If you’re just starting out felting then creating a ball shape is probably one of the most important techniques to master. Aside from the fact that felted balls can be used as stand-alone shapes of their owns, such as for beads or baubles, they will also form the basis for almost every head you will ever make. By creating a core wool ball you can then expand in it by adding noses, cheeks, facial structure etc – but you can’t do any of that until you have the ball technique mastered.
It can be tricky making a ball the first few times, especially when you’re still trying to work out where to put your fingers and thumbs in order to keep the fibre in place whilst still avoiding the old needle-through-flesh situation (spoiler alert – you can’t) But with a little practice you’ll soon find that this technique becomes second nature, and before long you’ll be expanding on it and using it to create your own masterpieces. Just remember me when you’re rich, that’s all.
- Start of with a length of fibre – I personally find wool tops to be the easiest to create balls from but balls can be created from carded batts/ rolags too. However, this tutorial will only really work if you’re using wool tops.
2. Place your length of wool on your felting surface, going away from you. Take the ends of the fibre between finger and thumb of both hands.
3. Start rolling the fibres evenly away from yourself. Roll them as tightly as you can, and do this for 3-4 tight turns, making a small tube shape at the end of your fibre section.
4. Fold the left side of your tube into the centre and keep it in place. Again, still keep the fibres as tight together as you can.
5. Now do the same with the right side of the tube, folding it tightly into place.
6. With the two ends still held firmly into the centre, continue rolling the fibre as you did before for two more turns.
7. Felt the stumpy oval firmly at this point, as though it was a finished shape that didn’t have several inches of fibre still poking out one side. You don’t have to felt it to completion at this point, but you want it to be firm and able to hold its shape well – imagine that if you were to let go it wouldn’t unravel like a spool of thread/ slowly start regaining its original form like a woolly T-1000 from Terminator 2.
8. Yes, I know this step is another picture of me felting it – that’s just how serious I am about this step! Also, a triangle 36 needle works best for felting most core wools at this stage, just so you know.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that this is the point where I thought to myself – oh yeah, finger guards! Bet you can’t guess what prompted that!
9. OK, now you want to twist-fold the left edge of your tube so that it is now aligned with the centre of the core wool, facing away from you. This is the point where your shape will stop becoming a tube and will start to become a – well, not a ball yet, but a chubby oval at the very least.
10. You’re now going to start rolling the shape into the rest of the fibre as before, only now the tube is facing up-and-down instead of left-to-right (unless you want a ball shape that is actually tube-shaped, in which case what are you even doing reading this?) Pull the fibre tight as you do this to help compress the tube so that it starts to become squatter and rounder. Roll it a few times.
11. Stabby stabby! Keeping the shape held tightly in place, felt it firmly again as before.
12. It’s hard to see from the picture, but turn the fibre over and felt the underside very firmly – you’re getting very close to making the final shape now, so you want to keep it even all over, as you may have noticed that at this point the word ‘ball’ in a somewhat inaccurate description at best.
13. Now turn it back onto its original side and continue felting, rolling and tucking in the corners until you near the end of your fibre.
14. OK, it’s hard to explain but now, instead of tightly turning the corners in, you’re going to need to pull in the sides of the fibres a little more loosely. It might help to explain that at this point the shape is still quite an uneven ball shape, so pulling in the fibres like this will allow you to control where you distribute them – you want to focus on any areas which are seriously denting the chances of your ball reaching the desired shape.
15. As you can see, I’m now tucking a bit looser all over, turning the ball to ensure that those last few fibres really go to the places that need them the most. Like Batman.
16. Don’t forget to keep turning the ball as you felt (it doesn’t have to be in a uniform direction).
17. As you near the end, keep the fibres tight so you can see the shape of the ball clearly (to work out where needs additional shaping.)
18. Coming to the end of my fibre now, I pick up the ball more to felt it and start turning it in pretty much every direction to start the process of ensuring that every area is felted down in equal measures.
19. The ball has a pretty reliable shape now, although it’s still a bit squishy and, obviously, has a section that is still unfelted (there’s only a small amount of loose fibre there, and it isn’t enough to effect the shape of the ball now no matter where I felt it).
20. Felt in those loose fibres and yes, keep turning it every which way to keep the shape even.
As I come to this stage of the ball I roll it between my two palms. This helps to make sure it’s as even a ball-shape as possible.
Once you have a consistent ball shape it’s advisable that you switch to a 38 gauge needle and keep felting it. Core shapes work better when they are solid (or otherwise any wool added on top will sink into the fibres and distort the shape). So keep stabbing at that ball until it feels hard and firm, but above all else remember to keep turning it evenly or your ball might end up with dips or an unfortunate squashed shape.