It's that time of year when texture, character and warmth define the most successful decor. The perfect time for felt.
This season has seen a variety of creative, decorative felt items for table and tree. You'll find it sewn, lasercut, appliqued or otherwise manipulated to create eye-catching fashion accessories, charming toys and sculptures, and chic items for the home.
Or you can try your hand at felt-making and crafting yourself. (More on that later.)
In Portland, Ore., designer Alison Comfort offers a woodsy wonderland of little felt pumpkins, acorns, mushrooms, nests and forest animals — small sculptures that might add charm to a holiday table — at her Etsy.com shop, www.etsy.com/shop/houseofmoss.
"There's something so dear and precious about starting with a natural material in its raw state, using a simple tool and my own hands, and transforming it," she says.
There are guides online for making felt candy canes, but if you aren't crafty and still love the look, consider Land of Nod's delicious-looking versions; here too, round ornaments in felt stripes or gathered layers. All would look cute on a kids' tree. www.landofnod.com
At Crate & Barrel, laser-cut felt placemats with seasonal motifs, felt ball garlands, and a collection of tree ornaments including gingerbread men, Swedish style birds and owls add homespun charm. A felt pillow with appliquéd partridge in a pear tree might make a welcome hostess gift. www.crateandbarrel.com
The nature of felt — soft, pliable and able to take on a variety of colours — makes it terrific for crafting, not only for designers but for creative amateurs.
"Felt is one of my favourite materials. It's an extremely easy material to work with because, unlike most fabrics, it's non-woven, so it won't unravel and doesn't require hemming," says Jodi Levine, designer-at-large for Martha Stewart Living.
April Tatom of Louisville, Ky., sells felting supplies on her website, www.feltorama.com. When she decided to try her hand at appliqued clothing for children and experimented with various fabrics, "I found that nothing matched the lush texture of felt. It just beckons to be touched and adds a cozy dimension to any project. There's no 'right' or 'wrong' side to it. Felt toys are wonderfully tactile for little fingers and visually stimulating for kids of all ages."
For her own kids, Tatom recently completed a felt "picnic" set complete with a lunchmeat-, cheese- and lettuce-filled baguette, and a cookie for dessert. She also recreated one of her son's favourite book characters, Lowly Worm, from Richard Scarry's "Busytown."
Food is a popular subject for felt crafters, often as soft children's toys but sometimes so realistically rendered that it's elevated to something more artful.
Roving, a washed and carded wool with a texture similar to cotton candy, is the basis for many sculpted felt creatures and items. The fiber is pulled into strands that can be formed and poked with fingers or needles into shapes. Many of the animals on Etsy and in stores are crafted this way; it's easy to manipulate roving and no sewing is required. Check out www.livingfelt.com for supplies and kits.
Alternatively, a method called wet felting uses hot, soapy water and agitation to enmesh wool or other fibers so tightly that they cannot be pulled apart.
Additional online sources for wool and wool-blend felt, Levine says, include: www.purlsoho.com, www.achildsdream.com and www.commonwealthfelt.com .
Or you may not have to buy anything at all if a common laundry mishap occurs.
"If you've ever shrunk a wool sweater, scarf or hat, you've created felt," Levine laughs.
Check the closet for sweater castoffs, then machine-wash and dry them on hot settings and get crafting. Projects like pillow covers, patchwork blankets and pouches are on www.marthastewart.com.
In the felting community, that method, which uses yarn rather than roving, is called "fulling."
Martha Stewart's site also has instructions for making little felt mitten clips, mini stockings and mice ornaments, tree skirts and gifts, as well as some easy kids' projects.
Children also might enjoy making little felt animals with EK Success' penguin or snowman craft kits. www.eksuccess.com
For first-time felt crafters, Tatom offers these tips:
— Invest in high-quality felt so it will hold up over time.
— Use a rotary cutter for larger cuts and small embroidery scissors for details. Rotary cutters save time, give precise results, and are also available in scallop and zigzag designs.
— Experiment with different types of felt. Each has benefits: recycled eco-felt (created from recycled bottles), 100 per cent wool felt (rich texture), wool-blend felt (affordable, versatile), bamboo felt (ultra-soft).
— Don't create a machine-washable project without first testing a swatch of the felt in the washer.