This is part of an ongoing project of making props and extras for our stop motion dolls' house film. The animation centres around an Edwardian dolls' house. This contains original mainly Arts and Crafts fixtures, fittings and furniture and dolls and toys from the Victorian era and up to the 1920s. In order to supply the narrative, I am adding characters and at the moment I am using needle felting to do this. I have already made a collie cross dog, who is to be one of the major characters and his stunt double who is also the director of the film. This dog replaces the one I remember being in the dolls' house in my childhood but which over the years has 'gone walkabout'.
The new Teddy bear is for the doll we have identified as being manufactured by François Gauthier (later Gaultier) and from the mark as being made between 1887 and 1900.
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Step 1: Needle Felting the Teddy Bear - Design, Technique and Materials
The technique used in needle felting is to get the wool, which is naturally barbed to pull itself together into a shape or flatten itself out with the motion of the needle thus by felting (or in the vernacular, stabbing in and out of) the wool. It is actually very much like using the pressure of your fingers to shape clay. Leaving an unfelted fringe-type end to a shape allows you to join elements of your design together, such as the head to a body but in this case I am going to 'joint' my bear by running a thread through the main elements, i.e., the body, head, arms and legs.
For the Teddy Bear I've decided to use the 'knot and wrap' method to make solid shapes for the body and head. I am then going on to make some simple individual, folded and/or rolled needle-felted shapes to construct the arms, legs and ears. This is a technique I learned from watching a needle felting professional. If you are new to needle felting, as indeed am I, then I suggest at some point you head over to the YouTube channel of Serafina Fiber Art and take a look at her tutorial 'Bunny Puff', which is a great starting point and one of her signature designs. This is the first project I tried out when I started to learn the craft/process and I liked her work because she uses the wool much as a sculpture artist uses clay. Above you can see the starting point of my bunny project: the 'knot', then the head and body wrapped and joined and the final outcome. For the bunny I used Organic Merino Top, White Jacob Sheep Top and a bag of Scoured Mixed Jacob Fleece Wool, which I sourced from Cumbria in the UK. Jacob Fleece is a great way to get some nuanced shades of natural wool.
For the above design, I used as directed, core wool, which as the name suggests is for building the interior 'skeleton' or 'carpentry' of a character or for wrapping armature, such as in the Dogs (above bottom right). However, as the Teddy is such a tiny character it needs very small amounts of wool to be easily broken off the main piece, such as in fine wool roving. I'm using what is often referred to as Fairy or Magic wool. This is organic plant-dyed wool in suitable wispy bits of carded wool that are easy to pull off in very small amounts and often used for making fairies and small dolls. I have only two colours of this which I bought in a sale years ago and have been languishing at the bottom of my wardrobe. One is a deep Burgundy red and I have used a little for the interior of my dog's mouth and the other is an eminently suitable fawn for the Teddy. As you can see from the above, I also used a little of the fawn in the Puff Bunny.
To make this project I'm using a fine, 36 gauge triangular needle felting needle held by hand but many people prefer to use a pen style needle felting tool
I am also using a home-made mat from double thickness jute sacking and filled with organic rice. You can buy these but they are really fun to make. 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, in particular with a tiny object like this.
N.B. I needle felt very slowly and carefully particularly on a tiny subject like this but 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.
One extra item you will probably also need is a magnifying glass on a stand. We have a simple home made one but you can get professional looking type of craft magnifying glass on a stand.
Step 2: Creating the Separate Elements of the Teddy Bear
BODY - Take a small piece of fine roving or fairy wool, approximately 1" to 2 cm long, tease it out to around double its length and then tie a knot in the middle.
Taking the wool at one end start to wrap it around the knot with a diagonal motion, you may need to stop and needle felt it slightly by just gently felting (jabbing) the wrapped wool onto the knot with a fine needle.
Than take the other end and repeat to achieve an egg shape for the Teddy Bear's body. Needle felt (lightly jab) all over the egg shape to firm up the body. If you are worried use a pair of tweezers to hold the work.
HEAD - Take a length of roving or fairy wool half the size of the amount you took for the body and repeat as for the body
EARS - Pull off two short ½" or 1cm length fine sections of wool 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 work on 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 us to attach the ear. Then start rolling the wool inwards around the ear shape and felting with the needle to create a hollow in the middle where you can add a little contrasting wool. I just rolled a tiny amount of darker Jacob wool in my finger tips and then felted it in.
FACE - When you use the fine needle over and over in the same place it will pull in and afix 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. On a larger subject you can also add highlights and/or coloured irises in the same way. Similarly for the nose. Again if it is too thick use the fine needle stabbing technique to make it thinner.
LEGS & ARMS - These are made from short sections of wool, ½" or 1cm lengths but unlike the ears take treble the thickness. As with the ears, grip both ends and pull out the fibres and restack them so they are all going in the same direction. Then stab a vertical line down the middle of the piece and at right angles to the fibres, after which you should roll up each end to create the paw and shoulder/top of leg. Then roll in the wool from one side into the centre line to make a cylindrical shape and needle felt lightly to hold together. Gently lift the piece off the mat and then roll in the wool from the other side. For the arms flatten the paw end and add a touch of darker wool. Do the same with the bottom of the feet. Repeat three times to make the four limbs.
Step 3: Joining the Bear Together and Making the Scarf
TO JOINT THE BEAR - Thread a sewing needle with a double length of fine cotton of a similar shade to the bear. Run it through the body from the bottom to the top leaving a good length of surplus cotton. Then thread the needle through the head. Make a small stitch at the top of the head, this will be hidden by the ears and then following the same vertical, back through the head and body. Knot the two ends of the cotton firmly together and cut off the excess. Needle felt the non-paw end of the limbs to fit snuggly to the body. This time run the cotton through the shoulders into the body and back again, tie off and neaten. Do the same for the legs.
SCARF - Using large sewing needles, such as for sacking or tapestry work, cast on one stitch with one strand of tapestry wool. Knit a scarf for your bear.
TRIM - If you want to you can give your teddy a trim with a pair of nail or hair scissors, just maybe to tidy up around the eyes, nose paws but actually for the rest I really like the 'Airedale' look!
As an extra idea this design could be made into a brooch.
Hope you enjoyed this project! Please do show me your photos if you make one.
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