The Beginners Guide to Felting with Wool
Modern day needle felting has it's roots in the ancient craft known as felt making. It can be called both "dry felting" or "needle felting". Needle felting is the more common term.
Dry felting uses special barbed needles, as opposed to hot water, to make the wool fibers lock, or mat, together and become stronger. This is the technique of choice for sculpted pieces (although both techniques are sometimes used together for more complex items). Repeated stabbing forms dense felt structures. No glue is needed as each piece of a sculpture is attached by simply stabbing it with the needle.
Wet felting, which has been used for thousands of years, is the process of using water and agitation to lock together the fibers of the wool to create a strong fabric that would have been used for anything from clothing to tent making. Today's wet felting is used to make all kinds of creative apparel and is strikingly beautiful.
This is a wonderful eco-craft that uses all natural materials and is very easy to get started in.
You need: Needles, Wool and a special surface (felting pad) to work on.
Felting needles come in different sizes but most felters use the three basic sizes:
There are three kinds of felting pads, foam, burlap sack and brush. Foam is cheaper and easily available but it's drawbacks include the fact that sometimes fibers become entangled with the foam and form a strange fuzzy surface pieces that are very flat. Sarafina fiber art sells a burlap sack, filled with rice, that is a great alternative to foam. The brush pad is smaller (not good for large projects) but the fibers do not stick to it as they do the foam pad.
Also DO NOT USE UPHOLSTERY FOAM! It contains dangerous fire retardant chemicals that come through to you in the way of dust every time you poke a needle into the foam
The most commonly used fiber is wool from sheep. It comes in varying qualities and what you are making will determine what kind of wool you need. Every type of wool has certain characteristics that make it easier or more difficult to felt with.
Other common types of felting fibers include: over 50 kinds of sheep wool, alpaca, llama, cat and dog (harder to use but possible).
Types of Processed Fiber
There are quite a few types of fiber options out there but beginners need to know three basic types.
Batt - Carded Batt is what is commonly used as a core wool when you are starting to build your piece. Batt is wool that has been carded so that fibers flow in every direction and it is usually sold in sheets rather than neat, long pieces. It has a courser feel to it than roving/top. Batt needle felts more quickly than top.
Wool Tops - These are fibers that have been processed to all flow in the same direction. They are more smooth looking than batt and are used in every aspect of felting. They are sold as long ropes and they come in an amazing array of colors. Top is often used to finish a piece as it gives a smooth appearance.
Roving - Roving is sold in ropes, as top is, but it is more loosely carded and the fibers are not all going in the same direction, which makes it a bit rougher and less polished looking than Top.
Felting is simply stabbing the wool over and over with your barbed needle. You must have a foam pad or special felting pad underneath your project at all times. Needles should be brought down straight up and down and not at an angle as angles sometimes cause the needle to break. Stabbing a piece less makes a soft looking project, while stabbing it more causes it to become quite firm.
Shopping for Needle Felting supplies
Very few craft stores have caught on to the needle felting trend. Your best bet is to find a local specialty store or buy supplies online. It's best to buy a good book first, check out these felting books. Hopefully the stores will carry more in the future, right now buying online is the best option. There are a few very small stores around the nation that have great websites.
In my opinion, Sarah makes the best needle felting tutorials. She has a series on youtube but if you are new, start here with this one first.
Click for projects
Felting Tool, wonderful for beginners!
These needles are wonderful! The variety of sizes is great!
This is the hands-down best needle felting book on the market! It's my go to book, great for beginners and advanced alike.
Foam pad, needed for all projects