Needle felting is a fun and addictive craft that involves using special needles to compact wool fibers together into shapes and sculptures. It's easy to learn and you'll be able to create all sorts of fun projects in no time!
On this page, we will take a closer look at what needle felting is, the basic equipment needed to get started, and some tips on how to create your own needle felted projects.
Needle felting is a process that involves using a special needle with barbs on the end to catch and tangle wool fibers together. As the needle enters the wool, it catches the fibers and tangles them together, creating a compacted mass. The wool compacts in the direction you poke the needle, so you can create shapes by varying the angle.
To get started with needle felt, you will need some basic equipment. This includes notched needles, unspun wool fleece, and a surface to work on.
The notched needles vary in length, strength, shape, and the number and position of the notches (also incorrectly known as barbs).
Each has a different job to perform during the process of turning raw wool into needle felt.
The most common are...
It is important to work carefully and avoid accidentally stabbing your fingers or hands with the needle. Some needle felters use finger protectors or leather thimbles to help prevent injuries.
Use longer, thicker needles to begin with as they go further into the wool and catch more fibers.
As the wool tangles together, it gets more difficult to push this needle into it, so change to a finer one. Use the most delicate tips with the notches closer to the point to finish your project by smoothing out the surface and eliminating the "fuzzies".
If you do want a fuzzy effect, you can use a Reverse needle which pulls fibers out of the work to give a fluffy finish.
The needles used for felting were manufactured for industrial machines. This can make them difficult to hold. You may prefer to try out one or more of the handles that are now available which hold single or multiple needles.
The unspun wool fleece comes in different types like short fiber wool or long fiber wool.
Short fiber wool is ideal to start your project as it felts easily and is often cheaper than finer wool. This "core wool" is used for the center of your sculptures. Coarse in texture, the fibers lay in various directions aiding the formation of felt.
This can come in a batt, lifted off the carding machine in a loose sheet or a roving, where the wool has been passed through a cylindrical channel forming a rope.
Long fiber wool is combed (or carded) so that the fibers run in the same direction, making them smooth. Often called tops, a large array of dyed and natural colors are available. If you try to learn how to needle felt with long fibers, you will find it a much more difficult process! They take more time to compact, therefore, are best used for surface work or wet felting.
This is ideal to start your project. It felts easily and is often cheaper than finer wool. This "core wool" is used for the center of your sculptures. Coarse in texture, the fibers lay in various directions aiding the formation of felt.
Sheep's wool varies! Some breeds produce softer fleece than others.
On one end of the scale are the Herdwick sheep, which have a coarse fleece, at the other is the Merino, which has extra soft wool. Each has its own purpose when creating felt.
Other breeds, such as the Wensleydale, have wavy fleeces. This is ideal for creating doll hair or animals with curly locks.
You can felt fibers from other creatures, such as alpaca, camels, angora goats, and rabbits. Even dog fur will work if you blend it with wool.
I do suggest starting with wool though, for its ease of use.
You will also need a surface to work on.
Needle felting needles are delicate and stabbing them through wool onto a hard surface is likely to damage them, so you will need something to cushion the tips as you work.
High-density upholstery foam is a popular choice for a needle felting surface.
You can also buy special needle felting brushes where you work on top of the bristles.
You will soon discover your own preference.
To start your needle felting project, simply scrunch up the wool, place it on the surface, and start stabbing it with the needle. As you do this, the fibers will tangle together and form a compacted mass that you can shape and sculpt. The wool compacts in the direction you poke the needle, so you can create shapes by varying the angle.
It is important to always bring the needle back out at the same angle to avoid breaking the tip.
When creating realistic sculptures, you may find it necessary to mix colors. To do this, you need two paddles or hand carders. These have wire "teeth" which grip hold of the fibers, helping them to align with each other and blend together.
For certain shapes, it is helpful to have something to wrap the wool around before stabbing it. You can use many everyday items you have around the house, such as wooden spoon handles, skewers, toothpicks, or cocktail sticks. You may like to sand wooden items before using them to ensure the wool slides off without catching on any rough sections.
There are some common challenges you might face when starting out with needle felting. and solutions or tips to fix them
If your project has bumps or uneven areas, use a finer needle to smooth the surface. Be gentle and work evenly, focusing on the areas that need more attention. You can also roll the piece between your palms to help even it out.
If you make a mistake and create a hole or over-felt an area, you can add more wool to the spot and gently poke it with the needle to fix it. Use a small amount of wool at first, and add more if needed.
When working on more complex shapes, it can be helpful to break them down into simpler parts and gradually add smaller pieces to build it up using the felting needle.
Needle felting takes time and practice to master, so don't get discouraged if your first projects don't turn out perfectly. Be patient and enjoy the process. Taking breaks and working on smaller projects can help build confidence and prevent burnout.
To succeed at needle felting, it's important to remember that mastery can take time and practice. As you continue to work on your technique, you will improve and be able to create more intricate and detailed projects.
By being aware of these potential challenges and using the suggested tips to overcome them, you'll be well-equipped to tackle your needle felting projects with confidence and success.
With all the necessary materials and equipment at hand, you are ready to embark on a new, addictive form of needlework. Don't blame me if you become addicted though! Make a start with my little needle felted rabbit tutorial.