Christmas for the felter can be both a dream and a nightmare. On the one hand you can go nuts with all the creativity – robins and snowmen and penguins, oh my! It’s magical, and there’s nothing like putting your own home made decorations out on the tree.
On the other hand, you’re probably going to be flat out from here on in making felted things for everyone you know.
These little Christmas Gnomes are great, quick projects that are suitable for old hands or beginners alike. You don’t need many supplies and you can customise them, have a little fun with them – make them your own. Unlike many gnome tutorials you might see out there, this one involves felting a ‘hair’ coat over the figures (i.e. felting the fibre onto the body as though you were felting hair onto an animal) but don’t worry if you’ve never tackled this particular technique before as this tutorial will give you step by step instructions on how to do it.
What you will need
You will need:
- Core wool of your choice (I used Exmoor Blueface, which can be purchased from John Arbon Textiles)
- A red toned wool top – carded batts will not work with this tutorial (I used Pomegranate merino/zwartbles blend from John Arbon Textiles, which i must say was absulutely stunning to work with – an absolutely gorgeous colour blend that I have reviewed here.)
- A flesh tone of your choice (I used Apricot Cream NZ carded wool from The Felt Box)
- A white wool top of your choice (again, I used Exmoor Blueface from John Arbon Textiles)
- Felting needles – 36 gauge triangle and 38 gauge (triangle or star)
- Felting mat or brush
- Needle and thread
Pro tip – Most core wools respond best to a 36 gauge triangle needle in the shaping stage, switching to a 38 gauge (triangle or star) to smooth out lumps and create an even surface area. Likewise, a 36 gauge needle is good for anchoring hair into place, switching to a 38 gauge to fully felt it place.
1. Start by making a tube shape for the body with your core wool, approx 3 inches long/ 1.5 inches wide. The final shape should be firm and even, but doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth.
Pro tip – Make the bottom end of your tube as flat as possible at this stage – this will save you frustration later.
2. Next make a ball from core wool for the head, the same width as your tube. Again, this needs to be firm and lump-free but doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth.
3. Sew the ball to the top end of the tube – the easiest and neatest way to do this is to sew up from the bottom of the tube, in through the head, then back down through the shapes.
4. Use your core wool to (neatly) cover over the thread and fill in any dip created by tightening the knot into the wool. Make sure the bottom is flat enough for the whole thing to stand up by itself.
5. Next take your flesh coloured wool and make a small ball for the nose. Make sure one side of the ball is left with loose fibres so that you can felt it to the face.
6. Felt the nose to the centre of the head using a 38 gauge needle. The nose will look like it’s sticking out too prominantly at this stage, but this will be rectified by adding the beard towards the end.
7. Felt more of your flesh colour in a neat circle around the nose, to create part of the face. As some of this colour will be visible in the end model you will need to make it neat and smooth.
8. Put your figure aside at this point and move on to your red top. Gently pull off a section approximately 8 inches long.
Pro tip – As deeper colours can felt into your mat and spoil subsequent projects you may, at this stage, want to switch to a different ‘dark colours only’ mat.
9. You now need to prepare the red top fibres to add to the model. Pull the fibres carefully in half; remove any fibres that come loose from these sections and discard.
10. Keep dividing the fibres into smaller sections until you are finally left with a number of small lengths of fibre, approximately 3 inches long (the lengths must be approx. 1 inch longer than your tube). You don’t need them to be exacly the same length as each other, but they do need to be roughly the same size.
11. Now take one of the small lengths of red fibres and seperate into a number of thin sections, approximately 1 cm wide. You need to make sure the fibres will completely cover the core base so that no white shows through, but avoid making the layer too thick or you may end up with a plumper Santa than you’d like!
You are going to add 2 rows of red fibre – the first one will be level with the top of the tube and the other will be level with the half-way point of the tube. If it helps, you can mark a line as a guard – this will be covered up by the fibre.
12. When you add ‘hair’ to a model you need to work from the bottom to the top. Place your red fibre over the core so that the centre of the fibre is lined up with your half-way mark.
13. Using your 36 needle felt along the width of the fibre using firm, deep pressure. You will find that the ‘spine’ of the fibre sinks into the core fairly deeply. Make sure all of the fibres are felted in relatively securely, then switch to the 38 gauge needle and repeat (as the fibres are very fine, this will help secure into position anything not caught by the 36 gauge).
Pro tip – Gently pull the fibres to test for firmness. Pull away and discard any that come loose and felt down further to reinforce if required.
14. Fold the fibre along the spine, so that both ends are pointing towards the head. Using a 38 gauge needle felt along the spine on the outer side, angling the needle at times so that it is nearly parallel with the core.
15. Fold the wool back the other way and repeat step 14 – this has now doubled-up the thickness of the fibre.
16. Quickly and lightly felt a few jabs down the length of the fibre to help fix it into position (don’t do this too much as you don’t actually want to felt this – you just want to make sure the fibre is flattened slightly and a little more secure).
17. Position another section of fibre next to the first and repeat steps 13 – 16. Continue until the core’s lower half is completely covered.
18. Now repeat steps 13 – 16 around the neckline. Once complete, you can either smooth the red fibres into a point if you want it to be a hanging ornament (fig. 18b), or trim away some of the fibre so that it’s level with the base of the body (if you want it to be a standing figure.)
Pro tip – If you’re cutting off the excess fibres, leave them approx 0.5cm longer than the base to avoid accidentally cutting too much off. When you stand him up you can fan out the fibres slightly so that the whole model is level.
19. Now we’re going to add some hair to your Santa. Take your white coloured top and pull off some sections as you did in steps 9 & 10, making each length approx 2 inches long.
20. Using the technique covered in steps 13 – 16, felt the hair into place by first covering the back half of the head (think Riff Raff from Rocky Horror), then felting a centre parting as in fig. 20. Make sure the wool joins up at the parting.
21. You can keep the hair long at this stage if you like, but I tend to find the white fibres of the hair become indistinct from the white fibres of the beard, so I like to give Santa a little haircut.
22. Felt some more white fibre just under the nose, using the hair techniques above. The length of the beard is up to you, but make sure any core wool still visible on the face is covered.
23. I’ve given Father Christmas a beard trim, but this is an optional step. If you do decide to keep it long, make sure that it doesn’t trail down further than his body if you want him to be a standing figure.
And there you have it – your very own Christmas Gnome!
The great thing about this design is that not only is it simple, it’s also very versitile. You can make lots of little changes to make these little chaps truly your own – change his height, the size of his nose, the colour of his clothes or the colour of his beard. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not use locks for his hair, like I did to make the Ghost of Christmas Present, below.
I had great fun making these chaps, and I can’t wait for Christmas now so that they can take pride of place on my festive table. I hope you have fun making them too, and If you do I’d love to hear from you.
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