Although needle felting began in the industrial setting as a way to create pieces of fabric, it’s also been developed into an art skill that grows in popularity every day.
In its art form, needle felting is done with a felting needle and wool to create forms, which are often turned into cute objects such as animals, woodland features such as mushrooms and fairy houses, and seasonal decorations like pumpkins and flowers.
If you’re interested in learning the art of needle felting, the first thing you’ll need to buy is a set of felting needles and wool.
So, what are felting needles? Felting needles are special needles that have barbs around the bottom to help pull wool fibers down, but not bring them back up. This helps the wool fibers become matted and tangled, forming a dense shape from loose wool.
In this article, we’ll review everything you need to know about felting needles. You’ll learn how they work, what makes them different, the different types, and more.
What Are Felting Needles?
Felting needles are specifically designed to turn loose wool fibers into cloth or other solid forms. They have barbs along the bottom part of the needle to pull the wool fibers down and leave them there, rather than pulling them back up.
As you stab more and more at the wool fibers, they’ll clump and mat together in the center or at the bottom and begin to form into a shape.
These needles were originally designed to be used in an industrial machine that turns loose wool fiber into pieces of felt fabric. The traditional process to create fabric is by weaving fibers, but needle felting tangles them instead.
This is why felt material feels thicker and rougher. Instead of being sleekly woven from smooth yarn or fibers, it has been matted together into a tangled clump using the barbs on the felting needles.
There are different types of felting needles in a variety of gauges, which we’ll talk more about in a later section.
Because felting needles were originally designed to be used in an industrial machine, they’re not well-suited for hands. They’re small needles with a hook at the top end, meant to be inserted into a machine for large fabric work.
You can still use the needles as they are, but you may notice they’re not comfortable to use for a long period of time. It can also be advantageous to use more than one needle at a time like the machine does, which is difficult to achieve by hand.
Instead, you can try one of many felting needle tools intended to provide more comfort for the hand as you work. We’ll give you some options in the next section.
Felting Needle Tools
Many tools have been developed to aid in needle felting. They’re designed to give you a better grip on the needles and the option of using more than one needle at a time.
This needle felting punch tool is great for beginners or children. It has a protective plastic fence around the needles in the center that goes up into the device when you punch the needles into the wool, but springs back down when the needles are exposed.
It can hold 7 needles at a time, but be careful of lining up the needles in the correct holes at the bottom. Any wrong angle can cause the needle to twist and bend, ultimately leading to breakage.
One of the more popular choices is a pen style needle felting tool. This gives your hand the same feeling as holding a pen, which is a relatively natural grip for most people. It can hold 3 needles at a time, though you can use it with just 1-2 as well.
Another option we wanted to highlight is the wooden handle for felting needles. This handle only holds 1 needle at a time but is a great choice for detail work when you only need 1 needle.
There are other tools out there, many that are in the same three styles we presented, and each of them has their pros and cons. At the end of the day, it’s about what feels best in your hand.
What’s The Difference Between Felting Needles And Sewing Needles?
Felting needles and sewing needles both have very sharp ends meant to cut through fibers, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Sewing needles do not have any barbs along the needle. They’re smooth all the way from the top to the point. They also have a hole at the top meant for thread to sew.
On the other hand, felting needles have barbs along the bottom half of the needle to pull the wool fibers down. The top of a felting needle is an L-shaped hook, originally designed for a machine but now easily used to secure in a felting needle handle.
Because the art of needle felting relies on the barbs around a felting needle to pull those loose wool fibers down, a regular sewing needle just wouldn’t do the job.
It’s not a matter of simply poking through the fibers, but pulling them down to tangle them together.
Types Of Felting Needles
In total, there are four types of felting needles. Each type has a specific purpose, though most are fairly versatile.
- Triangular – The most common type of felting needle is the triangular needle. This is the needle used most often and recommended for beginners. It’s a 3-sided needle, creating a triangular tip, so there are barbs on 3 sides.
- Star – The star needle is 4-sided, so it has barbs on 4 sides instead. This doesn’t make that big of a difference when working on most crafts but can be handy for specific detail work.
- Spiral – A spiral needle has barbs organized in a spiral around the needle. The spiral shape and orientation of this needle and its barbs can give a smoother finish since it leaves less room for holes.
- Reverse – Finally, the reverse needle has barbs that go the opposite direction, designed to pull the wool fibers back out instead of pushing them inward.
The reverse needle can be difficult to use correctly, so we don’t recommend it for beginners. However, once you’ve gotten a good amount of practice, this needle is great for giving animals a soft, fluffy finish.
It can also help if you’re working in layers of wool to bring the bottom layer color out to the top.
All felting needles come in gauges, with 32 being the lowest and 42 being the highest. Contrary to what you may think, the larger the number, the thinner the needle. So 32 would be the largest needle size and 42 would be the smallest size.
Each size felting needle is designed for specific tasks. The larger needles are meant for bulk work like the body of an animal; the smaller needles are meant for fine detail work such as the eyes or small spots in the animal’s coat.
Other Needle Felting Supplies
One of the tools you’ll need is a felting pad. We recommend this one for its size, width, and firm wool surface. Your felting pad should be firm, so the needle only goes in a little and doesn’t stab all the way through your pad.
It’s also best to get a felting pad that’s 100% wool rather than foam. A lot of beginner needle felting kits will provide a foam felting pad, but these wear down very quickly and won’t last in the long-term.
Wool felting pads are made from the same fibers you’re working with – wool. They’re built to work with felting needles, so they can withstand all the pokes and last a long time.
Since you’re working with sharp needles, you’ll also want to pick up some finger guards.
Some people think that felting needles are going to be less sharp than sewing needles, but that isn’t the case. Felting needles are still every bit as sharp and can hurt when accidentally stabbed into your finger rather than the wool.
Since you have to use your index finger and thumb to hold the wool in place while needle felting, those two fingers are the most at risk of injury. Getting finger guards can minimize this risk.
Most finger guards are made of leather, though there are some plastic options out there. We prefer the leather because it allows for more natural movement and is more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
If you bought all your supplies separately but now need a project to work on, we recommend picking up a project book like this one: Woolbuddies: 20 Irresistibly Simple Needle Felting Projects.
There are also some helpful videos you can watch to get you started. We like this video from Shayda Campbell below that provides a simple, easy-to-make project for any beginner: acorns!
This is a great beginner project because you’re only making a ball, which helps you get used to how needle felting feels without the stress of making special shapes.
That same YouTube channel also has a longer project tutorial for making the pin-cushion owl she shows in her acorn video. We’ll go into some more project ideas for needle felting in the section below.
Projects For Needle Felting
If you’re not sure whether needle felting is for you and don’t want to invest in all the tools separately, a small beginner project kit is a great idea. This can save you a lot of money by getting everything you need in one small kit meant to make only one needle felting project.
After the project, you’ll get a better understanding of how needle felting works and will know if it’s something you want to really dive into.
Because of the soft, fuzzy nature of the wool fibers, animals are one of the top projects available. There are many woodland creatures like foxes and hedgehogs, but there are other animals like llamas too.
You can find a variety of needle felting projects on the Wool Queen store on Amazon. They even have holiday projects for Christmas and Easter!
If animals aren’t your thing, there are other options too. There’s a beginner’s kit that makes 8 succulents for those who are more interested in plants.
Food is another good project for needle felting. Donuts, for example, make a great needle felting project. You can try this project with a pig and a sprinkled donut.
There are tons of other projects out there, not just online but in craft stores too. Because this is a form of needle art, yarn stores sometimes carry some needle felting supplies too.
Tips For Needle Felting
Now that you’ve learned all about felting needles and the other supplies you’ll need if you want to begin needle felting, here are some tips to get started. These are things you’ll want to know before you start to save yourself a lot of headaches along the way.
The first tip, and probably the most important, is to poke your wool gently. It may seem like it would help you to finish the project faster by pushing your needle harder, but this is not the case.
Felting needles are extremely delicate. They break very easily – something that a lot of beginners tend to complain about without realizing they’re at fault.
Poking your wool with the felting needle gently will ease the force on your needle and help it last longer. This also prevents your wool fibers from getting stuck or tangled into your felting pad, which can ruin a project.
Another reason to use the needles gently is for your fingers. If you try to work quickly and start pushing with too much force, you run a greater risk of accidentally jabbing your fingers. If you push with a light touch, an accidental finger poke won’t hurt as much!
The second most important tip is not to force the needle. If you gently push the needle into your felted project and it doesn’t go in easily, don’t force it. Take the needle out and try pushing in a different place.
If the needle doesn’t slide in easily, it’s because that area is already densely packed. Forcing the needle wouldn’t help the project and usually ends up just causing the needle to break.
There are other areas in the project that may have more give because they’re not as packed in already, so try poking the needle in another area.
What Is The Best Type Of Wool For Needle Felting?
The most commonly used wool for needle felting is called roving wool. You could also use batting wool, but it will produce a different result.
Different wool fibers tend to felt in different ways, so it’s important to know how it will react to the felting needle before you purchase it.
We’ve put together an article all about the best type of wool for needle felting. It includes not only the qualities that you’ll want to look for when searching for felting wool, but also our top 3 product recommendations.
When in doubt, search for roving wool. It’s readily available online and at most craft stores. Just make sure you choose a pack that says 100% wool. You need 100% natural animal fiber for best results.