Needle felting is a fairly new craft to the world (in comparison to wet felting which is an ancient process) and has become very popular – possibly because you can practically make anything your mind can think up!
How it works...
The needle used during felting causes the fibres of wool to agitate - essentially moved back and forth—until they lock together in a tight bond.
Equipment & how to use it...
There are many different types of needles available to a serious needle felter; triangular, star, reverse, crown and all are available in different sizes which do different jobs. To simplify, the thicker, larger needles work better with coarse wool and for working the core wool into shape, while the thinner, smaller needles work better with fine wool, such as merino and for adding fine detailing.
In my kits I supply 3 different sizes of the triangular needles as these are great for every day projects.
The sharp end of the needles we use to felt have tiny barbs spaced down the working end - the first inch or so of the needle from the tip. These barbs catch the wool fibre as the needle passes through the wool, causing the fibres to tangle and lock together. This is what creates the magic!
It is worth mentioning at this point the multi-needle holders. I use one (and they are available on our website) that can hold up to 8 same size needles although I recommend taking 5 out (keep separate from your other needles then you have spares of the same size for your multi-tool) and using the holder with 3. This makes needling more manageable and it becomes surprisingly more efficient with just the 3 needles and really speeds basic jobs up. I would not recommend using it for finer jobs or detailing though.
The angle you push the needle in is relevant in that whatever angle you like to push the needle in it really should be pulled out at the same angle! So, if you go in at 90° then pull out at 90°. This will really lengthen the life of your needles as twisting (in the model/work) will weaken the fine tip and it may snap off.
Needles do wear out eventually, but it takes a good while. You will know if your project is taking a long time to ‘knit’ together that you may be ready for a new one.
A surface to needle onto is the only other piece of equipment that is necessary. We supply a firm piece of foam in our complete kits. This is 5cm deep (approx 2 ‘’) and 10cm square (approx 6’’). This is plenty big enough to work on when making a model. They don’t last forever but you will be able to make a few models on it. During the workshops I teach I provide people with hessian bags (roughly 25cm by 30cm) filled with rice. I find these have a longer life than the foam and are easier to keep clean, but this is my personal choice. Again the hessian bags are available on our website to buy as an extra or as a replacement for the foam.
Once you have begun the actual process of felting and you are coming to the end of a part (perhaps a core shape?) many people ask – how firm does it need to be? The answer is very! One great tip I have heard is, on one hand press your ring finger to your thumb. Now press the base of your thumb on the inside with your other hands index finger. This is how firm it should be… very firm!
Types of Wool...
Lots of types of wool can be used; natural, dyed carded and merino to name a few. To begin a model, the wool is rolled tightly, (the shape of the roll depends on the actual model you are making). The more tightly you roll the less needling you will have to do!
Core wool is made from different types of wool so even though the texture may vary it will still needle into a basic shape to work on.
So... if you are using core wool to make a base, always begin by pulling it apart and tease out any lumps and bumps in the wool, this helps to smooth it.
Basic Needle Felting...
When beginning a project, first of all pull off a small hank of whichever wool you are using. Lay it on a hard surface, roll it tightly. Without letting it undo, transfer the roll to your foam/hessian then, holding the shape with one hand, needle into the wool with the other. Begin with the largest needle.
Needle right through the shape as you need this base to be good and firm. Don’t needle right into your base though as this is wasting energy on your part!
Once it is firm, start to add wool gradually to build up and create the shape required.
Once you're finished and the core shape has been achieved (if you are making one), begin to add the ‘top coat’. At this stage you don’t need to keep needling as deeply and more deep needling may alter the shape, so just needle lightly into the core wool.
Hope all this helps you and covers most questions. If there is anything else I have missed, feel free to email me and I will do my best to answer!