Looking for a fun way to immortalize a canine friend? Needle felt a miniature portrait of your favorite dog using wool, mohair or silk roving over a frame of pipe cleaners. These poseable scale dogs can be used for gifts, in miniature scenes, dolls houses, or on your Christmas tree as ornaments. Needle felting is a simple technique which is quick to learn, and small felted dogs take only a short time to make.
Although the tutorial that follows shows a short haired dog, wool, mohair or silk fibers can be curled around skewers or needles when damp to make various lengths and styles of dog hair for different breeds.
This is a fun technique, although the extremely sharp needles make it unsuitable for children. Once you've made one dog, you'll be experimenting with all kinds of different objects, breeds or individual animals, like cats or sheep.
This particular tutorial is for the pictured Jack Russell terrier. If you would rather follow instructions for a particular dog breed, larger felted individual dog breeds in roughly 1:6 scale can be found in the book Fleece Dog, and there are instructions for fixed pose felted animals roughly 1:6 scale in the book Little Felted Animals.
Needle felting is an easy technique which uses roving (unspun fiber, usually wool, mohair or silk) to create felt by pushing the needle straight up and down through the fiber. This is a simple way to sculpt small figures in miniature for dolls' houses. They can be completely felted or longer hair can be applied.
To create the felt you push the needle straight up and down in a punching motion through a ball or line of fibers. As you felt, the fibers will pack closer together, so practice is needed in order to create something which is a particular size. Depending on the amount you felt your fibers you can create very small, hard items, or softer, less dense felted sculptures.
The technique is easy (and repetitive). If you make a mistake and pack your fibers too tightly you can add more and fill out your shape.
You Will Need:
- Roving or unspun fiber in your choice of colors. Dogs take small amounts of material, less than an ounce of wool roving overall generally in 1:12 and 1:6 scale. Most yarn stores sell roving for felting, often in silk and wool. Costume suppliers and doll making suppliers usually have mohair roving for dolls hair or actors beards and mustaches. If necessary you can use wool fibers from old sweaters or knit projects, try to card it out into loose, straightened clusters before using it for felting.
- Pipe cleaners: Most miniature dogs require a single pipe cleaner as a body frame, fibers on pipe cleaners make it easier to catch the wool roving. If you don't have pipe cleaners, use wire, something around 24 gauge should be fine.
- Needle felting mat or a piece of thick foam to protect the surface you are working on and help keep your needles from breaking.
- Felting needles: Medium, fine, and extra fine needles are useful. These are very sharp long needles with notches up the shaft, which pull and mat fibers together. They are available from yarn suppliers who sell felting materials and are also available online. We use sizes 38, 40 and 42 for miniature animals. If you intend to work only with wool, sizes 36, 38 and 40 are also suitable.
- Photo of your chosen dog: It is far easier to get the shapes and proportions right for a sculpture if you have a photo or live model in front of you.
- Glass eyes or beads: 2mm wire ended glass teddy bear eyes were used in this example (not suitable if these dogs will be near young children) You can also sew or glue on suitable beads, or felt eyes made from needle felt scraps in place.
- Sharp scissors to trim the dog's coat to shape.
- Wire cutters and tweezers to cut and bend eye wires and pipe cleaners into shape.
- Ruler to measure body frame parts.
Felt the Head
Begin your miniature felted dog, by pulling off a group of white fibers from your wool or silk roving in the base color of your dog's coat. Roll the fibers into a loose ball between the palms of your hands. The ball will be about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter depending on the dog breed if you are making a dog in 1/12 dollhouse scale.
Lay your ball on your felting foam or mat, and start pushing your coarsest needle through the ball to felt it. A #38 needle was used in this example.
Poke the needle through the ball in a straight up and down motion (watch out for your fingers the needles are sharp with jagged edges!) These needles break easily so always work straight up and down. The needles must be pushed in far enough to catch the fibers in the cut edges of the needles, you need to poke more than the tip of the needle through the fiber.
Keep one side of the ball unfelted as you will use this side to felt your head onto the body.
Shape the Muzzle and Forehead
Felting needles work by compacting the fibers you punch the needle through. To begin to shape your miniature dog's head, punch your needle in a straight line across the center of the ball you created in the previous step. You only need to punch this line on one side of the ball, do not go completely around the ball.
As you punch, you will tighten the fibers in this area creating a line between the part of the ball that will become the forehead and the part that will become the muzzle. Don't work this area too much, just get it to the rough shape pictured above. These instructions are for a 1:12 or dollhouse scale dog. If you felt your wool tightly, your dog may be smaller than this scale.
If your breed of dog has a less pronounced forehead or a longer muzzle, make the line across the ball where the base of the eyes meets the muzzle.
Leave some loose fibers on the ball in the area which will become the dog's neck, don't felt the back of the head except to shape it roughly.
Punch your needle around the lower half of your fiber ball to tighten the fibers together to create a muzzle for your miniature dollhouse scale dog. If the muzzle looks too long, punch it on the nose end to shorten it.
The goal is to create a shape which is round at the nose end, and which goes gradually back and broadens out to meet up with the forehead.
As the muzzle gets tighter through felting, you may need to switch to a finer needle. Finer needles have larger numbers, a fine needle is a #40.
Check the measurements of your dog's head with a ruler to make sure the head length and width across the forehead are roughly correct for the dog you are trying to model, in your chosen scale.
Add Ears and Markings
To make ears gather two small 1/4 to half inch balls of fleece in the color you need for your dog's ears. Match them closely for size. See the un-felted fleece beside the dog's head in the photo above, this is how the ears were started.
Punch your needle through each ball or flat group repeatedly on the needle felt mat until the ball has become a matted oval or triangle, depending on the shape you need for your dog's ears. Flip the shape over and felt it from the other side. This will form an ear for your miniature dog. If you want you can add bits of suitably colored fleece or silk to particular parts of the ear to create coat markings that match your real dog's markings. Just gather a bit of colored fleece.
To attach your ears to the head, place the ear in the right spot, and carefully use your needle to punch through the base of the ear and into the head fleece. Be careful not to poke your fingers! Felt the ear securely in place at its base. If it is not facing the correct direction, turn it with your fingers and continue to work the needle through the ear until you are happy with its position.
Make the Dog's Nose
Roll a small ball of black fiber and fix it in place by using the needle on the edges and then punching through into the center of the nose area. The direction you punch your needle in can help to shape lines beneath the dog's nostrils or make a mouth. Punching around the edges of colored patches helps to define the shape of the patch. If you start working your needle in the center, it pulls the patch smaller than you may have intended.
Make the Body Frame
Cut lengths of 3mm or slightly thicker pipe cleaners to create a body frame for your miniature dog. Use a pipe cleaner color which is some shade of the animal you are trying to create.
Measure your model dog's front legs and cut a piece of pipe cleaner at least 1/4 inch longer than double the measurement of the legs in scale. If your dog breed has legs that are much longer in the back, cut a longer piece of pipe cleaner for the back legs. If your dog is a puppy with big floppy feet, make sure you add 1/4 inch or more to the length of the legs to allow for feet that are in scale. (Note: The Jack Russell is this example has scale legs that needed a 2 1/4 inch length of pipe cleaner). Measure the body length of your dog and cut a piece of pipe cleaner twice the length needed for the scale body length, plus 1/4 inch.
To form the body frame, wrap the front leg section around the body section 1/4-inch away from the end of the double body length pipe cleaner. Wrap the back leg section around the body section the correct scale distance away from the front legs. You can use your felted head to check to see if your body proportions are correct. If your head is too big for the proper scale you can felt it more to make it smaller. If your head is too small for your body, you may have to start on a new head.
When you have the legs in the correct positions on your body, twist the free half of your pipe cleaner for the body frame over the point where the back legs join the body and continue twisting it around the body and front legs up to the 1/4 inch you left for the neck.
Add a Base Coat of Fiber to the Body
Pull out some of your roving (fiber) strands and roll them lightly to create a thread similar to a fine knitting yarn. This doesn't need to be any particular thickness or length. Use the color that matches the undercoat of your dog's fur.
Start by running a bit of this 'thread' straight down the bottom 1/4 inch of the leg and over the bottom end of the pipe cleaner. Wrap around the pipe cleaner from the bottom of the leg up, wrapping around your starting thread to hold it in place. Wrap all legs the same way.
Use a slightly thicker set of strands to wrap the body (unless you are making a very thin dog, like a greyhound).
You don't need to have your dog body frame in a standing or sitting pose to do this, you can flatten it out to make the wrapping easier to do.
Begin Needle Felting the Body
Lay your body frame out flat on the felting mat or foam, and use your coarsest needle to felt along the sides of the wire frame on either side of the miniature dog body and legs. When both sides of the wire are felted, flip the body over and felt it on the opposite side.
Carefully felt around the legs and body, being careful not to poke yourself with the needle. You will need to felt the areas on top of the wire as well as along the edges, make sure you don't push your needle in so hard that it breaks on the wire.
Your goal is to make a fairly even coat firmly fixed on the wire of the frame, you can add extra shaping later.
When the basic body is fairly tightly felted, especially on the lower legs, proceed to the next step, fixing the head to the body.
Attach the Head to the Body
Place your dog's head just above the front legs, with the soft unfelted neck area lying along the body. Try to divide the unfelted fibers at the back of the head so that some of them are on the chest area of the dog and others lay along the dog's back.
Use a coarse felting needle to work the head and body fibers together to felt the head in place. Check that the length of your neck is correct for your particular dog. Remember that as you use the felting needles you can make the neck shorter or thinner. Make sure the neck is in the correct position for the way the dog will hold it's head.
You can stop felting when the head is securely in place. Check the measurements of the dog to check that it is still within the correct size for the particular dog in your chosen miniature scale.
Make and Attach the Tail
To make an appropriate tail for your miniature dog, take some of your roving fiber and roll it into a cylinder the correct thickness for an appropriate tail. Don't worry about the tail being too long, you will need extra fiber on the end to felt the tail to the dog's body.
Needlefelt the tail to the correct shape. If your dog has a tail with long fur carried upright above its body, felt the tail to the correct shape and length for the fur support, and lightly felt longer fibers into the main shape to create the long-haired tail. If your dog has a thin rope of a tail, needlefelt a very thin tail, adding long fibers to the end of the dog's tail is trimmed so that the skin is visible before an end pouf.
The small roll of fibers that's beside the dog's back legs is the same size as we used to start felting the black tail. White fibers are used above as they photograph better against the foam felting pad.
When you have shaped your tail to the correct stiffness and shape, use your felting needle to join the tail to the body by felting through the loose fibers at the end of the tail. If your fibers are too long, trim them to a better length for attaching the tail.
Be careful how you needle felt the tail to the body if your tail is a different color from the body, the fibers can blend and form a patch. To make a clean join, work your needle carefully up and down around the base of the tail.
Add Final Shaping to the Body
Check the body of your needle felted dog against your model or photo. Check to see how deep and how wide the dog's chest is, how its belly is shaped, and how the dog's rear and the top of the back legs are shaped.
Sculpt the dog's body to the correct shape by needle felting in balls or patches of roving fiber to create the correct body and leg shape for your particular dog. When the shape is correct, add any coat markings to your dog, by felting in patches of fiber in the correct color, shaping them by folding over fiber edges, or working along the lines of the shape then folding excess fibers into the center of the patch and fixing them in place.
If your dog has a longer coat, carefully needlefelt on longer fibers beginning on the lower edge of the dog's sides, needle felting the longer coat fibers in place just where they join the dog's body at the root of the hairs. When you have the sides complete, lay the longer coat over the dog's back and felt down the middle to mark the spine and fix the coat fibers on either side. Needlefelt fibers for a longer coat across the dog's chest, face, or legs if necessary, beginning with the bottom layer.
Trim the Coat
When your dog's body and head are the correct shapes, and the long fur coat or correct markings are felted in place, use a pair of sharp scissors to trim away any fibers that are in the wrong place. You can use a toothbrush to gently align the coat fibers before you trim. For a dog which has a longer coat, or longer fur on its muzzle, legs, tail or head, trim the coat to length just like you are giving the dog a trim or a haircut.
Check your dog for bare spots and go back and add fur where necessary. If you want parts of the coat to be lighter or darker, blend the appropriate stands of fibers together by drawing them through your fingers and adding thin layers to your dog's coat.
Bend and appropriate bit of each rear leg forward to form the back paws. Bend the base of the front legs forward to form the front paws. Felt extra fiber onto the paws to make them denser and to cover the ends of the wire if necessary.
There are a number of ways to add eyes to the face of your miniature needle felted dog. 2mm glass eyes on wire stems were used in the dog shown above. You could sew or glue on appropriate-sized beads (black works well) or felt black or brown eyes in place on the dog's face using bits of embroidery thread or roving fiber. If you use a shiny fiber like silk, the eyes will have a soft glow.
How to Add Them
To insert wire-mounted glass eyes, cut the wire in half if the eyes are mounted on either end of the same wire. Insert the eye through the dog's head in the correct spot, aiming the wire so that it comes out near the base of the dog's neck. Pull the wire very tightly with a pair of tweezers, pulling the eye deeply into the dog's head, and clip it to a length slightly longer than where it emerges from the dog's head (about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch longer, depending on the size of your dog's head).
Bend the wire to a tight bend and feed the end back into the dog's head, just beside where it came out near the neck. The loop of wire should hold the eye in place in the dog's body. As you push the loop into the dog's head, the eyes should move back to the correct depth in the head. If not, adjust the loop or the length of the wire until your eyes fit correctly into the dog's head.
If the dog will be handled by young children, use felted eyes rather than wire stemmed eyes which could come loose and injure a child.
Set the Pose and Add Finishing Details
To finish your miniature dog, bend the legs, body or head into an appropriate pose. The dogs don't have to remain always in the same pose, the flexible wire body allows you to shape them ready to jump into laps, curl up on sofas, or prance down the street on a leash.
If your dog's head won't stay at the angle you want, use a felting needle to pull it into position by felting along the 'inside fold' line where you want the head to bend. If you need a tail in an upright or lowered position or need the ears to be in a listening pose, you can adjust their position by needle felting the base of the tail or ears as necessary.
Make A Collar and Lead
The pictured Jack Russell has a collar made from a very thin bit of ribbon, using a scale buckle from Rio Rondo Enterprises Model Horse supplies, who have appropriate scale buckles for 1:6, 1:12, and sometimes 1:24 scale. They also carry scale snaps and hooks which can be used to make leads or leashes from ribbon or narrow strips of leather.
A number of dollhouse makers carry dressmaking supplies, which include miniature buckles as well. You can also make appropriate buckles by bending wire or cutting a tiny buckle from heavy aluminum foil, or lightweight brass.
Adding a Hanger To Make A Dog Ornament
If you set your dog in a sitting position you can add a hanger made from fine thread to turn your dog into a hanging ornament. Try attaching the thread to a collar, or sew it through the back of your dog at the correct balance point. If you set your dog on a cushion you can also attach a hanging thread to either side of the cushion in order to hang your dog from a tree or display.