Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What is Needle felting?
Needle felting is the art of manipulating wool fibers into a shape, an embellishment, or a three dimensional piece. Unlike traditional felting, which requires the use of soap and hot water, needle felting uses barbed needles and friction to achieve a felted finish.
Needle felting can be used to decorate a base form, like a scarf or handbag, to make a fully formed object, or to make 3 dimensional beads, balls or figures. Needle felting is an inexpensive and portable hobby, and the basic techniques are quick and easy to master.

Needle Felting Supplies
Wool roving: You will need to use 100% wool roving as your fiber. Wool has a tendency to cling to itself, or “felt” when agitated or manipulated. Felted wool is dense and thick, and will retain its shape.
Wool roving is a length of wool that has been washed, combed and carded into a thick rope that is ready for spinning or crafting. Roving is thick and fluffy, with a cotton-candy like appearance. Roving comes in a vide variety of colors and thicknesses, and can be purchased in small amounts or sampler packs for needle felting.

Needles: Needle felting requires a felting needle—a long needle that is barbed like a fishhook and extremely sharp. Felting needles need to be handled with care to avoid injury. The simplest needles look like a nail with a very pointed tip.
While there are many styles of felting needles available, from complex, multi needle pieces to needles with designer handles, you should choose a simple single needle for your first attempts. A single needle lets you have a lot of control over your work, and will help you avoid injury while you are learning the basics.
Upholstery foam: A good quality block of upholstery foam will make a great needle felting work surface that will last through many projects. Upholstery foam should be at least 1 ½” thick, and preferably more than 2”. You will be punching the needle through your wool roving and into the foam, and you will not want to damage the surface you are working on.
Have a few pieces of foam on hand in various sizes. A 6x6” square is perfect for felting small pieces, and is great for a beginner. For larger pieces or more advanced projects, select a slightly larger foam piece—12”x 12” is ideal for most large projects.

Needle Felting Basics
Choose a shape:

For your first needle felting project, make a simple shape. Decide what shape you wish to make, and use a water soluble or temporary marker to draw the shape directly onto the foam. If you prefer, you can make a simple paper pattern and place on top of the foam
Add the wool:
Pull off a piece of wool roving (you should never cut roving—simply pull gently to separate. Lay the roving on top of the foam, following your pattern. The piece shown at right will become a circle, so the roving is laid out in a rough circular shape.
Start felting:
Begin jabbing the wool roving with the felting needle. You will punch through the roving, and into the foam. The entire barbed tip of the needle should go through the roving and into the foam. This will cause the wool roving fibers to lock together, and form your felted shape.
Jab repeatedly and quickly through the roving and into the foam. Be careful not to jab your fingers—the needle is sharp!
The roving fibers will mat together, and become a dense single piece. Remove the shape from the foam to see if there are any areas you need to go over again. If you do, simply place it back on the foam and continue jabbing until you are satisfied. Once you have felted a simple shape, you can embellish it with a second color.

Add embellishments:
You can embellish your felted piece (or many other surfaces), by adding designs and borders. Use the same techniques outlined above to add designs to your shape.
Here a simple heart has been added (you can use an air-dry or water soluble marker to draw a pattern directly on the felted base). Use contrasting colors of roving so your design will stand out.
To add a border, tear off a long, thin piece of roving, and use the needle to felt it around the edges of the piece.
Whatever embellishment you choose, the layers of fibers will become permanently bonded, so be certain of your design before starting.

Finishing and caring for your work:
No special finishing is required. When you are happy with the look of your felted piece, simply lift it from the foam. Finished pieces can be made into jewelry, ornaments, or used to embellish larger pieces.
Your finished felted wool pieces will be durable and long lasting, and will not require any special care to maintain their appearance.
You may add more details to your piece at any time.

Next steps:
· Use your knowledge of the basics to make more complex projects, like jewelry or figures. You can also expand your collection of needles, adding a larger, multi barbed needle to use on larger projects, and larger pieces of upholstery foam to support bigger pieces.
· Use needle felting techniques to improve the look of a plain sweater or cardigan.
· Use cookie cutters to make perfectly shaped needle felted pieces—simply place the cookie cutter on top of the foam, fill with roving, and felt your way to a perfectly shaped piece. These make great greeting card embellishments or ornaments.
· Embellish store bought wool scarves, mittens, and hats to add a personal, handmade touch to a holiday gift.