In recent years the use of felted wool to create pictures has become increasingly popular and I’m finding the interest in wool art workshops has grown. Basic packs of primary coloured merino are often the first type of supplies which people pick up in a craft shop but these rarely lend themselves to creation of a pleasing final picture as more colours are required. There is also a tendency to jump straight in to the ‘drawing’ part of the project without any planning and the result can be disappointing.
Needle felting (or dry felting as it’s often called) is a fairly simple technique to learn as it just involves the simple up and down piercing of the surface fibre on to a backing sheet (pre felt, wool fabric or other textile). A foam base beneath your work receives the tip of the needle preventing it snapping.
Having taught many workshops in making felted landscapes I’ve realised that the skill lies in planning your composition and colour blending to achieve interesting tones. Essential tools include a foam base, a single needle 38 gauge as an all purpose needle and a 40 for finer detail. Gather fibre in as many differing shades as possible to create a useful palette of wool ‘paint’.
The first step really has to be the selection of your subject matter. A suitable landscape for a simple picture would involve interesting variations in colour such as bands of differing vegetation, a variable sky and some simple features such as a few trees. A photograph is good as it makes you begin to abstract and simplify features. A painting or sketch may already have simplified some of the landscape. For a more close-up subject such as a flower study a sketch can be more useful as you have already broken down some of the colour areas.
The first step of ‘painting’ the picture is to lay down a thick layer of fibres to sketch out the areas of background. This should contain interesting areas of colour but no details. I do not like using merino for needle felting flat areas and find that shorter and coarser fibres in the form of a batt are much nicer to use. Merino is betters suited to wet felting and you can always make a wet pre felt of the background colours at this stage.
Once the backing material is covered with a thick layer of fibre I needle roughly across the whole area. A multi-needle tool can be useful here. To blend colours you may use a pair of carding brushes (an alternative is to use 2 small wire pet grooming brushes) or simply pull tufts of wool of differing colours between your fingers to ‘finger-blend’ the fibres.
When this layer is roughly attached you can start applying details such as trees and shrubs and smaller areas of colour such as fences and paths. In the case of a flower study you would start to position petals. Gradually build up these features and start to work them in with dense but shallow needle action, using the finer needle for finer detail.
How much detail you add and how structured you make the detail is your choice as you will develop your own ‘drawing’ style as you would with any other painting medium. There is also the option to wet felt your background slightly before you add detail although this flattens the surface and you can lose some details. You decide on the effect you prefer.
The picture will also lend itself to further embellishment with machine or hand embroidery and fabric collage and can be a starting point for a whole host of experimental textile work. Other fibres such as silk can be introduced and added texture can come from different types of curly fleece. There are no boundaries!
Here is another example of a picture I made. The fine white birch trunks and gate were added at the very end.
There are no wrong or rights about working with wool and you will find your own ‘painting’ style. Just remember to plan your composition carefully and have a good bank of coloured fibre ready.
You may like to see more images of my wool work here.