Needle felting is fast becoming a main stream craft. In the 1800’s the first needle punch machine was made to make course felt. In the 1980’s Eleanor Stanwood an American women took some of the needles from a needle punch machine and started to needle felt with a single needle. Eleanor was an artist and discovered with just one needle she could make 3-dimensional sculptural pieces. Needle felting has come a long ways since the 80’s and is very popular due to the simple technique, and little equipment that you need. It is the most portable type of felting, and it does not require water or a large space like wet felting. It can be done on your lap while watching TV or in a car while travelling.
A felting needle, felting mat and roving wool.
It is actually straight from the felting machine which has up to 1,000 needles which are very sharp, barbed blades that tangle fibre into felt with a repetitive jabbing motion. The higher the gauge number the finer the needle with be; 42 very fine, 36 very course. Different needles come with varying numbers of barbs; star, triangle and spiral. The more barbs, the quicker the felting, but less barbs will give you more accuracy with fine detail work.
Triangular Felting Needles – Barbs on 3 sides
32 Gauge – This is the sturdiest needle and good for beginners. Great for big projects and working with course fibres. Helps to firmly attach pieces together, like body parts.
36 Gauge – A good needle for making the bulk of a 3D piece and attaching pieces well. Works well in a 3 x needle holder for quick felting on a big project.
38 Gauge – A good all rounder needle and getting the core felting out of the way quickly. Then you can move onto sculpting with it and does not leave too many holes.
40 Gauge – A fine needle for detail work like doing a face. It also leaves a very neat surface.
42 Gauge – The finest needle for adding hair, tiny wisps of wool to make eyebrows and eye details.
Star Felting Needles – Barbs on 4 sides
36 Gauge – Star needles help to quickly firm courser wools and join pieces together well.
38 Gauge – Similar to the 36 Star but for finer work and finer wools. They work very will for core wool sculpting work before you add the top coat.
Spiral Felting Needles – Barbs that twist around the needle
38 and 40 Gauge – Spiral needle are great as the barbs twist around the end. This needle give a lovey neat finish so is excellent to use when adding top coat. It felts down well without leave holes marks in your project. The 40 gauge is excellent for getting that last fibre to settle into your work.
Reverse Felting Needles
The barbs on these needles pull the fibre out rather than pushing it in, it will create a life-like fur on 3D animals. This is a needle you would use maybe at the end of a project to create a fluffy finish on a well felted piece.
After many years of felting these are my favourite needles. Wild Woolly Heads recommends these to start with and then once you get used to them, explore other needles.
Spiral 36-orange Felts quickly, firmly, no holes
Star 38-blue Good all round needle
Triangle 40-pink Use for fine detail
Reverse Barb-purple Pulls out fibre fluffy finish
Needle holders are great to stop your hand from getting sore and to identify your needles easily. Most needle are bought with no coding or colours which makes it difficult to identify needles while working.
Wild Woolly Heads colour coded set of 4 needle holders make felting easier to identify different gauge needles, and sit comfortably in you hand use like a pen. Perfect for single needle use; 40 for fine work, reverse barb for fluffing, 36 to attach body part, 38 to flatten and smooth work.
Wild Woolly Heads 8 x needle holder is excellent for fast felting the core of your small projects right up to extra large projects. With 8 needles it gets work done quickly to move onto finer details. I use several of these holders with a different number of needle in each of them; one with 2 needles, one with 4 needles, one with 8 needles. This way I have at hand exactly the right number of needles for small, medium or large project without have to change needles over all the time.
When I first started felting I used a piece of upholstery foam but I found it very bouncy and I had to replace it often due to denting. Not eco friendly or sustainable. Now I use my rice bag and wool mat interchangeably and often together; a dog on the rice mat with the wool mat between the legs to get a better angle.
Rice Bag: I started with a rice bag about 10 yrs ago and just love it. The needles go into the bag and never seem too blunt or break. It is made from 100% hessian and calico and completely biodegradable and sustainable. You can bury them in the compost when you are done. I’ve replace my hessian once every 3-4 yrs. You can lay a piece of craft felt or cotton on top of your rice bag to make it last longer, but I don’t bother.
Wool Pad: When I discovered wool mats, and I had to try one and love it equally as much as my rice bag. I like to felt straight onto wool, it has a different feeling to the rice. It does not move like the rice bag so is very good for doing small flat pieces like muzzles, ears, and eyebrows. I also like to it put between my animals legs and other difficult angles where a flat surface use does not work.
All felting surface work the same way. If you are felting down hard, like making ears you would felt a little, turn the wool over, felt a little more, turn the wool over, and continue till the wool is felted to your desire. All felt will stick to the rice bag, wool mat or foam you need to keep turning it over while you work.
I started to do serious craft when I was 5 yrs old. My mum taught me to crochet at that age, and I make a skirt and top that I wore. So I would say it depends on the child as to when you start them, if they have patience, and an interest let them try with supervision.
Felting needles are very sharp so any child will need supervision. I think it is best to start with a simple project that does not take a lot of time. I sell a star and love heart beginners kit that is perfect for children. I’ve had a lot of positive feed back from it. They felt into a stencil of a star or heart shape. It is quick, fun and turns out well with little skill. Perfect to build confident to move on to bigger projects.
To needle felt, you will need; needles, a surface and wool roving.
Like any craft the better your tools and materials are the better the project will turn out. I suggest that you invest in good quality needles, a wool mat or rice bag and corriedale or merino wools to start. Corriedale is perfect to start your project and merino is lovely for the top coat. If you use low quality needles, then use the wrong gauge needle you will get frustrated very quickly. Also the lower the quality the easier they break
There are many different breeds of sheep in the world. More than 70% of the sheep in Australia are pure-bred Merinos, the rest are other pure breeds and crossbred.
Not all wools are good to needle felt with, but some of the best are: Merino, Shetland, lambswool, Corriedale, Romney, and Blue Faced Leicester.
It often depends which country you live in to the availability of wools.
Best to avoid wools blended with man-made materials like polyester or rayon.
Living in Australia I tend to favour Australian and New Zealand wools. My dogs are made from New Zealand corriedale and merino slivers. I find these the best I have ever used and highly recommend them. For core wool I will use an Australian corriedale wool, .
Felted shapes such as flowers, hearts, circles, and stars are easy to make by needle felting. A stencil or cookie cutter can be used to produce shapes with nice, crisp borders.
Here are some terms that are used to explain different wools for needle felting.
Raw Fleece – this is straight off the sheep unwashed, not ready to work with yet.
Scoured Fleece – The raw fleece will contain lanolin, dirt, vegetable matter and chemicals. Scoured fleece is washed fleet that has had all the dirt removed, but kept the lock structure intact.
Batting – Once the raw fleet has been scoured the wool is sent through a picker to remove debris and vegetable matter, and the lock structure is also broken up. It is then carded by hand or on a drum carder. Drum carder has a handle to roll the wool over the drum to card, they can also be electric in the bigger wool mills. Carding removes tangles in wool fibres and creates a continuous web of fibres that can be laid out flat into batting, rolled into rovings, or split into spinning rolls. Batting is generally a flat piece of wool in Australia.
Roving – Roving is similar to batting but is long ropes, instead of flat wide sheets. After scouring, picking, and batting it is brushed into long ropes which is used for needle felting. The fibre in roving and batting is similar a little messy, with shorter fibres, and not combed.
Combed Top – Combing separates out the short fibres using long, metal tines to draw the fibres through. This is great fibre for spinning into yarn or wet felting, however for needle felting it is more difficult to work with as the fibres are longer. It can get confusing as often roving and combed are used interchangeably when they are really different processes.
Prefelt – This is loose wool fabric that is not fully felted. It is made with the same needles as needle felting except on a needle loom machine. Pre-felt differs from typical felt as the loose fibres remain and it is soft and lightly felted, where typical felt is heavily felted. I use prefelt to make pelts for my animals as it is easy to felt the animals coat onto prefelt and then felt that onto a 3D sculpture.
Felt – Is what you get in the end if you keep wet felting, needle felting, or machine felting wool. Felted garments, household goods, wild woolly heads are all felted creations.
Curly locks – Wool curly locks are straight from the sheep, alpaca or another animal. They are gently washed, leaving the original waves and curls in the wool. If I can’t find curly locks that are the right colour I often braid roving wool, wet it, then dry it, and unbraid it to form wavy hair or fur. This gives you creations texture and interest.
I am often asked about ethical practice of farming wool and the cruel practice of mulesing. My advice is to check that any wool you purchase is from a country that doesn’t practice sheep mulesing; a horrible and painful practice used to control fly strike.
New Zealand is the first country in the world to make mulesing illegal. Therefore a lot of my wool come from New Zealand; my Australia suppliers are checked for non-mulesed sheep’s wool.