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DIY and Crafts

DIY Felt Trees

I admire handmade toys, and I love being able to watch Harry and Olive play with ones I’ve made.

I love the process of trial and error associated with making things, and I feel less guilt to see toys get RAVAGED by play when I made them myself.

Harry is starting to get into “small-world play” with trains, blocks and animals, and I thought it would be cool to give him some trees like the real ones that surround us.

Thus, in the current theme here where I share things I’ve made with the world, I give you: DIY Felt Trees.

 

It's a tree'd mountain!

 

Another thing to note: I am not particularly creative. I really, really like to make and create, but I need something for inspiration at the very least. These were inspired by these Trees, made by “Papoose Toys”, which you can find at Nest.ca (Link). They are beautiful, handmade, fair trade and much admired. This is merely my own spin on them.

For mine, I envisioned more bifurcations, multiple branches, all with little poms up top, but I went looking for wood with both kids in tow, so I didn’t have the luxury of being picky with perfect wood cuts.

 

DIY felt tree
This one is my fave, it has the biggest base (5.5 cm) and doesn’t fall over easily. I love the look of the bifurcation with the two poms up top.

 

The “Pom”

 

Part of my intrigue came from the “felted-wool” aspect- it’s a new medium for me (aside from at least two accidental laundry incidents I can think of).

Felting is the process by which you cause fibres to “mat” together, and there are different ways of making those fibres “tangle”.

I experimented with both “needle felting” and “wet felting” to make these, and with felting I experienced the most trial and error to make these DIY felt trees. I’ll break down my trial methods as follows:

 

1.) The “Pom-pom Method” was a miserable, soggy failure for the size I needed. It involves lightly rolling ball of wool roving in your hands after dipping it in soapy, hot water.

The weight of the wet wool was too much for me to be able to keep in in a consistent rounded shape while rolling in my palms, and resulted in a lumpy, unevenly felted mess (it was banished to my dryer to join the dryer ball collection)

2.) Needle felting; It’s real satisfying, since you get to stab stuff. It took a long time, however, and I wound up with an item that was not evenly felted, since I had unintentionally stabbed more on one side than another.

This method was the easiest to fix mistakes, you simply get back in there with the needle, and add more roving as needed. It gives the most “foliage-like” texture, and you have the most freedom to create shape variation. When I used a tool with multiple needles to attempt to needle felt faster, I just started breaking needles off, so I can’t recommend that tool personally.

One tree pom by this method took the duration of an entire Netflix movie to complete, and the pom remained fairly floppy when I finally fixed it to its trunk. I thought a soft, fluffy piece of felted wool would be ideal for a toy tree, but it just wound up looking deflated and droopy.

 

Wood train with handmade train tunnel and DIY felt tree
This is a picture designated for a future post about the mountain, but it shows my original needle felted tree. You can see some of the texture, but the wool was too “fluffy” and it would droop when handled. It  would also pick up every single piece of dirt it encountered. It wasn’t my original intent to post about these trees, so I neglected to take more pictures of the process and it’s various results.

 

3.) The “Dryer Ball Method”: My final attempts were with various methods of condensing wool roving and using the dryer to do the actual felting part. The most effective I found was the “Dryer-ball” method. This needed some trial and error to determine how much roving to use in relation to the size of the finished tree-pom, but aside from that this is my recommended method.

It is easy, and requires the least manual work, since the washer and the dryer provides the conditions to felt- so you don’t have to. The poms that came out via this method were the densest, the most stable, but came out with a smooth texture that isn’t very “leafy-tree-esque”.

 

 

In summary:

 

“Pom-pom” method:

Disregard, don’t even try.

Needle-felting:

Pro’s: Mistakes are easy to fix, one can make fun shapes, they have a foliage-like texture, you get to stab stuff.

Con’s: Takes a long time to felt adequately and makes for a “floppy-pom”

“Dryer-Ball” wool roving method:

Pro’s: Not time consuming, other than waiting for the washer and dryer, results in a dense, stable pom.

Con’s: Smooth texture doesn’t resemble natural foliage, you may need to repeat the process with more roving if your pom shrinks more than expected during the felting process.

 

 

There are numerous blogs and Youtube posts out there describing how to make dryer balls, I always try to seek a few different resources. It’s nice to see different perspectives or extra tips, and I’d recommend you do the same. Here is one of the posts I used which lays things out simply: “How to Make Felted Wool Dryer Balls” by Amika at “Shepherd Like a Girl”.

After engaging in some “dryer ball felting”, I removed my poms from the dryer once felted, but still wet. They come out totally round from being compressed in the stocking. Unless you want perfectly round poms, you can roll the felted wool between your hands to create more of a pleasing conical “tree” shape before drying.

 

My
The tree “bouquet” happens to look real nice stored in this bolga basket.

 

The “Trunk”

 

Foraging for wood was easy since we live fairly rural, I just took a hike with two babies and a saw. I took two branches, both from areas where I saw prolific amounts of each tree growing.

As far as the size, I’ll note we have carpet in our house and for that reason I appreciate the beefier wood cuts. They are more stable and less apt to fall over. I found a branch with a number of bifurcations- I find those ones look the coolest because they have two poms perched on top. I’d hoped to have multiple trunks on all my DIY felt trees, but when foraging for wood with two kids, one cannot be too picky.

My favourite tree has a base diameter of 5.5 cm (for your reference) and a bifurcation. The smallest ones that fall over easily have diameters less than 4 cm. I would recommend foraging with measuring tape, and to keep those dimensions in mind, though if you have small diameter wood cuts, you can make them stable by making them shorter. If I made more, I’d default to cuts that have a good-sized base.

I let the wood dry out for a week or so (I should have dried them longer, since I have some cracks, but I ‘kinda like ’em this way). Ill have to watch as they continue to dry to make sure none of the bark cracks and falls off- it would be a choking hazard for baby Olive. If it happens, I’ll likely glue it back on.

 

Lining up the supplies

 

On the topic of things I don’t know much about- keep in mind when foraging for material that not all wood is “toy appropriate”. For example: I’ve gathered from facebook group chatter that cedar is not recommended for toys. It contains a high number of “extractives”. These discourage pests and fungi from settling in the tree and destroying it but also make it unsafe for play.

I am just dorky enough in my resource seeking to have messaged Dr Seri C. Robinson, a professor of wood anatomy at Oregon State University. I was presented with two resources for sourcing the right wood for your projects:

Dr Robinson’s book “Living with Wood: A Guide for Toymakers, Hobbyists, Crafters, and Parents” (Amazon affiliate Link) releases at the end of May 2020, and describes the chemistry and anatomy of wood, supporting why certain species are safe and recommended in some circumstances, and not in others.

Another great resource is  “Wood Education and Safety (toys, furniture, outdoors, etc)” (link to Facebook group). This Facebook group contains a lot of the information contained in “Living With Wood” in the “Files section” of the group, and I’ve found it to be a really good resource for best practices and wood related recommendations. You can post pictures of wood you find and have the admin help identify the species if you are unsure.

 

The Glue

 

I did a ton of reading and comparison, and filled my amazon cart a few times with different cements and adhesives, and ultimately went with a “keep it simple” approach: Hot glue. It is cheap, non toxic, readily available, and it sticks GOOD.

If I tried to pull apart one of my DIY felt trees, the felt fibres would separate and tear from each other before the glue would separate from the felt. It’s strong, simple and negates the need to add any extra hardware or small pieces that may be a choking hazard. I had planned to try something else just to compare, but honestly, I am so content with the result, I have zero desire to try something else.

Use enough glue so you have lots of contact between the pom and trunk, but if you use too much and have glue bulge out the side, let it cool and use a razor blade to cut away the excess. If you wind up with “cobwebby” glue strings, use a blowdryer on hot and they will shrivel away.

 

Harry plays with sorting his trees
I’m not that parent that finds ways to incorporate educational concepts seamlessly, so I was kind of excited when Harry interrupted my picture-taking and decided he was going to “sort all the trees with each colour” I swear this one is in no way staged.

 

  

 

Taking these DIY Felt Trees a step further:

 

As mentioned I’d have liked to find wood with more splits in the “trunk”. I want to see one that has many branches spreading out, with a bunch of “pom” foliage to grace the end of each branch.

Once you have complete poms, you could needle felt fruit shapes or creatures onto the poms, or a birds nest to attach to a branch. Perhaps add a vine hanging down, or some actual leaf shapes? During the felting process, you can use different types of yarn or roving to layer different colours or textures.

Needle felting is incredibly easy, and cheap to get started with, since all you need is wool and felting needles. I was forewarned by a friend to source quality wool roving, and to avoid Amazon for that in particular since there is so much variation in quality. Per my friends experiences, crappy roving takes significantly longer to felt and results in way more frustration.

 

Reflections

 

They could use a bit of a shave in the pictures I’ve taken, but such is life. My DIY felted trees get used every few days and are played with fairly hard at such times. Harry doesn’t set them up as a forest, he likes to make them come crashing down upon his Magnatile houses, or down them across his train tracks to be “towed” off.

Olive just likes someone to set one up so she can knock it over while laughing maniacally.

I could have gotten away with making two or three DIY felt trees, even though I like the aesthetic of having a “full forest”.

Thoughts? Have you made your own DIY felt trees? Send me pictures because I want to see them! I can be found on Instagram @olive_these_harry_days

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“Amazon Associates” is the name of Amazon’s affiliate program. Basically, it’s a way one gets rewarded for sending them traffic that makes them money. If you “click through” someone’s link and make a purchase (on anything!) in the 24 hours following, a fractional percentage of what you pay Amazon for your product is paid out to the blogger (basically). It doesn’t cost the purchaser anything at all, but those few dollars are so very appreciated by the little guys out there working on creating things.

I’m not a career blogger, I do this as a hobby and don’t make an income of much (I made $24 last year off my links, which I still think is pretty cool!). I see any income as a way to theoretically offset my yearly website fees, and I wanted to add this addendum as an “Aaah, I get it” opportunity for those of you that have no idea that THIS IS HOW IT WORKS?! Not just for the purpose of my links either! Find a site or blogger whose work you appreciate, and see if they have any affiliate links you can click through on sites that you would already be buying things for! They’ll be sending you mental hugs every time they see that 30 cent increment show up in their account!

Cheers!

 


 

*Amazon linkage part of “Associates” program, and purchase through linkages provided may divert a small payment to me, at no extra cost to you.

 

 

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