Protect your hands

Needle felting is hard on your hands. The repetitive motion of stabbing the needle into the wool is not only a hazard for your fingertips — those needles are sharp! — but it can be a strain on your wrists and finger joints, especially if you are working on a project for any extended period of time. Sitting for hour after hour stabbing at a clump of wool can lead to aches going up into your arms and your back as well.

Here I’ll share with you a few of the things I do to try to help prevent these aches, or in the cases where it seems inevitable, at least recover from them. If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments.

Let’s do whatever we can to make needle felting a more fun and less painful experience.

THIMBLES. I recommend always using thimbles to guard against stray pokes. As noted above, these needles are sharp. I have drawn blood more times than I care to count, even while wearing thimbles. Without them, my fingers would be riddled with scars. Even if I’m just going to do a few “touch up” pokes, I put my thimbles on. It’s the best policy.

I like to use leather thimbles so that I can manipulate the wool with relative ease and feel where exactly the needle is while still being well protected. You can find these thimbles in the quilting section of most craft stores and there are many online sources for them as well.

NimbleThimble
Nimble Thimble from JOANN Fabric and Crafts

WORK SURFACE. Using a pad of some kind as a work surface. This is something that I moved away from and then returned to throughout my needle felting life. I have learned the deeper wisdom of it over the years. Not only does the pad provide protection against the sharp needle stabbing into your leg or any other appendage, it lets your supporting hand, the one not doing the stabbing, rest. I felt a lot of long and thin shapes, like snonkey eyestalks and tapir stripes, and I often hold the strip of wool in between my thumb and finger while I stab at it. So exhausting! My left hand quickly cramps up. I’ve found it is so much easier on the hand to let the wool rest on the work surface and hold it minimally in place.

There are different types of work surfaces to use with needle felting. When I first began felting, I used a piece of foam. I didn’t like it because it crumbled after being poked so many times. It also made loud noises whenever the needle went into the foam, so pretty much … Every. Single. Second. I was working on my project. Maddening. Then for a while I used a pillow, which got wrecked in short order. Now, after years of not using any work surface at all, I use a Woolbuddy, which is actually itself made of  densely felted wool. I highly recommend it.

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Woolbuddy on Amazon.com

STRETCHES. Taking the time in the morning to do a few stretches and exercises to specifically strengthen your hands and fingers can really help. Every day before beginning my felting session I spend about a minute opening and closing my hands in fits in rapid succession. After the minute is up, I roll my wrists in circles and shake my hands out till they feel comfortable again. This has really helped stave off aches in my hands and wrists.

Here is an excellent short video for more great exercises: exercises for tendinitis (tendonitis) or carpal tunnel (cps)

Another video that I’ve found helpful: Yoga for Wrists & Fingers – Yoga for Wrist Cramps & Carpal Tunnel

When I’ve overdone it and my hands and shoulders are aching, yoga in general has been very healing for me. Try a few different things and find what works best for you.

TAKING BREAKS. This is an important one to keep in mind when you’re in the middle of a project and want to get “just one more” piece of it done. If you’ve been at it for more than an hour, take a little break and rest your hand. Get up and get a glass of water, pet the cat, or simply daydream for a moment. It will really help give your hands that little bit of recovery that enables you to get that much more done when you can come back to it fresh.

 

Those are the major things I can recommend to help you with this fantastic hobby. I’d love to learn more methods so let me know any good tips and tricks you’ve figured out in the comments.

Sand Snake

One of the many blessings of our life is that the beach is only a short walk from home. I adore the ocean and the sand and the sea shells and the wildlife, even the smell of drying seaweed. I love it. One thing I do not delight in, however, is sand-filled wind. The gusts can make the sand hit you with stinging force. On such a windy day, I recommend you stay home! But if you do forge ahead, take a moment to shape the sand into the dangerous entity it is.

Nick emerges from the belly of the snake
Sand snake close up

Belly Painting

My twin sister is expecting her second child and to celebrate her pregnancy, I painted her gorgeous belly. I used the Proud Body Pregnancy Belly Painting Kit. She wanted a floral design and after looking through Pinterest together, we came up with this painting:

 

Working on an art project with my twin is a great feeling; working on art project ON my twin was tremendous fun! The little one inside kept moving, responding to my brush strokes. I have never done any body painting before and it was a challenge to work quickly enough that it wasn’t uncomfortable for all involved. Older Brother, only two years old, simply could not wait until it was done for cuddles.

Ethiopian Folk Tales

Reading fairy tales and folktales is a passionate hobby of mine. And although I love the Brothers Grimm and the Hans Christian Andersen varieties, nothing gets me more excited than fairy tales from non-Western cultures, especially anything from Africa. Not only are those cultures much more rare (and therefore precious) to encounter in my English-speaking Californian locale, but they are personally dear to me. I was born in Botswana and lived there for the first three years of my life. I have grown up with stories of Africa and music of Africa and friends from Africa. Not only that, my brother-in-law is Ethiopian and I have been granted the great joy of visiting his home country three times already. It is a wonderful place!

I would like to share with you this amazing website I recently discovered that has compiled nearly three hundred folktales from the various regions of Ethiopia: Ethiopian Folktales

The stories have English translations but you can also read them in Amharic (yay!) and the website even has the original sound recordings, collected between 1997 and 2001.

 

I find the stories fascinating and intensely inspiring. Here is a snippet of an Ethiopian folktale and an illustration I drew a few years ago.

The Donkey and the Hyena

Long ago, the hyena lived in the sky. Every night she opened her mouth and began to sing. She sang very loudly. Everyone on the earth below could hear her.

The donkey heard the hyena too.

Who is singing like that? she thought. What a beautiful voice! I want to meet her. I want to be her friend.

So the donkey prayed to God.

“Please,” she prayed, “please bring the animal with the beautiful voice down to live on earth.”

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The Donkey and the Hyena, pencil on paper

Anniversary Book

I am fascinated by bookbinding. I’ve hand bound my own book once before, to celebrate the first year of friendship with my future husband, Nick, and it was a very fun project. I wanted to do something similar to celebrate our first year of marriage, this time with a coptic stitch binding.

Coptic stitch is great for journals and sketchbooks because it allows for the pages to open completely flat. I used a few tutorials I found on Pinterest to help me and it turned out to be very simple and easy to do.

The contents of the book are messages and little digital drawings my husband and I have exchanged over the year in the Couple app (a cute phone app dedicated to enhancing text communication between couples). The drawing feature is very limited but really fun to play around with.

The cover is made from printouts of the early emails Nick wrote to me and one of the first drawings I made for him. The frame around the image is cut from a colorful envelop from one of our wedding cards.

On our anniversary, we read the book together and added little hand written notes on the pages.

Kokeshi doll

I was fortunate enough to go to Japan to celebrate my brother’s wedding this December. It was an unforgettable experience! Japan is beautiful and calming in a special way. Tokyo is a spectacle of human civilization, with such a huge population, imposing tall buildings, gorgeous lights (lots of Christmas lights everywhere), fabulous gardens and plants woven into the urban landscape, and it feels so … peaceful. Wonderful place!

 

I also was given the great joy of visiting Sendai, a city north of Tokyo. My brother’s new wife’s family lives there and they generously took us to see a few of the treasures of the area, one of which was the Akiu Traditional Crafts Village. There we enjoyed seeing different traditional crafts like weaving, wooden top making (the spinning toys), ornate box making, and kokeshi doll making. Kokeshi are dolls made from wood and traditionally look like this: Kokeshi_20101105

The artisans are there in the shop and we got to see him carving some kokeshi with his lathe, wood chips all over the floor! Even more exciting was that the shop had a little workshop area where we could paint our own kokeshi dolls!

Here is mine and Nick’s, my husband’s:

 

Can you guess which is mine and which is his? Heehee! He was very creative and made a vampire kokeshi. Mine is just a fish obsessed girl. It was so much fun!

 

We intend to go back to Japan whenever possible. What a wonderful place!

 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tamandua!

Remember the needle felted anteater I was working on way back in August? You can see the in-progress photos here.

 

Here is the finished tamandua!

 

This was such a fun project! Using the bright fantastical colors to make those crazy patterns was very exciting! I love the natural look, too, though so don’t be surprised if you find another anteater come along… Hehe.

 

I kept reassessing the basic body shape and adding more and more roving (the wool) to bulk him out. Consequently, this is probably the most densely felted piece I’ve ever made. She has a really solid feel and the patterns are so cleanly placed because I had to keep adding more and more layers of roving and each layer added had to redefine the color patterns.

 

The claws are made from Lumina Clay, which is a type of air drying clay that’s resin based. I added a dab of black watercolor paint to transparent Lumina Clay to make the claws nice and dark. Then I glued the claws to the pipe cleaner “toes” I left exposed on the armature (see the in-progress photo). E6000 is a very good glue for something small and needing a little flex.

 

You can purchase this Fantastic Anteater in my etsy shop here.