Machine Needle Felted Abstract Motifs

Donna Johnson © 2008

   
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As a crazy quilter, I have an ample stash of bits and pieces and scraps of all kinds of fabrics, trims, ribbons, lace, and fibers. They are too beautiful to throw away, and too small to use in a crazy quilt.

Recently, I happened upon a video at Nancy’s Notions that showed designer Christopher Nejman needle felting decorative pillow tops with a Baby Lock Embellisher, and I knew what I was going to do with that stash of bits and pieces.

I did some online research on different machines and I decided that the Baby Lock had the features that I wanted. I raced to my Baby Lock dealer and bought an Embellisher.

I started felting those scraps and I was hooked. Lovely colors, textures, patterns and designs almost formed themselves as I ran the Embellisher. The pieces were beautiful and I had the satisfaction of having something finished in my hands. Crazy quilters know that it takes some time to make a crazy quilt, and sometimes you just want to finish something the same day you start it.

My internet research on machine needle felting led me to a whole new world of silk and wool fibers to add to my stash. A few mouse clicks and a few days later, I had Angelina, wool roving, silk roving silk thrower’s waste, wool curls and locks, and silk carrier rods to add to my stash.

While stash-surfing I found a Machine Needle Felting Yahoo Group with helpful members and lots of photos of their fabulous work. Another informative resource is http://blogsearch.google.com/. Search for machine needle felting in the blogs and you will find over 4,600 results! I have even been inspired to start my own blog (http://donnascrazyart.blogspot.com/). 

From the first little pieces I played with I have gone on to make abstract motifs that can be used as pins or sewn on a crazy quilt. They are quick and fun and build confidence as you learn the skills needed to move on to more complex pieces.

Collecting Your Supplies

Gather scraps of embroidery fibers, fabrics, ribbons, trims, lace, and the felting fibers mentioned above. You don’t have to have the felting fibers, but they are fun to work with. Choose colors that you love in a variety of textures.

Test fabrics for “feltabilty” on scraps of backing. I have read in several places online that natural fibers work best. This is not necessarily true. Some polyesters or blends work very well. Anything glitzy is suspect! Metallics tend to shred and knits are too tough.

I use heavy woven cotton muslin for the stabilizer; cotton duck is also recommended. Keep in mind that the tighter the weave the harder it is to felt. (I recently purchased some Vilene, which is a non-woven wash away stabilizer but I have not used it yet.) Cut out the shape of your piece: square, bean-shaped, diamond, round, or any random shape that pleases you.

If your piece is going to be a pin, use the stabilizer as a pattern to cut a piece for the back of the pin. Do it now because it will be difficult to trace the piece after it is felted. The back will have to be trimmed a bit before it will fit the finished piece, as felting shrinks the stabilizer. I used Marcus Brothers Hand Dyed Wool from Try Our Designs. It is soft but has good body.

Felting the Fibers to the Stabilizer

I usually work from the edges to the center. I tried working from the center out, but found that adding something to cover the edge at that point covered the work in the center. I learned from Her Majesty Margo’s book, Needle Felting Magic, to felt ribbon ruffles and other fibers around the edge. I like to mix them up.

Now that the edges are in place, I work toward the center with bits of fabric and fibers. At this point it becomes intuitive. I pick up small pieces and place them on the stabilizer, felt them and decide if I like it or not. If I don’t like it I can always felt something over the top of it. (Just like crazy quilting!)

Angelina is an iridescent fiber that bonds to itself. If you want some glitz, there are two ways to add Angelina.

  1. Put it directly on your piece and felt it down. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for bonding it. You may want to stitch over it either by machine or by hand to keep it in place.
  2. Mix it in with the wool and silk roving for a more subtle look. Again, hit it with the iron, using a Teflon sheet on both sides of the piece so that it does not get on your iron or ironing surface. With this technique the Angelina is stuck down more firmly and probably won’t need topstitching.

After you make a couple of these and have built up your confidence, try felting from the back of the piece. As the fiber is forced through from the back, subtle shading will appear on the front of the piece. This takes some practice, as you do not want to destroy what you have already placed on the front.

I have some elaborate knitting fibers that I have collected for years. These are the last to be felted. You can move them randomly around the piece or bunch them up for an intense bit of color and texture. In Needle Felting Magic, Her Majesty Margo suggests rolling the fiber into a pinwheel and felting that down. This works great to make flower-like or round designs on the piece. You may prefer to stitch them down by hand or machine, leaving them on the surface of the piece for more dimension.

If you think you need to stabilize your piece even more, you can free-motion stitch over it, in squiggles or designs with invisible thread or a color that pleases you. If you do not know how to free-motion quilt, crazy quilt teacher and felter Lisa Caryl recommends Patsy Thompson Designs, Ltd. Some pieces seem to call for a complementary color and some for a contrasting color. Do this before you embellish the piece.

Embellishing

Now that the felting is done, it’s time to embellish with beads, embroidery stitches, sequins, charms, and other decorative items. I like to study the piece; usually it tells me what it wants on it.

Here is what it told me.

In the photo below, the piece is complete, ready to put on the backing and stitch on the pin back.

My friend Martha Green, who is an amazingly talented crazy quilter and teacher, says that to be an artist you have to 1) call yourself an artist; 2) show your work, and 3) persevere. If you wear your piece as a pin, or a pendant or on a purse and tell people that you are the artist who created it, you will be two-thirds of the way to meeting Martha’s definition. Now go make another one and you are persevering. You’re an artist!

Resources: 

Christopher Nejman  http://www.bagsandpillows.com/
Her Majesty Margo's Blog http://www.hermajestymargo.blogspot.com/ , the author of Needle Felting Magic
Baby Lock Embellisher http://www.babylock.com/sewing/embellisher/
Lisa Caryl Designs http://www.picturetrails.com/quiltygurl
Patsy Thompson Designs http://www.patsythompsondesigns.com/
Prairie Fibers http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5195041, hand dyed silk throwers waste, silk carrier rods
The Flying Ewe http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=65250 hand dyed wool roving, locks and curls (the curls had some vegetable matter (vm) in them, and the owner very graciously offered to exchange them for more roving)
Try Our Designs http://www.tryourdesigns.com  Vilene, Angelina, Marcus Brothers Hand Dyed Rolled Bundle wool fat quarters

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