I’ve had several people ask me if they can make their own felting needle. While it can seem like a small and simple tool, it may not be as easy to make as you might think. A felting needle is not like your regular sewing needle. These needles feature tiny barbs on the tip, unlike sewing needles. They are also typically thicker and longer in size.
A felting needle is specially designed with these sharp curved tips to allow you to easily join and tangle wool fibers. Felting includes stabbing a felting needle into wool fibers to create sculptures and designs of all shapes and sizes. Think stuffed toy, but without the stuffing and sewing. In fact, you can also make flat objects. When the felting needle goes into the fibers, it causes them to lock together. With a typical needle, the fibers are pressed together when it goes in but does not pull back out when the needle comes out. The more you poke the needle in, the firmer your artwork will be.
The hook at the end of the felting needle is what makes the wool become firmly matted together. So, with that being said, a regular sewing needle will not do the job. Even if you try a large sewing needle, and it looks like it’s working in the beginning, the more you felt, you’ll realize it cannot handle the process.
Felting needles are designed in various sizes and shapes. This is because needle felting, like painting, for example, may require different tools for the different levels of the process as well as the different types of artwork. So, you have options to choose from based on your project.
There are star, spiral, and triangular shapes. Each of these come with varying amounts of barbs. In fact, this is how you can identify them differently. The star-shaped needles have four barbs, the triangular ones have three, and the spiral ones have barbs that twist around the end. There are also reversed barb needles. These are made to pull wool out, but not to reverse or pull out your felted project. In fact, it helps to make wool stick out, like hair or fur on your felted animals, for example. So, if you want to make a fuzzy bunny or wooly sheep, these are the perfect tool to use when doing the final touches. They can also be used for blending. What you would do is pull different colors from underneath to blend with outside colors. I like to make my felting pillows with a blend of natural wool colors and these work great.
Felting needles are available in 32, 36, 38, 40 and 42 gauges in size. The higher the number, referred to as the gauge number, the finer the needle and the smaller the barbs. I mainly use 36 and 38 as they work best for our Bear Creek Felting wool and fibers. Of course, you can get finer sizes if you’re working with finer wool.
If you’re new to needle felting, the different types of needles can be a little confusing at first. Just know that they each have their own unique benefit. When selecting a needle, you’ll need the thicker ones with more barbs for bulkier projects and initial shaping, and the finer ones with fewer barbs for fine detailing. I like to use the star-shaped needles because they have more barbs and allow me to felt quickly. But, again, it all depends on what you’re working on.
Even though they are typically thicker than sewing needles, felting needles can be quite delicate. They can break easily if you’re not careful. When working with a felting needle, it is best to poke into your artwork at the same angle as you go in and out. Otherwise, if you twist the needle while you’re working, it will break. If you stab it in too hard as well, it can also break. So, if you find that the needle is not easily going into the wool, don’t force it because it will probably just cause it to break. In this case, if your artwork is not already very firm, either your needle is too dull or you might need to switch to a finer needle.
Sometimes, when you find that the felting process is taking longer than it should be, the issue is with your needle. Your felting needles will become dull over time. And, if you work with wires, like I occasionally do, it can happen much faster.
For all your felting needles, needle holders and all-natural wool, check out our online shop. We have a range of sizes and styles of needles and holders and other supplies to get you going. No matter what type of sculpture you’ll be designing, our favorites are animals, we have wool in various colors as well as sampler kits with everything you would need. If you want to create beautiful felted animals with personality, be sure to join our Bear Creek Felting Academy. We have a host of video courses, making different crafts, and we’ll be having live classes at our Fiber Arts Center after we officially open the Nome Schoolhouse in July!