Protect your hands

Needle felting is hard on your hands. The repetitive motion of stabbing the needle into the wool is not only a hazard for your fingertips — those needles are sharp! — but it can be a strain on your wrists and finger joints, especially if you are working on a project for any extended period of time. Sitting for hour after hour stabbing at a clump of wool can lead to aches going up into your arms and your back as well.

Here I’ll share with you a few of the things I do to try to help prevent these aches, or in the cases where it seems inevitable, at least recover from them. If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments.

Let’s do whatever we can to make needle felting a more fun and less painful experience.

THIMBLES. I recommend always using thimbles to guard against stray pokes. As noted above, these needles are sharp. I have drawn blood more times than I care to count, even while wearing thimbles. Without them, my fingers would be riddled with scars. Even if I’m just going to do a few “touch up” pokes, I put my thimbles on. It’s the best policy.

I like to use leather thimbles so that I can manipulate the wool with relative ease and feel where exactly the needle is while still being well protected. You can find these thimbles in the quilting section of most craft stores and there are many online sources for them as well.

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Nimble Thimble from JOANN Fabric and Crafts

WORK SURFACE. Using a pad of some kind as a work surface. This is something that I moved away from and then returned to throughout my needle felting life. I have learned the deeper wisdom of it over the years. Not only does the pad provide protection against the sharp needle stabbing into your leg or any other appendage, it lets your supporting hand, the one not doing the stabbing, rest. I felt a lot of long and thin shapes, like snonkey eyestalks and tapir stripes, and I often hold the strip of wool in between my thumb and finger while I stab at it. So exhausting! My left hand quickly cramps up. I’ve found it is so much easier on the hand to let the wool rest on the work surface and hold it minimally in place.

There are different types of work surfaces to use with needle felting. When I first began felting, I used a piece of foam. I didn’t like it because it crumbled after being poked so many times. It also made loud noises whenever the needle went into the foam, so pretty much … Every. Single. Second. I was working on my project. Maddening. Then for a while I used a pillow, which got wrecked in short order. Now, after years of not using any work surface at all, I use a Woolbuddy, which is actually itself made of  densely felted wool. I highly recommend it.

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Woolbuddy on Amazon.com

STRETCHES. Taking the time in the morning to do a few stretches and exercises to specifically strengthen your hands and fingers can really help. Every day before beginning my felting session I spend about a minute opening and closing my hands in fits in rapid succession. After the minute is up, I roll my wrists in circles and shake my hands out till they feel comfortable again. This has really helped stave off aches in my hands and wrists.

Here is an excellent short video for more great exercises: exercises for tendinitis (tendonitis) or carpal tunnel (cps)

Another video that I’ve found helpful: Yoga for Wrists & Fingers – Yoga for Wrist Cramps & Carpal Tunnel

When I’ve overdone it and my hands and shoulders are aching, yoga in general has been very healing for me. Try a few different things and find what works best for you.

TAKING BREAKS. This is an important one to keep in mind when you’re in the middle of a project and want to get “just one more” piece of it done. If you’ve been at it for more than an hour, take a little break and rest your hand. Get up and get a glass of water, pet the cat, or simply daydream for a moment. It will really help give your hands that little bit of recovery that enables you to get that much more done when you can come back to it fresh.

 

Those are the major things I can recommend to help you with this fantastic hobby. I’d love to learn more methods so let me know any good tips and tricks you’ve figured out in the comments.

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Anthopleura WIP Video

I’ve been working really hard on the needle felted Anthopleura sola, the Starburst anemone, but making all those tentacles is taking a long time. So I thought I’d give you guys a peek into the process by…

… making my first needle felting video! View it at the link:

 

Below are some stills from the video with a bit more information.

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I found a yarn that was the perfect color to blend with my other roving (loose wool ready for felting or spinning). I only need to take it out of its loosely spun strands and make it into roving. You can do this with any yarn that is %100 wool, or any kind of felt-able fiber.
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Using specialized carding combs, I blend the two colors of roving together. You can get combs like these from Etsy or your local craft store.
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Here you can see I am wearing leather thimbles on my fingers and thumb. I use a wooden needle holder that I’ve found to be the most comfortable. Even though it has multiple slots, I typically use only a single needle. I felt on a Woolbuddy pad, which is a mat of densely felted wool that works just like a foam pad but better.

The start of the tentacle is a core of plain undyed roving, which is then covered and expanded upon with the blended roving. After rolling the wool into roughly the shape of a tentacle, I poke it repeatedly. The barbed needle does the felting by grabbing the strands and tangling them around each other with every poke. Slowly the tentacle starts to form and hold its shape.

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I stretch the blended roving out in a line to get the tentacle long and thin.
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I add blue roving to the tip of the tentacle.
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The tentacle is complete and ready to join the others on the anemone!

Thank you for watching my process! This is a long and intense project and I’m glad to have you all along with me.

Check back for photos of the finished anemone.

Anthopleura sola WIP

Today’s post is a sneak peek of my latest needle felting project: Anthopleura sola, the Starburst anemone.

These are one of the most gorgeous sights you’ll see as you walk along the tide pools of the California coast, with their jewel-like tentacles dancing in the currents. You can spot this particular species by the stripes radiating out from the center in a luminous “burst.” Here is a photo I took on one of my excursions to the tide pools:

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Anemone at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

And more photos of these magnificent life forms:

 

I want the felted Anthopleura sola to be life-sized with a diameter of about 150 cm. I’m pushing myself to work larger which allows me to get in more details.

 

 

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Here you can see I’m experimenting with different colors and seeing how they come together. I had to blend a few different colors together to find what I wanted. I blend the wool by carding it between two combs.
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I found the colors that I liked and put in the delicate “burst” pattern.
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Starting to put in the tentacles!

I loved poking these creatures when I was a kid and watching their tentacles retract, and then poking them again and seeing the water gush out. It was so exciting! I doubt they enjoyed it very much, however, and I no longer practice this harassment. But I still adore watching these beauties in their shallow pools.

Pangolin Cake

Pangolins are incredibly cool. It’s hard to believe they’re real. They look like mythical creatures with their dragon-like scales, huge talons, long sinuous tails and two-legged walking.

Take a look at this YouTube video Can You Walk Like a Pangolin and tell me this isn’t straight out of The Dark Crystal.

However fantastical they appear, pangolins are real. They are the only mammals with scales, which are made from keratin, the same material that make up your finger nails. When threatened, a pangolin will curl up into a well protected ball like a roly poly.

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A pangolin rolled into a protective ball.

Even though they look similar to armadillos and aardvarks, they belong to the order Carnivora, which means they are more closely related to dogs, cats, and bears. There are four species of pangolin found in Africa and four found in Asia. The Asian species have hairs in between their scales.

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Sunda pangolin, Manis javanica, with hairs between its scales.

Some species are arboreal with prehensile tails, like the Black Bellied Pangolin that can hold its entire body weight by its tail alone. The largest pangolin species, the Giant Ground Pangolin, can grow up to 1.8 meters long — that’s nearly six feet!

All pangolin species are extremely endangered. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world. They are hunted for their meat and their impressive scales, sometimes mistakenly believed to have medicinal properties.

 

One of my best friends loves these unique animals, so to celebrate her birthday and raise awareness and simply glory in the wonder of the pangolin, I made her a chocolate pangolin cake. I also must give credit to Creature Conserve for giving me the idea on their Give Time page that mentions throwing a party themed around your favorite endangered animal. Let’s celebrate these precious animals!

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For the pangolin itself, I used this recipe I found on Pinterest for fudge pine cones. Don’t they kind of look like pangolins already?

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Chocolate Pine Cones on Sweet & Crunchy

I used strong coffee to flavor my fudge in place of the almond extract and I mixed generous handfuls of pecan halves into the fudge as I worked it into the rough shape of a pangolin.

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Fudge shaped into the pangolin before scales (almond slices) were added.

To make the pangolin scales that gorgeous amber color, I melted sugar on the stove till it caramelized and then I dipped each almond slice in the caramel. Time consuming but well worth it! I love how they turned out.

The eyes of the pangolin are also melted sugar. I spooned out the caramel and let it drip onto wax paper and when the droplets had cooled, I pressed them into the fudge. It was a lot like using glass beads in polymer clay. The fudge was a lot easier to work with than I was afraid. And it was delicious too!

The trees and flowers were made with the same method of dripping caramel off a spoon. It took several tries to find the right temperature at which to start dripping.

The cake is an augmented Devil’s Food cake mix with sour cream. The coconut and pecan filling is from The Best German Chocolate Cake on Tastes Better From Scratch. The chocolate frosting is a salty fluffy chocolate recipe I love to use on anything and everything. But the special ingredient in this cake is my homemade sauerkraut. That’s right, it’s a German chocolate sauerkraut cake! I know that’s not the traditional style of sauerkraut cake OR German chocolate cake, but I thought the texture of the fresh sauerkraut would blend perfectly with the shredded coconut and chopped pecans while giving the sweetness of the caramel a delicious kick of saltiness. Everyone at the party loved the taste of it just as much I did!

Now I want to try sauerkraut in so many more things…

I had to use special care when assembling this cake because the fudge pangolin was so heavy. My mother pointed out to me that I needed some kind of structure to hold it up. Five straws cut to the height of the cake and pressed in through the top with popsicle sticks laid across them provided the perfect scaffolding for the pangolin to sit upon. A throne, if you will, surrounded by cushions of chocolate frosting on a rug of coconut and pecan custard.

I had a lot of fun with this project. I’m excited to try more beautiful baking.

My Parents’ 50th Anniversary

I am proud to celebrate my parents’ fiftieth anniversary this year. They have been through so much together. They have literally traveled the world together while raising five human beings, supported each other through hard losses, like the passing of my grandparents, and discovered themselves and their wildly different personalities together. It is hard to wrap my mind around. They are an inspiration to me.

My siblings coordinated to give them tickets to Hawaii, a place that, in all their travels, they have never visited together. I am so excited for them!

I illustrated a card for them and my wonderful word-smith husband composed a very moving and poetic commemoration inside.

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Naupaka Flowers, Crayola crayons on illustration artboard 9 in. x 12 in.

I used crayons to depict the naupaka flower, also known as the half-flower. They are found all over the islands, one variety thriving on the beaches, another in the mountains. There is a Hawaiian legend about two star-crossed lovers who end up turning into these separate varieties, each a half of the other. I wanted to show how different they are, one with spiny leaves, the other with smooth-edged leaves, and yet bring them together, almost as if they are gazing lovingly into each other’s faces.

Using crayons to make the tone reminiscent of Hawaiian print fabrics was very fun and satisfying.

I also baked them a cake! The first romantic cake they ate together was a red velvet recipe my mother got from her mother. I used that same recipe and cut the cake into “50” to mark the occasion. I had never carved a cake before so I was nervous.

I baked macarons to go on top of the cake as a pretty decoration, like I’d seen on Pinterest. I’d never tried to make these before either. I’m glad they turned out tasty and a bright pink, though strangely small and all with little spikes on top. The roses are from the rose bush right outside my parent’s front door.

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50 Anniversary red velvet cake decorated with macarons, roses, and berries.

Everyone enjoyed eating the cake. My parents were very touched and they are eagerly awaiting their trip to Hawaii!

Happy Cephalopod Week!

Today is the final day of Cephalopod week 2018! I couldn’t miss it so here’s a special Friday blog post!

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Cuttlefish Stare, Crayola crayons

The cuttlefish is my personal favorite cephalopod, which is kind of like saying chocolate is better than pizza — I am so lucky to live in a world that has it all! All cephalopods are incredibly cool creatures! But if you absolutely HAD to choose, which would be your favorite? The always charismatic octopus? The cryptic nautilus? The huge-eyed squid? Tell me in the comments.

Happy Father’s Day

I hope you had a wonderful time yesterday celebrating the father(s) in your life, whether he is your brother, friend, son, in-law, grandpa, or simply your dad.

I used Crayola crayons to draw this father bat-eared fox and his kit. Not only are they adorable with those huge ears, these foxes have heartwarming family dynamics. There are many other examples of wonderful fathers in the animal kingdom as well that are fascinating to learn about. Marmoset monkeys, for example, are extremely devoted to their young. The large Rhea bird is also a diligent father who looks after his chicks with great care. Do you know of an animal father who takes a leading role in child care? Tell me in the comments.

Two of Us and Four of Joy

Every year I like to make a crow and orca drawing for my beloved Nick’s birthday. This time I used Crayola crayons on a very small scale. This piece is only 3″ x 5.5,” the smallest crayon drawing I have made yet.

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Two of Us and Four of Joy, Crayola crayons

I love the back and forth of black and white, light and dark, in the orcas and crows. There are definitely challenges working on such a small scale because no matter how I sharpen the crayons, they apply very thickly onto the paper. By pushing myself to work within these constraints, I’m forced to embrace the medium and relax into whatever the crayons can give me. For example, the rough texture of the wax becomes unmistakable. Nick says this one is his favorite so far.

Take a look at the previous orca and crow themed drawings I made for Nick by clicking on this link.

A Griffin for Valkyrie Completed

I have a fascination with the often bizarre artwork found in Medieval manuscripts. Sometimes the creatures depicted are extremely ugly, other times there’s great charm to their awkwardly proportioned features and perplexing color choices. Look at the giant bird feet on this blue and gold one below. There’s an appealing flare and commitment to the style on that one that just thrills me. And look at the expression on the one in the top right corner. It could easily be the face of some hilarious meme. I love the patterns you can find worked into the griffin feathers on some of the drawings.

Examples of griffin art from Medieval manuscripts

 

It was with these key elements in mind that I undertook the task to recreate a Medieval manuscript drawing in the 3D medium of needle felted wool: strange color combinations, overt feather patterns, not-quite-right proportions, and an emphatically cranky expression. Capturing the expression was probably the most difficult part, but I think next time I shall endeavor to start with a larger piece. Working on such fine detail at that small a scale (this griffin is only about three inches tall!) was brutal. I think he turned out wonderfully cantankerous, however, and Valkyrie, the proud owner of this gift, was happy to receive him.

Manuscript Griffin, needle felted wool over pipe cleaner.

You can see the beginning of this diminutive magical beast on my blog post A Griffin For Valkyrie.