Birds of a felt: This #CreativeConservation challenge will keep the birds around all winter long!

Felted American golfinch (Photo by NCC)

Felted American golfinch (Photo by NCC)

November 12, 2013 | by Quincin Chan

Last summer, to celebrate the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC’s) 50th anniversary, all staff got to spend time in nature for a few days and work on a project of arts or craft. For my Time for Nature project, I decided to make felt birds of Canada and then take photos of them in nature settings. I had worked for NCC for about a year then, and through work, I was exposed to birds of all colours that rely on different habitats.

During the week that I spent in Chapeau, Quebec, I made some cardinals, a pair of tree swallows, a yellow warbler, some sparrows, humming birds, owls and a western bluebird. Keiran, my friend's three-year-old, acted as my assistant and helped me model these birds on tree branches, shrubs and bird feeders for the photo shoot. Keiran and I had a fabulous time talking about birds and trying to make the birds stand still for the photos. The experience of bonding with nature, with friends and with my creative side during my week in Chapeau was delightful and stimulating. It encouraged me to continue to explore creating things.

Felted eastern bluebird (Photo by NCC)

Felted eastern bluebird (Photo by NCC)

You can felt too!

When I bought a needle felting starter kit five years ago, I had no idea what I was going to do with it. It had been many years since I attempted any form of art or craft since I was never very good at it. I only bought it because I was fascinated by how these loose wool fibers could be shaped into creatures of such different forms. I began experimenting making animals that my frinds like and give them out as gifts.

I've learned through trial and error that other than keeping your fingers away from the needles while felting (you will feel sorry it you poke yourself with these extremely sharp needles), there aren't many rules when it comes to needle felting. I usually start by observing the colour of the wool fibers, rolling them into a ball and randomly poking the wool using the needles until it becomes a firm shape. The more you stab or poke the wool fiber's shape, the firmer it becomes. With the use of your fingers and the needles, the wool can be sculpted into all forms and shapes. 

Through making things I have learned to relax my body and mind and let the material speak to me. Likely because I often see photos of different Canadian wildlife species at work, all of my creations have been animals such as saw whet owl and polar bear.

Birds of a felt how-to instructions (Photo by NCC)

How to make your own felted cardinal

Here are the step-by-step instructions to make a simple cardinal.

  1. Roll the wool fibre into a tighter shape. You can always start with a smaller piece by pulling a strand of wool out. Do not cut the wool!
  2. Place the fiber on top of a sponge or brush. Holding it with one hand, poke the ball of wool with the felting needle. The barbs on the needles help weave the fiber together and tighten up the shape. The more you poke the wool, the firmer it becomes. 
  3. Continue to add layers of fiber on the shape until it becomes the right size. Be careful with the placement of your fingers and keep your eyes on the wool as you felt! It's not funny when you poke yourself with these sharp needles.
  4. Connect pieces together by poking one piece into another. To make the eyes and beak, pull a tiny bit of wool, roll it together with the tip of your fingers and some warm water, and poke the shape into the face. From here, you can decorate the bird or add wings by adding layers of different colour and shapes over top of the body. Keep poking and watch the bird forms in your hands.

Take the Creative Conservation Challenge!

Nature gives us so many inspirations to create. NCC's Creative Conservation Pinterest board also has tonnes of ideas for nature inspired arts. Visit our board to check out some amazing art, and then pick up a paint brush, a camera or a little bit of wool fibers and make something!

Quincin Chan (Photo courtesy of Quincin Chan)

About the Author

Quincin Chan is NCC's manager of digital fundraising technology.

Read more about Quincin Chan.

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