Wire Armature: Tips, Techniques & How To Wrap Wire
Using armature for needle felted figures adds a whole load of fun to them as it can make them pose-able (waving hello!), it can add strength for otherwise too thin for just wool (such as the legs on a horse), and can be an easier way of making delicate parts, such as fingers, once you get your head around it!
If you are looking for a fun and simple kit to get you into wire armature, I would recommend our 3 mice kit, they are heaps of fun and simple to make, but you will learn a lot of the basic techniques!
Wire armature is so versatile!
In our August 2018 Makerss Box Subscription projects below, the only thing which doesn't have wire armature are the pebbles!
I have loved using wire in the past for jewellery, weaving, sculpture - but when I tried making wire armature when I started needle felting I detested it! Looking back I know I was using the wrong wire, the wrong wool, it was just fiddly and totally unsatisfying! I didn't go back to it for another 4 years! By then I had learned a whole lot more about types of wool and things began to make more sense. The first project I used wire armature in again was the dormouse, below. Now I want to share what I have learned in the hope that it inspires others to try wire armature!
Tools & Materials needed:
Wool – tops/roving (long rope-like strands) such as our amazing
Ryeland lamb are more useful for wrapping needle felt armatures, however, wool batts can also be used, you can tear off long strips. (If buying batts from us we can supply them in long strips – please specify when ordering)
Felting needle – a medium or coarse needle is best for armature shaping, try to use the thickest you can get away with, as if it hits the wire it can get bent or broken.
Which wire should I use?
We get this question a lot and I will be honest - there is no set answer! A lot depends on how big the item is, how heavy it will be, what part you are making (a delicate finger or a structural leg could be quite different wires), and in the end it is down to personal preference. Personally I (Sophie) prefer a more solid structure so tend to go for the thicker wires, and use pliers to help bend into shape, all of which requires a lot of grip and hand strength. Other people prefer a softer and easier to bend wire, or don't like to use pliers.
You will find your own favourites but here are some general tips :
- Generally speaking, the thicker the wire the stronger and less pliable it is. The thinner the wire the softer and easier to bend it is.
- Pliers are very useful for manipulating wire of any thickness, and proper pliers are necessary for the 1.5mm copper and the 1 & 1.25mm steel. A larger and a smaller jewellery pair both with integral wire cutters will set you up well, but if you are only using pipe cleaners, these can even be cut with old scissors.
- Bare wire has no covering so is slippery when trying to wrap with wool - use beeswax balm or wrap with thin paper covered wire, pipe cleaners or masking tape to help the wool stick
- Covered Wire is very useful as it skips the step above!
- Size of project: Smaller animals up to 15cm are usually fine with the extra strong pipe cleaner. The main wires below for creating larger armature are Aluminium (Pliable), Covered Copper (medium-firm), Covered Steel (very firm)
- Gauge: where possible, we have noted the gauge on the product listing, if you are following instructions from others you may also need to match the type of wire as the same gauge in Aluminium and Steel would feel very different! A higher gauge number means a thinner wire. See our table of gauge and equivalents below:
- If you are unsure between two sizes, go for the thinner gauge as it can always be doubled up if not strong enough.
- If you are unsure what to get, we would recommend getting extra strong pipe cleaners, 0.5mm covered Copper wire and 2mm Aluminium. This will give you a good start for most projects, an opportunity to try the different types and you can double up the wires if you need stronger wire. Once you are familiar using these then branch out and try the others.
Creating your armature:
It is best to use a type of wire that will grip the wool (such as our extra strong pipe cleaners), or if just using wire, wrap something such as masking tape around the wire so that the surface is not slippery, or use a little of our Beeswax Balm for grip.
It can help to print out a picture of your chosen animal, or person etc, so you can draw a very basic 'skeleton' over the top - just a circle for the head, then a stick for the spine (& tail), then sticks for the legs and arms. You can lay your wires down over this drawing for reference if you are working at the same size.
When making the legs: for the paws, wrap wool thinly around the wire near the end then fold the end back on itself, and wrap both parts together, that will stop sharp bits poking out.
Depending on the style of armature you are using, it can be helpful to use a doubled up thinner wire instead of one thicker wire when building armature, this helps you to twist bits together easier.
Choosing your wool:
Choose something that has a long fibre, natural coarse-medium combed tops work well but you can use batts too. You can use merino tops but you may find the fibres are slippery and fine and give a 'hairy' look until you are well practiced at keeping them tightly wound. Our Standard Core wool can be torn off the batt in strips (see Wrapping, below), to give a longer piece for wrapping, and has a great elastic spring quality which is great for wrapping armature. For white mice we love our Australian Merino Batts.
If you have loose fibres poking out or they are trying to unwrap themselves (this is usually due to twisted fibres – see above) then you can felt them in using your felting needle.
Using your felting needle on a wire armature:
Hitting the wire with your felting needle can easily break the needle. Felt gently, using as coarse a needle as you can. For very thin legs etc, hold your needle so it is almost parallel with the wire and stab sideways up and down the leg rather than straight into it.
How do I wrap wire?
When wrapping use a thin piece of wool, and try to tear off a piece 'with the grain' of the wool so you get a nice long piece. When wrapping you want to keep the wool flat as though you are trying to wrap a ribbon flat around the wire - do not allow the fibres to twist (it starts to look like a piece of string or rope wrapped around rather than a neat wrap). The best way to stop the fibres twisting is to hold the wool with one hand and wrap the very top of the fibres around the armature, turning the wire armature to get the wool to 'lock on', and continue to turn the armature to wrap it, rather than moving the wool around the wire. You cannot twist the fibres if you use that method.
Wrap all the way to the very last few fibres at the end – these will hold the others in place.
Here is a handy video of how we create the paws for our Large Wire Hare, showing wrapping techniques:
And in this video, we show you how to tease out your fibres to create a long strand of wool, ready to wrap your wire:
Our product recommendations...
You can try all or our wires by buying a wire sample pack.
We also do a sample pack for all of our core wool - all of them are great for wrapping around wire.
Our all time favourite batt for wrapping around wire and for shaping has to be the Lanolin Rich Core Wool. Its high lanolin content it makes it a slightly 'sticky' fibre that is perfect when you are trying to get a grip onto the wire. This grippiness also works when adding layers on top of another.
If you need a little extra help for the wool to 'stick' you can use our Beeswax Balm which adds lovely oils into the fibre and makes them 'sticky' too!
Our wool batts are great for wrapping and we have an extensive selection here.
And finally for smaller project you can get the fibres to attach more easily if you are using our extra strong or luxury pipe cleaners.