Monday, 3 October 2011

Elephant No. 1: Needle Felting

Inspired by a recent book by Noah Scalin on making something each day, I decided to give it a try. As my husband likes to joke, I have enough supplies, skills and equipment to restart civilization.

He's not far wrong, so it seemed like a good idea to see what I could concoct using available resources, while also developing new skills. Hence the idea of making one new thing a day, using a different technique, medium or material each time. Over the year, I'll be drawing on various artistic or craft practices I've already mastered (or at least tried), as well as things I haven't a clue how to do.

There may be times when I am unable to complete an entire project in a day, due to the technical requirements of certain materials, but I'm still expecting to post one new thing completed each day by occasionally working in stages behind the scenes. Along the way, I'm sure I'll be relying on some very kind and patient souls; hopefully I'll be able to return the favour once in a while by reviving interest in practices that may be in danger of dying out.

As for the idea of making elephants, I've liked elephants since I was quite young. Better, obviously, to spend a year making something I like, or this could get mighty tiresome, mighty fast. I also thought this would be a good way of raising consciousness, and perhaps even funds for established animal charities (for a few options, see the end of this post). Sadly, elephants are once again becoming endangered at the hands of ivory poachers, on a scale not seen since the 1970s.

I'll also be including a fun fact about elephants or a piece of elephant lore each day, just to keep things interesting.

And now for today's elephant. I discovered needle-felting about a month ago while browsing Etsy, and decided to give it a try. I am fortunate to live in a fairly large city with many artistic resources, so finding felting needles and wool roving wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.

Needle felting can either be done on a flat surface such as a piece of fabric or a sweater, or used for making three-dimensional forms. I haven't tried the flat version yet, although I have made about ten tiny toy animals over the past few weeks.

The little elephant head in this post was created in just under an hour by taking grey wool roving (carded but unspun fibre, usually sheep's wool), and poking a barbed needle through it hundreds of times. The more you poke the needle through the fibres, the denser the material becomes. Essentially, the microscopic scales on the individual fibres grab onto one another and snarl together. It's the same principle that leaves you with a doll's sweater if you inadvertently put your favourite cashmere cardigan through the my-jeans-are-filthy cycle of a washing machine.
This is a pretty simple process, the main caveat being that the needles are extremely sharp, and it's easy to stab yourself. Colours can be overlaid with a few jabs of the needle, which is my preferred way of working with this technique; other artists add paint, beads and other bits and bobs. I also prefer not to use a wire armature, although many artists do use wire, which makes their creations gently poseable.

Etsy has many fine examples of needle felting, and there are great how-to videos on YouTube. I taught myself in a couple of hours by playing with the materials and watching a couple of YouTube videos—including one featuring an 8-year-old making a needle-felted apple—so it's really not hard to learn.

Elephant Lore of the Day
By a happy coincidence, this blog's title, "Elephant a Day", sounds like the family name "Elephantidae", which has two genera: Elephas (the Asian Elephant) and Loxodonta (the three species of African Elephant). A third genus, Mammuthus, is now extinct.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)


  1. What a great blog...The Great Leader commented that you had enough "stuff" to restart civilization. I thought that was his dream. lol

    The layout and detail of your first day is awesome.


  2. Thanks, Chey! And no, the Great Leader wasn't kidding. Laughed out loud at this being his dream!