Needling for Newbies - a series of tutorials for people goofy enough to use wicked sharp barbed needles to create soft lovely felt stuff from sheep fleece .
Some of the things I've made by jabbing sheep fleece with barbed needles:
Want to see more examples? click here.
Needle felting is relatively easy and many people can achieve a nice product.
HOWEVER - There is a risk of injury to self or others. The needles are loooong, barbed and extremely sharp - will really tear flesh. Kind of like a multi fanged fish hook without the bend.
To make felt, the needle is jammed repeatedly into the fleece, thus endangering fingers is a real risk.
It is important to find a quiet work space where one can focus and remain attentive while felting. Being bashed with a ball, bumped by someone roughhousing, or having a young child or pet grab the needle can lead to disaster and Pain.
Store felting needles with the tip covered or stuck in a wool ball in a closed box or canister; out of reach of young children and pets.
Still want to try it? Here is what you will need:
one will do but two is grand
36 or 38 gauge -- the workhorses -- bigger of the two (needles get smaller in diameter as the number gets bigger)
40 gauge -- the finisher -- takes forever to make a project with this fine needle, however it leaves a smoother surface- so great to use at the end to fine finish the project
The odd, unfriendly to hold, shape is due to these being industrial needles. Manufactured to fit into huge many needled looms that pound into fiber to create commercial felt. Fiber artists began using the loom needles for hand feltmaking in the early 1970s.
Some people find the skinny needle tops difficult to hold and make handles out of corks, clay or tape. Personally, I use them as is when single needling. These days a number of needle holders are available:
These are ones I own, hand turned wooden holders. Some similar ones are available through Mielkes' Fiber Arts. There are also longer ones, more pencil like, I just never felt the need to try them as I like using the plain needle for detail work. Some commercial needle holders may also be available in your local craft store.
***Wool fiber for felting Wool Batt and wool roving
Wool batt is lightly processed sheep fleece - it has been washed and carded. It is rolled off the carding drum and packaged. (Batts from woolen mills usually come in huge big rolls - are mostly used inside quilts and comforters, also for inside of futons, and for wet and dry felt making). Lovely large natural ivory/white batt is available locally from Bemidji Woolen Mills.
There are now smaller personal use carding machines and some people are making and selling smaller batts on sites such as Etsy and Zibbet. Some are natural colors, some are hand dyed by the sellers. Specialty fiber shops such as Mielkes' Fiber Arts and Outback Fibers are great sources for batt and roving.
Usually wool batt felts well, fairly quickly, and gives a firm tight felt
Roving - the next step up the fiber chain. Roving develops from a lengthy carding process; the drum keeps circling until the fibers run straight and lay in large wrist thick strands on the carding drum. Roving is easier to handle and dye than batt, so you will find it in many colors. Roving is used to spin yarn - so if you know a spinner find out where they get their roving or see if you can get some odds and ends of roving from them.
There are good felting rovings and poor felting rovings.
Romney roving from Mielke Fiber Art Farms is very consistent. It felts firmly with medium level of effort, works up fast with the workhorse needle (38) and will look best if surface is finished with the smaller size needle (40) if a smooth surface appearance is desired.
*** caution: Avoid superwash roving - I know because this is what is available in my town - I was so excited roving was locally available- alas- It turns out it has been treated with a process called superwash to make it washable and keep it from shrinking. The spinners like it, because they can spin it easily and then when they knit things, the item can be laundered easily with no shrinking. However, the superwash calms down the natural scales on the shafts and those scales are what make the wool fiber felt well.
Wool YarnWool yarn can be used for details, wrapping, etc. Incorporating wool yarn in needle felting is a great way to use up scraps and bits. Tapestry yarn, Needle point yarn, Crewel yarn, single spun, twisted, handspun -- look for 100% wool. The more loosely spun, the easier it is to incorporate into a needle felted item.
Foam cushion or pillow for work surface
At least 1 inch thick, 2 inches is better. Identify a work space at a table with plenty of room for the cushion on top of the table.
Felting needles are fairly brittle. Needles break easily if twisted when poking into the felting piece or if hit on a solid object -like the table top. The foam work top makes the work safer and easier.
Cookie Cutter or Play Dough Form
Definition of carding, roving and picture of carding drum
Ayala Talpai "The Felting Needle: from Factory to Fantasy, second ed 2001; published by Diligence Woodwork & Design, ISBN # 0-9706453-0-9
all about needles - a great description many sizes and types of needles, plus how, when, why of using each one