Kirstie's Handmade Britain

How To Make A Needlefelted Robin

Needlefelted robin

If you would like to have a go at making the needlefelted robin featured in Kirstie's Handmade Britain, follow our simple instructions below.

By Kirstie Allsopp

Paper template of robin

Paper template of wings

Tailor's chalk pencil

Scissors

Sheet of felt

Sheet of brown felt

Scrap of black felt

Woollen fleece in brown, red, white and grey

Clover tool and mat

Needle and thread

Two beads

Feather

Barbecue skewer

Brown florist's tape

Skill

You needn’t be a skilled needlefelter to get this robin right – just take your time and go carefully with the needle, which is very sharp.

Budget

Assuming you have the basic tools, this craft project can be completed for under £10.

Time

Experienced needlefelters can complete this in a day – beginners should allow themselves a long weekend.

Step One: Cut Out The Felt

Trace the robin and wing shapes onto the brown felt using the tailor's chalk pencil and cut them out. Cut a small beak shape from the scrap of black felt and leave to one side.

Step Two: Begin Felting

Pull off small tufts of fleece and begin felting it to the robin shape using the clover tool and mat. It doesn't matter if your fleece spills over the edges, you can trim the bird later. Just make sure you keep lifting the robin up to avoid needlefelting it to the mat. If you punch your design lightly at first you can easily rectify mistakes. Once you are happy with your design repeat on the other robin shape (just remember the two sides should be facing opposite directions so that they match up when put together). Repeat the process with the wings.

Step Three: Continue Felting

Needlefelt a wing to each robin shape; you will only need to punch at the base of the wing to give a 3D effect. Now place the two sides of the bird together insert the beak and punch around the edges of the bird shapes (you will need to hold the wings out of the way), securing the beak and leaving a small gap between the base of the bird and the tale end. Stuff the robin lightly with a small amount of brown fleece then seal the gap together with the clover tool adding the tail feather as you go. You may need to trim your feather down to be in proportion to your robin, though we love the fact that its flamboyancy is unrealistic.

Step Four: Attach The Eyes

Stitch two beads onto the face for the eyes

Step Five: Put The Robin On A Stick

To put the robin onto a stick, take a barbecue skewer and wrap in self-sticking brown florist's tape. Make a small hole on its underside by delicately pulling the two sides apart and insert the sharp end of the barbecue skewer. Add a little glue if needs be, alternatively use a single needle to felt the skewer in place.

  • Needle felting uses special barbed needles that catch and entangle fibres providing a very localised version what happens when you do traditional wet felting. These needles are the same as those used in industry to make commercial felt fabric; only they use thousands of them!
  • It is possible to make this robin using a single felting needle and a sponge, however we have used a clover needle felting tool that uses five needles and therefore felts five times as fast! You will need to use a specialist clover mat with this tool, as it allows the needles to freely punch in and out of your fabric. If you get really hooked you could even invest in an embellisher machine, this machine looks like a sewing machine but has no bobbin or thread and is basically a motorised version of the clover tool.
  • Because the needle punch tool is spring loaded, very little effort is required to punch the fabric and you can punch with as much force and as fast or slow as you like.
  • Try to keep the needle at a 90 degree angle to the cloth to avoid bending and therefore breaking the needles.
  • A single needle should be used for fine detailing, a multi needle tool for general needlefelting and a needle punch machine for larger areas.
  • When needle felting by hand, punch lightly at first to establish your overall design or effect (rather like tacking) the design can then be repositioned if need be.
  • Wool works best as the scales on its fibres interlock easily making the felting permanent.
  • Needles come in different gauges - the higher the gauge the finer the needle. Choose the needle size to suit the fibre or fabric you are working on.
  • Always use a foam mat or brush when needlefelting (unless working on a 3D form).
  • The fibres are pushed through to the back of the cloth which makes a lovely shadow effect that can often be as interesting as the front.
  • You don’t have to limit yourself to wool. Beautiful textured effects can be created on silk fabrics
  • Don’t try to felt sequins, feathers or anything that is too hard as the needle could easily break. If in doubt stab carefully to see if the needle will easily penetrate the fibre or fabric you are attempting to felt.
  • If you want to get rid of any visible holes on the surface of the finished piece just run a needle over the surface to gently move the fibres and smooth over the surface.

With thanks to Jayne Emerson

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