Follow along with this first-time needle felting project to make a miniature needle-felted dog.
Trigger warning: This post discusses pet loss. If that is difficult for you to read, please feel free to skip this one.
It has been a rough couple of weeks for me. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was say goodbye to Maggie, my beloved dog of over 10 years. She had been diagnosed with some major health issues and it reached a point where she no longer had a good quality of life. We are all still adjusting to no longer having her around.
Maggie was a giant rat terrier and the best girl you could imagine. I found her at the Humane Society and instantly fell in love. She was with me longer than I have known my husband.
I often find crafting to be calming and a way for me to work through any issues I may be having. This situation was no exception. I quickly decided to make a needle-felted dog that looked just like Maggie so I could keep her with me in a small way.
Why make needle-felted dogs?
Needle felting dogs is a great way to make any manner of realistic dog breeds.
There are so many different breeds of dog, each with its own unique features. But dog lovers know that each dog is a unique individual. Making a miniature dog out of wool lets you create nearly lifelike dogs. The wool gives a realistic texture, whether you are making a replica of a short-haired breed like Maggie or a long-haired dog. The colors of wool, especially natural wool, can be very similar to the colors you see on many dogs.
As for needle felting itself, it is definitely a fun way to get creative. It is an affordable craft with inexpensive accessories. All you really need are some felting needles, finger guards (so you don’t stab yourself), and some wool. A set of needles and finger guards can be found online for less than $10. Different wools can be found easily online as well. It doesn’t take much wool to make a miniature sculpture, so one variety pack of wool can last you quite a while.
You’ll want a stab-safe surface to work on. If you don’t want to purchase something specifically for this purpose you could easily make one out of items you already have around your house. I think an old towel wrapped around some thick cardboard would work great!
Needle felting is a very versatile craft and you only need a little space to store all the items and work. Then you can make virtually any manner of creatures you can think of!
What you need to make a needle-felted dog
When I first was looking into learning to needle felt I found this beginner needle felting kit from Desert Breeze. It seemed like a good place to start since it comes with all the basics: step-by-step instructions for felting beginners, a mat to work on so you don’t ruin your table, a variety of color-coded needle sizes, finger guards, and a selection of wool colors to work with.
But how do I hold those needles?
The one thing I thought I might want that was not included with this kit was handles for holding the needles. I found this kit that included a handle for one needle or three needles. It also came with additional needles and finger guards. I ended up not using the handles very much. It was just as easy to hold the needles on their own. It was also super fast to switch between the different needle gauges when they weren’t in a holder.
The one thing I did like about the smaller kit was the finger guards. They were made of thinner leather and fit my finger and thumb much more closely than the Desert Breeze set, so I found myself using those finger guards exclusively.
If you are looking to get started with needle felting I would recommend the Desert Breeze kit (not affiliated, I just really liked it). It has everything you need to get started and plenty of wool for lots of projects before you would need to go get more. The quality of the items seemed very good as well.
A few other items
I did use a couple of additional items. Some 16 gauge jewelry wire formed the core of my needle-felted dog. Then I used my set of pliers and snips to shape the wire.
Using wire in the middle of a felted project lets you adjust and reposition parts of the final felted project. You don’t have to use wire to make a needle-felted dog, but I knew I wanted to be able to reposition my mini Maggie from time to time.
I have also seen projects with pipe cleaners in the middle for a similar effect. This may be an easier route to go. The fluff around the wire of the pipe cleaner would give the wool something to hold on to when you first start layering the wool. If you have pipe cleaners already I would definitely give that a try.
The first thing I did was to make a basic shape out of the jewelry wire. First, I made one long piece to go from head to tail. Then I used two shorter pieces to make the front legs and the back legs. I looked at a lot of pictures of Maggie to make sure I got the proportions as close as possible.
One place where I had some difficulty was getting each set of legs positioned so they weren’t moving around too much. I ended up wrapping the leg piece around the body, then wrapping the body piece around each set of legs. The pliers were very useful in getting the two loops as snug as possible.
The first layer
Now is when the actual needle felting starts. Keep in mind, this is my first needle felting project and my technique is far from refined. There was definitely some trial and error.
The basic idea behind needle felting is to get some wool to start locking together (felt) by agitating it with barbed needles. This basically means if you take some loose wool and stab it over and over again with a barbed needle it will get denser and you can start to form a shape.
With the basic shape already determined by the wire, I started to cover all of the wire with a layer of wool. The Desert Breeze kit came with a generous quantity of undyed wool to use for the core of the project. This lets you build up bulk but save specialty colors for the outside of the project where it will actually be seen. Then it just needs to get repeatedly stabbed with a felting needle to work the wool into the desired shape.
The process of getting all of the wire covered was a bit tricky. The legs in particular were fiddly because I knew I didn’t want to add too much bulk in the beginning. So adding a thin layer of wool over the wire and trying to get the felting needle in the wool to felt the fibers together without just stabbing the wire over and over again took some patience. In the end, I was able to get the whole shape covered.
With a more or less even base layer of wool over the whole needle-felted dog shape I started to add extra wool layers to the dog’s head, body, and tops of the legs. This helped get the overall shape right.
This part of the shaping progress went fairly smoothly. Since I already had a layer of wool down I was able to work into wool that was already there. This was much easier than working fresh wool onto the bare wire.
With the overall shape right it was time to add the final details to make the needle-felted dog look just like my Maggie.
Since a lot of her coat matched the color of the core wool I didn’t have to add more color to the entire shape, just where she was black and brown.
I started by making her distinctive ears. With a little bit of black wool on its own, I worked it into a triangular shape with the felting needles. I left a bit of loose wool at the bottom to make it easier to attach to the head.
When I attached the ears this little needle-felted dog started to look just like Maggie. I had to take a break at this point. I was surprised by how much it hit me just seeing those ridiculous ears.
The next morning I was able to come back and finish this project.
I added some simple eyes just by working a tiny bit of black wool into each side of her face with the fine needle. The nose was added in the same way. You could also try using glass eyes to make your sculpture look even more realistic.
Then, while looking at lots of pictures of Maggie, I replicated the pattern of her coat. This was pretty easy to do by just laying the black wool over the places where her coat was black and working it in with the needles.
The last detail I added was pawprints on the bottom of each foot. There was some dark brown wool in the needle felting kit that was just right for this. I worked a small piece of wool into the center of each paw with the smallest needle, then repeated this for each toe pad, placing them around the center pad.
I took a small pair of scissors and trimmed away some of the flyaway pieces of wool and my mini Maggie was done.
Never the same
This little needle-felted dog is obviously no replacement for Maggie. It did give me a place to remember her and think back on all the good times we had.
Even though it is so hard to say goodbye and I still catch myself looking for her, having this little Maggie does bring a bittersweet smile to my face whenever I see it.
Be sure to give your fur babies some extra love. You never know how much time you get to have with them.
Want to see more needle-felt projects? Click here.
What is your favorite pet memory? Let me know in the comments below!