Tweed the cat

Some months ago, I received a custom order for a pet memorial of this lovely, lovely fellow:
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It was an honor to make such a meaningful piece. I needle felted wool over a pipe cleaner armature, used small glass eyes, and made the whiskers from fishing line glued in place with superglue.

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_TweedCollar
I made a removable collar like the one in the photo reference.
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Such unique facial markings!
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My initials on the belly, lost in the fur.
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I was told he had a funny habit of sitting on top of vases and pots. What a silly!

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If you would like to see some of the process that went into making this needle felted oddling, wander over to my Patreon page where I show many, many photos of the different stages and changes I made as I worked:

Familiar Oddlings on Patreon

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.

Anthopleura WIP Video

I’ve been working really hard on the needle felted Anthopleura sola, the Starburst anemone, but making all those tentacles is taking a long time. So I thought I’d give you guys a peek into the process by…

… making my first needle felting video! View it at the link:

 

Below are some stills from the video with a bit more information.

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I found a yarn that was the perfect color to blend with my other roving (loose wool ready for felting or spinning). I only need to take it out of its loosely spun strands and make it into roving. You can do this with any yarn that is %100 wool, or any kind of felt-able fiber.
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Using specialized carding combs, I blend the two colors of roving together. You can get combs like these from Etsy or your local craft store.
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Here you can see I am wearing leather thimbles on my fingers and thumb. I use a wooden needle holder that I’ve found to be the most comfortable. Even though it has multiple slots, I typically use only a single needle. I felt on a Woolbuddy pad, which is a mat of densely felted wool that works just like a foam pad but better.

The start of the tentacle is a core of plain undyed roving, which is then covered and expanded upon with the blended roving. After rolling the wool into roughly the shape of a tentacle, I poke it repeatedly. The barbed needle does the felting by grabbing the strands and tangling them around each other with every poke. Slowly the tentacle starts to form and hold its shape.

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I stretch the blended roving out in a line to get the tentacle long and thin.
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I add blue roving to the tip of the tentacle.
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The tentacle is complete and ready to join the others on the anemone!

Thank you for watching my process! This is a long and intense project and I’m glad to have you all along with me.

Check back for photos of the finished anemone.

A Griffin for Valkyrie

My good friend, Valkyrie Johnson, is so multitalented it’s easy to mistake her for a mythological being. She is an artist who draws, paints, sculpts, sews, felts, welds, writes, carves, sings, arranges flowers, crafts jewellery, designs clothing, edits video, and practically anything else creative you can imagine. And not only does her repertoire have breadth, it has quality. She is astonishingly good at many, many, many things.

Just look at these few pieces by her!

Top: New Friends. From left to right: Wooden Pendant, Lovers Egg,  and Stage Fright
All by Valkyrie Johnson

 

When I think of all the amazing things she can do, I am filled with an awe and admiration that I feel towards magical creatures. Watching her accomplish all that she has is like watching a griffin fly overhead, beautiful and inspiring and kind of terrifying.

Every year for her birthday I like to make griffin themed artwork for her. This is one I made for her back in 2011.

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Brilliance, needle felted wool over pipe cleaner.

And another I made way back in 2009.

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Medieval Griffon, mixed media.

This year I have begun a needle felted griffin in a style I’ve never attempted before with my felting. I am recreating a Medieval manuscript illustration in three dimensions with wool. This project will take some time, but here are a few in progress photos.

Check back again soon to see the final piece! And hear Valkyrie’s reaction to my gift.

Meanwhile, make sure to visit her website to see more incredible artwork: Valkyrie Johnson on WordPress.

Spots and stripes: baby tapir

All tapir calves have spots and stripes. These markings help them blend into their surroundings so predators won’t catch them easily. It also makes them gorgeous!

 

This bold fashion statement is the biggest challenge when needle felting these little ones. Here I’ll show you what this baby tapir looked like before the patterns were added.

 

A little strange and naked looking, isn’t it? Let’s get those fancy duds on!

 

 

Much better! The time and effort to make those spots and stripes was completely worth while.

 

These wonderful animals are endangered and vulnerable. For any new orders I receive for needle felting tapirs, I will donate a third to the Tapir Specialist Group who will use the funds to help protect and study tapirs all over the world.

Mimic Octopus WIP

Thaumoctopus mimicus, the mimic octopus, is deservedly famous for its ability to make itself appear like other species of marine animals such as a lion fish, a flatfish, a sea snake, a jellyfish, and more. In fact, the limit of its disguises is unknown.

Amazing abilities aside, however, it is also simply a ridiculously attractive cephalopod. The stripes of brown and white on the long undulating arms are mesmerizing. The horns on the tall alert eye stalks are more glamorous than any false eyelashes I’ve ever seen.

See for yourself: Live Footage of Mimic Octopus on YouTube

I’m working on capturing the loveliness of this amazing creature with needle felt over wire armature. Here are a few in progress photos.

Baby tapir

I got another baby tapir commission. I LOVE making these little guys. They are so cute and each time I get to refine and distill the cuteness for overload…

 

 

This is the best one I’ve made yet! I’m very proud of not only the shape, proportion of leg to body and head size, but also the brown and black balance underlying the white spots and stripes. I mixed the brown roving (wool) with the black to get a nice dark brown and then really focused on getting the lighter brown on the cheeks.

 

There is a cost, however. Those dang spots really took forever! I thought my fingers would fall off! I had to redo one of the ears because the white spot on it was turning the black gray. It’s all about balance and finding the magic point at which the black is thick enough to sustain a white spot poking into it but thin enough to be a flexible little ear…

It’s a challenge. But one I delight in!

This little one now makes his home in Half Moon Bay, California with his lovely new owner.

Loris

My world changed the first time I saw it. I had always been fond of monkeys for their human-like faces, prehensile tails, and wondrously dexterous hands. Other primates were fascinating too: the thrilling grace of a gibbon is nearly unmatched in the natural world and the wise expression of an orangutan goes straight to the soul. But when I saw the face of a slow loris, my heart was stolen.

Not only are they stunningly adorable, they are amazing. AMAZING. They are so unique it is sometimes hard to believe they’re real. They have a toxic gland under their arms which they lick and use as venom. They  have special backbones that allow them to bend at incredible angles. They have a tooth-comb that they use to groom themselves. They’re nocturnal and can climb swiftly and nearly silently through the trees.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to being cute and fantastic: these animals are endangered. Deforestation and wildlife trade, as pets or for traditional medicinal uses, are threatening the existence of this amazing creature.

After falling in love with the slow loris, I created a new snonkey (snail-monkey), the Lorisnail. Here is the needle felted Lorisnail, who will appear in a story of mine someday:

felted lorisnail
Needle felted Lorisnail

The concept is still taking form in my mind… I will share more about it in another post.

Meanwhile, I was still burning with passion for the precious loris, little fireface, so I felted a loris:

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Needle felted loris
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Needle felted loris (closeup)

This little one will go up in my etsy shop (FamiliarOddlings.etsy.com) on September 16th, the start of Slow Loris Awareness Week. It will be $150 USD, $50 of which will go to The Little Fireface Project to help the loris.

Want to learn more about the slow loris? Visit Dr Anna Nekaris’ Little Fireface Project.

Keep an eye open for Slow Loris Awareness Week!