Have you ever wondered if you need to have a wire armature when needle felting?
In art, an armature is an underlying, unseen, supporting component (usually of wood or metal) for something else.
I taught myself to needle felt by trial and error and had to learn the hard way about many things. The biggest mistake I made early on is giving all my relatives my first needle felted sculptures as gifts. I was incredibly proud of them and it was so fun to give them, but . . . . looking back . . . . they’re not that amazing, kind of embarrassing really. I want to fix them up every time I see them displayed in their homes. Thankfully time and practice has improved my felting abilities and techniques.
The most important thing I learned from that experience is that my sculptures legs gave out over time. Their little legs were completely splayed out the next time I came to visit. I had felted them firmly but they couldn’t stay standing forever without something to stabilize them.
I had felted a dog for my brother for Christmas. He was made to look just like my brothers dog and was one of the gifts I was extremely proud of. I found he wasn’t even able to stand on his own the next time I came to visit. I took him home with plans to fix him.
When I got home I found some baling wire out in the shop that I thought would work nicely. I sharpened up one end of a piece of wire and stabbed it into the bottom of one of his paws. With some frustration I managed to get the wire all the way up one leg and into the body. Now getting the wire to turn and go neatly down through the other leg wasn’t as easy. It didn’t work. I ended up cutting off the leg, threading it onto the wire and reattaching it to the body. I noticed right then and there that it wasn’t very fun needle felting with a wire hidden in the wool.
After this experience I noticed some talk on felting forums and social media about wire armatures. I learned after investigating further that it was quite common for an entire wire armature be made of the body before felting. I knew right away that this was something I wanted to avoid! My little experience with felting around wire was not pleasant at all.
The only reasons I could find for felting over a wire armature were; it helped to have a basic shape to start on and that the sculptures could be posable. I knew already that my sculptures were posable enough the way they were. They were very solid, but you could still move their heads and arms and have them stay in different positions. Trying to make the shape of an animal out of wire sounded like way more work than it was worth to me. I had only experienced problems in the legs of my animals and that is how I determined to only use wire where it was needed.
I still use balling wire. 🙂 When the body is very solid and I am ready to add the legs, I go for the wire. I cut a piece of wire, longer than I think I will need, make a point on one end with wire cutters and stab it through the body. I cut them the right length later when I can see how long they need to be. I attach roving at the top of the leg and wrap it around the wire, felting here and there. When there is enough wool on the leg to work with I start adding the detail. It requires some patience to felt around wire, but at least I only have to deal with it on the legs.
I only use wire when needed, not all my animals need wire in their legs, such as the elephants, bunnies etc. The Romney wool that I use felts very densely and stays dense as long as it is felted very firmly.
Do I want my sculptures to be posable?
I work very hard on the details and unique structure of each animal so having them stay in the shape that I made them is very important to me. If my sculptures were to be displayed in any way other than the majestic and proud way I had made them would take away from me as an artist. For this I am thankful they are not posable. I have been around farm animals my entire life, the way an animal is standing lets you know about their overall health.
I have been asked many times about wire armatures and this is my answer. This is how I make my sculptures. If you like working with armatures that is wonderful, if you have found a way to make felting with wire easier that is even better. I know there are many different techniques in felting and as long as they are working keep using them.
In the end, do you need an armature when needle felting? Yes and No. If wire in the legs is armature, yes. 🙂
If you would like to learn more about my needle felting techniques along with detailed video tutorials on every step of the sculpture including working with wire in the legs, you will want to check out my Needle Felting Academy. The Academy is an online community where you can learn advanced needle felting skills through video courses and have fellowship with needle felting artists all over the world. Learn all my techniques and chat with me in the forums. I would love to have you join us! Start making sculptures with detailed realistic legs today!