I hear it all the time: “Wow, your needle-felted creations look amazing, I wish I could do that!” Well, guess what — you can! It may look complex, but like any art form, it just takes practice and patience. Some of my students are darn near convinced they’re “not creative” … then they produce an adorable or beautiful sculpture! They just needed a little encouragement and guidance.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. I find that many aspiring fiber artists feel more confident once they get answers to their questions. So, I’ve gathered the questions I hear most about needle felting and answered them below.
Read on to learn the basics of needle felting and hopefully get inspired to start your fiber arts journey.
How do you start needle-felting?
Some arts and crafts require tons of expensive supplies to get started. Not needle felting! All you need is a felting needle, cushion, and some wool.
A felting needle has tiny barbs along it. The barbs come in different patterns, such as “star” or “triangle.” I prefer star needles as they make felting a bit faster.
You can buy your felting needles in various gauges, that is, thicknesses. A higher gauge means a thinner needle. In my experience, sizes 36 and 38 are the most versatile.
Wool comes in many different varieties, depending on where it comes from. We usually use sheep’s wool for needle-felting, but each breed has a distinctive fleece. I find that Romney sheep produce the best wool for felting. It felts quickly and creates a fairly smooth finish.
The felting cushion provides a soft surface for you to work on. As I’ll explain in a moment, felting involves stabbing the wool hundreds of times with the needle. You need a durable yet plush cushion for this! My favorite felting cushions are made of felt themselves. Many people use foam, but this not only dulls your needle but is also a petroleum byproduct. Wool needle-felting cushions are better for both your needle and the planet!
Once you get a bit more experience, you might consider purchasing a multi-needle tool, wire armatures, and other supplies to make needle-felting a bit easier. Some needles have more or fewer barbs in different patterns, which will affect the felt’s final texture and detail. Once you expand your needle collection, you’ll probably want a nifty case to carry them in!
To start, though, all you really need is a basic 36 or 38 star needle, a felting cushion, and some wool — ideally in fun colors!
How does needle felting work?
A felting needle is covered in small barbs that point downward. As you progressively stab the wool, the barbs catch the wool’s tiny fibers and push them down. They get entangled with the other fibers, eventually forming a dense mass. The more you poke the wool, the firmer it becomes.
Because each fiber is covered in hundreds of microscopic scales, they catch on each other. Felting “locks” them together, creating a firm surface. That’s why needle-felting can be used to make relatively strong sculptures!
You generally start with a basic ball, then build onto the shape to form a head, torso, etc. Then, you use your needle to attach the separate parts before adding your final touches.
What are reverse felting needles?
Standard felting needles have barbs that point downward. So when you stab the wool, the fibers get pushed down, but remain in place once you pull out the needle. Reverse felting needles are precisely the opposite. The barbs point upward, so once you stab the wool, you catch the fibers and pull them upward.
This lets you create a fluffy or tufted texture, which is perfect for making fuzzy animal sculptures! You can also use this technique to reveal lower layers of color for a spotted or marbled look. I love felting creatures with unusual coats, so what I’ll do is felt the base color with a standard needle and cover it with another color. Then, I’ll use the reverse needle to blend the colors or create shading.
What type of wool should I choose?
There are different schools of thought, but I strongly prefer Romney wool. It’s durable yet soft, so it withstands all that stabbing yet still creates a smooth surface. It felts down pretty densely, even when dry-felting. (Wet-felting is when you moisten the wool before felting. It’s not my favorite, but it has its benefits.) Romney wool is categorized as “semi-lustrous,” so it felts into a firm plush perfect for everything from snowmen to bunnies!
Many people needle-felt with Merino wool. I’ve used this as well, although I prefer it for wet felting. Merino stays a little springier and poofier. It makes a good fluffy coat for felted creatures such as sheep or kittens. Just keep in mind that it will also stay pliable even after felting. In my opinion, Romney wool is preferable for most dry-felting projects.
When ordering your wool, remember how needle felting works. You’re forcing the fibers to tangle together into a dense mass. So, the overall size of your wool ball will shrink drastically. I find that it usually packs down to about half its original size. Here are some pictures of how much wool I needed compared to the final result.
Do you need to be a certain age or have experience with knitting or crocheting?
You don’t need any existing fiber arts skills to start needle-felting. In fact, I’d say that needle-felting is easier than knitting or crocheting. It’s also suitable for children — as long as they’re old enough to handle a needle safely! Needle-felting is a good exercise for kids to develop hand-eye coordination and express themselves … and practice the art of patience. 😉 Join the Needle Felting Academy and discover a fun family activity!
Have more questions? I have more answers, here!