This needle felted figure of the Prince of All Cosmos has an embedded soft circuit - squeeze his tummy, and the red LED at the tip of his antenna lights up. He goes together quickly, and is a great way to dip your toes into the world of eTextiles.
Oh, and if you like needle felting and Katamari Damacy, you should check out the book I Felt Awesome by Moxie - she has instructions for a fantastic felted magnetic Katamari game.
Step 1: Materials
- Felting Needles - 1 coarse, 1 fine. Lots of yarn shops carry felting supplies, and of course they are also available online.
- Sewing needle - conductive thread is relatively coarse, so a larger-eyed needle is a good idea.
- Foam block for felting - this is antistatic foam, but a block of styrofoam works too. I think the antistatic foam lasts better, and I think it makes sense when electronics are involved, but felting blocks can also be a great way to get some reuse out of packaging styrofoam if you have some around.
- Awl, skewer, or tapestry needle (not pictured) - just something to help enlarge holes... even an unbent wire hanger could work
- Needle-nosed pliers (not pictured)
- Small 3v coin cell battery - this is a CR1216
- 3mm Red LED
- Conductive thread - 1 foot
- Conductive fabric/tape - I use a conductive fabric tape from lessemf.com, but conductive fabric such as you can purchase form sparkfun or aniomagic would also work well. You can make this without the conductive fabric, but the battery holder is likely to end up more finicky if you do.
- Apple green wool roving, 1 oz - you may only need 1/2 oz, but I prefer to have extra just in case
- Small amounts of wool roving in lilac, gold, red, black, ivory, lime green, kelly green, forest green (not pictured)
- 2 pipe cleaners
Step 2: Body
Place the ball of fiber onto your felting mat, and start poking it with the coarse felting needle. As you jab the needle into the fiber and pull it back out , the barbs on the needle lock the fibers together to create the felt.
Continue to poke at the ball, moving and flipping it frequently to keep the fibers from locking it down to the mat. By varying the angle, depth, and frequency of pokes in various parts of the ball, you can adjust the shape - start to form the ball into the sort of flattened bell or canned ham shape of the Prince's body.
Don't be afraid to fold the fibers or pull them from one location to another to help adjust the shape, or of poking it too much - if if ends up too small or an area has a dent, just grab another small tuft of fiber and fluff it up, then add it onto the body where needed and felt it into place.
Once the rough shape is forming, switch to the finer felting needle for better control and a more finished surface texture, and continue to shape the body.
Poking directly into the bottom of the body shape can help you create a nice flat surface.
Step 3: Battery Indentation
For a CR1216 battery, which is 12mm across, create a square indentation 17-20mm to a side.
Once the indentation is done, clean up any stray fibers that made their way through the front of the body. If necessary, felt on additional tufts of fiber to touch up the shape or surface finish.
Step 4: Trim the body
Felt a tuft of violet wool below the dark green, forming it into a slight dome shape that doesn't extend all the way to the edge of the body.
Step 5: Arms
For the arms, use a thin layer of lime green roving and wrap it diagonally around the pipe cleaner, then use the fine felting needle to carefully felt around the pipe cleaner wire. Take it slow and try to avoid bringing the needle down on the wire, as that can easily break your needle.
Use angled pokes and roll the arm along the foam block to create an even shape.
Each arm should be around 2.5 in long. Add some extra roving at the end of the arm to form a bulbous hand, then use the other end of the pipe cleaner to make the second arm.
Step 6: Legs
Bend the end of the leg back in a tight hook, then bend the hook so that it forms a right angle with the leg. Wrap the hook with lilac roving and carefully felt it into place to form a foot.
Step 7: Add the appendages
Use the coarse felting needle to poke starter holes through the body up from the points where you want to attach the legs.
Poke into each hole again with an awl, tapestry needle, skewer, or similar object to slightly enlarge the first 1-2 cm of each hole.
Insert the pipe cleaner ends of the legs into the body, orienting the feet to point forward. Add small amounts of lilac roving at connection points, felting them to both the body and tops of the legs to strengthen the joints.
Use the coarse felting needle to poke a hole through the top of the body, then enlarge the hole with skewer or similar.
Insert pipe cleaner ends of arms into side holes, and strengthen joints with small amounts of apple green roving.
Step 8: Battery pocket face
Step 9: Head
Once the rough shape is taking form, switch to the finer felting needle. You want an oblong form about as long as the body is tall... to shorten your shape, hold it on end and felt vertically on the top to compress the length, then do the same to the other side. To lengthen or add dimension to the shape, just felt on more tufts of fiber until you have a good form.
Step 10: Add a face
Felt a small tuft of ivory roving into the square with the fine felting needle. Add additional fiber as needed to fully and evenly fill the square.
Step 11: Facial features
Take some yellow roving and pull it into a long and fairly narrow strand. Felt the strand into place as an outline around the square face.
Step 12: Stripeyhead
Add a mirror stripe on the other side of the Prince's head.
Add a tuft of kelly green roving to the end of the Prince's head, with a clean line on the side closest to his face. Mirror this strip on the other side.
Felt a final tuft of Forest green roving to each end of the Prince's head.
Step 13: Antenna
Use the fine felting needle and continue rolling the antenna form as you shape it into a cone. You can turn the cone on end and felt vertically to help stabilize the shape.
Step 14: Antenna LED
Insert the LED leads through the holes, and use needle-nosed pliers to form the ends of the leads into small loops.
Step 15: Attach antenna to head
Use coarse felting needle to poke two starter holes vertically through head - center holes slightly above face, approx 3mm apart.
Thread conductive thread attached to LED through a needle and run thread through starter hole in head. Do same with thread attached to other lead and other starter hole, then pull thread lengths taut. Loops at ends of LED leads should disappear into head - adjust loop size with needle-nosed pliers if they don't fit.
Use vertical and angled strokes with fine felting needle to firmly connect antenna to head.
Step 16: First battery connection
Thread the other conductive thread on the needle and insert it through the top of the body, bringing the needle out to one side of the back indentation, making sure that the Prince's face is pointing forward. Be careful that the two pieces of conductive thread are not made to touch or cross paths (temporary touching while sewing is fine, as long as they don't touch by the time a battery is involved).
Cut small squares of conductive fabric/tape. If you don't want to use conductive fabric, you can just make large knots on either side of the pocket to serve as battery terminals, but you're more likely to end up with glitches in the switch operation that way.
Attach the conductive fabric close to the Prince's body in the battery indentation with a few stitches, then tie and clip thread end behind the fabric. If not using a tape, you could secure the conductive fabric into the indentation with a small amount of fabric glue.
Use the fine felting needle to tack the corners of the fabric to the Prince's body. Take small wisps of apple green roving and felt into a thin frame covering the edge of the conductive fabric - this helps both secure the fabric and prevent shorts.
Step 17: Battery flap
Slide the flap down close to the body and stitch on the conductive fabric/tape. Use small wisps of apple green roving to felt a frame securing and protecting the edge of the conductive fabric.
Use the fine felting needle to secure the bottom and sides of the flap over the battery indentation, leaving enough slack in the pocket to allow a finger to reach in to remove a battery. Felt additional apple-green roving over back to blend pieces and strengthen connections.
Step 18: Time to glow
If the LED doesn't light up, try turning the battery around. LEDs only allow current through in one direction, so the battery will only work in one orientation - once you've determined which way it goes, you may want to mark the + side.
If you've flipped the battery and still aren't getting light, check for shorts... if the wires or conductive thread traces touch, or if the conductive material on either side of the battery holder makes contact with the opposite terminal, that will keep your circuit from working.
If the LED won't turn off, it's because the battery holder is snug enough that both sides always make contact with the battery - stretch the pocket open a bit further to break the connection.