Animals had to make an appearance in my personal version of the nativity story I’m telling with this tree. I am an animal lover after all, and I love recognizing those animals that were a part of the story, bringing Mary to Bethlehem, guiding the Wise Men across the desert, and following the shepherds. Plus the softness of the animals is a great contrast to the wood and fiber tree I’ve got going.
I was originally going to knit the animals, but I am already so far behind in my knitting projects I knew that would take me For. EV. Er. Then my friend Jessica got me hooked on needlefelting and it was a total EUREKA! moment.
Needlefelting is great fun, and I just fell in love with the results I was getting. Especially their cute little faces. And the ears. I was so inspired I kept right on going and made myself a whole needlefelted nativity, which I’ll show you how to make this weekend.
All you need to needlefelt is a block of foam, some wool roving, and a felting needle. The needle has barbs along the shaft so that the wool fibers get caught in the needle and drawn up through the layers of wool to become a tangled, solid piece. If you’re going to be making a bunch of these ornaments it’s worth it to invest in some good tools, but they’re still pretty cheap as far as crafting goes. I got a handle that held four needles for $18, and that made my work go by way faster.
With your tools assembled, you just pull off a chunk of wool roving, and get to stabbing.
To make the donkey body, I rolled up a bit of roving into an oval, and then punched the needle up and down through the wool until it became a thick solid piece. Of course, your body can be any size you’d like it to be, but I made my body about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide.
Believe it or not, this is the donkey’s neck. The way you attach one piece to another is by leaving some of the roving loose. With a bit of roving loose on each end to attach the head to the neck, and the neck to the body, the actual felted part is probably about 2 inches long.
The head started by just felting a ball about an inch and a half in diameter, and then I stretched it out by felting more thoroughly on one end. That turns it from a ball shape into more of a horse face as the fibers are pushed together on one end.
Position the neck piece on one end of the body, and felt them together by pushing your needle through the loose roving on one end or the neck until it felts to the body.
Connect the head to the top of the neck in the same way.
To make the tail, pinch off a small bit of roving and roll it like a playdough snake through your fingers. Follow with the felting needle to get it really thin and secure. Add a little more roving at the bottom to create the hairs. From one end to the other my tail measures about 2 inches. Remember to leave some roving unfelted on the end.
Felt it to the rear end of the body just as before, using the loose roving on the end of the tail to felt to the body.
Donkeys have long pointy ears, so felt a couple of ears about 1 inch long, with some loose roving on the end.
Felt to the top of the head.
The best picture I had for this part of the process was for the sheep ornament. Felt four legs in the size you want. They’ll look best if they’re all the same thickness, but the length depends on the look you want. Since this will be hanging instead of standing itself up, you can make the legs as long and thin or short and squat as you want. Mine are about 2 1/2 inches long. Felt the bottom of each leg flat, and leave the top unfelted.
To connect to the body, spread the wool roving out so that it extends beyond each side of the piece you want to attach. Hold it in place, then felt to the body until it’s super secure.
If you make each leg the same length, it should stand up fairly easily, and the legs will be flexible enough to stand up even if it’s not perfect. This part doesn’t matter if you’re making an ornament, but it’s important for our full nativity set coming this weekend.
The face is made by taking small pieces of embroidery floss, one strand at a time, and using the needlefelting needle to draw the wool around it to hold it in place. To make the eyes and nostrils, I just rolled a piece of embroidery floss into a ball, then stabbed down into the wool until it was stuck there.
To make this suitable for hanging, use a long needle and thread a piece of fishing line up from the bottom then back down through the top. Tie a knot in the two pieces of line on the underside of the ornament, making sure to leave plenty of thread on the top for hanging.
The sheep and camel ornaments are made in nearly the exact same way. The only changes for the sheep was that it didn’t need a neck and the ears were rounder instead of pointy. To make the sheep extra fuzzy I also added one last layer of wool roving and gave it the lightest possible felting so it would stay put and still look all woolen.
The camel just needs a couple of humps on top of the oval of the body, and then the neck is much longer and attached underneath the body instead of on top.
The camel’s ears are done just like the sheep’s. A little bit round, pointed down, and a little low on the head.
I brought this project with me to a get together of friends from church and everyone was fascinated by the process. I just sat there at my table, working out my aggression and stabbing away while they cooed over the cute little faces. A few of them have followed up with me since asking to learn how to do it. I think we all have a little extra aggression to work out during the holidays.