What is needle felting?
Needle felting is a wonderfully therapeutic and versatile craft that allows you to create any number of shapes and designs using just felting needles, a felting mat, and wool. Also known as fibre art, the technique can be used to create incredibly lifelike 3D sculptures, as well as 2D designs on the surface of fabric. Beginners will find that they can quickly master the technique - but be warned, it’s highly addictive! So what do you need to know to get started? Read on to discover our top tips for beginner needle felters!
How does needle felting work?
Needle felting uses a long, thin needle which has a series of notches at its tip. When you poke this needle into and out of the wool, these notches tangle the fibres of the wool together, and as you felt, the wool will start to feel firmer, and will shrink in size.
You can also use reverse felting needles, whose notches face the opposite direction, meaning that when you poke the needle in and out of your wool, it pulls the fibres apart, creating a fantastic ‘fluffy’ effect!
Those needles look sharp - how can I avoid stabbing myself?
Felting needles are very sharp! Work slowly and carefully, always felt onto a needle felting mat, and make sure that you can see your fingers as you poke. We recommend concentrating fully and mindfully on your felting, to avoid unnecessary jabbing! (You can read more about the benefits of mindful crafting here.)
It’s also important to make sure that you insert and remove the needle from the wool at the same angle, and don't wist or bend it as you felt to avoid breaking it. You can use a single needle on its own for finer details, or tape two or three needles together to achieve a quicker result over a larger area. Alternatively, we love to use this ‘Pen Style’ Needle Felting Tool!
There are many different kinds of felting needles available. When you first begin needle felting you will find that a medium-gauge needle will enable you to create a wide array of shapes, but as you become a more experienced felter, you might wish to use more specialised needles to achieve new textures and finer details in your work - learn more in our guide to felting needles here.
Do felting needles ever become blunt?
If you’re as addicted to needle felting as we are, your needles will eventually go blunt! With practice you will begin to ‘feel’ when you need to change them, but as a general rule, when your stabbing no longer results in your wool becoming smaller and denser, it’s time to change needles!
How should I dispose of blunt needles?
We like to keep our blunt needles, and use them to hold wool in place or manoeuvre it as we felt. If you are unable to recycle your needles, wrap a little tape around the end before you dispose of them.
How do I form shapes?
To form rounded shapes, it’s important to keep the felt moving on your mat as you work, to avoid attaching it. For example, to create a ball, roll up a piece of wool tightly, and begin to poke it all over, turning it occasionally so that it gets poked evenly on all sides. Add thin, flat pieces of wool all over to make the ball bigger. Keep working until there are no loose fibres and you have a nice even shape. You can adapt this technique to create other shapes, such as cylinders or egg shapes - a top tip is to try sketching the shape that you'd like to achieve before you start! To ensure your piece can stand upright, firmly and evenly poke its base until it's flat.
White wool is usually more economical than other shades of felting wool, so it’s a good idea to use it to form the core of your project, then cover it with your chosen colour to form the top surface. You can also keep all of your leftover scraps of wool, even bits that have been felted, as these can be reused for creating project ‘cores’ - as you're covering your project with other wool it doesn’t matter that it’s multicoloured underneath!
To make small or flat pieces like ears, spread the wool thinly across your mat and poke it to start forming a shape - remember to lift it and turn it so it doesn’t stick to the mat! Fold the edges in and needle them to make triangular or oval shapes. Leave any joining edges wispy and loose. You can also cut shapes out of felt fabric, and cover them with a thin layer of felting wool, again leaving a fluffy edge to attach the piece to the body of your work!
How do I add details?
Once your work begins to feel ‘crunchy’ as you stab, you can begin to add finer details, using ‘wefts’ of wool pulled away from the main piece of your wool roving, or even smaller ‘wisps’. Please note that felting wool goes a long way - always start by using less than you think you need, as it’s easier to add more wool than to remove it! You can tidy the surface of your felting by carefully trimming it all over using sharp snips or embroidery scissors.
You can also add details to your work using components, such as eyes, or whiskers. You might find it easiest to insert eyes by first making a hole using a tool called an awl (or a blunt felting needle), plus a small dab of glue to hold them in place. Our favourite thing to use for whiskers is natural bristles from a paint brush, cut down to size!
Finally, you can also add shading to your work using pigments such as blusher or eyeshadow, or chalk pastels, which we love to use. You can even use a misting of hairspray to help ‘set’ your work!
Is it possible to ‘over-felt’ my work?
When felting, you’re aiming for a finish that is firm enough to keep its shape, but still has some ‘squishiness’. In our experience it’s very difficult to ‘over-felt’ your work, so keep going until you’re happy with the result!
Remember, every finished piece is unique, so the most important thing is to enjoy the process of making, and have fun as you go!
Interested in trying needle felting? Why not start with one of our award-winning beginner-friendly kits, which include everything you need to get started?!
We hope you love needle felting as much as we do, and we'd love it if you could share your creations with us - find us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, & Twitter! And if you're enjoying our blog posts, you can join our mailing list to receive every new post straight to your inbox!