Monday, 6 January 2014

Transfer Paints and Needle Felting

One of my goals for 2014 is to get back into blogging. 2013 was a hectic year and I went from one week to the next trying to keep up with orders and commissions as well as keep up with making stock for fairs and events. I really enjoyed it all but didn't get any time to play around with any new ideas.

This month I plan to take the time to make lots of different background fabrics using wet felting and needle felting techniques as well as my embellisher machine. I also want to look back over some previous makes and rediscover some techniques that I haven't used so much recently. It would be unrealistic to think that I have time to go off in a completely new direction and I don't really want to anyway, I just want to infuse my existing range with new colours and textures and let the creative process take over to see what comes out of it.

Last year during our Open Studios North Fife event I was playing around with Transfer Paints making motifs to needle felt into.
I decided to have a little play around with this idea again last week and take photos as I went along to share here.

I used the copy function on my printer to make a few images of a doodle I had in my sketch book. I took one colour copy and a few black and white. 
I blocked in the background panels using a broad brush and turquoise and purple transfer paints on one of the black and white copies. The paints look really dull on paper but show up much brighter when ironed onto the fabric.
On one of the other copies I painted in the purple areas and the colour copy gave me a guide as to where to paint the green areas and the swirls.

I ironed the image onto synthetic white felt (the smaller piece in the middle below).
The green came out really faint but the whole point was just to give me a guide to needle felt into so it didn't matter how strong the colours came out. The background panels didn't show up very bright at all. What I discovered later is that if you use a hotter iron and press the paper for longer, the colours show up more intensely.

It was fun playing with something that is not intended as a finished piece. It really doesn't matter how things turn out when your experimenting. The whole point is to just let the creative process take over and see what comes out of it. It is also a way of getting to know how new materials work and how they can be used in other projects.

This motif could easily have been drawn out in pen but it wouldn't have been as exact. Using the paints in this way would be good for transferring a composition from a photograph onto fabric ready to needle felt or stitch. Just photocopy your image onto paper (remember to flip it in a photo editing program first if you want it to come out as you see it and not in reverse). Make a few copies and just loosely paint in the scene, iron it onto synthetic fabric and you have an image that you can work into.

I use two different gauges of needles for doing fine detail. The pink Clover needle felting tool can be handy for covering medium sized areas as it takes three normal gauge or fine gauge needles.

I started here by filling in some darker green and purple areas just using merino fibre.

I've used some lighter green and a lovely hand dyed mauve for highlights here.

Introducing a darker turquoise for the stem and filling in the leaves.

Having the motif already on the fabric really makes needling the swirls much easier.
I used small tufts of Corridale worked with a fine gauge needle for the swirls.

I'll probably go round the edges of the motif with machine stitch and add some hand stitching with thicker threads to add highlights.

My second motif worked slightly better I think. 
I'm way out of my comfort zone with these colours but the background panels worked better on this piece. You could really go mad with the background and make it fabulous before needling on the detail.

The real benefit of having the motif to work into instead of doing it free hand from your head is that you can start working tufts of fibre into the leaf area quite randomly, fill in the bulk of it quickly then neatly go around the edge. I decided to work the base fibre over the whole leaf then go back and add the contrasting colour 'free hand'.

For the swirls this time I used some hand spun yarn. It's so easy to needle it on, following the line of the pattern. For a finished piece I would probably add some couching stitches to secure everything in place but not so many as to obscure the lovely variation in colours of the yarn.

The smaller swirls will require some very fine yarn and I will use French knots for the dots. I will also work on the leaves more to get better definition and add hand stitch and beads to finish it off.

I'm aware that I haven't really been using the Transfer Paints to their full advantage here as most of the colour is hidden under the felt. Also the paints have to be ironed onto synthetic fabric which limits their use for me so I bought a Transfer Pen on ebay and I'm delighted that it works onto my own handmade felt!

I did this quick experiment using a basic motif onto a piece of felt I already had made.

You can see that the design shows up quite well and a gives a good template to work into.

I needle felted some vibrant turquoise merino fibre into the petal shapes and machine stitched around them to give definition.

I also needle felted the swirls but used satin stitch over the lilac one. I'd have to get better at doing this if I was to make finished pieces using this method.

You can see that there are lots of possibilities though. If you are planning a needle felted picture but find getting the proportions right, then using the transfer pen to get your composition onto the felt first will really help.


  1. Really enjoyed watching the process Aileen. Yes, we shouldn't forget to include time to be creative.

  2. You are so right about needing time to 'play' - it always leads to other ideas. Lovely post to read, thank you. Felt is a nightmare to 'draw' on, so it's interesting to learn about the transfer pen. I really like the final flower and what a fantastic colour combo.

    1. The pen is proving really useful Lyn. My 8 year old daughter transferred a lovely design from a book onto plain white commercial felt and it gave her a clear outline to work into.

  3. Lovely work Aileen and it's really interesting to follow the process .... and the colours are just gorgeous. Happy New Year to you and the family xx

    1. Thanks Fil. All the best to you and Tom too. Hope to see you along the way x

  4. Love the contrast of that turquoise flower with the background felt :) I'd never heard of a transfer pen before...

    1. Thanks Cath. It has been fun playing around with this although I used too hot an iron on the rest of that lovely pink felt and burnt it :(

  5. wow, this is fascinating! Thanks for such an informative post.

  6. Thanks for the talk through with those paints and pen. Will have to get the pen as it seems a most useful tool to add to the craft pile.


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