How To: Felt Mobile

Anna's February Jumpstart Project 2009

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Title:Felt Mobile
Name: Anna M.
Time: 6 hours for design; 3 hours for assembly with a 2-week wait in between for parts
Cost: $30

Anna used an online laser cutting service to bring her idea to life. Click above for pics, below for the how-to and be sure to give Anna a THUMBS UP if you find this project helpful....

Scanned images or original drawing
Computer drawing package (I used inkscape,which is open source)
Shapes cut out of 3mm thick felt (
Waxed cotton thread in assorted colors (bead store)
Bamboo stake (garden center or hardware store)
Fine-toothed saw to cut the stake to length & sandpaper to smooth the edges (hardware store)
An illustrated guide to knot tying (your local library; I used “Knots: a complete Guide” Lindsey Philpott. New Holland Publishers, London. 2004)

Bird silhouettes are such a classic mobile design that I was somewhat astounded that I couldn’t find one for my daughters room (but then, I do live in the sticks). Rather than do many different birds, I decided to show one bird in several different poses. The fantail is a common forest and park bird in New Zealand. As it flits about catching insects, it opens and closes its large, fan-like tail; thus creating a variety of strikingly different silhouettes.

Phase One: Design If, like me, you can’t draw, scan illustrations out of field guides and then trace the outlines in a computer drawing package. Spend a good bit of time simplifying your outlines - smooth, bold shapes with just one or two sharp details work best. Consider using both positive (bird outline) and negative (cut the bird out of a simple geometric shape) pieces. Print out your design on heavy paper and make a prototype to make sure the pieces will hang the way you expect them to.

Phase Two: Order Parts Once you’re happy with your design upload it to ponoko (or ask a friend if you can borrow their laser cutter) and order however many copies you want.

Phase Three: Assembly
1. The parts arrived with a strong odor of singed hair (go figure!) - I washed them like a wool sweater and hung them out to dry in a lingerie bag (to avoid clothespin dents in the shapes). Apparently dry cleaning works too.
2. Cut the bamboo pole into lengths. As a start, make each level 1/2 to 2/3 the length of the pole it’s tied to, then tweak so it looks right.
3. Lay out your pieces & the poles on a flat surface. Fiddle around until you have a pleasing arrangement of lengths, colors and textures.
4. Attach the pieces to the poles using whatever knots strike your fancy. I used a “knife lanyard knot” to tie the thread to the felt and a “boom hitch” to connect the felt to the poles. So far, they seem to be holding quite well.

Design Notes:
1. When I first started I thought I wanted to make it out of wood, so it would be durable. Fortunately I did a prototype in cardboard and realized that lighter is better when it comes to mobiles.
2. The $10 shipping and handling fee charged by ponoko was a big part of the cost. If I were doing it again, I’d spread my shapes over a couple of pieces of felt and use the “leftovers” as trivets, or make soft puzzles out of them or something.

I used Ponoko [] - which is basically a laser cutter for hire - to cut my design into felt. This allowed me to use much more delicate shapes than I would have if I were trying to make them myself.

Give Anna a THUMBS UP if you find this project helpful....


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Janel Laban is the Executive Editor of Apartment Therapy and has been working here, at the dreamiest of dream jobs, since March 2006.