Monday, 21 January 2013

Needle-felted Koala

Having made the needle felted wombat, I got stuck on Australian fauna for a while and created this cuddly character.  An easy two-colour model, he's lovely as a stress ball or just a furry friend.

You Will Need: grey felting wool, large hunk; white felting wool, smaller hunk.  Sorry I can't be more specific on gram weights, but my hand in the photo should give a good sense of scale.  One felting mat and felting needle; black embroidery or darning thread, large-eyed needle.
If like me you're working on your lap, a bit of rough fabric is a useful way to keep your clothes clean of fluff.

First make an ovoid body, not too highly felted just yet.

Second, create the head - roll half as much wool into another ovoid, and pinch the ends into the realistic koala shape seen here - with two lobed ears.  Heavily felt in between the ears to define their shape. 

Felt a fine wisp over the body and head, joining them together firmly at the neck join.

Add his white tummy :)

Roll a long wisp together to make a leg.  After an initial felting, rub legs and arms between your hands to round them out, before felting some more.

Heavily felt at one end to make feet.

Attach the legs pointing straight up...

...adding the knees when they're attached to the body.  Just fold the leg over and stick the pin straight through his kneecap.

Front legs are very similar...

...but for the added white wool on the inside.  Join them on sticking straight out ready for a hug :)

Add two tiny tufts of white wool, folded in half and felted on the fold, to his ears.
Embroider the nose in long stitches from top to bottom, pulled very lightly taut.  Add two French Knot stitches on top of each other for each eye (for this stitch, see these instructions.) Pass the thread through the back of his head and snip off to finish.  Voila!

If you like you can now give him a little bath, warm water and lots of soap rinsed and squeezed out of him with a towel, and then a little final felting of any rough edges.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Needle-felted Wombat

For my first more ambitious project making a 'real' animal, which was supposed to look like it did in real life, I chose a wombat.  They're called 'furry bricks' in their native Oz, because they are both solid and rectangular - a perfect Simple shape for an animal to be.  They're also endearing to my stepmother, so I knew the finished article would have a good home when he was done.

I purchased the wool from a company in Yorkshire called Wingham Wool (  It smells of sheep - lanolin.  Mmmmm.  Wombat still smells of sheep.

You Will Need: Large wisps dark brown wool, two black beads for eyes, sewing needle and black cotton thread, felting needle and block.

Step 1: select your wool.

Step 2: roll and felt it into an oval shape.

Step 3: add a ball at one end for the head.  To get the stripes on the body going the right way, add a wisp from head-end to tail-end.

Step 4: Heavily felt the join between the body and the head on one side, to make a neck sloping down.

Step 5: make the feet/legs (wombats are so stumpy!) Felt the middle of a large wisp to the body, and roll the ends up into feet.

Step 6: Felt the feet until sturdy rather than wispy.  Use the edge of the block to get purchase.

Step 7: Turning to the head, add two tiny wisps for ears - make a rough folded-over triangle on the block, then shape further as you add them to the head.

 Step 8: Make 'eye sockets' by heavily felting and pinching the sides of the head to give the illusion of bone structure under the fluff.

Step 9: Wet your wombat in warm water and smoosh soap all over him to a) alleviate the sheepy smell and b) set the felting.  Rinse out the soap and squeeze out most of the water, being careful not to get him misshapen when you're done.

Step 10: Sew on little black beads for eyes and make a little down-arrow of nostrils in an oval of backstitch for his nose.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Lighter Christmas Cake

Many people dislike traditional Christmas cake.  It can be stodgy, contains sultanas (which I know at least one boy who hates) and involves marzipan and royal icing, each of which can be problematic in mixed company.  However, Christmas in my father's house would not be Christmas without a cake, and if it is a winter-stodge-cup-of-tea-type cake (which it should be), that means dried fruit.

The following makes a nice tasty round for the main holiday season, and won't burden you until February.  It's light enough to be a 'normal' cake, with enough fruit to satisfy the ardent traditionalists.

Lighter Christmas Cake with Apricot Frangipane

You Will Need: One 24cm cake tin, greaseproof paper and scissors; chopping board and knife; large bowl, wooden spoon; small bowl, cup, teaspoon; saucepan; medium bowl, measuring jug, sieve; food processor or blender, zester/grater, cooling rack, serving plate.

3oz dried apricots (and apricots to decorate)
2oz ground almonds
6oz light brown soft sugar
9oz butter
3oz honey
2oz sultanas
2oz dates (and dates to decorate)
100ml Stones Ginger Wine
4 large eggs
7 1/2 oz self raising flour
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 or 2 oranges

1) Preheat the oven to 180degrees C.  Grease and line the tin with a circle of well-buttered baking parchment.
2) Chop the dates into little pieces.  Soak the sultanas and date pieces in the Stones Ginger Wine.  At this stage, if your apricots are very dry, soak them in water separately.
3) Chop the apricots finely, and mash them in the food processor.  Add 2oz of ground almonds, 2oz of brown sugar, and 2oz of butter.  Mush until combined.  Scoop into a small bowl, and add the yolk of one egg (save the white in a cup for another project).  Mix well and put by.
4) Melt the remaining 4oz sugar and 7oz of butter with the honey in the saucepan.
5) Beat the eggs in the large bowl; add the melted sugary mix in a slow stream, stirring constantly.
6) Strain the ginger wine back into the measuring jug, and put the fruit in the cakemix.  Save the wine, mix the fruit.  Gradually add the flour to the cakemix, along with the spices, and the zest of one of your oranges.
7) Now the fiddly bit.  Slice your orange into 1cm rounds, and turn these 'inside out', peeling off the rind, separating the segments along their sides and joining the ends of the chain to make a 'cog'.  Set these cogs inside each other on the bottom of the tin.  Fill the gaps between the teeth with slivers of date and apricot.

ProTip: Navel oranges will not be as good for this.  Remember that the finished cake will show the underside of the 'cogs' as you see them, so lay dates skin-side down and segments big-side down.  Peel off any excess pith or teeny segments from the middle.  Baby cogs can be made with a few segments; more than one orange is listed in the ingredients so that you can use the best slices from two.

8) Gently spoon over half of the cakemix, followed by the frangipane, then finish with the last of the cakemix.
9) Bake for approximately 1 hour, until a skewer comes clean.  If it starts to brown too much halfway through, give him a tinfoil hat.  Leave to cool in the tin for a good while before turning out.
10) Finish the cake by drizzling with the reserved ginger wine.