Needle felting tutorial - the basics

Let me begin this tutorial on needle felting by sharing a photo I took during a countryside walk. While strolling, I discovered some sheep's wool in a hedge and put it in my pocket. As I continued walking, the wool began to felt on its own due to warmth and friction.

However, raw wool straight from the sheep isn't suitable for felting. It needs to be cleaned and soaked in soapy water before air-drying.

If you're eager to start, you can purchase processed wool online or get a complete starter kit.

A photo of raw sheep's wool collected on a walkRaw sheep's wool collected on a country walk

We create friction by repeatedly stabbing the wool with specialized needles. This tangles the fibers together without requiring any moisture. Please note that this section does not cover the wet felting technique.

3D needle felting tutorial

The basic 3D shapes for needle feltingThe basic 3D shapes for needle felting

Have you ever wondered how a clump of matted sheep's wool can transform into a 3D sculpture? It may seem like magic to those who haven't tried it, but let me show you how it's done. Check out my previous page on supplies for a list of supplies including different types of needles, wool, and equipment.

In the photo, you'll see three basic shapes - a ball, an egg, and a cylinder - which are essential when creating sculptures without sewing.

Notice how the cylinder on the right has a "fuzzy" section at the top? This helps to attach it to another shape and build up the structure of your model.


Forming a ball

For safety reasons, I've inserted my needle into a wooden handle in the photos below. Trust me, accidentally poking your fingers with one of these can be quite painful! So please, take care.

To begin, grab a thin strip of  core wool and choose a coarse needle.

Beginning to needlefelt wool

Start by taking the wool and rolling it into a ball on your working surface.

Try to tuck in the sides as you go to create a sphere shape. Don't worry if it's not perfect, you can always fine-tune it later. The initial rolling is just to get a rough resemblance of the shape you want to achieve.

Forming a ball of needle felted wool

The next photo shows the wool rolled up and prepared for felting.

Your ball will be soft and squidgy at this point. 

The needles used for felting can be quite sharp, so it's important to keep an eye on your fingers to avoid any accidental injuries.

Ball of wool ready to needle felt

In this tutorial, we will shape wool into a sphere. To achieve this, insert the notched section of the needle into the wool and draw it out in the same direction.

Avoid altering the angle while it is in the wool to prevent breakage 

Keep stabbing and turning the ball after each insertion to make it rounded.

You can also roll it in your palms for shaping and then stab again.

The process takes time; my shape took 10 minutes to create. The aim is to have a firm yet flexible sphere with no soft areas. Avoid making it too hard so that it can be joined with other shapes for your sculpture.

Needle felted ball in progress

Creating egg shapes

Photo showing the direction in which to stab the felted ball

The egg shape is more useful than a ball, serving as the foundation for many sculptures.

To create this shape roll the strip, ensuring you eliminate as much air as possible. When poking your needle, aim towards the center of the egg at each end, resulting in a diagonal angle that tapers the ends and forms an ovoid shape.

Remember, compact the shape by stabbing in the desired direction.

Needle felting cylinders

 When it comes to needle felting animal legs, necks, and tails, cylinders or tubes are the way to go!

To create a cylinder, make sure the strip of wool is slightly wider than the desired length as it will shrink as you work. Imagine shaping an elongated egg, with only the ends tapered. If you plan on attaching the cylinder to another part of your sculpture, leave one or both ends unfinished for easy joining.

Flat shapes

When creating animals through needle felting, some parts like ears and tongues require a flat felt piece. To achieve this, lay your wool on the mat and work on one side before flipping it over to work on the other.

Be cautious when peeling them off as they tend to stick. If you want your animal's ear to have a curl, you can do so while attaching it to the head.

The next step

In this adorable bunny tutorial, I'll show you how to connect different sections seamlessly. Check out the photo to see how each of my students added their own personal touch to their bunny.

Lastly, you'll cover your creation with wool roving or "tops" in the perfect shades.

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