Our thanks to Louise Richardson for this great tutorial, which she completed as part of her university studies. She studies BA (Hons) Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent University, and one particular workshop featured feltmaking.
She decided to develop this idea into developing 3D feltmaking, which soon turned into making these adorable little felted pods, designed to house birds in a truly eco-friendly, sustainable way.
Louise used local undyed wool in this project, all purchased from World of Wool, and designed the pods for the resort Centerparcs where she plans to put them up on some trees and watch how the birds interact!
“I love all things designed to be eco-friendly and I am currently working with printmaking in eco friendly ways, but I’m sure I’ll come back to feltmaking at some point as it’s very fun - and surprisingly therapeutic!”
We have put together a 'featured project' kit which contains the main items you will need to make these great felted pods at a discounted price of £12.49. Click the button to buy now!
Cut a selection of circles from your foam, in various sizes. I used a bowl and a plate as templates. Each circle is called a ‘resist’ and stops the sides fusing together!
Boil your kettle. Put a squirt of soap into your water spray bottle. Wait a few minutes for your water to cool down before pouring into the spray bottle; otherwise your bottle will melt! I use an old body spray bottle with a twist lid, but if you don’t have one you can pick these up from good DIY stores. Be sure that the plastic is thick.
Lay out your large plastic bag. This is to protect your surface from getting wet, and it also helps later when we need to flip our birdhouse over.
1. Spray your foam pad with your soapy water solution. This ensure the fibres will temporarily stick to your resist.
2. Gently pull at your wool to create tufts, about as wide as your circle. Be sure to genty pull. If you pull tightly, the fibres won’t budge! I always prefer to pull the tufts as I work; creating hundreds of tufts and piling them up before you begin only gets messy and they can be hard to pick up when yours hands are wet. Also, it is important that the fibres in the tufts stay as straight as possible. Arrange your tufts so they overlap the edge of the circle quite as shown. Make a full circle. You can combine the different types of wool here!
3. Lay more tufts down horizontally!
4. Spray all of the fibres with your hot soapy water solution. Be generous!
5. Place the netting over the project. Use your bubble wrap and make circular motions on the fibres that are on top of the foam resist. Hold down the netting with your other hand, so that it does not bunch up and over-disturb the fibres underneath. For the fibres that are on the outside of the foam, simply press down and pull your bubble wrap in a line, from the circle outwards, see arrows on picture.
6. Lift your netting after about 3 minutes of rubbing. If the fibres are stuck to the foam pad rather than attaching to the netting, you’re ready for the next step! If it all peels apart easily, apply more spray water and continue to rub.
7. This is how your project should look so far!
8. Now you need to flip your project over! Be careful as it may be suctioned to the plastic. Pull by the edges so that you don’t disturb the fibres in the middle!
9. Now spray your entire project with your soapy water solution. Then carefully fold over the overlapped fibres.
10. Spray again and pull some more tufts; place these across once again.
11. Then pull some tufts and arrange them in a circular pattern, just like before.
12. Once again, place some tufts across, and spray generously.
13. Once you have placed down your net and rubbed again, flip over and fold over the tufts. By this point, your project will probably be getting very soapy, but it's all part of the fun, and your hands will be super soft at the end!
14. Now get your twine or string, and cut roughly two metres off. Then tie round as shown.
15. Now repeat the process, layering up tufts twice more of EACH side, before another layer of twine. Then two more layers of tufts on each side, and you’re ready for the easy part! Make sure your pod finishes on a layer of wool fibres.
16. Now, grab your pair of old tights. Open as wide as you can and get right down to the foot. If your project is large, then use the crotch part of the tights. Be sure to tie it up so your project can’t escape! If you want to do some more, you can fill up a whole pair of tights!
17. Now put in the washing machine and run a normal cycle. As this project is designed to be very eco-friendly, please wait until you have some clothes to wash and don’t run a cycle purely for your wool! We use the washing machine because it has the two things we need for a perfect felt – hot water, and friction. Have you ever put a woollen jumper in the wash too hot and its come out as a little felted jumper? That’s because the wool has felted! And that’s why we have to be careful when washing woollen products.
18. Once the washing machine has finished, find your tights and cut the knots to release your work. It is very likely that the fibres will have bonded with parts of the tights, but just pull them off and your little pods will be perfectly fine! Your pods may also be very warped; again do not worry this is normal. This is because the wool fibres have shrunk to become felt, and the foam inside has not! As you can see by the picture, some come out with the twine showing. This is just where the fibres have moved, but it is no problem and adds a little character to the pods!
Now you can prepare your dyestuffs and dye your pods. Wait until you have made a decent amount to do this; I made 15 and dyed 12 of them, 3 at a time with 4 different dyestuffs. I recommend that you keep some of these with their natural un-dyed colour; so select some and keep them to one side.
The beautiful thing about natural dyes, is that the colours will always go together so well. They blend into the natural environment too, for when you hang them outside! For onions, you only want to use the dry crispy skins, so if you can choose your own in the supermarket, choose these ones. Then use the onions in your cooking!
For spinach, the leaves are ready to use as they are!
For beetroot, cut it into little cubes like they’re ready for a salad!
For plums, cut just the skins off! I know this sounds strange but these are the best bits for dyeing – they are best cut into little chunks. Eat the remainders or put on your compost.
Place all the felted pods you want to dye in a large bowl of warm water. It is a good idea to include your embroidery threads at this point. The warm water opens up the pores in the fibres so that they are more likely to take to the dye.
1. Boil your kettle. Fill your large pot with hot water; let this boil, add a tablespoon of salt, and your dyestuffs. You can do all four at the same time, if you have four pots. Don’t put all four dyestuffs in one pan! The salt acts as your mordant; it helps the dye fix to the fibres later.
2. Boil your dyestuffs for approximately 15 minutes.
3. Drain your dyestuffs over a bowl. Pour the dyed water back into the same pan, and put the used dyestuffs into the recycling. It is a good idea to place your chosen felted pods into the bottom of the pan before you pour the dyewater back on, so that they soak up as much water as possible.
4. Leave these to boil for a further fifteen minutes. Be sure to keep the pods the way they are – do not worry about the fact they still have foam inside them, and also be sure to check on your felted pods throughout the process, so that they get good coverage (They will want to float).
5. Remove from the pan carefully. You can pour away your dyewater now. Leave your felted pods to cool a little.
6. When they have cooled down a little, you can then cut a circle in the top carefully. I found the best way to get the first cut was with little scissors, such as embroidery scissors. Then make the circle by using larger scissors, to get through the layers of twine etc.
7. Slice at the foam inside with a craft knife. Then try and pinch and grab the foam, and pull it out carefully without stretching the hole you just cut too much. Your pod will still be very 2D. get your fingers in there and push out into more of a pod shape. Then stuff with newspaper and kitchen towel, even thin tea-towels will work. Stuff them in and leave in the sun to dry!
8. When they are dry, you can use your dyed thread to make a lovely blanket stitch around the hole. This stitch is both decorative and functional! I would recommend the use of a thimble at this point as the felt can be quite tough!
There are a few ways you can choose to hang your bird pods. you can use needle and thread and carefully thread through the back as shown in the picture. You can also make two 4 cm long slits in the back and thread twine through the slits, pull and tie round a tree, being sure to go back through the slits and round the tree a good few times to secure it! You can also make the same ‘hook' through the top of the pod and hang from a branch. Make sure it's out of the way so the pods don’t spin round in the wind all the time!
Your pods can now be hung on nails or tied around trees depending on which hanging method you chose! Tying your pods round trees looks very effective when you have a cluster of 3 or more!
Now stand back and be proud of your eco-friendly make, and watch the little birds come and make their homes in the warmth of your bird pods.