Needle felting is one of those overlooked crafts -supplies are non-existent or hidden away in a back aisle and the actual process can sound a little strange and tedius... A sharp needle? Sheep's wool? But I can't have you missing out on your next favorite past time -so let's break it down and start with the basics.
What is needle felting? Felting occurs when wool fibers are agitated together with a special felting needle. Continually jabbing the roving back and forth will condense and form the fibers into any shape you would like. It's like soft sculpture! Felting can be one dimensional or three dimensional too. And the best part? You only need three items to get started!
What do I need to get started? Number one -wool! In needle felting -you will need sheep's wool that has been combed and carded. There are different types of wool based on how the fibers have been prepared and can be called tops, roving, sliver or batting. Tops have the longest fiber length and run a single direction while batting has the smallest fiber length and runs amok. This may be a little too much information so for the beginner so let's just focus on roving for now. The term 'roving' has become an overall term to cover any wool used for felting but it is important to note that there are differences.
When I was looking for a roving to add to our shop -I fell in love with Corriedale Sliver. It comes from Corriedale sheep and is technically called a sliver. I love it because its length works great for spinning, weaving, wet felting and needle felting -really, it's an all purpose fiber! I know how crafters like to dabble and try out new techniques and a sliver is workable for all.
The second item you will need is a needle felting needle. This is not like a sewing needle but includes tiny barbs or notches up and down the sides of a needle -these barbs agitate the roving in such a way that binds the fibers together. The higher the number of the needle the finer the detail but a great starter number is around a 38 gauge. Don't let a number stress you out though -this needle felting pen has just what you need. You can use the needle alone or use the handle! Needles are somewhat fragile -have a backup in case they break!
And lastly -you need a cushion. Always needle felt on a soft surface such as a foam pad. It is essential to the safety of your lap and your fingers! And speaking of fingers -always keep an eye out on the location of your fingers to your needle -jabbing your finger hurts! Here is our favorite budget cushion and here is our favorite wool cushion!
How do I start? An inexpensive way to get started is to find a needle felting kit you love; our cactus kits include all the tools you need. Or try these if you are an animal lover! We also have loads of fun free tutorials on our Pinterest board! You can purchase the supplies in the shop.
But let's start out felting a ball. I suggest beginning with something simple so you can get a feel of how wool felts. Let's start with a basic sphere -like the one I used for the Desert Rose cactus above!
To start any needle felting project you will need to first divide the roving fibers. To separate, gently pull to separate the fibers -you may need to spread your hands further apart to get the fibers to separate. Never use a scissors -the raw edges needle felt better.
Then roll the roving into a very tight ball -the tighter you roll -the less felting you will need to do! Continue to felt by rotating the ball and jabbing with the felting needle until a nice sphere is created. Get comfy -it takes a little bit of of time! And watch those fingers! I find the most comfortable position is to hold the cushion in my lap and felt from there. The more you felt the smaller, more dense and smooth it will become. You can see the progress of the ball above!
It's sometime hard for beginners to get the roving firm enough -you want it pretty firm! It may take some time to get it this way but don't give up! You don't want it to feel (or look like) cotton candy -but more like a chewy sugar cookie! If you find your finished piece extra fuzzy -I have some tips: 1) Gently scrape the surface with your felting needle -it helps to hide the dimples. 2) Use a little bit of additional roving to cover the surface and lightly needle felt into place. 3). Use a scissors to give the finished piece a trim! But you may not have to do anything at all!
Think outside the box -you don't have to use all roving either! For larger dimensional designs, use styrofoam ball as the base or add details like Benzie's felt or embroider with floss! Congratulations on learning a learning a new skill, have fun!