Friday, February 3, 2012

What is Needle Felting? Tattooing Wool onto Fabric

Forest Walk ©2011, needle felt in process
Needle felting is a needlecraft regaining popularity. Many cultures for thousands of years have used needle felting to make rugs, clothing, and other useful items for the home. All cultures that use wool to create textiles have perfected their classic version of this decorative and useful art. 

Today, needle felting is all the rage to make decorative pillows, embellish scarves, and to create wardrobe accessories. Some people are making home décor items out of 100% wool, and others are using wool to decorate items made of many types of other fabrics. I like to say that needle felting onto fabric is like tattooing ink onto skin: both involve single sharp needles and a poking or punching motion to apply color to a smooth surface.
When people say they needle felt, they are likely talking about Dry Felting, or felting without water. There are sewing machine attachments that can be used to needle felt by machine. The kind of needle felting I do in at Nestle and Soar in Colorado is needle felting by hand. Using one barbed felting needle allows me to create intricate detail in wall art using needle felting. Let me explain the process to you!

The craft of dry needle felting bonds a foundational fabric and wool roving together without the use of thread, glue, or sewing needles. Felting needles are long, barbed, and very sharp. You do not hold a felting needle like a sewing needle: the motion required is more like a punching or stabbing than it is a sewing motion. When you punch the barbed needle up and down into the roving, which is loose animal fibers, it pushes the wool through the foundational fabric from top to bottom. The barbs on the needle agitate the wool fiber as it passes up and down through the roving, and this agitation opens the cuticle of the wool fiber, causing it to cling to itself. It also causes it to interlock itself on the underside of the foundational fabric, and that is how it stays put. I often create decorative pillows using linen as the foundational fabric and soft merino or mohair wool roving for the needle felting.

Raspberry and Orange Wool Roving for Felting
It is important to needle felt using a foam pad underneath your work. The felting needle should have something soft under the foundational fabric: the needle would be ruined without the pad by breaking its tip against the table top. It is easy to find felting pads made specifically for this craft, or you can also use polystyrene blocks, upholstery foam, or compressed foam. The foam pad I use is 12” x 15” and 2” thick. This size allows me to spread out a large project.

Wool roving provides all the color in needle felt projects. Picture a large pile of colorful cotton candy – that is what wool roving looks like! Roving is readily available in about 10 colors at big-box craft stores, neighborhood yarn shops, and many merchants on the Internet. My preference is to use mohair wool roving. I purchase roving in hundreds of different colors made by small manufacturers and enjoy working with the hand-dyed, environmentally friendly wools they create for this fiber art.

Example of a landscape needle felt by hand
Needle felting is a craft that is great for beginners of all ages. Because sharp, barbed needles are involved, I recommend close supervision of children. After many years of enjoying this fine craft as a fiber folk artist, I still prick my own fingertips on occasion. That being said, with care, good lighting, and a little patience, it is a lot of fun to learn to “paint with wool” using this age-old needle craft!

What kind of felting have you tried? 

Have you taken any felting classes?

I would love to hear from you!

Thanks for stopping by, 


JewelOri said...

Lovely post. I'm new to needle felting and we are having a go at it on Thursday at the free craft group I help run. I hope they'll turn out as sucessful as your creations! x

Lawreen Yakkel said...

Wow! Your creations are beautiful!