Felt Alive's Guide To Needle Felting &
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is needle felting?
I like to
describe needle felting as sculpting by stabbing. Technically
speaking, the craft of needle felting involves 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
Needle Felting is just the coolest thing! First of
all the most common 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.
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.
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,
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.
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!
teaching, discussing, writing, sharing and obsessing about needle
felting any way I can. I have even modified the felting needle
to be more user
Felt Alive Color-Coded 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.
All you really need is a little
wool and a felting needle. Then you wad up the wool as tight as you
can, place it on a resilient surface and start poking the wool with
your feltign needle. Sounds so simple!
Figuring out WHAT wool and felting needles is the trickiest part of 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 on DVD and Online.
do I choose the right wool and supplies for needle felting?
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
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.
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
needles have sharp, barbed blades that tangle fiber into felt with a
repetitive jabbing motion. They are quite an
crafting tool! Manufactured for industry rather than
they are designed specifically to fit into felting machines that hold
thousands of needles and are 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
They come in different gauges and blade/barb configurations and can be
very hard to tell the difference at a glance. When
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
we decided to start manufacturing our Felt
Alive Color-Coded Felting Needles. We
have now expanded our lineup to include double point needles and quad
Alive Color-Coded 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
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 .
learn even more about felting needles, check out my blog post -
Felt Alive Needle Felting TIps The Use and Care of Felting
(triangle blade) Felting Needle
For general felting. If I
had to pick just one gauge of needle use, the 40t would be 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.
They are a good choice for using in multi-needle tools or handles.
38 Star (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.
40 Star Finisher Needle
Fine gauge needles are perfect for very fine details and for finishing your projects.
36T 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 wool do I need for needle felting?
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.
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 so 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.
Here is the
basic lingo that I had to learn once I started needle
- unwashed, right off the animal - it's not quite ready for needle
- 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
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
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.
AVAILABLE IS ACTUALLY 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
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
batting form (wide sheets) is what I recommend for creating 3d
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.
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. Merino
cross breeds, Corriedale and Norwegian C1 are some of my favorite
wool to work with - if they are prepared into carded batts (or
Core Wool Batting
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.
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.
John's body is coming to life with 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 of that is core wool, the rest is the dyed wool, prefelt
little head in my hand weighs in at just over 1/2 oz.
How Big is an Ounce of Wool Batting?
An ounce of wool batting, rolled up tightly
is about the size of a large orange.
Here is an ounce of core wool batting stuffed
into a 2 cup measuring cup.
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
caricature doll is sporting a suit made from F
Merino Prefelt. Even his glasses are needle felted from
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.
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
doll making, merino roving is perfect for eye color, lips,
blush and shading.
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.
Local fiber shows and online at Etsy are the best places I've found curls.
of work surface should I use for needle felting on?
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.
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.
Other Needle Felting Supplies
supplies do I need for needle felting?
I find it
essential to have some type o 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
needle is also an essential tool. BUT NOT FOR
SEWING! I use a 3" long needle to pull and manipulate the
sharp embroidery scissors are also very handy to have around.
Mine have a slight curve that makes trimming fuzzies very
To keep my
fragile felting needles safe from harm, I keep mine tucked
into a plastic cup that has needle felted wool about halfway
deep. This acts as a pincushion while the sides of
the cup protect the needles from getting knocked around.
How do I learn 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.
Luckily for us, there are many new titles popping up every
day for this popular new craft.
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.
If you can't decide which workshop
to watch, you can enjoy unlimited access to THE ENTIRE LIBRARY of Felt
Alive Video Workshops with a subscription to
Needle Felters Workshop
"The Needle Felters
Workshop is an awesome resource for beginner to experienced felters.
You learn all about the process, the materials, and how to make your
felted sculptures pop. The website is inspiring as you can learn and
share all in the same place. Kay is an expert at what she does and she
makes it easy for you to begin your own felting journey."
ColourSparks from Kelowna BC Canada.
Amazing Workshop, Great
Petal is an amazing sculptor and great teacher and her instructional
videos can teach anyone the techniques for bringing
out the magic in wool. This workshop
provides hours of instruction for building basic shapes into bodies,
creating amazing facial expressions, adding clothing and so much more.
The great part is that you can go back to particular sections of
interest and review as much as you want and need."
by: Carrol from Ortonville, Michigan. USA
Finally!! 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 back in 2007. If I'm not mistaken, I
posted the second needle felting video ever posted to youtube and it's
so exciting to see how much this craft has grown! There are
thousands of videos from so many different needle felters to help you
is my feltalive YouTube channel!
FELT ALIVE WOOL SCULPTURES
Felt Alive Wool Sculptures
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