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
by ones 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,
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,
Talpai and the needles soon
made their way across the big pond to
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
2008. Thanks Eleanor, Ayala and especially
I love teaching, discussing, writing, sharing and obsessing
about needle felting any way I can. I have even modified
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
The Needle Felters Workshop.
What do I need to do to get started needle
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
Needle Felting Shop!
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
really all you need but learning specific techniques is quite helpful
and can save you lots of time and frustration.
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
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.
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 industrial 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 gauged needles apart easily.
In my quest to find the perfect felting needles, I found color-coded
needles 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 dipping the L
shaped ends in colored rubber. It solved my problems! They were so
wonderful I decided to start manufacturing and selling them as
Alive Super-Duper Felting Needles.
We have now expanded our lineup to include double point needles and quad
I have color coded my needles to accompany the instructions in
all of my 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. I felt with wool
batting that is slightly coarse and crimpy and use only
three different sizes of needles - here is my guide for the
use of my
Felt Alive Super-Duper Needles!
Yellow 40TTriangle Blade Felting Needle
For general felting. If I had to pick
just one needle use, this would be it it It pierces into your
project easily and seems to grab the perfect amount of fiber
with each jab. It gives me fine control when sculpting the
wool. This is a fine gauge needle and is very sharp and breaks
easily. We offer this gauge in single, double
& quad point needles.
Red 38 Star
Blade Felting Needle
For finish and surface felting. This has a star shaped
blade rather than the typical triangle shaped blade. There are
more barbs and the barbs start closer to the tip than the other
needles. This makes it perfect for surface details like eyes
and for finishing the piece and taming down the fuzzies.
We offer this gauge in single, double
& quad point needles.
Triangle Blade Felting Needle
deep, fast felting and attaching parts. This is a coarse needle
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.
We offer this gauge in single point only.
Blue - 40 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. We offer this gauge in single, double
& quad point needles.
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. I have found you can needle felt with nearly
any type of fiber but for creating lifelike needle felted sculptures, there
a select few that work well for me. I
need wool that offers special qualities to attain a well felted piece
that is flexible and durable. I also don't like to stab at the
wool for hours on end so wool that felts fast with a needle is always my
choice. Fast felting is a quality that is essential for this
impatient girl. Felting is also done with Alpaca and
other animal fibers - sheep wool is my fiber of choice/
Raw Fleece - unwashed, right off the animal
Scoured Fleece - Scoured to remove lanolin
(oil) and dirt but with the lock structure intact. I RECOMMEND USING
SCOURED FLEECE FOR 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 - 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
found that wool in batting form (wide sheets) seems to work great
for sculptural needle felting. It is harder to find than
roving (long ropes) or tops (long, combed ropes.) The words
roving, tops and even sliver are used interchangeably so prepare to
be confused! I'll stick to explaining why I choose batting.
Batting is loftier than wool and
less organized. Pulling wool off a sheet of
batting and preparing it to form into the desired shape is much easier
with lofty batting. I
start nearly every project out by needle felting a core structure.
Because this structure will be completely covered, I choose to use an
inexpensive, un-dyed wool batting. 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. I sell my favorite Core Wool in my
For Doll Making, my
Felt Alive Flesh Tones are perfect for the skin layer - and the
variety of colors I offer in my Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool makes for
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. It is a very fun product to use and I dye it here at Felt
Alive in a great variety of colors.
My PSY doll is sporting a suit made from Felt Alive
Kettle Dyed Merino Prefelt. Even his glasses are needle felted
needle felting, Combed Merino
Top (also called Roving) in very small quantities can be
used nearly like paint and is great for surface design.
I use it for eye color, lips, blush and shading.
offer a brand new product just for these details - it's
Felt Alive Doll Maker Detail kit and includes bright
white batting for teeth and eyes - strips of hand painted
merino roving offering amazing colors for lips, eyes, blush
shading. It even includes 4 felting sticks and
one of my 40star finishing needles that felts fine fiber
like merino without leaving visible holes.
Most of my
needle felted dolls beg for hair. For straight hair,
Merino Roving is my favorite. For curly locks, I love
hand-dyed Cotswold Locks.
What kind of foam should I use for
needle felting on?
When I first
started felting I used upholstery foam. This worked
ok but I didn't find it to be dense enough. I now use
a high-density charcoal gray foam pad. It is much more firm than upholstery
foam and holds up to heavy needling.
We cut our foam and pass the savings on to you - our
full-size pads are only $4.00 ea!
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
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 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 -
Hansen's series of felting books
are really wonderful. PIXIE FELT, NEW FELT and ANIMAL
FELT are beyond fabulous. She also offers online
There are many shops that
sell starter kits with step-by-step tutorials. Of
course I must give my own
Felt Alive Video Tutorials
a plug. I offer
several titles and made them just like I would have wanted when I first started needle felting. And all of
my DVD workshops are available as online video workshops -
instant access after purchase - no waiting for the mail.
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
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
nearly 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
Hover over the video to select and view
from all 10 videos in this playlist.