Introduction: Stop Motion Needle-felted Dog Character
This is part of an ongoing project of making props and extras for our stop motion dolls' house film and no you are not seeing double but the stunt double that is needed in case the constant manipulation of our main dog character causes him to need to be replaced by an understudy. However, I am hoping that his joints will stay in good health and with this in mind have planned that the stunt double will actually become the Director of the Animation, complete with Director's Chair, megaphone and suitable wardrobe.
The character of the Dog, I had already decided was an important one to the animation narrative but the inspiration for his 'look' came from a puppy I met in the car park at the beach. 'Mocha' is an 18 month old Fox Terrier cross and 'quite a handful' according to his owner! I also used a Pinterest mood board, where I had set up likely candidates for the head of my dog (link at end of this project).
I'm setting out the supplies below but with the proviso that I made my felting mat and I include how I did that in the next step, which you can skip if you decide to purchase one instead. I also use just a couple of different needles:
36 gauge triangular felting needles held singularly by hand for general felting or in pairs or more for flat felting for ears, general smoothing down and shaping (sculpting)
40 gauge triangular felting needle, used singularly (for eyes, nose, delicate work around the mouth
N.B. I needle felt very slowly and carefully particularly on a small subject like this but also because here I am felting towards an armature. Furthermore, if you are in any way worried about hurting your fingers then you should either invest in or make some leather finger and thumb protectors.
If you are thinking of carrying on with needle-felting then it may work out cheaper to get a needle felting kit which will also give you coloured wool you can use on top of your core to make various toys and 'creatures'
Jute Sacking (if you are making a mat)
Coloured wool for details and contrasts - I used Jacob Fleece and Organic Merino from Cumbria and Organic Fairy Wool from my local craft store.
Step 1: Make a Felting Mat
The Felting Mat design was one I really liked from a YouTube Channel - Sara Renzulli and if you are a novice at needle-felting then you couldn't do better than head over to her channel before you start and take a look at her beginner videos. I love her approach to needle-felting which is very much like a sculptress using clay and gives her characters a more 'flesh and blood' look than some of the traditional needle-felting processes. I'll include a link to her channel at the end of this project.
Why You Need a Mat
The mat is needed for two reasons one to support the work and the other to stop you from breaking needles. When the work is felted on the mat it will start to adhere to it but you can gently prise it away. When you are needle felting you should keep lifting the wool from the mat to stop it from getting embedded too far as this could damage the work when you lift it off.
To Make the Mat
Cut 4 identical pieces of jute sacking or similar material measuring 12 x 8 inches (30cm x 20cm).
Pin and sew the pieces together, leaving an opening at one corner.
Fill with rice, until you have a mat that is around 1" - 2cm thick.
Use a running stitch in embroidery silk on the open corner leaving a 2" - 4cm length allowance of silk at each end of the stitching so as to make a draw string fastening for your mat. This way you can seal in the rice by drawing the silk ends together with a bow and will be able to add rice if needed or remove the rice to clean the mat.
On the top of the jute mark out in embroidery silk or wool, lines that represent 1" - 2cm spaces. These will help when working out dimensions and estimating amounts of wool for your characters.
Step 2: Making the Armature
You can actually buy very professional looking armature on-line and/or specialist armature wire but for my purposes of being low tech and low cost, I'm using pipe cleaners!
Head, Neck and Front Legs
Take your first pipe cleaner and fold in two and twist the pipe cleaners together from the 'centre fold' down to the top of the legs for 2¼" - 5cm.
Bend the top of the twist to form the head and bend over the pipe cleaner at the bottom of each leg to form the paw.
Shoulders Back and Back Legs
Fold the second pipe cleaner in half and then open it up to make a ⋀ shape.
Lasso the first pipe cleaner around the bottom of the neck.
To form the shoulders, twist each section of the second pipe cleaner (either side of the ⋀) twice around each front leg pipe cleaner.
Leave a space of approximately 1" - 2.5cm and then twist the pipe cleaners together for another 1" - 2.5cm to form the lower back.
Bend the back legs into the down position and form the paws.
Refining the Legs
Put bends into both back and front legs to create the 'wrists' and 'hocks'. As this is being used as an animation character at some point these positions may change but they are a good base for working out the 'muscles' when you start wrapping
Take a third pipe cleaner and start winding one end around the lower back, make as big or small a loop as you wish, dependent on your dog breed and then wind the pipe cleaner back down the lower back and snip off any excess.
Step 3: Testing Mobility
I used a simple 'scratching' scenario and photographed it in a stop motion sequence to test the flexibility of the Dog.
After this trial I then re-wrapped the Dog armature with a second layer of pipe cleaners for added strength.
Step 4: Wrapping the Mummy, Adding Texture and Colour!
This is the procedure to get the wool onto the armature, your character is at the 'mummy wrapping' step of needle felting, though beginning to take on character as well as shape. You should not really need to use the needles, at this stage, as if you can wrap tightly and evenly, the wool will adhere to itself without any more pressure than that of the motion of wrapping.
Start by taking a 4" - 10cm piece of core wool, you will probably need to divide it into two or three pieces to make a manageable thickness for wrapping .
Begin by wrapping the legs from the shoulders/hips down to the paw.
Once you have completed all the legs move on to the head starting at the back of the head and wrapping tightly and evenly to the nose and then back up again. Pull the wool and stretch it as you go, which again will force it to adhere without the needle.
To build up muscle, as with the chest and shoulders, come along the back with your wool and then go over the shoulder, using a figure of eight wrap, crossing under to the opposite armpit, then wrap over the back, under the other armpit and over the opposite shoulder. Keep building with this motion until you have a good solid chest shape.
Carry on wrapping each area of the body until you have built up, all the necessary muscle structure, I referred constantly to my photos of Mocha and my Pinterest mood board.
Once my muscles were all in place I added some rolls of wool to the top of the head, which I was going to needle felt with my 36 triangular needle to 'sculpt ' the brows and make the eye sockets. At this point my dog resembled a poodle!
I then created a shape for the bottom jaw, felting it flat and then adding a darker contrasting piece of wool around the jaw line and a red tongue shape. I left an unfelted end, which I used to attach the jaw to the head.
My Jacob sheep fleece pieces were used to create the markings on the dog and felted in with a couple of 36 gauge needles.
I was very cautious with shaping the body with my needle, to avoid over-needle-felting as I wanted to maintain a shaggy look to the coat. I've added both White Jacob Top and the Organic Merino, the latter makes for a great colour contrast and gives a softer look to the coat.
However, even at this stage I am working at characterisation as I go along. I feel I need to get some strength and 'authority' into those front legs early in the process. I'm also still keeping focussed on the fact that the dog will need to transform from four-legged to two-legged.
Step 5: Making the Features
EARS - Pull off two short 1" or 2.5cm length fine sections of wool (I used brown wool from my Jacob sheep) and then gripping each end firmly pull it apart and restack it several times so that you have a flattish, even square piece to work on with the fibres in the same direction. Repeat this so that you have the two ears ready to needle-felt at the same time. Stab a vertical line with your needle all the way down the ear and then stab a small ear shape, leaving enough wool at the bottom unfelted, this will allow you to attach the ear. Then start rolling the wool inwards around the ear shape and felting with the needles to create a hollow in the middle where you can add a little contrasting wool. I just laid a small amount of white top wool into the middle of my Dog's ear and then felted it in with a couple of 36 gauge needles. Attach the ears to the head using the unfelted ends.
EYES & NOSE - When you use the fine 40 gauge needle, stabbing over and over in the same place it will pull in and attach a round ball of wool to make a very handsome eye. The more you felt the smaller the eye will become, so this is a great technique for getting the eye to the exact size. Roll a piece of dark wool into a ball and then do as above to make the nose. For the eye use a small ball of coloured wool of your choice to make the irises, a smaller ball of black wool for the pupil and a tiny ball of white to add highlights to the pupil. Again if the nose or eye is too large use the fine needle stabbing technique to draw it into the core wool and make it the correct shape.
Step 6: On-going Costuming
It only remains for me now to finish the costume and start planning the animation of the Dog. However he does already have several props, including a wheelbarrow, a pallet and a Director's Chair and megaphone.
Hope you've enjoyed this project as much as I have.
All the very best from Normandie, Sue aka Pavlovafowl
Links: Sara Renzulli
Pavlovafowl Mood Board - Animation Film Extras
Participated in the
Fiber Arts Contest