What is needle felting?
Needle felting is a process of condensing and shaping wool fiber by poking the wool repeatedly with felting needles. Felting needles are different than other kinds of needles because they have tiny barbs at the end of the needle which work to lock the fibers together and condense them down. It takes quite a bit of time just to get needle felted sculptures hard enough with a smooth surface.
I recommend beginning needle felted with an affordable starter kit to see if it’s a hobby that you enjoy. I’ve taught a couple of friends and family members how to needle felt, and it seems to be a hobby people either love or hate.
What felting needles should you use?
If you’re interested in beginning needle felting, check out my Pinterest board where I share links to felting tutorials. The felting needles I use the most often are 42 gauge triangle, 38 and 40 gauge spiral, and 38 gauge star. I start out with coarser needles and move to finer gauge needles for smoothing and finishing.
Sometimes I use a single needle and sometimes I use multiple needles at the same time. It depends on what it is I'm working on - building up the core, smoothing a surface, sculpting, or adding details. For smoothing the surface I like to rubber-band three 42 gauge triangle needles together. It works great!
The best advice I have for knowing what felting needles to use is to get several different gauges and types and practice with them. You’ll get a feel for when you’re meeting too little or too much resistance with the needle and when to switch to a different gauge. You will also get a feel for how deep to go with the needle, and going at different angles. (But don’t bend the needle while you’re poking because you’ll break the end off!)
What about the felting mat?
You will need a felting mat! This prevents the felting needle from breaking - imagine jabbing a delicate needle onto a hard surface. One of the saddest things is hearing that snap and seeing that the end of your needle has broken off.
There are inexpensive foam mats you can get - the kind that come with cheap felting kits. But the felting mat I prefer is the 10×10-inch mat by Woolbuddy.
What kind of wool is best for needle felting?
The last thing you really need when beginning needle felting is wool. Not just any wool, mind you. Some wools are better suited for needle felting and, even more, some wools are better suited for certain parts of the needle felting project. There's core wool which is inexpensive and used to build up the core of the project. Then there's the wool used to cover the surface of the project, and then wool that is better suited for details.
Different kinds of wool have different textures. Silk wool is very fine while something like a swaledale is coarse. The wool I most often use to cover the surface of my projects is MC-1 batting, but I also use merino and corriedale. I most often use merino wool (which you find in most felting kits) for details, beards and hair, and for wet felting.
The wool you receive will likely have vegetable matter in it (wool comes from sheep after all!). If it does, just pick it out with a pair of tweezers as you work with it.
Buying Felting Supplies
Where to get felting wool
My favorite place to get felting supplies is Living Felt. The MC-1 batting is top notch, their needle quality is great, and they ship out very quickly. I’ve loved everything I’ve purchased from them. They also have kits available and you can get small 1/8th-ounce bags of wool (dabs) to create your own little kit. They offer tons of free needle felting tutorials over on their YouTube channel as well as paid tutorials on their website. I love to use MC-1 batting for the surface of needle felted sculptures.
Another small business I love for felting wool is called Laughing Lamb Fibers. I use the merino, shetland, and corriedale wool more for things like details, beards, and hair. The swaledale and Icelandic wool are coarser and work nicely when combined with the finer wools for beards and hair.
And also be sure to check to see if there is a fiber CSA in your area! I signed up for one through Tall Timbers Farm in my state which I am excited about. It is fun to be able to support a small farm, see what goes on behind the scenes, and get to know the sheep who grow the wool.
Where to get felting needles
As I mentioned above, I like the needles I've purchased from Living Felt. Another place I've ordered needles from that I've been happy with is Cupid Falls Farms.
There is a multi-needle tool I use every so often - more for building up the core of my projects. I love this 8-needle one from Bam Fiber Works. They also have a 3-needle holder. It's sturdy and feels nice to hold in my hand. I haven't had any issues with my needles fitting properly into the holder.
Final Words of Advice
My last piece of advice is that annoying cliche of practice, practice, practice. And have patience. Find an audiobook, podcast, or music you love to listen to while you needle away. I think a lot of folks underestimate how much time it actually takes to create needle felted sculptures. It’s a lot! Don’t get discouraged and don’t compare your work to anyone else’s. If you love it then keep at it. Explore new techniques and tips. Having the right tools makes a huge difference.
Most of all, have fun creating your own needle felted sculptures!