If you like acquiring new crafts or always wanted to try needle felting in particular, this is a tutorial to get you started. Included are my recommendations for basic needle felting tools and a few simple needle felting techniques to try!
Even though I like trying new craft materials, I’ve never thought I’d get into needle felting. So when I got a little needle felting kit as a gift, I was very curious. And what do you know? It turned out I really liked doing it!
Why Try Needle Felting?
For one thing, needle felting isn’t much like sewing. It’s more like wool sculpting. You build a shape by adding a little more wool here and there until you’re satisfied with results.
Another thing that I find special about needle felting is how relaxing it is. When I paint or sculpt, every movement can change the work, so I feel focused at all times. Needle felting involves a lot of repetitive movements, but it doesn’t require my full attention. I can often watch a movie or chat with a friend while working on my projects.
Working with coloured wool is a lot of fun. I find it gratifying both for my visual and tactile senses. And if you have a local wool shop to visit, that can be a sensory treat as well!
Finally, there are quite a few things I can make using needle felting technique. Woollen toys, accessories, and little decorations. Needle felting also works well with felt sheets. So when I was making a unicorn hobby horse out of felt, I needle felted the eyes and the cheeks.
The post contains Affiliate links to the products I used.
Tools & Materials to Start Needle Felting
The basic equipment is very simple: you’ll need a barbed needle and fibre to try needle felting! But there are a few other tools that can help as well.
Needle for Needle Felting
This is the needle used for needle felting. The end of its blade has barbs. The barbs catch the fibres as the needle is poked into the mass and entangle them with other fibres. When it is done repeatedly, the fibres end up felting together. That’s all the science behind the needle felting.
The needles are usually made of carbon steel, but they come in a variety of gauges, sizes and blade styles. Based on the combination of factors, they’re often described as “coarse”, “medium”, and “fine” needles. Coarse needles are good for beginning the work and felting big amounts of fibre together. Finer needles are good for adding details and for final smoothing of the wool surface. If you can, buy a variety pack. How many needles to buy? It’s hard to say: I had a pack of five needles, and they all broke on me within a couple of months. Then I bought a pack of ten from a different supplier, and in a year, I’ve only broken one. So, it really depends on the quality, but five or ten should do for the beginning.
When buying your first needle, try to get one with a handle or buy a handle separately. It’s possible to do without, but it’s much more convenient to have a simple wooden handle like the one I show on the picture above. Such a handle also allows you to store the needle with its point protected.
For felting fibres together quickly, it is helpful to have a multi-needle tool. It took me a while to acquire one, but when I finally got it, I found it invaluable. Five needles make any project go a lot faster.
Of course, being poked with a barbed needle is no fun! So it might be a good idea to get some finger protectors. I confess I still haven’t gotten any, but it’s on my wish list right now.
Needle Felting Pads
Needle felting pads are necessary so that when you poke a needle deep into the wool and it goes through, it won’t stab the surface of your desk or your hand. It’s especially important for supporting thin pieces while you work on them.
Many different types of pads are available. Here are a couple of use: one that is made of the same foam that is used in upholstery, and another that is a sort of foam sometimes used in shipping packaging. There are also needle felting pads that look like brushes!
For small projects, like toys, I found small mats (3×5″) to be convenient, but when I work on a bigger flat surface, like a playmat, I like using a big (9×12″) foam mat.
Discovering the world of fibre has been one of my favourite parts of needle felting. There is, of course, sheep wool (Corriedale, Merino, Romney, etc), but there is also angora rabbit fiber, llama and alpaca fibre, camel fibre and even yak fibre. There is also silk fibre, banana fibre, flax fibre, and a variety of man-made fibre. All of them can be used in needle felting, but some will be easier to needle felt than others.
Sheep wool is the most popular of fibres used for needle felting. Short and coarse fibre is considered to be preferable for needle felting. When I was buying wool, I didn’t know that, and so I ended up choosing based on colours I liked. I got Corriedale and Merino. Corriedale is considered to be very good for needle felting. Merino is said to be alright, but requires more time to needle felt. I have found it to be true, but working on small projects only once in a while and using both, I haven’t noticed a very big difference.
Corriedale is on the right, and Merino is on the left. Merino is a little silkier and smoother; Corriedale is fluffier.
At first, I was buying wool at the local fibre store by the half pound. The price was good, and every time I visited it, I felt like I was at some magical place. So I would get yellow because I wanted to make a chick and green because I wanted to make a green meadow. But then I would come home, make my chick and realize that I wanted to put a little blush on its chicks, yet I didn’t have pink. So I would go back and buy some more. Soon I realized that most projects benefit from a little detail or two in a colour that I don’t have. So for Christmas, I asked for a package of thirty six colours in tiny bags. The price per pound on them isn’t as good, but it makes it so that I always have a variety of colours for adding details, and that’s awesome.
Finally, it’s may not be a bad idea to get a big pack of white wool. It’s usually cheaper than the rest because it hasn’t been dyed, and it works for creating the base of your project. It works like stuffing except you felt it just the same. For small projects, it’s fine to use the same colour on the inside and on the outside, but for big projects it may be worthwhile to save more expensive dyed wool and use white inside.
One more material that I found very useful for my felting projects is prefelt. While not absolutely essential for trying needle felting out, it is very convenient for adding small details. Prefelt is felt that still has enough loose fibres to attach to loose wool or other prefelt. Prefelt can be cut in shapes that can be used as embellishments. I bought a bag of prefelt scraps from my favourite fibre store, and it has been wonderful.
Needle Felting Kits
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of choice – and the price! – when starting a new hobby. To see how much you like it first, you might want to just try a small kit. There are kits that will give you all the basic tools you will need, but you can buy the fibre separately and make what you want. There are even more all-inclusive kits that will have a couple of essential tools, wool and instructions on how to make your first toy. That’s what I got as a gift in the very beginning.
Basic Techniques to Start Needle Felting
When you needle felt, you basically move your needle up and down, trying to keep a 90-degree angle, and sculpt wool into a shape you want. Since you can add more wool or take some wool out, it is easy to figure out everything just by playing around.
Adding a little decoration to a piece of flat felt is one of the easiest techniques. The unicorn eye I mentioned in the beginning was done that way, and so was this meadow play mat. It was one of my first projects to try, and I would have used some different materials now, but it was a very good experience.
Working over a premade form is also useful. Pompoms are really excellent this way! As a core for each of these needle-felted emojis, we used a pompom ball. You can watch a video of me making one there too.
And this penguin was made from two pompoms.
When I want to create a more complicated structure, I use pipe cleaners as well. It isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps.
All this is just the beginning of what tools and techniques you might acquire if you take a fancy to needle felting, but this should get you started. Hopefully, it will be a rewarding experience for you, as it was for me!