When I first saw needle felting I was curious how it actually worked and could I do it. I found out it is a simple process once you know how to do it. This is what I found out.
Needle felting works by using a special needle felting needle with barbs on its sides and stabbing it repeatedly into wool batts or tops to compact the wool to create the shape or shapes you desire.
Below I go into more detail with examples to show you exactly what happens and how objects and the cutest critters are created. It’s so simple an idea and so clever.
How Needle Felting Works
For needle felting to work you need needles and wool (and a base to felt on).
The Felting Needles
To needle felt you need a special needle felting needle. These needles are very sharp very delicate and break easily. The needles have special barbs at one end.
The barbs either point towards the point of the needle or towards the handle. See the diagram below.
Different types and sizes of needles do different jobs in felting. These are mainly felting and reverse felting.
Close up of felting needles. Needles come in different shapes, thicknesses and sizes.
Wool Used In Felting
Wool from my monthly surprise pack As you can see there are lots of different types of wool. The one on the bottom left is synthetic silk. The two top left are tops/roving the ones centre right are batts.
To felt you also need wool. The reason wool felts is that wool is not smooth. Wool has overlapping scales called cuticle cells. When you agitate or mix the wool the fibers attach themselves to each other, the more you do it the more they attach eventually becoming a tightened mass.
Manufacturers use this process to create large sheets of felt using lots of needles in a machine. You can also use the same process on a much smaller scale to felt down or compress the wool into amazing shapes, designs, and adorable animals.
While most people use wool you can use other materials if they have similar properties as wool. My cats fur would attach itself to everything including itself! It would have been perfect for felting.
Use the Needle With The Wool to Create Your Felted Piece
To create a shape you need to remove the air and shape the wool. To do this you roll up your wool. You then take your felting needle and manually copy what the felting machine does which is to compact the wool down into the shape.
Each time you push your needle into the wool the barbs catch the wool and push it down (or pull it up if you use a reverse felting needle, but down is usually the main aim). This causes the wool to matt together and compact.
By aiming your needle into the wool in the direction you want the wool to compact you start to create the shape you want. (Preferably avoiding your hands and fingers. Use finger protectors).
Diagram of needle felting in progress
You can see where the needle goes the wool joins together.
By moving the item you are making and the needle the wool is felted into an ever-tighter shape.
You do this over and over again. You move the needle all over to compact the wool evenly.
There are different types of needles that do different jobs. And different sizes of needles so that you can compact your wool even tighter.
An Example The Needle Felting Process
This example is from an angel I made for Xmas. It shows you the process of felting and how the needle compacts the wool into its shape.
Start with wool tops or batts like this. You pull off the amount you think you need.
You roll up the wool to remove some of the air. This makes the felting process faster.
Using the barbed needle discussed above you push the needle into the wool many times.
Here you can see I am using multiple needles in a holder. In this case 3 needles in a holder. This is a faster way to start. The process is the same.
Semi Felted Shape
I have taken the original shape and worked on it by using the needle all over the item in many directions and working our how I want the shape. I have worked mostly on one end as I want this smaller. The rest will be shaped differently as I want the body to curve slightly.
At this stage, the needle has compacted the wool down into your desired shape. Although more felting could easily be done I did leave this design softer than normal.
Notice that I have gone from a multi-needle tool to one needle towards the end. More needles are faster felting but sometimes you need to work with only one needle.
Can You Use A Normal Needle For Needle Felting
No, you cannot use a normal sewing needle to needle felt.
As you can see from the above description of the way that needle felting works needle felting needles have barbs, it is these barbs that push the wool together into a compact form.
If you try this with a normal sewing needle the needle will go right through the wool because there is nothing on the needle to catch the wool and compact it down. Therefore it doesn’t work.
Is Needle Felting Difficult?
No, Needle felting is not difficult to learn or do. Once you learn the basics and how felting works you can make it as easy or difficult as you want. There are things that you can do that make it more difficult like use armature or do larger pieces or want to make them lifelike.
Where many people go wrong is they start off with a cheap kit or a bit of wool and don’t learn the basics first. This includes me lol, I was so keen to learn I got hold of a kit just to try it out, it wasn’t until several fails or shoddy attempts and some inspiration that I started to look into it properly and get more help.
While doing this is fine when you just want to try out a new hobby it’s easy to soon get disheartened especially when you see what fantastic things other people create. By learning how needle felting works and what techniques and tools you need you will soon be creating the cute animals and other things you see others do.
Like any skill, needle felting takes time to learn and master. But not everyone wants to do the more detailed pieces. You can make lots of things without armature then when you are ready if you want you can progress. I have written a post on how hard needle felting is and how to make it easier if that helps.