Studio: Fibers – An Introduction to Felting in the Art Room with Cassie Stephens
Hi, this is Cassie Stephens for the Art of Education. I am a kindergarten through fourth grade art teacher, and I’ve been teaching art in the Nashville area for close to twenty years. One of my favorite things to do as an artist is to work with fiber arts. I love taking clothing that I’ve found at the thrift store and altering it somehow, and I also love sewing my own clothing. I often times will wear that clothing when I’m introducing my students to different artists or artist movements. I have found that when I take something that I’m genuinely passionate about, like fiber arts, that that enthusiasm I have for something is very contagious with my students. My students love weaving, sewing and embroidery, and felting.
Today, I’m going to be chatting with you about felting. Now, there’s two kinds of felting. There is wet felting, and there is needle felting. Wet felting is a great medium to work with for students of all ages. It only involves one art supply, which would be wool roving. Needle felting, on the other hand, involves a couple of other tools, one of those tools being a needle. For that reason, it’s the kind of craft that you would want to do with students who are a little bit older.
Let’s go over the supplies you’re going to need for both wet felting and needle felting. Wool roving is the supply that you’re going to need for both. Not all wool roving was created equally. Most of you probably know where roving comes from. It’s the hair from sheep, llama, and alpaca. However, you can also use hair from the undercoat of animals to do felting with. For example, my mother gave me a book called Crafting with Cat Hair. That’s right, you can craft with cat hair. Now, I haven’t given that a shot, and I don’t plan to any time soon despite having a cat who sheds quite a bit. All that to say, any kind of hair that’s the under hair of an animal can also be used.
I would recommend though getting yourself some roving, and you can find roving in a wide variety of places. Just search online. Amazon sells roving as well as do other fiber arts dealers, but what I like to do is find a place that has a supplier of roving. For example, contact your local fiber arts guild, and ask them if there’s somebody local to you who happens to have a farm where they have sheep, and they can supply you with roving. When you purchase your roving, roving comes in a couple of different kinds. There is carded roving, and then there’s combed roving. Roving, what it is, is the hairs, like I said, that’s come from a sheep or an alpaca. Each one of those hairs, if you can imagine, has scales all the way down it. Those scales, when they’re wet and agitated, are what curls back, and that’s what creates felt.
When you’re doing wet felting, it’s really good to use roving that’s already very wiry. This I have noticed really takes to wet felting a lot better because all of the fibers are already scattered, and when they’re agitated, they naturally go and lock in place, which is perfect for wet felting. However, combed roving, and you can tell it looks a lot sleeker and smoother, it’s been carded, meaning it’s been cleaned like this one. Then, it’s also been combed, meaning all of the fibers are now going in one direction. This is not the best to use for wet felting because the fibers are all nice and sleek and smooth. However, this is what you would want to use if you are doing needle felting. This works just as well for needle felting; it’s just that you can control this kind of roving a little bit better. With wet felting and needle felting, you need wool roving. That’s where it ends as far as wet felting goes. Other than that, you just need some water, some soap, and some hands to provide some agitation.
If you’re going to do needle felting, you have a little bit more supplies that you’re going to need, so let’s chat about those. There are supplies that you can get that are a little bit more expensive, and then I’m going to show you the more economical route to go. When you’re needle felting, as the name would give you the clue, you’re going to need a needle felting tool. You could just use a needle like this and needle felting tools … or the needles, I’m sorry. The needles are very sharp, and they’re serrated. You need to make sure when you’re doing this with children that you really chatted with them about safety. You also want to do this with kids who you trust with tools like this and are probably from fourth grade on up.
This is a single needle felting tool. This is probably the most economical tool to use with your students because you can buy a bulk order of these needles. What I did for my students though, was I wanted to give them a tool that fit a little bit better in their hands, so I got one of these needle felting tools. You can purchase these online from Amazon, and they are by Clover. The reason I like these is because it fits in your hand just like a pen or a pencil. It also has three of those serrated needles in it. You are actually able to do three times the amount of work. This is what I used personally, and I bought a class set for my students. When these needles break, and they will break, all you have to do is simply take the tool apart and put in a replacement needle. If you’re going to do needle felting with your students, and you feel like splurging, that guy is your answer. If you would rather use just a needle to give it a shot with your kids, then buy a bulk order of those needles.
When you’re needle felting, you need a cushion to needle felt onto because if you would imagine, you’re going to be, essentially, stabbing roving into a piece of fabric. If you did that on a hard surface like a table, as soon as your needles hit the table, they would break. You need a cushion underneath. What I like to use are these. These are also made by Clover, and these just look like scrub brushes, but the bristles are very, very tight and close together. Because they’re bristles, there’s a little bit of a give when you sink your needle tool into it, so that way they don’t break.
These are not cheap. You can use them for years and years, but they aren’t cheap, so an less expensive alternative for your students would be to purchase one of those large pieces of craft foam from the store that look like this but much bigger, and you can cut these craft foam with one of those vibrating electrical knives. It slices through it just like butter. Cut yourself a couple of rectangles or squares for your students, and this would be a much cheaper alternative to using one of the these because you’re needle tool will go in it just the same.
The last thing you would need for needle felting … Well, I take that back, two more things, you need a fabric to needle felt on. You can needle felt on any kind of fabric. It does not have to be a wool fabric. One thing that I have found that is not expensive and great for kids to use is that felt you can purchase at the craft stores. That’s one thing that we often needle felt on in my room. One more thing that you might want to add to your list is something for students to hold the roving in place with as they’re using their needle felting tool to puncture through. The reason I suggest using this to hold the roving in place is so their hands aren’t holding it in place. If their hands are there, then you know there could be some accidents. Like I said, it’s a sharp tool. There might be blood, so keep some Band-Aids on hand. I guarantee they might do it once, and then after that, they’re going to have eagle eyes on whatever they’re working on.
If you’re doing wet felting, roving. If you’re doing needle felting, you need needle felting tools, some surface that’s squishy, some cushion to go underneath; you’ll also need fabric and a tool to hold the roving in place as you’re working. Now that you have an idea of all the supplies that you’ll need, let’s chat about some of the needle felting projects and wet felting projects that you can explore in your art room.