What is Needle Felting?
Needle felting is a way to create 3-dimensional items from unspun wool (wool rovings). It is a clean and easy way to create attractive little sculptures. It is simple to get started and a craft that offers lots of scope for creativity.
You don’t need a lot of specialised equipment and it is pretty economical to get started.
You use barbed needles to poke fluffy wool roving (unspun wool) into tight balls and other shapes, which you can then assemble into an infinite number of creations.
What Can I do With It?
Needle felting is particularly good for creating small sculptures. Many people specialise in making animals, fantasy figures and characters.
You can also use it to embellish other items such as phone cases, bags, cushions and even clothing.
Needle felting can be used with other crafts such as knitting, crochet and sewing to add details and embellishments.
Could I make Money From This Craft?
Well made needle felted sculptures of animals can sell for very good prices but there are some very skilled creators out there and you will need to be of a high standard to compete.
Small, simple needle-felted items such as beads, brooches and basic sculptures can be made by even beginner felters and these could be good sellers at craft fairs or in online stores.
How Easy Is It to Learn?
Needle felting is very easy to learn, although it will take a little practice to get used to judging how much roving to use and in creating smooth shapes.
The main process involves nothing more complicated than poking a needle into a ball of fluff! It is very easy to create simple shapes straight away.
Creating beautiful, realistic sculptures and complex artwork with needle felting does, of course, require practice and refinement of skills.
One of the best things about needle felting is that it is easy to design and make your own unique creations. Once you can make basic shapes and join them together, the world is your oyster!
What Equipment Do I Need to Start?
You don’t need a lot to get started. The basic minimum equipment is:
- Needles – single or multiple barbed needles
- Something to put the wool on whilst it is being poked (more details in a minute)
- Wool roving to work with
What Might I already Own?
Many people use blocks of expanded foam, such as is used as packaging with many larger products. The foam will deteriorate over time as you poke it, but as it is something you would probably otherwise be throwing away, it is free and does work very well.
You can also use the blocks of foam that are used to fill sofas and cushions.
Whilst I prefer to use small embroidery type scissors, you could use any sharp pair you already own. Nail scissors work well as they are small and sharp.
Standard PVA glues (white or school glue) will work for fixing bits of needle felting together. I personally like Cosmic Shimmer glue which is very strong and reliable. It also lasts a very long time as you need so little to get a good bond.
You could wear leather (real or fake) gloves to protect your fingers whilst felting. You could cut the fingers from some old gloves and add a bit of elastic to make your own finger stalls. Ready-made ones are cheaply available too.
In a pinch, you could apply sticky plaster (band-aids) to your fingertips whilst needle felting.
Thimbles designed for sewing may be used but are often not long enough to cover enough of the finger, plus it may be hard to find one for your thumb.
You may have storage options for your tools and roving already on hand. Sturdy card boxes or plastic containers work well.
What Will I Need to Buy?
You do need to use the proper needle felting needles, with the barbed tips. These are easily available from many craft shops and online suppliers. The needles can be quite brittle and you may break a few at first. Once you become more used to using them you will rarely break them and they can last many years.
The needles come in different sizes. It is usual to start the felting with a larger size needle and then move down to the smaller sizes to get a smooth finish once the roving has taken the desired shape.
You can get a variety of handles and grips to help you hold the needles, though these are not necessary. There are holders for multiple needles which will speed up the felting process and may be something you would want to invest in once you get into the craft. I particularly like my Clover needle pen (the pink thing in the picture below) which holds 3 needles (link at the bottom of the article).
There are also electric/battery powered felting machines available that have many needles and move them up and down for you. These are huge time savers if you intend to felt large pieces of wool. Be sure to read reviews before buying though as I have seen some that have disappointed many purchasers.
It is very important to have a surface that you can place the roving on when poking. Whilst a block of expanded foam is cheap and works well, you may want to invest in a “brush” or another type of permanent block.
The brushes look just like a hairbrush, but upside down on a firm base.
I personally actually prefer the expanded foam block to start the felting process. Later on, once the shape is firmer I swap to my brush. This is because the loose fibres of the felt tend to get caught in the brush and you have to keep pulling them out. It is not a big problem, but just a little thing that I prefer to avoid by using a more solid surface to start with.
What Materials Will I Need?
Most needle felting is done with wool roving. This is unspun wool and looks like fluffy cotton candy. You can also needle felt other animal hairs – several artists make things from dog and cat hair. If you intend to use Rover or Tiddles’ sheddings, remember to wash them first though.
Fluffy roving is now available from many sources. You local craft shop may sell it. If not there are lots of online sources.
The roving tends to be sold in two formats. One is large “skeins” of one colour. This is the most economical way to buy quantity but when you are first starting and want a few colours it is not as useful as buying packs of tiny quantities of different colours.
Most of the online sellers I have seen sell bags of 3g or sometimes 5g of each colour. The bags are very tiny and you may be a bit surprised when you see them.
However, once you open a bag and spread out the fluff you will see that it is quite a bit – it is VERY light and squishes up small. These little bags are useful for giving you a nice range of colours for adding details to your creations.
I recommend starting with an assortment of tiny bags whilst you discover if you enjoy this craft. Once you have got hooked, you can invest in a bigger “skein” of a basic colour, such as white. Then you can use this “bulk roving” inside your needle felted shapes and just cover them in the colours – making them go a lot further.
See the section on saving money for some more ways to get your roving to go further.
What Else Do I Need?
Like with other fabric and yarn type crafts you will need somewhere to keep your wool roving clean and dry. Depending on how much roving you own, a sturdy plastic box or boxes are often a good choice.
I store my roving in plastic bags for each colour, then the bags are all in a large, sturdy shoebox. I will be putting them in a plastic or wooden box once I find one that is just right.
Be sure to keep your delicate needles and other tools somewhere safe too. I recommend storing all needles in hard cases with lids (small sweet tins for example). You may well get a reusable plastic case when buying needles. The last lot I bought came in a hard case that looks like a test tube with a lid.
If you want to turn your creations in jewellery or keychains etc, you will need some jewellery making supplies. Split rings, earring findings, pendant chains etc are easily obtained in craft shops or online. You will probably require some small pliers to open rings and a cheap copper “ring-opening” finger ring is a boon.
Sewing needles and threads may be useful. You can stitch needle felted parts together, or may want to stitch embellishments such as buttons, sequins, lace etc to them.
You can felt your roving creations onto ready-made felt. This works best with felt that has a high wool content, but I have succeeded in fixing man-made felts together with needle felting too. You could also use ready-made felt sheets to cut out accessories such as eyes and clothing for your felted creations.
If you are creating animals you may want to use plastic eyes (and/or noses) to give a more realistic finish. There is a huge range of colours and styles of toy safety eyes available that can be used with needle felting. These are usually glued in place rather than using the safety backs, so are no longer going to be safe for children when used this way.
Glass eyes are sold for teddy bear making and these can also be stitched or glued into needle felted creations.
Beads work well as eyes on small creations too.
You can even get plastic paws, claws, teeth and other components to add to your creations if you wish.
Finger protection is very useful! Many larger needle felting kits come with finger stalls or you can get them separately. Mine are made of fake leather and have elasticated bottoms so they stay safely on my fingers.
You can also get “molds” to help you shape your rovings. Below are pictures some that are made from solid felt, together with a little dog that was made with the right hand mold. I have also used pastry cutters and metal rings as molds.
Where Can I Learn?
Needle felting is very easy to learn and most people will be able to teach themselves from a book or videos. There are lots of good tutorials on YouTube (some listed).
A great way to get the basic equipment needed and good instructions is to buy a beginners kit. There are many attractive ones available and you will have everything you need to get a pleasing result.
Two books I own and recommend are: Little Felted Animals by Marie-Noelle Horvath, Fleece Dog and Wool Buddies. I have reviewed the last two of these on this blog (click the links to see it). Links to these books are at the end of the article.
You may be able to attend local classes on needle felting. Learning from an experienced felter is definitely one of the best ways to learn – they know lots of “secret” tricks, and can spot if you are making rookie mistakes.
There are also online classes in needle felting available.
How Can I Save Money on this Craft?
No one can see the inside of your needle felted creations, and you can take advantage of this to save money (and time too).
Many crafters use expanded polystyrene shapes inside their needle felting – just covering it with the roving. You can get these in a huge range of sizes and shapes and as well as saving your precious roving they will also speed up the felting process significantly.
You can also use a variety of alternatives for the insides of your creations. I often use polyester toy filling, which is very cheap and easy to apply the roving over. You can also use a yarn pompom, balls of scrap yarn and soft fabric shapes as your base.
A friend knits basic shapes, stuffs them with toy filling and yarn scraps, then needle felts wool roving over the top to create her fluffy animal sculptures.
You can mix roving to create new colours and interesting effects. This can be a great way to use up small quantities of roving.
Remember that needle felting makes a raw bundle of wool roving shrink considerably. In time you will become more confident in guessing how much raw roving you require to get your desired size of finished ball or shape. It is much better to underestimate how much you will need. You can always add more to build up the shape later.
You may well find that buying a needle felting kit with roving, needles etc in it works out cheaper than buying the components separately.
Anything Else I Need to Know?
Needle felting needles are very sharp. They also have barbs which means that whilst they hurt like a sewing needle if you stick one in your finger, they hurt a lot more when you pull it back out again and leave a bigger hole. The chances that such a poke will bleed are very high (guess how I know this….)
I strongly recommend getting some finger stalls, wearing thin leather gloves or applying sticky plasters to your fingers when starting needle felting. Since getting some cheap finger protectors I have not had any painful incidents (touching wood).
Concentrate on the felting at all times – this is not a craft to do whilst watching tv! Do not needle felt whilst small children or pets are loose around you – for your protection as well as theirs.
Although you don’t need a lot of equipment for needle felting, meaning it is easy to transport your supplies around, it is not advisable to try actually doing it on public transport etc.
Always have something like expanded foam or a felting brush under your work – never hold it in your naked hand whilst poking it, never, ever (yes, I am speaking from personal experience here too).
If your needle/s are in a holder with a protective lid, put it on when not using it. Otherwise, keep your needles in a box or solid container and never leave them around where you might put your hand on them – or, even worse, sit on one! Ouch!
If you do stick the needle in yourself, clean the little wound and apply a sticky plaster (band-aid) before continuing or you risk getting blood on your work.
Be sure to keep your needles in a sturdy sealed container and well out of the reach of children or pets.
Needle felting is definitely not a suitable craft for young children.
The finished creations are also often not suitable for children. If you intend to give a needle felted item to a child, please be sure there are no small components such as plastic or glass eyes or buttons.
If you are selling needle felted sculptures, be sure to clarify that they are for adult collectors and not intended as toys.
Links to Needle Felting Supplies and Books on Amazon
Here are links to the supplies mentioned and books from Amazon.com (top) and Amazon.co.uk (bottom). The books are all ones I personally own and recommend. If you buy from any of these links, I may receive a small commission from the shop for sending custom their way. This is at no cost to yourself. Thank you.