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Felted Expressions: Exploring the Therapeutic Applications of Felting Techniques in Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Felting, a versatile and tactile craft that involves transforming loose fibers into a cohesive fabric or object, has been increasingly recognized for its therapeutic benefits in the field of art therapy. Art therapy is a form of therapy that uses art materials and creative processes to help individuals express themselves, process emotions, and improve their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. In this blog post, we will explore how the technique of felting can be used in art therapy sessions in a variety of ways.

Felting has been used for thousands of years to create various functional and decorative items. It is a versatile craft that allows for creativity and expression, and it has gained popularity as a sustainable and eco-friendly way to create textiles and art without the use of chemicals or heavy machinery.

Let’s explore two different processes involved in felting:

  1. Needle felting is a dry felting method that uses special barbed needles to repeatedly stab the fibers, causing them to tangle and interlock. This method allows for more precise control over the felting process and is often used for creating detailed designs, sculptures, and smaller items such as jewelry and accessories.

  1. In wet felting, the fibers are first laid out in layers and then soaked with water and soap. The fibers are then agitated by rubbing, rolling, or pressing, which causes the fibers to mat and interlock. The process continues until the desired level of felting is achieved, and then the fabric is rinsed and shaped into the desired form. Wet felting is often used to create items such as clothing, hats, and home decor.

Additionally, there are several needle felting techniques that can be used in art therapy to create a wide range of felted objects. Some common needle felting techniques that can be applied in art therapy include:

  • Basic Stabbing: This is the most fundamental technique in needle felting, involving repeatedly stabbing the felting needle into the wool fibers to create friction and interlock the fibers. It is used to shape and sculpt the wool into desired forms and create a solid felted object.

  • Layering: Layering involves building up multiple layers of wool fibers on top of each other to create texture, depth, and dimension in the felted object. This technique allows for the creation of complex and intricate designs by adding or blending different colored fibers together.

  • Blending: Blending involves mixing or combining different colors of wool fibers together to create new colors or achieve a gradient effect. This technique allows for the creation of custom color palettes and the exploration of different color combinations in the felted artwork.

  • Detailing: Detailing involves using the felting needle to add fine details or textures to the felted object, such as adding facial features, texture to fur or feathers, or other small details. This technique requires precision and control to create intricate and realistic details in the felted artwork.

  • Embedding: Embedding involves adding other materials, such as beads, fabric, or wire, into the wool fibers while felting to create mixed-media artwork. This technique allows for the incorporation of different textures and materials, adding interest and complexity to the felted object.

The tactile and sensory nature of felting can be used to engage the senses and promote self-awareness. The process of handling wool fibers, wetting them, and manipulating them through felting techniques can help individuals connect with their sensory experiences and sensations, which can be particularly useful for those who may have challenges with sensory processing. Engaging in a tactile and creative process such as needle felting can help individuals to shift their focus away from stressors, reduce anxiety, and experience a sense of flow.

Felting can also serve as a means for individuals to express and process their emotions. Through the creative process of felting, individuals can use colors, textures, and forms to symbolize and externalize their feelings, thoughts, and experiences. The act of felting can provide a safe and non-verbal outlet for emotional expression, allowing individuals to explore and communicate their inner world in a supportive therapeutic environment.

In addition, felting can be used as a mindfulness-based practice in art therapy, promoting relaxation, stress reduction, and self-care. The repetitive, rhythmic motions of felting, such as rubbing or rolling, can be calming and meditative, helping individuals to become present in the moment, practice mindfulness, and connect with their inner selves. The repetitive and rhythmic motion of stabbing the wool fibers with a felting needle can be calming and soothing, promoting relaxation and stress reduction.

Felting in art therapy can be adaptable to the needs and abilities of individuals of all ages and abilities, making it a versatile and inclusive medium for therapeutic interventions. Art therapists may use a variety of felting techniques, materials, and approaches based on the goals and needs of their clients, and may integrate felting with other therapeutic modalities to support the healing and growth process.

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