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How-Tuesday: Gingerbread Man Puppets From Felting for Baby

Dec 8, 2009

by Michelle Traub handmade and vintage goods

Craft projects provide ample opportunities to spend time with your family and build anticipation for the holiday in
the weeks leading up to Christmas. The sound of slippered little feet scrambling down the stairs will be irresistible! Saori Yamazaki’s Felting for Baby offers beautiful inspiration to create everything soft and warm your baby needs. For this week’s How-Tuesday, Saori shares the fundamentals of felting three-dimensional forms along with her pattern for Gingerbread Man Puppets to get your baby’s first Christmas started off just right.

Purchase Felting for Baby from Amazon or an independent bookseller

Felt work involves taking fluffy wool fibers and working with them until the fabric is just the way you like. The items you can make vary widely, and there’s no limit to what you can do with your ideas: making cute accessories, practical bags, and items for everyday life.

Making something by hand for someone else is a lot of fun, but a special joy is found in making something for a tiny, tiny baby. For example, if you’re making booties, you can’t help thinking of the cute little feet that you are making them for, and you find yourself smiling. A regular population explosion has been happening among my friends in recent years, and even though I enjoy buying baby gifts in a store, most of the time, my friends expect something handmade. At times like that, I get excited about making something.

I’m confident that my friends are pleased with the warmth of fine handmade felt items. I’d like all of you to try your hand at making felt items, too, whether for an infant, for someone else, or even for yourself.


Getting Started

The basic principle behind felt work is taking fluffy, raw wool fibers and intertwining them to create a stable form. This process is the act of felting. Wet Felting: In this technique, you take a small amount of liquid detergent, add it to hot water (this mixture is referred to simply as hot, soapy water in this book), moisten the wool fibers with it, and push and rub the fibers into shape. The chemical properties and heat of the liquid detergent, and the vibration and friction from your hands, cause the wool fibers to entwine and mat evenly, resulting in a smooth, strong fabric. This efficient technique is appropriate for making sheets of felt or felt with a lot of volume.

Tools and Materials:
The main type of wool used in this book is known as roving, which is raw wool that has been cleaned, carded, and gathered into long strips.

Shallow Basin: A shallow basin or container of some kind is useful when making a sheet of felt as it helps to contain the water used in the felting process. Alternately, you can use the kitchen sink.

Hot, Soapy Water: Add 3 or 4 drops of dishwashing detergent to about 1 quart of hot water. Adjust the amount so that it will foam slightly when you apply it to the wool, and rub. The hotter the water is, the faster the felting process will occur. Lukewarm or cold water takes more time.

Watering Can: Use this to sprinkle the carded wool lightly with hot, soapy water so that it doesn’t separate. A spray bottle also works.

Waterproof Pattern Paper: Make patterns for your projects from a material that will not lose its shape when wet. Plastic sheeting and bubble wrap work well, but you can use the coated cardboard from milk cartons, too.

Wooden Dowel: You can advance the felting process by wrapping the wool around a wooden dowel or rolling pin. The larger your project is, the thicker the rolling pin should be.

How to Make Bag-Shaped and Three-Dimensional Forms

1. Arrange Side A
Take about 1 ounce of wool and divide it into eight equal strands. Make two layers, one horizontal and one vertical, on the pattern paper, using one strand of wool per layer. Even out the area, and spread out the wool so that it’s a bit larger than the pattern area. (I refer to the front of the bag as side A and the back as side B.) Apply hot, soapy water to the two layers of wool and work it in thoroughly with your hands.

2. Work Side A
Turn the whole project over, along with the pattern paper. (If the piece is large, remove the pattern paper before turning it over and then replace it on the new top side.) If any of the fibers are sticking out, fold them over the pattern paper and work the edges and corners thoroughly.

3. Arrange Side B
Make two layers, one horizontal and one vertical, on another piece of pattern paper, using one strand of wool per layer. Then place side B on top of side A, pattern papers together.

4. Work Side B
Work the surface of side B with hot, soapy water, then turn the whole project over again. Turn it gently to make sure that the part you worked doesn’t come apart or tear away.

5. Make a Bag Shape
As in step 2, fold over any wool fibers that stick out. Repeat steps 1 through 4 on both sides so that both sides have four layers of wool each.

6. Continue Felting
Put plastic bags over both hands, and start rubbing the felt in circular motions around the center, first gently, and then with more force. You can increase the pressure by pressing with the very tips of your fingers. Be sure to work the edges and corners thoroughly.

7. Pinch Test
Pinch a bit of the surface to see whether the fibers are firmly intertwined. (Be sure to check both side A and side B.) If the fibers come lose or break off, then the felting process is incomplete; repeat step 6.

8. Cut an Opening
Use scissors to cut an opening on the side that will be the mouth of the bag. (You’ll felt the cult in step 11 to strengthen it.)

9. Remove the Pattern Paper
Slide the pattern papers out. Because the felting process is not yet complete on the inside of the bag, hold the bag carefully so that the insides don’t stick to each other.

10. Turn It Right Side Out
Turn the bag right side out, taking care not to tear or stretch any of the felted fibers.

11. Felt the Edges and Opening
Flatten out the side edges of the bag and carefully rub and work them so that they felt. Since the opening cut in step 8 may be weak, work it for a while so that it’s straight and sturdy.

12. Roll Up All Sides From Four Directions
Use a wooden dowel to roll up both side A and side B from the top, bottom, right, and left. Each time you unroll the felt, smooth out the wrinkles. If it starts to dry out, apply a little more hot, soapy water. Repeat this step until the whole piece has shrunk evenly and to the desired dimensions.

13. Shape the Bottom
Fold the bottom so that it’s like a paper grocery bag, and rub and work it to form and stabilize the shape. Do the same with both side A and side B.

14. Make It Three-Dimensional
Stand the bag up, insert your hand, and flatten the inside bottom. Consider the proportions of the entire bag as you carefully felt the interior sides, angles, and opening, so that no distorted or uneven surfaces remain.

15. Adjust the Opening
Adjust the opening so that the bag is a uniform height. Apply some more hot, soapy water to the cut edges of the opening and work it in.

16. Stabilize the Shape
Rinse the bag in lukewarm water and briefly run it through the spin cycle of a washing machine. Stabilize the shape by ironing it, using a towel to keep the bag’s shape.

17. Finishing
Let the felt dry naturally, and you will end up with the main body of a bag.

Finished Size 5 1/2″ x 9 1/2″

Wool for the main body: Natural or camel, 1 ounce
Wool for the face and buttons: Brown, small amounts

1. Divide the wool for the main body into eight parts.

2. Cut out a piece of pattern paper (download pattern here). Felt four layers of wool on both sides of the pattern paper to make a bag shape.

3. Cut an opening across the bottom, remove the pattern paper, and turn the puppet right side out. (Carefully use a rod to turn the arms and neck inside out.) Felt the puppet by rolling it up from all sides until it reaches the size indicated in the diagram.

4. Rinse and spin the puppet, iron it, and let it dry naturally.

5. Put a sponge inside the puppet and use a needle to felt the face and buttons onto the puppet.

Thanks to Saori Yamazaki and the good folks at Trumpeter Publishing for sharing this project with us. For more sweet wool, check out Felting for Baby.

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