How-To: An approach to 2D wool-painting (A pictorial tutorial!) / by Shana Kohnstamm

"Painting with wool" is a phrase you'll see often when it comes to flat feltwork. There is a very painterly aspect to it, and in some ways it's even better than paint because the wool never dries. Placing color without commitment or pulling it up allows for a lot of creative freedom.

This blog post isn't about composition, color or content. It's all about planning, preparing, felting (wet, needle & machine), and presenting your artwork for a finished, polished product.

So let's start where most people finish: the frame!  Why do this? Flat felt often looks best when it's FLAT. Even if you have 3D elements included (see "Rise to Raise") the cleanest image will not have wrinkles. Framing also lets you hide all those fuzzy edges.

Here is an 8" x 8" frame. I've taken out the plexiglass (which I don't intend to use in my finished piece) and I'm using it to measure out how much acrylic craft felt to use. Hint: Using plain old craft felt reduces shrinkage and keeps the image from being skewed while it's being worked. For this piece, I'm adding approximately 1/2" to my total width and marking it with tailor's chalk. Taping off the edge isn't a great idea, since the tape will pull all sorts of fiber out with it later.

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Next, I lay out my image... a little here...

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A little there....start needle-felting the layers, adding colors and moving shapes as needed.

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A little eye....keep needle-felting...

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Yes, I know I skipped ahead! And yes, I know that's felting-phenom Zoe Williams!

At this point, all my color is on. I have checked my image size against the frame and it's all good. You could stop here, but I take it to my trusty felting-machine.

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A felting machine is nothing more than 5 needles and a pedal for speed. It only goes up & down, so you will not get any nuance, which is why I use it after I'm sure there is nothing more I want to add to the piece.  It pushes the wool through the acrylic felt VERY VERY fast, so you really have to pay attention. Otherwise your image might be punched through to the back in no time.

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Close up of the machine-felting. The right side has been worked well after just one pass. The left side looks very fluffy still.  So why use the machine at all? It's an enormous time saver. Thousands of uniform pokes in a matter of minutes.

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Of course you could stop here, but the machine has left a very distinct uniform poked pattern and so I take it even further and wet-felt to get rid of all those holes.

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Wet-felt with olive oil soap gel. Shana's hint: make your own soap gel. It's easy! You might get a little more shrinkage, believe it or not. Rinse with hot water then cold water. Gently roll it up in a towel & squeeze. Then let it air dry overnight.

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Close-up of the needle-machine-wet-felted image. So smooooooooooth!

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Adhesive backed foam-core is your friend! Cut a piece just slightly smaller than the plexiglass, since your felt will wrap around it and add to the dimension. Rusty razor blades are not your friend. Shana's hint: When cutting foam-core, make a shallow cut first to 'break' the paper skin, then go deeper. Remember to always use a cutting mat underneath and a clean sharp blade for best results.

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Felt on adhesive backed foam-core is forgiving, so don't worry if you don't get it placed correctly right away. When it looks right, check it in the frame to make sure the placement is exactly where you want it before you press hard & start taping the edges down.

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Tape 2 edges down with artist's tape. Masking tape will work, too. Avoid duct tape, scotch tape, double-sided tape, and the like. I have a tape fetish, but that's for another post.

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Unless you're really good at making hospital bed corners, or origami swans, you're probably going to want to cut off the corners to make the foamcored-felt fit in your frame. And yes, you could cut them off before you tape the first two edges but I want to make sure I'm not removing any material that might leave a hole in the front.

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Tape all around. Shana's hint: Putting the tape on the felt first and stretching it to the foam core will give you more control. Shana's secret power: Every time I tear a small piece of tape, it looks like the state of Tennessee.

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Pop it in the frame, add the frame back and VOILA!!

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A clean professional finish to your felted artwork!

I hope this was useful. You may also enjoy my post on 12 Inexpensive Felting Studio Tools. If you have thoughts on more step-by-step tutorials you'd like to see me cover, please let me know.

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