Using the time consuming process of needle felting, where you repeatedly stab at loose wool fibres with a barbed needle, you can shape, re-shape, and create life-like animals with incredible attention to detail.
This Instructable will show you how to create a realistic ermine (aka cat snake!) on a wire armature using numerous techniques.
This ermine took me about 16 hours to complete over the course of a month. While possible to try as a beginner needle felter, I recommend some level of previous experience as these steps gloss over how to shape your animal. I encourage you to explore a couple faster, simpler needle felting projects before diving in to this Instructable.
All the best!
Andrea at Backyard Spruce
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Step 1: Supplies
You will need the following for this project:
- felting needles sizes 36 (optional), 38, 40, 42 (and higher if desired)
- coarse wool roving (any colour, but white is most common)
- white, black, brown, pink, and red merino wool (will vary depending on what you want to make)
- natural horse/alpaca hair or clear fishing line for whiskers
- glass eyes with wire loops
- pipe cleaners
- sharp scissors
- super glue
- needle and thread
- 15+ hours
Step 2: Make a Wire Armature
Once you have your animal of choice, make a wire armature from pipe cleaners in the rough shape of your animal. Make sure to fold in all wires as they will poke through your wool and are very sharp.
Step 4: Cover the Head and Body in Roving Wool
Use rough "roving wool" for the body and a coarse felting needle (36 or 38) at first and felt until you have a rough shape and it holds together on its own (as pictured). Do not do the full leg, only the top "muscle", as it may wind up being to fat once the layers of soft merino wool are on.
Once this is complete move to a higher felting needle (40) which will allow you to gradually felt a denser body. Begin shaping your animal by layering appropriately and creating denser areas as needed. Do not move on to a 42 or higher felting needle as your project may become too dense.
Step 5: Add Your Layer of Merino Wool
Use a fine, soft wool such as merino sheep wool. Felt thin layers of the wool to the body of your animal using a very fine 42 felting needle. Make sure the wool is aligned with the position of your animal to avoid a "striped" look. Felt it evenly and ensure all areas of the rough roving are adequately covered. This will require multiple layers.
Step 6: Create the Tail
The tail is a time consuming addition but the "loose fur" look is well worth the effort.
Begin by making strips of merino wool and cutting it in into sections. Fold the sections in half and felt it onto the coarse roving in the middle using a 42 needle. Felt to the sides in multiple directions until the fur can withstand a slight tug.
Starting from the bottom up continue this process, ensuring each section is close to the previous to avoid patches.
Keep going! At the end, snip the hairs so they are fairly even in length.
Step 7: Add Ears
To create ears cut the rough shape from flat felt fabric and fray the ends with scissors. Wrap them in the appropriate colour roving leaving the fray exposed. Felt the roving on the ear using a 42 needle and felt the ears onto the head of your animal around the fray. Use merino roving to blend it onto the head and shape appropriately, making sure the direction of the wool flows onto the neck.
Step 8: Add Eyes and Shape the Head
Roughly shape the head and snout by felting denser areas and adding / subtracting the merino wool. Make sure the area around the eyes is not too dense, as you need to be able to fit the eyes in snugly.
Use glass eyes with wire loops attached. Create indents and a slit into the wool with scissors or an exacto knife. Thread the loop and pull the needle and thread through to the back of the head of your animal. Pull it tightly so the wire enters the slit made earlier and knot the thread at the back.
Once both eyes are placed use the merino roving to cover the thread knots left at the back of the head. With the eyes incorporated, you can begin to precisely shape the head and snout of your animal. Use lots of Google images!
Step 9: Add Paws
Wrap the pipe cleaner at the bottom in merino roving and felt until it's slightly dense. Using a similar colour thread, make several loops and pull to create the correct number of indents for toes. Once complete, felt on a small amount of merino between the toes to cover the thread.
Step 10: Add Details
This is my favourite part!
Again, using lots of Google images, add your details with appropriate colours with a 42 felting needle. Add darkness around the eyes to create better shape, felt a little nose, and create a mouth using straight lines of roving. Put colour inside the ears and on the pads of paws. Add any detailing, such as stripes or spots, that your animal may have.
Using natural hair, such as horse or alpaca, or fishing line, create whiskers. Put them through a needle and thread through the snout and use super glue to ensure a strong placement. For natural hair, careful work with a hair straightener may be used to work out any kinks.
Step 11: Finishing Touches
Give one last look and felt any stray fibers with a 42 needle and felt horizontally to give it a smoother look. Snip loose fibres closely using a sharp pair of scissors.
Beautiful! A piece such as this one can take upwards of 15-20 hours. Relax and enjoy the process!