Project: Gerald the owl

Tosh calls everything Gerald.  It saves time, although the same cannot be said for confusion.  Thus, our first project for you is Gerald the Owl.  As time goes on, you may detect a theme…

Not high art, but he'll do.

Not high art, but he’ll do.

Gerald the Owl was my first ever needle felting project, subsequently inflicted on a friend as a gift.  Despite never stabbing wool in anger before, it was fairly easy to get something resembling one of those naive art owls which are so popular at the moment.  He’s definitely not high art, but I’ve got to tell you that needle felting is fabulous for de-stressing, and I plan to continue.

First, we’ll take a look at necessary and optional materials and tools.

A selection of the materials used in this project.

A selection of the materials used in this project.

  • Wool
  • Felting needle
  • Foam or polystyrene block
  • Backing felt and extra fluff for stuffing, if you like
  • Card and pretty paper if you want to turn your Gerald into a greetings card

Gerald is roughly 6 cm tall (or just under 2.5 inches) including ear tufts.  Lightly stuffed, he took less than 10 grams (under one-third of an ounce) of “Merino wool tops” in five different colours: white, burgundy, gold, leaf green, brown and black.  He would also work well in fewer colours.  A needle felting starter kit should contain enough wool for you to make an owl and several other projects.

Ouch! OK, I’m just being silly (and I only had pink paint), but you get the point… Felting needles are like a mini harpoons.

Felting needles, shown above right and far right, are amazingly sharp.  You can get safety needles which have a sprung guard.  The wooden needle holders are often cheap and easy to use, plus it’s very simple to change the needles if you break them.  The long pen-like needle is by Clover, and although it costs a little more, I like how easy it is to use.

Foam blocks are cheap, but lots of people use an offcut of insulation polystyrene, which you may already have at home.  There are also brushes which don’t have the disadvantages of the other options.  I have a foam block which saves you from stabbing yourself, but also gets nibbled away as you stab.  I now use an old T-Shirt stretched over the foam, which preserves it better.

Getting started:

Fiskars-tulipYou can either draw a template on card, or you can cheat, like I did.  You could work freehand, but I didn’t trust my ability not to get carried away – Gerald could very likely have ended up the size of the Eiffel Tower.  Hallelujah!  I already had a Fiskars cutting template meant for card making.  The tulip shape looked about right for what I wanted, but not the middle petal.

If you want to use a cheap wool felt backing (the type usually made of polyester which you can get for pennies in any craft shop), lay that down on the mat first, then lay the template on top.  You could tape your template down (onto the backing or direct to the mat).

Fluff explosion!

Fluff explosion!

Now tease out some wool, make a light roll of it (e.g. around a few fingers) to get it under control, and lay it in the template. It will fluff out all over the place to begin with, but you just have to stab it down until it makes a mat.  Go around the edges first to tame it.  I made a white wool base first, which stuck to the mat rather firmly, but if you are felting your chosen colours onto a wool backing, you can pick it up and move it from time to time to see that it doesn’t stick so badly (yep, first mistake, but it still worked out).  In the version here, I am using an old T-Shirt to protect the mat and could cut out a section to remain stuck to the owl, if I want the added strength.


I’m holding the needle awkwardly so that you can see. The important thing is to stab and pull out the needle at the same angle. If you twist it, you will bend or break the needle.

Now stab over the entire surface area.  You can add more wisps of wool if it looks thin anywhere.

Once you have a base, you can add more layers or shapes.  I added the mulberry colour next, but didn’t worry too much about shaping the tummy, as I simply added an extra half moon of white on top to create a decent edge.  I initially laid on the gold wool eye background as an oval, stabbing around the edge in all but the top middle, which I pulled down into shape before jabbing it into its permanent place.

Next, you need to make a couple of very small black circles.  Simple ball up a pinch of black and stab it lightly into shape on another area of your mat.  Don’t overdo it – if there is no fluffiness left, you won’t be able to felt it onto Gerald.  I know – my first eye was hard enough to play marbles with and simply fell off.  Place the black circles onto the gold background and stab away.


Just checking – I’ve removed the template to see how the edges look and whether I need to tidy it up (I do).

The beak is done in the same way.  Roll a tiny sausage to form the beak, and felt it lightly on its own before transferring to Gerald.  If you can, just stab the top part down so that he has a bit of beak poking out.

At this point, you still have a flat owl.  You can either add a backing and stuff with extra wool to give him a slightly rounded appearance, or just leave him as he is.  I wanted him to be rounded, so I peeled Gerald off the foam mat and laid a piece of cheap polyester felt (oh, the shame) onto the mat.  I placed Gerald back on top with a bit of fluff between him and the backing, then felted (stabbed) around the edges.

I peeled him off the mat once again and trimmed off any loose bits of wool to give him a tidy edge.

As I wanted to use my owl as a greetings card picture, I glued some handmade paper onto a plain card, and stuck Gerald on.

And here he is:

At last!  Now I can send him to my friend.

At last! Now I can send him to my friend.


About Musician Poodle

Freelance writer, translator and musician living in Germany.

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