art of sculpting wool with special, barbed needles. Stabbing the wool over and over again meshes the wool fibers together, creating a firm, textile object. I started needle felting in 2004 to make toys, puppets and dolls; I’ve since added fine art sculpture to my repertoire. I love needle felting, it’s a versatile medium and it doesn’t take much space to needle felt or to store your wool.
The Origin of Needle Felting: Felt is typically very strong and industrial, needle felted- felt is used in a variety of ways. From the 1950’s, needle felting (needle punch) was originally used to make felt for industrial purposes, for use with musical instruments and as building materials. Industrial felt is made with large plates filled with special barbed felting needles that are mechanically moved up and down to felt wool and other materials together such as polyester or nylon. Industrial felt is used as a damper; it’s placed between car parts to damp the vibrations between panels and to prevent dirt from entering some joints.
Felt is also used on the underside of a car bra to protect the car body. Felt is used extensively for musical instruments; it is used on drum cymbal stands, it is used to wrap bass drum and timpani mallets. In pianos, piano hammers are made of wooden core, wrapped in wool felt. Industrially made felt is placed under the piano keys and it is used in accordions and as ukulele picks.
There are many uses for industrial felt in home construction such as: weather protection in roofing felt and a moisture absorbing layer for floor layouts. Recently, the clean white scraps of felt from industrial uses are ground up, colored and put in an aerosol cans and sold as spray to cover up bald spots! In the 1980’s, David and Elenor Stanwood invented a small, home needle punch technique (a smaller version of the industrial punch) to make wool batts for quilts. Ayala Talpai, a family friend was taught the technique and she further developed it into the single,needle felting craft technique we know today. Ms. Talpai wrote the book: The Felting Needle, from factory to fantasy.
The basic tools of a needle felter are wool, a sponge used as a felting surface and felting needles.
Wool: Different types of sheep yield different types of wool(Merino, New Zealans, Lincoln, Romney, Drysdale, Rambouillet to name a few); there are many types of wool available, but not all of it is good for needle felting. The finer the wool, the softer it is; fine wool such as merino is used in the clothing industry and a coarse wool such as Karakul is used to make carpets. I prefer to felt with medium-coarse wool (Sheltland, Bershaft, New Zealand or wools marked short haired felting batts). These coarse wools felt quickly and easily, a fine wool (such as merino) takes much more time to felt and the needle marks are easily visible; I like to use merino wool for doll hair.
Felting Surface: I buy my sponge from industrial upholstery shops; I buy large squares and cut them into smaller square (depending on the size of the project I’m working on). I prefer to buy upholstery sponge because I can get very thick pieces; I always needle felt on a piece of sponge 2″ to 5″ thick. I find that the small, relatively thin sponge offered in craft stores for needle felting wears out very quickly and I often stab through to the table when I’m working with one of these craft sponges.
Needle felting Lingo: The farther back you go in the wool process, the more wool lingo you’ll need to understand, for example if you want to buy your wool from the source (sheep farmer) you’ll need to know what a fleece is (sheared wool directly from the sheep without any processing), what kind of wool you want (depends on what you want to do with it) and whether you want your wool carded (brushing the wool with special paddles to get out tangles and dirt). If you buy a fleece, you’ll receive the sheered wool from a sheep in one big, dirty lump of wool, you should wash it several times. See this blog post about raw fleece . Wool roving is wool that is rolled up in thin (about 5″ wide) strips and wool batting is wool that is rolled up in sheets (about 20″ wide) and is a little fluffy.
Felting Needles are the key to great needle felting; there are quite a few gauges and they all felt a little differently. Felting needles are usually three sided, with barbs on the side for meshing the wool together and super sharp. It’s a good idea to mark your needles by color coding them; dip the top of each needle into a bottle of nail polish to color the handle and make a chart of what color corresponds to which size.
Needle Felting Needle
Gauge Triangle – very fine-for surface finishing work 40 Gauge Triangle – fine-for surface finishing work 38 Gauge Star – less surface area than standard, with an extra corner of barbs, for quicker felting-for shaping a piece and attaching pieces together 38 Gauge Triangle – standard-for shaping a piece, for shaping a piece and attaching pieces together 36 Gauge Triangle – medium-for shaping a piece, pushes chunks of wool 36 Gauge Crown Tip – one barb on each corner set 1/8″ from the tip, for shallow surface work – coarse Reverse needle – pulls the wool out instead of pushing it in. This needle is good for blending colors or inserting special hair (like mohair) into a felted piece.
Needle Felting Terms
Batt: A length of pre-felt prepared commercially using a carding machine. Blending: Mixing fibers of different colours or different types together. Carders: Paddle brushes for separating wool fibers, cleaning the fiber or blending different types of colors of wool for spinning or making felt. Carders have fine wires set in leather or synthetic rubber cloth attached to a wooden base. Carding: Using carders to tease and open wool out to separate the individual fibers. Combed tops/Wool Tops: Commercially prepared fibers, combed into long loose ropes. Felt: A fabric in which wool fibers are interlocked and entangled. With the application of moisture and friction, they are transformed into a compact mass and become felt. Felting Needle: A long needle with barbs on the end. Used for hand, machine and industrial felting. The barbs on the needle hook on the fibers and interlock them with each other. Fleece: Unprocessed wool shorn from a sheep. Fulling: The process after the felt has matted and shrunk. It is rubbed on a rough surface, thrown gently and even slammed on the work surface to force the fibers to intertwine, shrink and become firmer. Inlay: Technique in felt design in which pre-felted pieces are placed on a background batt of wool fibres and the whole piece is then felted together. Merino: A breed of sheep producing fine wool that is best for making clothing from when it is felted. They are bred mainly in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa Micron: The measurement of fiber thickness. The lower the number the finer the fibre Needle felted Batts: Fine batts of carded fibres pass under a bed of barbed felting needles. As the needles pass through the fibres the lower layers are pulled up through the top layers. The continuous process produced a sheet of wool fibers that may then be wet felted. Nuno Felt: The name given to a fabric made with wool laminated to silk. The wool is laid on to the fabric and then rolled in the usual way. The fibers of the wool penetrate the silk and when the wool shrinks it gathers the silk forming beautiful decorative patterns. Pre-felt: The fibres are laid for felting but are only felted until they are matted but not yet shrunk. It is then rinsed, allowed to dry and used in a design. Rovings: A long thin rope of wool fibre which can be used for spinning or to make felt Scales: The hooks which can be see on the wool fiber under a microscope. Felt is made from the wool when these hooks interlock and tighten the fabric. Staple: The length the wool grows on the sheep. It can be long or short staple