Soft Sculptures For the Hard Hearted

Helpful Tips

Painful Lessons in Needle Felting

Some of you may recall me expressing jubilance over starting my first needle felted project early last year.

Yes, it looked fairly decent then, back when it was still a work in progress. It took me 6 months of hard work, finger stabbing and arm pain to complete it, but unfortunately the final piece came out looking very different than I had originally planned, leaving me so disappointed in the end result that I never showed it to anyone. I’ll admit, it was an ambitious first project and I got in a bit over my head (as well as my neck, shoulder and elbow). But even though my once-graceful swan lady turned out more pockmarked than Edward James Olmos and took donkey’s years to finish, I masochistically dove into another needle felted sculpture directly afterward, determined to learn from my mistakes and create a final product I was happier with.

Titled “A Scent”, this second piece is part of my mixed media series Pink Period (which can be viewed here).

There were several important things I learned between my first and second needle felted pieces, and although I still consider myself an amateur felter with much to learn, I thought I would pass along some of my recent revelations and pointers to other interested beginners. Careful, though — needle felting tips are pretty sharp.  *snort*

#1. Needle felt the wool into a solid shape BEFORE adding it to the work. This may seem to be a huge “DUH” for needle-felters-in-the-know, but it took me a while to truly figure out. Trying to felt something into submission while it’s on the piece just ends up pushing it into the work instead of adding on to it.

#2. For larger pieces, USE A MULTI-NEEDLE TOOL INSTEAD OF JUST A SINGLE NEEDLE. I put this in shouty-style capitals because, like a complete dumbshit, I only used a single needle on my first piece — which was over 12″ tall and had a wire armature inside — leading to more frustration than was necessary. I’ve found single needles to be better for felting tiny things, making details, and attaching pieces.

#3. Needle felt only for as long as you can. Stop when you start hurting, or preferably, before that. This is a very hard thing for me to do, as I often get so rapt with sculpting that I can sit for 10-12 hours at a time without leaving the art. This works fine for clay, but not so much for felting. (My ulna agrees.)

#4. Have patience. Unless you’re making a small, simple piece, needle felting takes a long time. Hell, even small and simple can take a while.

#5. Stabbing yourself with a barbed needle only hurts slightly less than everyday life. Don’t be scared to bleed for your art. In fact, welcome it. Then thank your lucky scars you’re not felting in the 19th century.

Felting Machine from 1880


#6. If you can squish it with your fingers, it’s probably not done. The more solid the work, the better. Of course, this is merely my own personal preference and opinion; depending on what you’re making, you may want to leave your felting as hard or soft as you desire. That is, until the NFTF (Needle Felting Task Force) is formed… then you should be worried.

#7. Lastly, wooden felting tools make great blood absorbers.


Five tips for improving your sculptural crochet

Yeah, that’s right. I got artsy-fartsy with it and called it “sculptural crochet” instead of “amigurumi”. That’s just the way I’m living these days.

In this post I’m going to briefly touch on five of the things that have made my Antigurumi more aesthetically pleasing (crochet-wise, anyway), professional-looking (whatever that means) and all-around sturdier. Some of you blog-nerds may have already seen/heard these tips before from other bloggers and are probably using them already, so you can roll your eyes all you want, but they always bear repeating. To others who may breathe a hefty, beleaguered sigh and say, “But Shove, I just learned to single crochet!! I don’t have time for all this extra fancy nonsense!”, please know that these are SIMPLE things you can do to VASTLY improve the look of your work… and I think you will be pleased with the end results. Now, this is just a small “Top Five” sampling– there are many other things that have helped my crocheting significantly and maybe I’ll go over more of them in the future, but for right now I highly suggest trying to implement these tips into your daily crocheting repertoire and see how they work for you. Although I currently have no time/patience/energy to make my own instructional videos, I have provided some links to other gracious souls’ teaching tools that illustrate these points perfectly. Enjoy.

1. The Magic Ring or Double Loop

While the “chain 2, sc 6 into the 2nd chain from the hook” is the easiest way to start off a piece and generally the method that beginners learn first, it can leave a wee gaping hole in the top (or bottom, depending on which way you work). To alleviate this dilemma, try thinking about the Magic Ring or Double Loop method, both shown in this instructional video by  wiremysoul below. (I generally go with the Double Loop.)

2. Invisible Decreases

Okay, so you’ve just made your third stuffed penguin or whatever, and you’re super proud of the results. It’s much better than your first attempt, and slightly better than your second. But wait, what the hell are those irritating little bumps showing on the front of the work? They are your decreases, and they hate you. They want to mock your hard work and your very being by sticking out and saying “LOOK AT ME, DAMMIT.” Have no fear; there is a solution, and its name is the invisible decrease. Watch the instructional video from nerdigurumibelow.

3. Jogless Color Changes

Ah, the color change. A frustrating experience indeed. All the books tell you to just finish your SC with the new color on the last stitch, but you may find this leaves things looking messy. Sure, you could always hide the color change in the back somewhere, but it’s still going to be there, laughing at you. (Crochet is fond of mocking its creators. Take note of that.) Fortunately there is salvation at hand. This is actually something I discovered on my own very early in my crocheting history, but did not actually start implementing until my suspicions were confirmed by the wonderful Needlenoodles, who posted her photo tutorial up on her blog. She provides clear photos and written instructions to help you on your new jogless journey, which can be found HERE: Jogless Stripes Tute

4. Stuff Your Work Properly

When I first began using polyester stuffing, I would scrimp on putting a lot of it into my pieces, which resulted in a droopy, hollow and just-plain-sad-looking new crocheted buddy. But now, gentle readers… now I can look back and laugh, for I know the power of proper  stuffing. The real keys to success here are as follows:

A) Use enough stuffing to make the piece solid. Don’t stuff it to over-exertion, where it’s distorting your stitches, but just enough so that empty-feeling “squish” is gone.

B) Tear the stuffing apart before inserting to remove the bulkier shapes. This will result in a smoother, and less lumpy appearance on the outside. Particularly take this into consideration when stuffing large pieces.

C) Fill up your work completely — even if it means squeezing the stuffing through that last tiny hole that closes your work, which I like to call the crochet’s “anus” (or alternately, “crochet-nus”). I’m pretty sure no one else likes to call it that.

D) Find a stuffing brand you can live and get along with. For a while when I first started I was using a really soft, fluffy stuffing readily available at Joann’s and other chain craft stores (see mugshot below). This stuffing and I did NOT get along, which I should have figured out earlier from the disturbing photos featured on the front of the bag. I soon found that heavier, cheaper stuffing (often recycled) worked much better for me than the downy, fancy polyester fill. So, do some research, spend a few dollars (literally, like $3 or $4), and experiment until you’re truly satisfied. Who knows? You may find a nice harmony by sandwiching a layer of loftier stuffing in between two heavier ones. Crazier things have happened.

Poly-Fil: Thou art the enemy.

5. IF IT DOESN’T LOOK RIGHT, RIP BACK OR START OVER AGAIN!

To my knowledge there is no video or written tutorial for this, but it’s actually one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you. It’s probably pretty good advice for art and life in general, but for right now let’s just apply it to crochet. No, a four-year-old recipient probably won’t care if his crocheted frog’s left leg is fatter than his right, nor will you be banned from the craft fairs if you used a half-double crochet when you should have used a double. In fact, you may just be so relieved that you even finished the damn thing that you don’t really care much about your mistake. However, there also may come a time when you look at the piece and develop a nagging feeling deep inside your chest that says “That could have been done better.” Well don’t let that nagging sensation turn into a panic attack or ulcer — although it’s far too late for me. Realize that anything can be (carefully) taken apart and put back together properly with a little time, some sharp scissors and a decent attitude.

Remember: It’s not Krazy Glue, it’s not concrete, it’s not bronze… it’s just yarn. And while that in itself may be the most essential tip of them all, it can also be the hardest to remember.