Tutorial Number Two: Beaks and Claws of Felted Birds

There are many ways to make beaks and claws for needlefelted birds. This is my favorite method.


1. Here are the wire feet of my felted Northern Jacana (and a pencil for scale). So far, I've wrapped the feet in blue embroidery floss (and they look pretty good, if I say so myself), but they are in dire need of a jacana's long, pointed claws.

1. Here are the wire feet of my felted Northern Jacana (and a pencil for scale). So far, I've wrapped the feet in blue embroidery floss (and they look pretty good, if I say so myself), but they are in dire need of a jacana's long, pointed claws.


2. It's time to make some claws from  Sculpey . Roll out a tiny slug shape like so. Try to avoid leaving fingerprints on the roll.

2. It's time to make some claws from Sculpey. Roll out a tiny slug shape like so. Try to avoid leaving fingerprints on the roll.


3. Using an X-ACTO knife (the sharper, the better), cut identical claws from either side of the roll. Saw back and forth a little as you cut; that way, the base of the claws will not flatten. Use the blade to pick up the tiny claws (see how the claw sticks to the blade?), then brush the claws gently onto whatever surface you'll eventually bake them on.

3. Using an X-ACTO knife (the sharper, the better), cut identical claws from either side of the roll. Saw back and forth a little as you cut; that way, the base of the claws will not flatten. Use the blade to pick up the tiny claws (see how the claw sticks to the blade?), then brush the claws gently onto whatever surface you'll eventually bake them on.


4. Roll new points onto the Sculpey cylinder, then cut those claws off and add them gently to your baking surface. Repeat.

4. Roll new points onto the Sculpey cylinder, then cut those claws off and add them gently to your baking surface. Repeat.


5. Someone is getting impatient! 

5. Someone is getting impatient! 


6. Make more claws than you need. I'll only need eight for the jacana, but some claws will bend slightly as I put them on the baking surface, some might have fingerprints, some may be a little too flat, or some may not have a size match. Make extras! You can save the others for something else later on.

6. Make more claws than you need. I'll only need eight for the jacana, but some claws will bend slightly as I put them on the baking surface, some might have fingerprints, some may be a little too flat, or some may not have a size match. Make extras! You can save the others for something else later on.


7. A jacana has very straight claws, but let's say I wanted to make curved ones. I would start with the little slug shape like before, but not cut it all the way through....

7. A jacana has very straight claws, but let's say I wanted to make curved ones. I would start with the little slug shape like before, but not cut it all the way through....


8. Instead, leave them a little attached to each other. The claws want to stick to the X-ACTO blade, so let them. Stroke the claws gently to work a curve into them. Try to do this symmetrically.

8. Instead, leave them a little attached to each other. The claws want to stick to the X-ACTO blade, so let them. Stroke the claws gently to work a curve into them. Try to do this symmetrically.


9. If you have trouble working small, you can make larger claws and cut the bases off after they're baked.

9. If you have trouble working small, you can make larger claws and cut the bases off after they're baked.


10. While the claws bake for 15 minutes at 250 degrees F, I turn my attention to the jacana's face. For now, it's just wool with an armature wire sticking out.  A little history:  I used to make a deep hole in the front of my birds' faces, score the base of the Sculpey beak, and glue it to the wool. This seemed to hold well enough, but I was not sure if the glue might eventually degrade, so I quit putting beaks on this way.  I sometimes make a beak with a wire loop sticking out of the base (my Atlantic Puffin has a beak like this). This kind of beak is attached with a combination of felting and glue, and is very secure. The downside of this method is that sometimes the beak does not flow smoothly into the forehead, or the beak has slight wiggle, and I don't like that.  This jacana has a strange sort of beak (see that weird yellow thing on her forehead?), so the best beak attachment method is to bake the Sculpey directly onto the armature. I like that this method requires no glue and has a more seamless appearance.

10. While the claws bake for 15 minutes at 250 degrees F, I turn my attention to the jacana's face. For now, it's just wool with an armature wire sticking out.

A little history:

I used to make a deep hole in the front of my birds' faces, score the base of the Sculpey beak, and glue it to the wool. This seemed to hold well enough, but I was not sure if the glue might eventually degrade, so I quit putting beaks on this way.

I sometimes make a beak with a wire loop sticking out of the base (my Atlantic Puffin has a beak like this). This kind of beak is attached with a combination of felting and glue, and is very secure. The downside of this method is that sometimes the beak does not flow smoothly into the forehead, or the beak has slight wiggle, and I don't like that.

This jacana has a strange sort of beak (see that weird yellow thing on her forehead?), so the best beak attachment method is to bake the Sculpey directly onto the armature. I like that this method requires no glue and has a more seamless appearance.


11. Place a wad of Sculpey onto the wire, and surround the wire completely. Make sure the wire is not close to the surface anywhere. Push the base gently into the wool so that the Sculpey grips it a bit.

11. Place a wad of Sculpey onto the wire, and surround the wire completely. Make sure the wire is not close to the surface anywhere. Push the base gently into the wool so that the Sculpey grips it a bit.


12. I'm pleased with the general shape of the beak, so I start work on the blue  cere . The small piece to the right is almost the right size. Use your X-ACTO blade to shape and move small pieces, otherwise your massive fingertips will smoosh them or leave prints.

12. I'm pleased with the general shape of the beak, so I start work on the blue cere. The small piece to the right is almost the right size. Use your X-ACTO blade to shape and move small pieces, otherwise your massive fingertips will smoosh them or leave prints.


13. ...Just like I did here! See those fingerprints? They've got to go. Use your blade to smooth them away and shape the beak.

13. ...Just like I did here! See those fingerprints? They've got to go. Use your blade to smooth them away and shape the beak.


14. Keep working on the beak with a tool until it pleases you. Try to keep the wool out of the Sculpey. Make nostril holes with the tip of your blade or with a needle.

14. Keep working on the beak with a tool until it pleases you. Try to keep the wool out of the Sculpey. Make nostril holes with the tip of your blade or with a needle.


15. What's that big blobby thing on a jacana's forehead? I don't know, but I'm going to copy it.

15. What's that big blobby thing on a jacana's forehead? I don't know, but I'm going to copy it.


16. Placement is essential. Use the blade to do this part, just as though it were your own tiny, sharp finger.

16. Placement is essential. Use the blade to do this part, just as though it were your own tiny, sharp finger.


17. Looking good! See how I've worked most of the fingerprints out? If you're still not 100 percent happy with your beak (or if you see some wool stuck in it), don't fret: painting will hide a multitude of sins.

17. Looking good! See how I've worked most of the fingerprints out? If you're still not 100 percent happy with your beak (or if you see some wool stuck in it), don't fret: painting will hide a multitude of sins.


18. Ready to bake! Make sure that all parts are gripping the wool firmly. That way, you won't need glue later.  *Added later* YES, you can totally bake the entire bird in the oven at 250 degrees F.  The first time I baked Sculpey onto wool, I fretted. I wondered if it would catch fire. I had my fire extinguisher ready, but nothing happened. I just don't think 250 degrees is hot enough to ignite (nor even to singe) wool.  That said, individual ovens are variable, so exercise caution and watch your wool in the oven. Do a test and be ready to put out a little fire, if you're nervous.  I've never had an issue with it, though.

18. Ready to bake! Make sure that all parts are gripping the wool firmly. That way, you won't need glue later.

*Added later* YES, you can totally bake the entire bird in the oven at 250 degrees F.

The first time I baked Sculpey onto wool, I fretted. I wondered if it would catch fire. I had my fire extinguisher ready, but nothing happened. I just don't think 250 degrees is hot enough to ignite (nor even to singe) wool.

That said, individual ovens are variable, so exercise caution and watch your wool in the oven. Do a test and be ready to put out a little fire, if you're nervous.

I've never had an issue with it, though.


19. Meanwhile, the claws have finished baking. Now to go through the pile to find the best ones of matching sizes.

19. Meanwhile, the claws have finished baking. Now to go through the pile to find the best ones of matching sizes.


20. I use Superglue to hold my claws in place, sometimes an initial gluing to get them positioned right, then a little more to smooth the transition into the toe. You have to hold each claw in position for about 45 seconds; there's so shortcuts here. Look at the bird from different angles before the glue sets to make sure the claws are not askew.

20. I use Superglue to hold my claws in place, sometimes an initial gluing to get them positioned right, then a little more to smooth the transition into the toe. You have to hold each claw in position for about 45 seconds; there's so shortcuts here. Look at the bird from different angles before the glue sets to make sure the claws are not askew.


21. Go around and attach all the claws. This part is tedious, but the results are worth it!

21. Go around and attach all the claws. This part is tedious, but the results are worth it!


22. You know how I make extra claws? Here are some extra eyes I had lying around. I hold them with needle-nosed pliers so they don't move while I paint them.

22. You know how I make extra claws? Here are some extra eyes I had lying around. I hold them with needle-nosed pliers so they don't move while I paint them.


23. The rest is all painting and gluing. I like acrylic paints. Find images of your bird on Wiki and match the colors as best you can. The toenails are pale blue; so is the cere. The eyes are dark brown. Look at photos of the bird as you place the eyes; putting them in the wrong place can give your bird a weird expression.

23. The rest is all painting and gluing. I like acrylic paints. Find images of your bird on Wiki and match the colors as best you can. The toenails are pale blue; so is the cere. The eyes are dark brown. Look at photos of the bird as you place the eyes; putting them in the wrong place can give your bird a weird expression.


24. The final touches include glossing the eye so it looks shiny and alive. I use  this gloss . Snip off fuzzy wool outliers. Then it's done!

24. The final touches include glossing the eye so it looks shiny and alive. I use this gloss.
Snip off fuzzy wool outliers. Then it's done!




Tutorial Number One: Wet-felting for Needlefelters

When I'm working on a needlefelted sculpture, sometimes I need small, flat, densely-felted pieces. Maybe I need them for feathers, fins, or eyelids.

Today, I need ears for a black cat, so I'll walk you through my process.

 


1. Lay out a very thin layer of wool with the fibers all going the same direction. Make sure there are no obvious gaps in the fibers.  (Look, there's one of  Sarafina Fiber Art 's lanolin bunnies! I'm going to need it for my hands after I use so much dish soap.)

1. Lay out a very thin layer of wool with the fibers all going the same direction. Make sure there are no obvious gaps in the fibers.

(Look, there's one of Sarafina Fiber Art's lanolin bunnies! I'm going to need it for my hands after I use so much dish soap.)


2. Put down another thin layer of wool with the fibers running perpendicular (90 degrees) to the first layer. Crosswise, like this.

2. Put down another thin layer of wool with the fibers running perpendicular (90 degrees) to the first layer. Crosswise, like this.


3. Needlefelt the layers together, poking the needle in at different angles so the two layers are firmly stuck together. Fold the wispy bits sticking off the edge back into the rectangle and needlefelt those in place.

3. Needlefelt the layers together, poking the needle in at different angles so the two layers are firmly stuck together. Fold the wispy bits sticking off the edge back into the rectangle and needlefelt those in place.


4. With great care, slowly slowly slowly peel the flat piece off the base and flip it over. Needlefelt on the other side.

4. With great care, slowly slowly slowly peel the flat piece off the base and flip it over. Needlefelt on the other side.


5. When I needlefelt black creatures, I like to add a little dark-colored wool to the black. It makes the finished black color a little less dull-looking. Here, I added some dark chocolate brown and a little navy blue.

5. When I needlefelt black creatures, I like to add a little dark-colored wool to the black. It makes the finished black color a little less dull-looking. Here, I added some dark chocolate brown and a little navy blue.


6. After flipping and adding layers a few times, hold the piece up to the light to see where it needs density. Holding this up, I could see from its woven appearance that I needed to add a few diagonal layers, so I did.

6. After flipping and adding layers a few times, hold the piece up to the light to see where it needs density. Holding this up, I could see from its woven appearance that I needed to add a few diagonal layers, so I did.


7. This piece is now strong enough to wet felt. Notice how it's a little over three inches wide. That will change.

7. This piece is now strong enough to wet felt. Notice how it's a little over three inches wide. That will change.


8. Gently run hot water over the wool -- as hot as your fingers can stand!

8. Gently run hot water over the wool -- as hot as your fingers can stand!


9. Add some dishsoap (I used Palmolive, but any brand will do) and rub the piece between your hands, gently at first, then with more force. Work up a lot of suds. You will see the shape begin to shrink.

9. Add some dishsoap (I used Palmolive, but any brand will do) and rub the piece between your hands, gently at first, then with more force. Work up a lot of suds. You will see the shape begin to shrink.


10. Turn the water to COLD, then rub the wool under it between your hands. This shocks the wool and locks it together. It feels like the wool is cringing in your hands! Expect rapid shrinkage.

10. Turn the water to COLD, then rub the wool under it between your hands. This shocks the wool and locks it together. It feels like the wool is cringing in your hands! Expect rapid shrinkage.


11. Add more soap (just a couple of drops, each time) and give it the hot water. Then the cold. Then the hot. The last rinse should get all the soap out.

11. Add more soap (just a couple of drops, each time) and give it the hot water. Then the cold. Then the hot. The last rinse should get all the soap out.


12. Daub off most of the water with paper towels, then iron out the rest.

12. Daub off most of the water with paper towels, then iron out the rest.


13. The iron is super hot! I like to use the paper towel as a barrier. You can see some steam coming up, here. Iron until the steam stops.

13. The iron is super hot! I like to use the paper towel as a barrier. You can see some steam coming up, here. Iron until the steam stops.


13. Ta-daaah! The finished piece, ready to be made into cat ears. Notice that it's an inch smaller than it used to be, and very densely felted and smooth.

13. Ta-daaah! The finished piece, ready to be made into cat ears. Notice that it's an inch smaller than it used to be, and very densely felted and smooth.


Now, QUICK, lotion your hands, because they're probably very clean, but so dry they feel crispy. I like to fondle Sarafina's lanolin bunny at this point.

When I cut out the shape I want the cat's ears to be, I'll leave an extra flap for the attachment point. I'll loosen the felt on the flap with a seam-ripper, then needlefelt the ear firmly to the cat's head.