It was also my introduction to needle felting, and the story of Little Brown Bulb and Lady Spring. And it was the first time Suzanne ever came to the Washington DC area, so I count myself incredibly fortunate!
Here are my notes as I wrote them 10 years ago:
all of the work that we did today was geared towards storytelling with the preschool child.
to make a story apron, wet felt a piece of wool about the size of a 12 inch dinner plate -- the size to cover your chest -- make it the colors of the season of your story or create a scene such as a pine tree covered hill. choose a piece of corresponding silk. fasten the silk (a long enough piece to completely cover your lap and knees when you are sitting down) to the felted piece and add ribbons, one to go around your neck and two to tie around your waist.
you can store puppets in the pocket to come out at appropriate times. you can also take a puppet and put it on a bamboo skewer and poke a hole in the bottom of your pocket and rest him inside. then when the puppet comes up (such as the little brown bulb turning into a flower and coming up out of the ground) you can manipulate the stick and the puppet from under the silk, hiding your hands.
if you cannot make an apron, you can simply lay a large piece of silk against you. take one end around your neck and tuck it in the back of your shirt (or your bra strap) and lay the rest down your front. take the left hand side and tuck it under to form a sort of cave on your lap where you can store the puppets and easily bring them out from behind the silk or replace them without disturbing your silk too much.
when your body is the stage, you have to be very careful and deliberate about your movements. place both feet firmly flat on the ground to ground you. hold your back up very tall. keep your knees level. hold the children's attention with your eyes. to begin, look out and all around at them when introducing your story. then as the characters begin to appear always keep your eyes down on your lap, guiding the children that the direction they should be looking is the tableau. and you are also modelling how to be an audience, paying attention, feeling a connection with the characters.
we needle felted a Lady Spring, a little brown bulb, a little flower child, and a small ladybug. this takes a lot of different colors of roving to be successful, the nicest shapes have many different colors layered on top of one another (see examples). Suzanne sells bags of wool which she dyes herself, the type of wool she prefers is from a sheep called Border Leicester which is slighly curly and adheres to itself well. she will be dyeing in April and May. to sign up for her seasonal newsletter and get the Spring news with how to purchase her wool, visit her website http://www.junipertreepuppets.com/School.htm
she told me that she includes many colors as well as some white and measures it by arm-lengths instead of weight. a good sized bag is $20.00 and a bag of white is $15.00. again, you'll want to be on her mailing list for more information.
you will need quite a lot of white but a little (however, of a lot of colors) colored wool. the dry felting needle she uses is an all-purpose needle, which she says she does 90% of her work with, size for this is 38. to make a form for your Lady Spring you will need three pipe cleaners. also, get an unused kitchen sponge for a safe base for your felting -- the needle is sharp!
take your first pipe cleaner and fold in half, then twist about 1/4 way down a circle for the head. so you have a circle and two legs coming down. take the second and fold both ends in towards the middle. make them even. these are the arms. take your arm piece and push it right up under the neck then twist to secure. if you are making a male figure, such as a gnome, you would use this form -- head, two arms, two legs. bend the wire just the littlest bit up at the bottom of each leg to keep it from being sharp. for Lady Spring, and other women with a gown, it's best to have a form to help you achieve that cone shape and to help her be sturdy. take your third pipe cleaner and make it into a circle, keep it proportionate with the rest of your figure, so the two ends of your wire won't meet they will cross and extend about halfway around the circle. you want it to be about the size of the bottom of a drinking glass. again, proportions are everything. either it will look right or it won't. make it the way you like it now because no matter how much wool you add, your form determines your success.
you can also needle-felt around a foam core but for puppetry she recommends the flexibility of a wire shape. you want your Lady Spring to bend down to the bulb to wake him up and to pick him up and carry him off to get his new spring gown.
now you are ready to fill out your shape. I will tell you as best I can but it will sound vague unless you have the project in front of you to guide you -- sorry! take a small ball of wool and roll it in your palms to felt it somewhat with the friction, then place it inside the loop which is your head. then take a short piece of roving -- this is all the white, you are making the form, not decorating it yet -- about the length of your fingertips to your wrist and pull it so it is very open and airy. you should be able to see right through it. all the wool you use will be this way. but you use many many little layers. the interesting thing for me is that you want your wool to very airy but you wrap it so tightly! you really tug the heck out of it. take your pieces and begin to wrap them around the head to make the shape. *** you are making your doll here *** the needle-felting is more for touching up, she calls it "holding". don't think you can make it all loose and thump it down later with the needle. it actually should be wrapped so firmly that the ends don't need to be held down with your fingers. each little piece should hold on its own and the doll's head should be smooth and shapely. just work at it a little piece at a time. use the needle only lightly to adhere before moving on to the next part. to use a felting needle, hold it about half way down -- hold it up to the light so you can see where the end gets sharp -- and the little teeth in it which provide the friction for the felting. you don't want to push it in too deep. keep the sponge under your shape to protect your lap. don't poke yourself! also, when working closely near the wire form, be sure not to push your needle in too deep and break off the tip.
after forming your head, wrap your arms. again, keep the wool airy but pull it firmly. use your first two fingers in the shape of a rock/paper/scissors game scissors -- grasp the wool between your fingers to keep it fully extended along the arm at all times and wrap around and around. it's easier to do this than to wrap the arm near the body, then the arm near the hand and try to join the two.
make two small balls for the hands and push them over your pipe cleaner ends like little caps, then wrap a little bit around the wrist to secure. felt into place.
next the bodice. criss cross from one shoulder to the opposite hip, wrapping all the way around, then criss cross in the other direction to make a firm X shape. again, pull pull pull. really tug on the wool. it should hold on its own. you need several layers here, as with everything. think about what you are making while you are shaping it. a Mother Earth is more plump and matronly; Lady Spring is a more girlish figure. so don't make her too thick around the middle.
below and slightly overlapping with the bodice make a waist. then begin on the skirt. this takes a while! at first, you are wrapping tightly around your legs and its all flat and you think it will never be the cone shape you want. don't despair. just work at your own pace. slowly it will become more and more. finally wrap a thin layer down over the edge of your pipecleaner skirt form to cover the wire there.
for the costume, here is where the character comes to life. first, in the colors chosen. second, in the accents. you can spend a lot of time working on the details of your doll! for the dress again wrap the bodice first, then the arms, then the waist, then the skirt.
to add hair, pull a piece of wool loosely into an oval. rub briskly between your palms to felt somewhat then attach at the hairline first. loosely so you can move it around some to get it just the way you want it. then arrange the hair and lightly attach.
for flowers, take the smallest possible piece of colored roving. hold together your thumb and forefinger to make a loop and wrap the wool tightly around itself in a little coil, pulling it in and out of the loop -- that is, around and around between the thumb and forefinger. then set your little coil down on your sponge and felt lightly, then attach to your doll. I found this was tricky, when I went to attach it I was just felting the flower more and not really attaching it any. the trick is to keep the edges of your flower (or any accent) loose and go around the perimeter to attach.
keep in mind that unlike the white wool, you need to "fluff" the dyed wool a bit more to get it loose and airy. it is somewhat compacted in the dyeing process.