Monday, April 6, 2015

Needle Felted Play Mat

My best friend's daughter's birthday is coming up in a few days and I wanted to make her a very special birthday present. She loves fantasy realms with fairies and mermaids and she loves farm life. She also happens to live in Maine, surrounded by a wonderful forest. So I tried to combine all these into one play mat. A simple forest setting with a small garden and open spaces for fairies to play! 

I'm planning to pair this needle felted play mat with a Safari Ltd Fairy Fantasies TOOB, but I haven't quite decided which other TOOB I want to go with it... Safari Ltd has so many that sometimes it's difficult to choose just one! I'm thinking either the Farm TOOB or the North American Wildlife TOOB. I suppose it will also depend on which one Michael's has when I go shopping! :)

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience.

I started with Dimensions Needle Spruce Feltworks Felt and a large cup of tea. I also had my collection of Dimensions wool roving (Multi Color, Earth Tones, and Pastels), Single Needle Felting Tool, Multi-Needle Felting Tool, and my Large Foam Pad. I actually hope to pick up a larger foam pad that fits a 12" by 12" piece of felt, but the 8" by 10" worked fine. I love that the WoolPets foam pad is thick and sturdy, and that really made a difference. And just a side note, I did have to iron the piece of felt, since it came rolled up and had to be smoothed out. It's super easy to iron out the wrinkles though and only took about 5 minutes. Also, a pair of super sharp scissors are absolutely essential when cutting felt and I suggest using Fiskars. I use the 8 inch and 5" Micro-Tip, and they make a world of a difference! I haven't tried Fiskars non-stick scissors yet, but they probably work just as well, if not better, on felt!

I'm a design-as-I-go kind of crafter. I essentially knew what I wanted, but just placed things one at a time until I was satisfied with the design. I would have loved to add a larger river, perhaps even opening into a lake, but I wanted to be sure there was enough room for figures to play!

I used baby blue for the river, then added a slim sandy beach on one side of the river (cream or tan works), a few rocks (dark grey) and a couple bushes (light green, some with hand-rolled berries or flowers). To make the rocks, I rolled the wool roving (kind of like how you roll a yarn ball), and then needle felted the sides down. I angled the edges in for some and needle felted some straight down, for realistic rock appearances. For the bushes, some are somewhat flat, to look like short-growing plants. While others are fluffed up like bushes and only needle felted around the base. I personally love the 3D look of the bushes!

Once the river was finished, I started working on a cave. I used some earthy tones of tans, browns and greens mixed together and layered them onto a half-circle of dark brown felt (the middle layer of the cave - which gives the wool roving something to latch onto and makes it sturdier). I'd have loved to make a completely needle felted play mat, but I'm honestly new to this and still have a lot to learn!

top layer

bottom layer

Once the wool was in place, I needle felted the cave onto the base. I held it open while I pinned the edges down, to make sure the opening was large enough. It's a shallow cave, but plenty big enough for small animal figures. You can even add tan or light brown wool roving to the bottom of the cave, to make it look like dirt. I didn't add any yet, but now I think I will!

Then I worked on creating a garden. I laid down strips of dark brown roving and folded over the ends underneath. The garden is purposely somewhat lumpy to give the look of soil. Originally I was going to add one row of carrots, one row of lettuce... but I couldn't decide what to make for the third row. So I moved on to something else. I created a "fire pit" by swirling a brown piece of wool roving into a round shape and needle felted it down. Then I added a few large rocks around it. I actually added a few more rocks to the fire pit later on.

Then I moved on to the hard part... the hollow tree. It was the most challenging part, but became easier as I figured out how I wanted to do it. I started with a piece of construction paper and cut out a tree pattern. I had to keep in mind that the tree would be in the corner, so the roots had to be a certain size to be stable and still fit. I also cut out a "door" in the front of the tree, so fairies can easily walk inside. Though I didn't add a door, I had thought about it.

For the tree, I layered two pieces of felt. One walnut brown and the other sandstone. I cut the sandstone (inner layer) slightly smaller, because when you stitch the seams, the inner layer would lump up otherwise. And I kind of made the mistake of gluing the two pieces of felt together first. Note to self: Never glue anything about to be needle felted! It actually wasn't that bad, but I'd never do it again. On the upside, the glue happens to be flexible, so while it's stiffer, it's barely effected. I needle felted some dark brown and mixed green roving to the outside of the tree, and cream roving to the inside, which masked some of the brown roving that poked through. The roving also covers up all of the stitching, so you can't even tell it was sewn!

The hollow tree is hopefully wide enough for a small hand to reach into. My daughter tested it out and it fit her hand, so I'm hoping my friend's daughter has a similar size hand. :)

I added some more roving to the top of the tree to mask the inner layer of felt. It's fuzzy, but awesome!

Once the sides were down, I started working on the roots. I needle felted the edges down first, then once it was secure, I started adding wool roving and working into the rest of the roots. It's perfect to create meaningful lumps to make it look more like roots!

Then I moved on to creating the fire for the fire pit. I layered red on the outside, orange in the middle, and yellow in the center. I balled up the bottom and held the top in while I needle felted around the bottom at an angle pointed in. I also poked down into the middle to make sure that was secure too.

And by then I had finally figured out what to do with the third row of vegetables... I created a sort of tomato plant. It didn't come out quite the way I wanted, but it's fine enough. I rolled light green felt into a short column and before the last covering I added small red rolled-up felt balls for tomatoes, then covered it up and needle felted it all in. Next was a large lettuce plant, then an eggplant, and then a spinach plant. Oh, and the row of lettuce turned into a row of zucchini and squash plants.

I really like the fire pit! It was my favorite part to make!

And I really like the garden, though I'll admit that I absolutely need to work on my vegetable making skills. :) I'm pretty sure that before I gift this, I'll "fix" that tomato plant somehow.

I'm hoping the cave and hollow tree create wonderful homes for animals and fairies.

Cute little flower bushes! The flowers are all made using colors she likes.

I also like this rock with little green spots of moss on it!

The ends of the river fold over and in, which gives it the appearance of being a solid part of the play mat.

Then I worked on some logs for the fire pit.

I rolled two shades of brown roving into a log shape, with the darker brown on the outside, and needle felted it together. Then I snipped off the ends!

They also look adorable stacked up! (Am I the only weirdo who thinks felt logs are cute?)

I wanted to show my friend how the play mat came out, so I used a few of our own Safari Ltd figures to pose in some pictures, so she can see what the general size of the play mat is compared to the figures. And just a note, that fox is much bigger than the TOOB figures, since it's part of a different line, but I also wanted to show her how some of the bigger figures compare.

Most of the things look quite big compared to the people figures, but that won't matter with fairies, since they can be any size they want. ;)

So what do you think of my first needle felted play mat? I definitely enjoyed making it and I really look forward to making more of them. I'm hoping to make my next one soon and will stick solely to needle felting (no felt sheets, thread or anything else). Although I really don't mind adding felt sheets, since it's all felt anyway. :)

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