Many people believe needle felting to be a new art form done primarily by the younger stitchers among us. However, it has a long and rich history. In fact, felting may be older than spinning or weaving dating back to over 6000 years BCE if some reports are correct.
Felt is created from wool and other animal fibers. Wool fibers are very unique in that they have an outer structure like scales which allows it to "stick" together without weaving. There are many websites devoted to this unique structure, but I knew I was in trouble when I didn’t understand a lot of the words used to describe it! If you want the technical version Google "wool fiber" and you will be amazed. So, moving along…
There are two basic types of felting-wet and dry. Wet felting is something you may have done by mistake to your favorite sweater. This involves water, soap and some gentle agitation during which the fibers interlock with other fibers. And in the case of your sweater, it shrank! Unfortunately, the process cannot be reversed! However, now that the fabric is tightly meshed together, you can cut it into pieces and make cute little ornaments to remind you of your once-favorite sweater.
The technique of dry, or hand needle felting, we are looking at today apparently came about in the 1980’s. Two artists, David and Eleanor Stanwood, began creating needle felted objects by hand. (Isn’t it wonderful that new art forms are still being created during our life time? Do you suppose that some day in the future, there will be someone writing about the ancient art of needle felting?) Okay, let’s get back on topic. (In my defense, I have a sore throat and I think the cough syrup has affected my ability to stay on task!)
Your work basket is going to look a lot different for needle felting. Here are the essentials:
FELTING NEEDLES: The most important tool you need is the felting needles. They come in a variety of sizes, called gauges. The smaller the gauge, the larger the needle. The most popular gauges are 36, 38 and 40. You have your choice of using a single needle or combining several needles together in a special handle. If you are working with a small area, you can probably do with a single needle. However, if you are doing a hat or the back of a jacket, you will want to look at a 6- or 12-needle handle. These aren’t like regular stitching needles. They have no eyes and are long and thin. Some have little barbs on them to help "stitch" the fibers together. Here are the needles we carry:
- Clover Felting Needle Tool with 5 fine needles (7124)
- Pen Style Needle Felting Tool (7124F)
- Felting Needle Assortment-6 assorted needles (7125B)
WORK SURFACE: Because you don’t want to use your regular work surface (or your leg) to poke the needles into, you need an appropriate work surface. You can use a piece of foam like that used for shipping or upholstery foam. The key is that the foam is thick enough. Your mat must be thicker than the length of your needle, even if you don’t plan to go all the way through. Something like Styrofoam will not work for very long because it does not have a give to it and will fall apart instead. There is a special mat made for needle felting: Clover Felting Needle Mat-Large (7124D)
FIBERS and FABRIC: The fibers used for needle felting must be 100-percent wool. (However, you can use other fibers as embellishments as shown later.) We are used to our threads and fibers being "finished", either twisted or spun or something. However, for this technique we will be using fibers that haven’t been made into yarns and threads yet. The most common is called roving. This is a long piece of wool that has been cleaned and carded. Carding makes all the fibers go in one direction. It would only need to be spun now to become yarn. But we want it in this "loose" state.
Another type of wool fiber is called a cloud. These fibers have been cleaned and dyed. Then together with other colors and fibers they go through a machine that combines them. We no longer carry any of the wool roving or clouds. However, you can use Kreinik metallic and Rainbow Gallery threads to add bling. Caron Collection Solid Impressions and Variegated Impressions is a wool/silk blend that could be used for outlining and accents in your pieces also.
You can create your felted project directly on another piece of wool like Weeks Dye Works Snow Cream Wool Felt (845-956-1096). You can also felt the design on top of another fabric, so for a jacket yoke or a purse design.
Not many of my newsletters come with a safety warning! However, this technique does require you to take some extra important precautions.
The first one is that you should have an up-to-date tetanus shot. If you do felting for very long, you will stab your finger. The felting needles are very sharp and the wool is a natural material that is not sterile. The second precaution is that always watch your needle when you are poking the wool. If you have to look away, stop poking! I should probably add a third one-don’t needle felt while under the influence of cough syrup or other attention altering drugs!
WHAT CAN I DO WITH FELTING
You can make individual designs to use as an appliqué or you can felt right onto a piece of material. There are some appliqué molds on the market which make this easier:
You add a bit of roving into the mold and start poking it down. Add more as needed. A little bit of roving goes a long way in the mold. If we don’t carry a mold in the shape you need, try a cookie cutter!
Another popular use for felting is to create felt beads and make your own jewelry. Felt a band for a bracelet and add beads, buttons, and bling. Try making your own felt fabric for things such as bags and hats. There are special forms for making hats so you get that round shape. Once you get started you are only limited by your materials.
For additional instructions and ideas, try one of these resources:
- Designer Needle Felting (1701)
- Needle Felted Accessories (1697)
- Artistic Needle Felting by Mary Engelbreit (105-497-4409)
FINISHING AND CARE OF YOUR FELTED DESIGN
To shrink the needle holes and help interlock the fibers, you can use a steam iron. If your design is meant to have some loft, you can hold the iron a little above the design to heat it. You want to hold the iron just above the top of the felt and allow the steam to penetrate. If you don’t care if it is flat, you can press the felt with the iron. Do not press from the front. Turn the felted piece over and gently rest the iron on the back. Do not move back and forth, but press in an up-and-down movement. You can wash your felted items gently, by hand, in cold water with a soap made especially for wool. Let the items air dry.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
I have seen so many cute projects done with needle felting, but for some reason I had never tried it. So, I decided to take the plunge and do a quick "modern art" project. I found a multi-colored package of roving at a local craft store, bought the 6-pack of needles, and decided to make a pincushion with embellishments. See what you think!
Imagine what you could do with more time and a pattern! This is definitely another art form that I could become addicted to….. For those readers already addicted to needle felting, post some of your projects and suggestions on our Facebook Page!!
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”