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Felt Alive's Guide To Needle Felting & Supplies

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Needle Felting? Getting Started Supplies Felting Needles Wool Felting Pads Instructions

 

Needle Felting?

What is needle felting? 

 

Using a single, barbed needle borrowed from commercial felting machines, wool fibers are tangled and compacted by repeatedly jabbing the needle into the fibers, forming three-dimensional felt sculptures bound only by one’s imagination.  In contrast to traditional felt making methods that use water and friction, needle felting is also known as dry felting. 

 

Sculptural Needle Felting is just  the coolest thing!  First of all the medium is wool...  Let's thank the sheep for growing such amazing fiber. I really have a hard time describing the feeling of creating with wool.  It must be the organic nature of it that appeals to me; the luster,  the smell, the feel... it really is wondrous stuff.  The quiet crunching sound that the barbed needle makes as it pokes in and out of the wool is quite soothing.  But the greatest thing of all is the moment that lustrous pile of fluff transforms into a character full of charisma and charm. 

 

The needles used for needle felting were not designed for hand crafting - they are designed for industry.  At the turn of the 20th century, machines with beds of these barbed needles were invented to tangle fibers into felt fabric.  These machines are still being used today to make industrial felt out of a wide variety of fibers.  The next time you open the trunk of your car, you will know the thick liner was made with felting needles. 

 

It wasn't until the 1980's that an innovative fiber artist, Eleanor Stanwood, considered the use of single industrial felting needles as a means to sculpt wool into 3 dimensional shapes.  The story I heard was that these needles then landed in the hands of California fiber artist, Ayala Talpai and the needles soon made their way across the big pond to Birgitte Krag Hansen in Denmark.  Birgitte had been sculpting figures out of wool using wet felting methods but the felting needle changed her approach to sculptural felting.  Ayala and Birgitte became early pioneers in the art of needle felting and have both written several books on the subject.

 

Sculptural needle felting is quickly growing in popularity and am honored to carry the torch and pass along the magic that I was lucky enough to learn from Birgitte when she traveled to Alaska to teach workshops in 2007.  Thanks Eleanor, Ayala and especially Birgitte! 

 

I love teaching, discussing, writing, sharing and obsessing about needle felting any way I can.  I have even modified the felting needle to be more user friendly.  My Felt Alive Super-Duper Felting Needles are favorite tools for needle felters all around the world!  I teach the magic of sculptural needle felting through my Felt Alive Video Tutorials - on DVD and online at  The Needle Felters Workshop

 

Birgitte Krag Hansen in Kenny Lake, Alaska -

Sept. 2007 sharing the magic with lucky me! 

 

kay petal felt alive needle felted dolls

 

 

 

And here I am with an armful of my Felt Alive needle felted crew in Oct. 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Started Needle Felting

 

I wish I could say to just run down to your nearest craft and hobby store and pick up everything you need to get started with your needle felting ideas.  Unfortunately, it's not that easy.  You may find small packets of fibers and expensive felting tools that hold several needles - these are generally for flat needle felting techniques used in embellishing garments and accessories. 

 

Even if you happen to have a fiber shop in your neighborhood, the chances of having the best wool selections for needle felting are slim.  I have found that most shops carry wool prepared for spinners and the properties of wool prepared for felting are much different.

 

But you will find exactly what you need on the internet, most needle felters order their supplies online.  In fact, you can now find all of my favorite wool and supplies at Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies! 

 

It's important to have some idea of your subject matter when choosing wool.  Wool that works great for animals might not work as well for doll making.  It pays to do your research. 

 

Once you get an idea of the supplies you need, then you might consider some type of workshop or book.  Needle felting is very intuitive and can be easily learned without any instruction but books, videos and workshops are always helpful. 

 

A basic understanding of the concepts of needle felting, good supplies and a great imagination are really all you need but learning specific techniques is quite helpful and can save you lots of time and frustration.   I teach people all around the world through my fun and comprehensive Felt Alive Video Workshops

 

 

Needle Felting Supplies

How do I choose the right wool and supplies for needle felting?

 

 

When I first discovered sculptural needle felting on the internet, I rushed down to my local fiber shop and wound up spending so much money on all kinds of wool and elaborate needle holders.  After quite a bit of frustration, I set out to find the right supplies that worked best for me.  After much research including trial and error, it has taken some doing (and some $$$) but I have finally narrowed it down to my favorites!

 

Understanding supplies for needle felting can be a bit confusing; if you ask 50 different needle felters what they use, you will get 50 different answers.  My first suggestion is to find a needle felt artist whose work you admire and find out what they use. 

 

If you enjoy my Felt Alive Wool Sculptures then continue on and you will learn all about the supplies I love to use. 

 

Visit  FELT ALIVE NEEDLE FELTING SUPPLIES For Felt Alive Needle Felting Workshops & FUN Needle Felting Supplies

 

Let's start with Felting Needles! 

 

Felting Needle 

 

Felting needles have sharp, barbed blades that tangle fiber into felt with a repetitive jabbing motion.   They are quite an interesting crafting tool!  Manufactured for industry rather than crafting, they are designed specifically to fit into felting machines that hold thousands of needles and not at all intended to be used by a human hand.  They are cold, hard steel with an “L” shaped end that is, frankly, quite uncomfortable to hold on to, especially while using a repetitive jabbing motion that is required for needle felting.  They come in different gauges and blade/barb configurations and can be very hard to tell the difference at a glance.   When I first started needle felting, I quickly realized I needed felting needles that had a cushioned grip and were color-coded so I could tell the different gauges of needles apart easily. 


In my quest to find the perfect felting needles, I found  needles color-coded with paint and I found felting needle handles; I found elaborate holders for using many needles at once but I could not find just what I was looking for. I felt so smart when I thought of coating the “L” shaped ends in colored rubber. It solved my problems!  They were so wonderful I decided to start manufacturing and selling them as Felt Alive Super-Duper Felting Needles.   We have now expanded our lineup to include double point needles and quad point needles! 
 

Felt Alive Super-Duper Felting Needles are color coded to accompany Felt Alive Video Workshops. It makes learning to needle felt so much easier when you know you are using the right needle for the task at hand. 

 

Felting needle selection and use is typically a personal preference.  I stick with what I think felts the types of fiber I felt with best.  I felt with wool batting that is slightly coarse and crimpy and use only three different sizes of needles .

 

 

 

 

 

 

To learn even more about felting needles, check out my blog post -

Felt Alive Needle Felting TIps  The Use and Care of Felting Needles. 

 

 

 

 

 

Handy Dandy Guide to Felt Alive's Super-Duper Color Coded Felting Needles!

Yellow – 40T 40 Gauge Triangle Blade Felting Needle

 

For general felting. If I had to pick just one gauge of needle use, the 40t would be it – it It pierces into my felting projects easily and seems to grab the perfect amount of fiber with each jab.  It also gives me fine control when sculpting the wool.

 

The double point yellow is my ABSOLUTE favorite needle felting tool for getting projects started - as the felt firms up and I start feeling a bit of resistance, I switch to the single point 40t.  The yellow quad point is great for starting out large flat projects but it does take a little more effort to pierce into the wool. 

 

Felt Alive Super-Duper 40t Felting Needles are available in single, double & quad point

Red – 38 star  38 Gauge Star Blade Felting Needle

 

For finish and surface felting - works especially well for finishing the surface of coarse, hairy wool. This is a star shaped blade rather than the typical triangle shaped blade.  There are more barbs and the barbs start closer to the tip than most other needles.  This makes it a good choice for surface details like eyes and for finishing the piece and taming down the fuzzies. 

 

 

Felt Alive Super-Duper 38star Felting Needles are available in single, double & quad point

Blue - 40 star  40 Gauge Star Blade Felting Needle

 

This is the newest gauge in the line-up.  With only two barbs per needle, this fine, star blade needle glides into the wool without leaving big holes behind, while effectively felting even the finest of fibers.  It is a dream for surface design.   We offer this gauge in single, double & quad point needles.

 

The blue quad is my personal favorite of our quad point needles.  For flat work, nothing beats the speed and ease that this tool offers. 

 

Felt Alive Super-Duper 38star Felting Needles are available in single, double & quad point

Black – 36T  36 Gauge Triangle Blade Felting Needle

 

For deep, fast felting and attaching parts. This is a coarse needle and more durable than the others.   I don't have to worry about it breaking so when I need to attach a head to a body, this is the needle I reach for.   It's the needle I let kids use when they want to try their hand at needle felting.  It's not quite as sharp and holds up to a bit of abuse. 

 

 

 Felt Alive Super-Duper 36t Felting Needles are available in single point only

TRY FELT ALIVE SUPER-DUPER FELTING NEEDLES TODAY!!

   

 

 

 

Let's Talk Wool

 

What kind of wool do I need for needle felting?

There are many, many choices out there.  Roving, Tops, Batting...from so many varieties of sheep...and you can even needle felt with other animal fibers like Alpaca.  

 

You can needle felt with nearly any type of fiber but for creating lifelike needle felted sculptures, I have found just a select few that work well for me.  My Felt Alive dolls bend, move and flex without the use of wire armatures.  To achieve that, I need wool that offers special qualities to my finished dolls are well-felted, flexible and durable.  As much as I love needle felting, I love seeing progress fairly quickly.  Wool that felts fast is a quality that is essential for this impatient girl and you can find all of my favorites in my online store at www.needlefeltingsupplies.com

 

Here is the basic lingo that I had to learn once I started needle felting. 

  • Raw Fleece - unwashed, right off the animal - it's not quite ready for needle felting. (Pee-yew!!) 

  • Scoured Fleece - Once the dirtiest sections of the fleece have been discarded, raw fleece is scoured to remove lanolin (oil) and dirt but with the lock structure intact.  Sculpting with scoured fleece is very difficult.   I RECOMMEND USING SCOURED FLEECE FOR DOLL HAIR

  • Batting - After being scoured, the wool is sent through a picker to remove debris and vegetable matter (vm) which breaks up the lock structure.  It is then brushed out using a method called carding.  This can be done with hand carders and the brushed fiber that comes from that is known as Rolag.  Carding can be done on small drum carders and commercially on large carding machines - the final produce resembles quilt batting.  I RECOMMEND BATTING FOR SCULPTURAL NEEDLE FELTING

  • Roving - roving is similar to batting but it's produced into long ropes, rather than wide sheets.   After scouring and picking it is brushed into long ropes - the fiber in roving remains rather messy, like batting, and should not be confused with combed top.  MOST ROVING AVAILABLE IS ACTUALLY COMBED TOP

  • Combed Top - Roving that has been combed so that all the fibers run the same direction.   It is known as Top because only the top quality, long fibers remain after the process.  This is highly desirable for spinning into yarn and wet felters love it but for needle felting it is much more difficult to work with than fibers that have been brushed but not combed.   This is a confusing term because much of the combed top you see is referred to as roving. I RECOMMEND COMBED TOP FOR HAIR 

  • Prefelt  -  Wool fabric that is not fully felted.  Typically made on a needle loom (a machine that uses lots of felting needles,) prefelt is different than typical felt fabric in that loose fibers remain so that it can be finished by hand felting methods such as wet felting or needle felting. 

  • Felt - The end product of all of this!  Whether it is a felt garment made using traditional wet felting techniques, a gorgeous Nunu Felted (fiber felted with woven fabric) scarf or a needle felted doll, what you have in the end is Felt !!

 

Now that you are knowledgeable with felt and fiber terminology, I'll share more about my favorites for sculptural needle felting. 

 


FELT ALIVE'S FAVORITE WOOL FOR SCULPTURAL NEEDLE FELTING

 

Wool Batting

Wool in batting form (wide sheets) is what I recommend for creating 3d figures. 

Batting is lofty making it easy to handle and form into shapes.  The fibers are messy -  this means that the wool will shrink from all directions as you felt, rather than along the neatly combed lines of combed roving. 

But again, not all batting works well - some breeds of sheep can be very coarse and hairy (great for animals, not so much for doll making,) some breeds have very long wool and batting made from it can be really challenging.  Alternately, batting made from very short wool can fall apart.  Some wool has more sheen than others - slippery wool is a little trickier to work with. 

I use my own brand of Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool for all my projects.  It's made from the wool of mixed breeds of sheep raised here in the US.  We offer a lovely array of artisan-dyed colors along with several flesh colors to make doll makers happy! 

Try Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool Today!  in 1/2 oz and 1 oz bundles

 

Core Wool Batting

I start nearly every project out by needle felting a core structure.  Because this core structure will be completely covered, I choose to use an inexpensive, un-dyed wool batting - otherwise known as core wool.  The batting I love is almost spongy and has no long, hairy fibers - it tears from the batt easily yet holds together while forming it into shapes for needle felting.

Core Wool Batting.  Great For Needle Felting!

 a side note about core wool - there is no rule you must use it.  When I do small projects (less than 5") that don't take much wool, I don't bother using core wool - it is faster and easier to use the dyed wool of my choice for the bulk of the project. 

Li'l Elton John's body is coming to life with Felt Alive Core Wool Batting

 

Try Felt Alive Core Wool Batting Today!  in 1 oz, 8 oz and 16 oz bundles!

Elton John Doll coming to life using Felt Alive Core Wool Batting

How Much Wool Do I Need?

 

Most of my dolls are around 12" tall and weigh in at 4-5 ounces.  Usually 2 oz is of that is core wool, the rest is the dyed wool, prefelt and hair.  using core wool and dyed wool.  The little head in my hand might weigh 1/2 oz. 

 

This little head in my hand weighs in at just over 1/2 oz. 

 

 

   

Merino Prefelt

I get asked so often about prefelt.  I use it for clothes for my needle felted dolls.  It is felt fabric that hasn't been fully felted - enough loose fibers remain that allows it to be needle felted right to my dolls, but leaving the appearance that the clothes can be removed. 

My PSY caricature doll is sporting a suit made from Felt Alive Kettle Dyed Merino Prefelt.  Even his glasses are needle felted from prefelt. 

 

At Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies We kettle dye our prefelt in small batches for fun and unique colors. 

   

Merino Roving

 

Merino wool is very fine and long - it most often can be found prepared into roving (or long ropes) for spinning or traditional wet felting.  It is gorgeous and can be found in a tempting array of colors.  But for sculptural needle felting, merino roving can be very difficult to work with.   The long, fine fibers take forever to felt and the finish can be fuzzy unless you keep felting until the piece is very solid and very hard.  Even though I don't use Merino roving for sculpting with, it is essential that I have it on hand. 

 

Whisps of Merino Roving for Needle Felting Eyes, Teeth and Shading

My favorite use for Merino Roving is for hair for my dolls.  It works for long or short hair - it can be braided and even cut and styled much like real hair!  I use it for facial hair too.

 

Another important use I have for merino roving is for the fine details that really bring my dolls to life.  In very small quantities, it can be used nearly like paint.  Colors easily blend together in your fingertips, making it great for surface design. 

 

For my doll making, merino roving  is perfect for eye color, lips, blush and shading.

 

Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies carries Merino Roving in 16" lengths which is a perfect amount for a needle felted doll.   

   

Scoured Fleece

For my dolls with curly hair, nothing beats using clean, naturally curly wool.   Mohair from Angora Goats is my favorite - long length and great sheen makes it a perfect choice.    Gotland sheep is another favorite - the long curls are similar to Mohair. 

Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies carries a limited selection of curly fleece available in 1/2 oz bundles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foam Needle Felting Pads

 

What kind of work surface should I use for needle felting on?

 

Because felting needles are sharp and fragile, it is very important to have some type of firm, yet resilient work pad that will hold up to all of the stabbing that goes along with needle felting.   If your surface isn't resilient enough, you will find yourself breaking needles - if it is too resilient, your needle will travel right through it and likely break when it hits the table.   I have tried using a folded towel, old couch cushions, pillows, foam garden kneelers.  At most craft stores, you will find small brush mats for needle felting.  They look like scrub brushes and are designed for flat needle felting - such as embellishing a small design onto a sweater or felted bag. 

 

When I first started felting I primarily used upholstery foam as my work surface.  This worked ok but I didn't find it to be dense enough.  My eyes go bonkers if my project bounces too much so now I use a high-density foam that supports my project as I stab away.  The foam I use is much more firm than typical upholstery foam and holds up to heavy needling.   Try Felt Alive Felting Pads 

 


 

 

Other Needle Felting Supplies

 

What other supplies do I need for needle felting?

 

I find it essential to have some type of thin stick (for making fingers, lips, wrinkles etc.)  Bamboo skewers work great but I prefer lollipop sticks that I purchase at my local kitchen supply shop in the candy making section.  I keep several sizes on near my felting pad at all times.  I offer them bundled in 4 different sizes HERE

 

A sewing needle is also an essential tool.  BUT NOT FOR SEWING!  I use a 3" long needle to pull and manipulate the sculpted wool. 

 

Small, sharp embroidery scissors are also very handy to have around.  Mine have a slight curve that makes trimming fuzzies very easy. 

 

Needle Felting Instruction

How do I learn to to needle felt?

Needle Felting is very intuitive once you get your hands on some good wool and supplies but you may feel that instruction is helpful.  Needle felting books are a great place to start - Birgitte Krag Hansen's series of felting books are really wonderful.  PIXIE FELT, NEW FELT  and ANIMAL FELT are beyond fabulous.   She also offers online video lessons.   

There are many shops that sell starter kits with step-by-step instructions.  Of course I must give my own Felt Alive DVD Video Tutorials a plug.  I offer many titles to choose from and made them just like I would have wanted when I first started needle felting; simple, fun and easy to follow!    Plus we've put together some fabulous kits to go with each workshop!  With a Kay's-Eye-View of my felting pad, you won't miss a trick. 

Visit Felt Alive Needle Felting Supplies to Learn More About The Fun Felt Alive Needle Felting Tutorials

If you can't decide which workshop to watch, you can enjoy unlimited access to all of my workshops at my new subscription site - The Needle Felters Workshop - and enjoy 20% savings on all of your wool and supplies in my shop during your two year membership. 

 

And Don't Forget YouTube!  YouTube is a great way to see how all kinds of artists practice their craft.  I started making videos and sharing them on YouTube not long after I started needle felting and have been viewed over 1 million times. I'm happy to say that both my needle felting skills and my video making skills have improved greatly yet the information contained in my early videos is still quite helpful.

Here is a playlist of some of my technique demo videos I've shared on my feltalive YouTube channel over the years

 

 

 

 

Visit  FELT ALIVE NEEDLE FELTING SUPPLIES For all of your needle felting needs!

 

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