Felt Alive's Guide
to Needle Felting & Supplies
How Do I Get Started?
I wish I could say to just run down to your nearest craft and hobby store and pick up everything you need. 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. But you will find exactly what you need on the internet.
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.
There are many websites that offer both inspiration and helpful hints for teaching yourself how to needle felt. I suggest narrowing it down to a few of your favorite artists that specialize in the subject matter you are most drawn to. Bookmark their sites so you can study their work – I have spent hours gazing at my favorite needle felting artists' websites and found MUCH inspiration in doing this. Don't be shy to contact them for advice and if you ever get an opportunity to take a live workshop from one of your favorite artists, jump on the opportunity.
Online groups and forums can also be of great value. I personally recommend one that is near and dear to my heart. I am the owner/admin of The Felting & Needle Felting Forum. A large group of felting enthusiasts from around the world, creating, sharing and inspiring. Please join the fun – FeltingForum.com
Understanding the concepts of needle felting and a great imagination are really all you need but learning specific techniques is quite helpful. Make sure to check out Felt Alive Video Workshops to really learn the magic!
Where do I find supplies?
In the past, I used to have to send you all over the internet to track down supplies. But now, you have a one-stop shop for all of my favorite needle felting supplies. My online shop SPECIALIZES in needle felting supplies. Yes, an online shop that specializes in needle felting!!! Come and check it out.
Some other things I like to keep handy by my felting pads are things that you probably aleady have; a sharp pair of embroidery scissors handy, lollipop sticks or wooden skewers (handy for making shapes like fingers and toes) and the last tool of the trade is a long, strong sewing needle – not for sewing but as a sculpting aid.
What kind of wool do I need?
Wool! Fleece, Roving, Tops, Sliver and Batting.
There are many, many choices of wool out there. Fleece, 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 soft sculptures, there are very few that work well. My work is quite soft and flexible so 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.
Typically wool (aka fleece) is prepared for spinning into yarn or for traditional wet felting.
For spinning into yarn, the wool has typically been cleaned, perhaps dyed and then carded (brushed) into long ropes of fibers called roving – if the roving has gone through the additional process of combing to remove the shorter fibers leaving the remaining long fibers running in the same direction, the end product is long, luxurious ropes of fiber often referred to as tops or combed tops and also sliver. Merino wool is often prepared this way. Strangely enough, however, more often than not, you will see combed tops referred to as roving. Besides being used for spinning, tops, roving or sliver are used in traditional wet felting.
The wool is carded (brushed) using large machines that make flat, wide sheets of wool batting. Un-dyed, it is often sold as quilt batting. I have 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.) Pulling wool off a sheet of batting and preparing it to form into the desired shape is much easier than pulling off strips of roving.
If the terminology here in the US doesn't make your head spin – it's all different in the UK and other parts of the world and I'm not well-versed enough to offer much help there.
And if you read on, you will learn about the different types of batting that I use to sculpt my Felt Alive dolls.
What is Core Wool?
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. It is sold in bulk as craft batting. It makes good economic sense to use a less expensive wool for the core and save all the pretty colors for the outer layers.
So besides saving me a little money, the core wool I choose has properties that work perfect for sculpting the core of my characters.
It is springy, nearly spongy and makes strong and flexible needle felted joints. It is free from any long, hairy fibers and it tears off the batting easily, handles easily and felts quickly. I rarely use it for sculpting a complete character because the surface has a rather dull, yellow appearance and the surface tends to pill quickly.
Using inexpensive batting for the core of your project saves money
Once the core structure is complete, I cover this with lovely dyed wool batting. My personal favorite is Norwegian C-1 Felting Batts. It felts like a dream and the finished surface has a lovely sheen. It is available in a nice array of colors and I use it for the flesh layer as well as for clothes on all my dolls.
I've been needle felting my Felt Alive dolls with my favorite wool – imported Norwegian C1 batting for almost 6 years now. Without a suitable domestic alternative, the cost of needle felting has been high. I have finally found a mill here in the States that was able to produce a high-quality, affordable alternative in a lovely array of dyed colors. It is a blend of mixed-breed down and luster sheep – we could call it US Heinz 57 but let's just call it Felt Alive Needle Felting Wool. I'm in needle felting heaven with all of these new shades available and I know you will love it too.
What are the best color choices for flesh tones?
I have found three flesh tones that I primarily use. I use Norwegian C-1 Felting Batts in Flesh Light, Medium & Dark. Each of these tones can be changed dramatically with a litte well placed highlighting and shading during the sculpting process. These shades are available in my shop.
But don't let my guidelines hold back your creativity. Flesh is a matter of subject and imagination. This witch has flesh made with Norwegian C-1 Batting in Kiwi color.
What do you use for hair?
Felting Needles are manufactured for industrial felting machines. They are designed to fit into large plates that hold many needles. Industrial felt has many applications; so next time you open the trunk of your car, the felt liner may take on new interest to you!
Felting needles are made of steel and have a tip with multiple blade edges that run partially up the shaft. The blades have barbs which grab fibers and tangle them together; creating felt. The blades are very sharp and very brittle. Felting needles can easily pierce through skin and they also break very easily.
The opposite end of the blade is "L" shaped with a blunt end. Felting needles were not designed to be held in human hands and that "L" shaped end is uncomfortable to use. Several types of handles have been introduced to the market that hold single or multiple needles designed for needle felters. Felt Alive has even found a way to improve on the standard felting needle!
Much care needs to be taken to learn how to handle felting needles. Really, the old adage applies – "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." I've never heard of an eye injury from needle felting but vigorous or improper use can result in injury and the tip could potentially snap and hit your eye.
What Felting Needles do You Prefer Using?
Felting needles come in many blade/barb/gauge configurations which are useful for different techniques but they all look pretty much alike. I have settled on three sizes that work best for me. And I color code them so I can identify them at a glance.
In fact, I take the mystery out of felting needles with my Felt Alive Super-Duper Felting Needles. The three different gauges of needles are color coded and the ends are cushioned for comfort and ease of use. I use only the highest quality needles, so you are sure to get the sharpest, strongest most reliable needle on the market.
Felting Needle Fun Packs Available in my shop! $17.95
Yellow – 40T (triangle blade) for general felting. This is a fine gauge needle – If I had to pick just one needle use, this would be it – it gives me fine control of the shape of the wool.
Blue – 40 star My new favorite all-purpose needle felting tool. The sharp, star shaped blades of our new blue 40star felting needles allow the needles to pierce easily into the wool without leaving big holes behind – the blue needles are the only gauge I offer as quad point needles.
Red – 38 star for finish and surface felting. This has a star shaped blade rather than the typical triangle shaped blade so there are more barbs. The barbs start closer to the tip than the other needles which makes it perfect for surface details like eyes and for finishing the piece and taming down the fuzzies.
Black – 36T for 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.
And best of all – I use my Super-Duper needles in all of my workshops so you can always be follow along without any doubt as to what needle you should be using.
What kind of foam pad or work surface do you use?
Felting needles are very sharp and fragile so it is essential to use some type of resilient work surface protect yourself as well as the needles. I use a high-density charcoal grey-colored foam. It
offers a bit of resistance to the needle and I actually use it as a tool to control fiber for certain techniques.
Upholstery foam works fine but make sure to get a piece at least 3 inches thick – the needle travels through this stuff effortlessly so it should be thick enough to protect the table or your lap. There are brush-like devices designed for needle felting, the needle pierces into the bristles of the brush. I haven't tried one but I've heard they work great. I don't recommend using Styrofoam – the needle will mutilate it in a hurry.
I prefer these high-density charcoal gray foam pads. They hold up to the abuse of the felting needle quite well and should last you through many, many projects.
You Can Find MUCH More Information about sculptural needle felting at my shop. It's a really great resource for needle felting enthusiasts. And make sure to check out my Video Workshops. I'd love to share the magic with you!