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3-D Needle-Felted Puppy

Linda Winter demonstrates how to create a large fluffy dog sculpture using needle-felting techniques.

Project by Linda Winter.

Materials and Tools:

natural brown, white fleece
colored ribbon, string, leather or lace
plastic animal eyes
embroidery floss
bell or collar ornament
long dollmaker’s needle
alphabet letter beads
4" x 6" x 12" foam rubber block covered with white fabric
felting needle
Tacky glue

Safety Tips:

1. When not in use, it is wise to store these needles in an envelope or a block of foam so that the points are not exposed.

2. Use a foam rubber block covered with fabric as a work surface; this gives the needle something to punch into other than your hand.

3. As you add fiber, be careful where your free hand is in relation to the punching needle. You only have to hit your finger once to learn this lesson.

Figure A


1. To build a three-dimensional foundation form: Start with simple foundation shapes built with plain white or natural-colored fleece. There is no reason to waste the more expensive colored fleeces at this step. The puppy is made from two foundation shapes — a large ball and a small ball. The large ball is one-and-a-half times the size of the small ball. With this in mind, begin the small ball by taking a handful of fleece and squeezing it in your hand; this will help to determine the approximate size ball the fleece will produce. You can add or subtract fleece as needed.

Figure B

2. Roll the fleece into a ball; this will help get the fleece in control and produce a tighter form to begin punching. Place the ball on the foam rubber block, holding it gently with your free hand. Make sure you are holding your free hand in a "C" shape over the fleece. Punch the needle, inside the "C", into the oval space created by your hand.

3. Keep rolling and turning the ball, so the entire surface is worked evenly. Initially it seems that little is being accomplished, but gradually, as the fibers compress, the ball becomes smaller and more firm. Patience is a virtue in this medium.

How do you know if you have compressed the fibers as much as necessary? To some degree, it is personal preference; however; the fibers need to be compressed tight enough to hold their shape. Here are a few simple tests: Does the ball show resistance when squeezed, or is your form so soft your fingers touch one another in the middle of the form? Does it bounce, or is the form so light it seems to float in the air? Does it return to its original form after being squeezed or easily take on a new shape? It has been my experience, the more solid the form, the more successful the finished piece.

4. Complete both foundation forms by rolling and punching, making sure they are both compressed as firmly as one other. When you have a large and small ball of the proper proportions, you are ready to start the neck.

Figure C

5. Adding the neck to the large ball: The neck is a flat-topped cone shape onto which the head is attached. To form the neck, fibers are layered and attached to the large foundation form. Model the fibers into a flat-topped cone shape, making sure to compress the fibers as tight as the foundation form. Remember to compress from all sides and top.

Figure E

6. After the neck is added, the head is attached. Push fibers from the body into the head and from the head into the body, turning the body as needed to secure all sides. A thin layer of additional fibers is added around the neck to make sure the head is attached securely and that there is a smooth transition between the head and body. The basic shape now looks like a drumstick.

7. To make the front legs: The foot and the shaft of the leg are equal in size, and the leg is about one-third the total height of the body. In addition to the fleece for the leg and foot, there needs to be some extra fibers for attaching the legs. Gather the fleece and squeeze it to approximate the necessary amount of fleece.

Note: Since it is difficult to remember how much fleece is used in the leg after it is formed, it helps to set aside the fleece for both legs right away. By starting with two wads the same size, there is a better chance the second leg will be the same size and density as the first.

Figure F

8. Fold the first wad of fleece in half; this helps to control stray fibers and make a smoother toe. Compress the fibers into a cylinder and then flatten the end to make the foot. Work back the length of the foot and begin to bend the fibers to form an ankle. Continue up the cylinder of the leg, leaving fuzzy ends for attachment. Shapes such as the legs are difficult to get firm; however, because they support the body, extra care needs to be taken to compress the fibers from as many directions as possible. Punching fibers down into the shafts helps tighten them.

Figure G

9. Attaching the front legs: Hold the legs in place to give yourself an idea where they should be attached. Attach them a bit under the body so that the chest protrudes a little beyond the legs. Attach the legs, one at a time, by punching all the fuzzy fibers into the chest. In addition, punch the fibers under and around the shaft of the legs to make sure the entire leg is attached securely. After both legs are in place, it may be necessary to add a layer of fleece around the legs to help create a smooth transition.

Note: If you are planning to add a different color fleece to the chest, this is a good time. Layer the second color over the foundation to make the chest. Other spots can be added at this time to the feet or back if you choose. The spots should be worked into the surface so there are no bumps. It is never too late if you choose to add spots later.

10. Start the back legs the same as the front by gathering two wads of fleece of equal size — roughly double that used for the front legs. Fold the fleece in half as with the front foot and form the pancake foot. Work back the foot gradually, changing from the pancake to a cylinder until it is as long as the depth of the body from chest to base of tail. Flatten the cylinder on the bottom.

Figure H

11. The hip is a thick, oval pancake shape that sits on top of the foot. Fold the remaining fleece back over the leg and secure some of the remaining hip fibers to the back half of the foot. Unlike the front feet, there are going to be no fuzzy ends left for attaching the back legs. Instead, the remaining ends of fleece will be tucked to the inside of the hip, forming the oval pancake. These ends are tacked in place to hold until attaching. The hip form is left larger than the finished hip and then compressed to its final size when it is attached. Make the second back leg a mirror image of the first, tucking the fibers on the opposite side.

Figure I

12. Attaching the back legs: After the second leg is completed, both are attached. The hips that were left oversized are now sculpted and compressed to the proper size and firmness. Start by doing a test fitting. Place the back feet to the outside of the front feet and leave a space between the back legs where the tail will be placed. Sit the puppy on a flat surface to make sure the feet all sit on the surface equally. Tack one leg in place by punching fibers from the hip into the body. Continue to work the fibers of the entire oval into the body to secure the leg. Flip the puppy over and secure the foot into the body from the bottom as well. Work the hip fibers until they are as firm as the rest of the body, retaining the form of the hip and foot. Attach the second back leg in the same manner.

Figure K

13. For the snout: The snout is made in two parts — the nose and the chin. If you want to have a snout of a different color, you can use the color to make the nose and chin right away or add the second color to the snout later. For the nose, lay a small wad of fleece on the foam block and fold the fibers into a flattened rectangle. The rectangle needs to be compressed on both sides to make it firm and flat. The short side of the rectangle is slightly shorter than the depth of the head. The long side is about as wide as the head. Fold it in half, matching the two short sides, making a tent shape. The nose is attached to the center of the head, leaving an up side down "V" shape underneath for the chin. Join the nose to the face along the edges, both on the outside and inside of the roof of the mouth. Once again, a thin layer of fleece may be needed to make a smooth transition from face to nose.

14. The chin is built from a small wad of fleece twisted into a point, leaving fuzzies on the opposite end. Place it under the nose and attach the fuzzies to the neck. Tuck the chin fibers up under the nose, retaining the crease between two sections of the snout. A little bit of black fleece is needed to make a small upside down triangle at the end of the nose.

Figure L

15. The ears are flat triangles with fuzzies left on one of the three sides. They must be compressed flat, flipped, and punched on the opposite side. As with any flat shape, this step should be repeated several times to make sure the ears are very firm. Because the ears are small forms that stand away from the base, they need to be strong, even if they are placed close to the head.

16. Attaching the ears: For ears that fold down, check the positioning. Lay one ear on the top of the head with the point toward the back of the head and the fuzzy edge front. Work the fuzzies into the top of the head. Fold the ear forward and tack it in place. For stand-up ears: Check the positioning of the ears. Pinch the ear into a curve and work the fuzzy ends into the back of the head. Make sure to work the fibers inside the ear as well. You can have both ears fold down, both ears standing up, or one up and one down.

17. To attach the small plastic eyes, punch two holes in the head with the metal awl. Place the eyes temporarily to see if they are in the correct position. The eyes can make or break the puppy if they are not positioned properly. They give the personality to your puppy. When you are sure the eyes are placed properly, remove them, place a dab of Tacky glue on the back of each eye, and then replace them to secure permanently.

Figure N

18. To make the tail: The tail is done using a piece of wrapped florist’s wire as a support. Unlike plain wire, the wrapped wire gives the fleece something to grab. Starting at the tip of the wire with a length of fleece fibers, begin to wrap a thin layer of fleece tightly around the wire. Rolling the wire between the fingers of one hand while holding the fibers taunt in the other, work from the tip of the tail to its base, gradually increasing the thickness. Allow an inch of wire to remain uncovered and leave fuzzies for attaching the tail. To hold the wrapped fibers in place use a bit of pump hair spray. Spray a small amount of hairspray onto the tips of your fingertips and roll the tail between them until the fibers are set.

Figure O

19. Attaching the tail: Punch a hole for the tail between the heels of the back feet using the metal awl. Apply glue to the end of the wire left uncovered and insert it into the hole. Punch the remaining fibers into the base shape to secure the tail. You may need to add more fleece to allow for a smooth transition from tail to body. Add a curl if desired. Anchor the tail to the body with a bit of fleece so it cannot be pulled out of the body.

20. Defining the mouth: Embroidery floss is used at the mouth and between the toes for definition. Using the doll needle, thread a length of black embroidery floss about 18 inches long and knot a single strand. Punch the needle through from the back of the head to the bottom point of the black nose. Pull the floss through and give a small tug to pull the knot into the head fibers. Put the point of the needle back into the head just below the nose where the chin meets the nose. Guide the needle to the back right corner of the mouth. Pull the floss through, leaving a small loop under the nose.

21. Guide the needle through the loop and pull the thread tight, closing the loop; make sure the loop under the nose stays centered and vertical. Put the needle through the left corner of the mouth and out the back of the head. Secure the end of the floss by making another small knot near the surface of the head where the floss exited. Re-insert the needle next to the exit hole and out the side of the head. Give a small tug to pull the knot into the head. To clip, pull lightly on the floss and then clip. The end of the floss will disappear into the head. If there is a small dent left where the needle was reinserted, use the end of the felting needle to pull a few strands of fleece over it.

Figure P

22. Defining the toes: Thread and knot another length of floss. Guide the point of the needle from the heel of one of the feet out the bottom of the foot between the first and second toes. Wrap the floss over the top, insert the needle between the first two toes and out the bottom between the second and third toes. Tug lightly and the floss makes a small indentation, defining the toes. Continue over the top, between the second and third toes, out the bottom between the third and fourth toes. Complete the foot by inserting the needle down between the third and fourth toes and out the heel. Knot the string as with the mouth; reinsert the needle in and out the bottom of the foot. Tug to draw in the knot, and clip. Repeat on all the feet.

Figure Q

23. Add a bow for the collar made of string, cord, ribbon, lace or leather. Bells, alphabet letters or other ornaments can be added to the collar for interest. If you want to name your puppy, or give it to a special friend, use alphabet beads on the collar.

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