Sunday, 14 November 2021

Making the leaves

I've been making felt holly leaves this week. Not as many as I would like, as I haven't had a lot of free time, but I am getting faster as I refine the process.

For now, I am just making the plain blue-grey leaves, I'm leaving the more complex style with rust and light green highlights and spangles until I have more experience.

Sticking to the green and silver leaves for now

I started off with two lots of merino felting wool from Molten Designs - black blended with sparkly nylon threads, and a variegated green.

The raw materials

The green is lengths of different coloured wools stranded together.

Cross-section of the green wool, and more accurate colours

I have no idea if the method I'm using to make the leaves is in any way correct, but it works for me. First, I lay one of my leaf patterns onto the plain green felt.

The patterns are taken from the drawing on the toile

Then, holding it in place in the centre and lifting each end one at a time, I mark the central vein line in chalk.

The vein marked in chalk pencil . . .

I twist strands of the pale green wool together with my fingers to make a very loose yarn, and use a single felting needle to secure this over the chalk line. This gives me a marker to work from.

. . . and then felted

Then, I tease out strands of the other greens, and lay them over the felt. I found this duck-egg blue felting wool in my local fabric shop, it's ideal for adding that cooler tinge to the green.

Ready to build up the leaf

Laying out the wool fibres . . .

I use the paper pattern to check that the entire shape is covered.

. . . and checking coverage

And then I felt in the fibres using a felting 'pen', which contains three felting needles.

Partway through felting, and the pen

I continue adding wool until I'm happy with the end result. Then I make another twist, this time from the black wool, and felt it over the green 'yarn' at the centre of the leaf. The embroidered leaves do not have a central vein, but the direction of the stitches creates a similar effect. I found that the black has to be added last, as it gets lost under the other felting otherwise.

Felting complete

I pin the pattern back on, and cut round the shape using my curved blade scissors (possibly the hardest-working tool in my workbox, they were vital for both my Autumn Roses hat and my lace-trimmed slip).

Ready to cut out

The silver stitching along the centre line is done in metallic stranded thread from DMC.

Adding the metallic thread

There's a lot of bits of wool fleece involved, and I've taken to wearing my hatting apron, so that my clothes don't get covered in fluff. To bed in any loose fibres on the leaf, the final step is to steam it and press it with my tailor's clapper.

As is obvious from the pictures above, at first I only had a big enough felting surface to make one leaf at a time. Which was OK, but slow. But then I bought a felting mat from The Crafty Kit Company, and moved to mass (well, six at a time) production.

My felting mat - I actually work with a sheet of felt over it

I had found the sparkly black wool quite tricky to work with, as the nylon threads were difficult to felt. So, I bought some plain black from Molten Designs and blended it with the original, and the increased wool content fixed the problem.

Now with slightly less sparkly veins

Six leaves made at once, just waiting for silver thread

Combined with a red pompom berry, I think the end result works quite well.

Completed leaves


  1. Quite the production! Thank you for sharing how you're doing the holly. Do you think with the felt bits it will add some weight to the bodice; I can't recall if the bodice is lined or has boning.

    1. Ooh, good point, I hadn't even thought about the weight!

      The base felt I'm using is very thin. I checked, and 24 completed leaves weigh 10g, so the number I'm planning to make should weigh a maximum of 70g/2.5 ounces. The velvet is quite sturdy (my local fabric shop usually sells thin stretch velvet, so when I found this remnant with a cotton base, I snapped it up), and the waist stay should help to keep the bodice in place.

      If all else fails, I can add a lining once I've attached the leaves and berries.

    2. It was just a thought; I'm sure that the original with all that embroidery is probably pretty heavy, kind of like a kirtle upper body maybe.

    3. I'm glad you mentioned it - it hadn't even crossed my mind to check.