Needle Felting

"In Depth"

Bobbie Ripperger                      Chapter 1                          January 2008

Needle Felting is basically a needle, some fiber and imagination!

One either feels the artistic experience or not; it cannot be forced.  


Hi all,

My name is Bobbie Ripperger and I'd like to step in here occasionally and write about my favorite Fiber experiences; Needle Felting! That's a very strong first statement I just made - let me explain.

Needle Felting has been called everything from the latest craze in bear making to a centuries old pastime that has just recently been rediscovered.

Here are the facts.

The barbed needle, that is used for needle felting, came out of industrial development for the textile trade nearly 150 years ago.

In 1980 the Stanwood's put a needle into the hands of Ayala Talpai and said "See what you can do with this." As Ayala was a wet-felter she first used the single needle to embellish her flat-worked felt.

Gradually the needles spread through the fiber communities; a doll maker gave me my first needles in 2000. Within a year I noted fellow miniature teddy bear makers adding details like needle-felted muzzles and replicated hair to their 3" creations. I'd put my needle away when family responsibilities took my time but dug them out again in early in 2002.

At the time I had just white and brown wool - hmmm... what to make?
A replica of an award winning polar Cubblet ©1995 would be a good place to start!

The result is laughable! I was even going to armature it! The more I needled, the more it began to look more like a lady; first an Amish style doll (a doll with no facial features), no. Wait! I think I'm getting a face needled in looking much like a Navajo lady!

Ah, forget it. This piece will never become a Cubblet as I'd made for the award winning Polar bear set.

I didn't know it then but I was using the wrong fiber, the wrong needles, the wrong process and just plain didn't know how to go about creating a 3-D sculpture. But my first valuable lesson was learned: the combination of wool and felting needles sometimes have a mind of their own - you'll start out with one design in mind and it may become an entirely different species! Very serendipitous!

Back to the drawing board. I pulled out the brown wool and put the individually shaped 'parts' of one of my successful fabric kits into my mind's eye and replicated them, then needled it all together. The kit rabbit's name was Debonare Hare and I found to my surprise that not only could I replicate his shape and size but I could continue to evolve his shaping with more implied motion in his stance than the original, right as I needled him!

Hey! That's all this fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants most artists need - a way to make it up as I worked!

The third and fourth pieces were polar bears and I knew, after 12 years of bear making, I'd finally found my niche. In some yet-unexplainable manner, I've found an unconscious link between my brain and my hands, bypassing all known thought processes. Those 2 body parts 'understand' what I want to create and how to get there. It's spooky!

In going on to writing and teaching, I maintain that there are 3 main principles/advantages that needle felted sculptures have over fabric creations:

Everything is changeable.

Everything is fixable.

And there is no waste.

Changeable - Start with a basic idea and needle it in any direction to change the pose, the expression or the species!

Fixable - Limbs too long? Don't match? Muzzle too fat? Too babyish-looking? More wool is added, taken away or more time spent needling and you have a brand-new creation.

Waste - I've always pondered about the value of fabric: when on the bolt, every square inch has the same price value. As soon as the pattern pieces are cut out, the 'scrap' is virtually 'worthless'.

In needle felting, all fiber trimmed off goes right into the very firmly needled core of the next piece. Color and fiber breed make no difference as you begin to build upon this solid base.

In other words, this is The Perfect Skill and craft medium!

And the opening statement? That's where this is a One-Skill-Fits-All.

Are you a knitter? Crocheter? A 'scrapper'? A weaver? Doll maker? Bear maker? Teacher? Librarian? Home-schooler? Building a home?

There are ways to adapt needle felting to everyone's field of expertise.

I'll explain more in the next chapter.

To be continued next month in the B2B Professional Member's section. Six chapters in all.


Join as a Professional Artist/Member today and receive your password.

Bobbie Rippenger

Creative Design Studio                    

Member Since May 2005

Chapter 1 - January 2008

Chapter 2 - February 2008
Chapter 3 - March 2008

Chapter 4 - April 2008

Chapter 5 - May 2008

Chapter 6 - June 2008

Needle Felting "In Depth"  2008© RKR4CDS - ALL Rights Reserved.


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