Needle Felt – The Basics

Needle felting is my new craft obsession, not that I needed yet another craft to get into! But learning something new is always great and this particular craft has very quickly become one of my favourites so I thought it was about time I shared some of the basic techniques in case you would like to give it a go yourself!

To begin needle felting you will need:

needle felt needles – these are needles with tiny barbs on them that catch the strands of felt and allow them to mat together, they are available from craft shops and online for less than £1. You can use a single needle or two or even three pushed through a cork as you can see here. The single needle is useful for fine detail and the double needles are quicker when working on larger areas.

P1240481A large sponge or needle felting mat – a sponge is a great surface to felt on as its texture keeps the wool in place and you stab through the sponge rather than stabbing yourself or the table! However after a while the sponge will start to break up due to being stabbed repeatedly which is where the needle felting mat comes in handy.

P1240480Some wool fibres in whatever colour you choose – there are lots of different types of wool fibres available and different types are best for different projects, ask for advice in your local craft shop or some quick online research should help you pick what is best for you.

P1240482Once you have these three things you are ready to start needle felting, one of the best things about this craft is that you need very little materials to give it a go! Needle felting is essentially the act of turning fluffy wool fibres into a solid object through a process of stabbing it with the barbed needles until all the fibres mat together and the shape compacts and hardens. The way you go about this depends on the shape you are making. Today I thought I’d show you how to make an oblong shape and a circle, these basic techniques will allow you to start making any number of felt animals and will help you to get your head around the way it works. As you can see from the pictures, I needle felt on my lap as I find this easiest. It is important to sit up straight and relax your shoulders as the repetitive motion of stabbing the felt can cause tension in your body.

To make an oblong shape:

Pull a handful of strands from your wool (the more you start with the larger your finished shape will become but it takes some practice to be able to guess how much you will need, don’t worry if you get it wrong at first you can always add more wool later to increase the size)

P1240483Start at one end of the wool fibres and tightly roll into a sausage shape, tucking in any wispy bits on the sides to make a compact cylinder shape

P1240484Place your rolled fibres on your large sponge or needle felt mat (I was given this mat for Christmas but I often stick with using the sponge I started out with, it is totally up to you if you want to spend the extra money) Now it is time to start stabbing! Using your single needle begin to stab the wool in a line along the tube shape, once you have reached the other end roll your tube over a bit and stab another line. You should start to see and feel the fibres matting together, the shape should slowly reduce in size and become harder and harder. You will notice that the areas you stab more compact more and areas you miss stay soft and fluffy, this is how you shape your creation.

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P1240486 Keep stabbing and rolling your piece of wool over and over again. If you find yourself stabbing your fingers don’t worry everyone does this! Just remember to work carefully and take a break if you feel yourself getting frustrated or careless. You will also need to occasionally turn your piece of felt on one of its ends and stab the other end a bit to make sure that the whole thing is firm. P1240487 These images show the shape as it is worked on more and more and becomes harder and more defined. The image below shows a finished oblong shape, as you can see the shape is compacted and defined and there are less fluffy fibres sticking out.

The technique involved in needle felting is pretty tricky to explain! But once you get started you will quickly realise the way it works and why it is done that way. It really is the kind of craft you learn through hands on experience and the gradual compacting and hardening on the wool fibres needs to be felt to be understood! Some felters go for a more compact, harder finish and others feel their piece is finished when it is still at a softer stage, this is personal preference but remember if people are handling the object you will want it to be relatively sturdy.
P1240488To make a ball shape:

Take a handful of fibres and start pulling at them and mixing them up so that the strands end up running in lots of different directions. The best way to describe this is ‘messing up’ the fibres

P1240489Roll the wool around between your palms until you form a rough ball shape, it really doesn’t matter at this point if it is not circular as you will perfect the shape using the needles.P1240490Place the wool on your sponge or mat and begin to stab with the needle, you will feel the fibres begin to catch on each other and the shape begin to take form. P1240491Keep stabbing and rolling your ball so that it is worked on evenly all over. At this point you could use the double needles as this will speed up the process a little.

P1240492If your ball begins to form lumps or looks uneven just focus some more time on the lumpy area, it will disappear with enough stabbing!

P1240493Once you have an even, round ball which is firm to the touch you are done! Now you know how to make these two basic shapes you can easily move on to making whole felt animals using the oblong for a body and the ball for a head. I will write a post very soon on how to shape a felt animal out of these two basic shapes and how to add colour and detail. But for now there are a few things you could do using only these shapes such as making small egg shapes for easter decorations or gifts. Alternatively you could make lots of coloured felt balls and make a felt ball garland which is something I have always wanted to do!

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Wow that was a long post! I hope I haven’t bored you and I really hope you give needle felting a go, it is certainly addictive and very creative! I will do another post with the next stages of needle felting soon so keep reading!

 

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