When I heard our spinners guild was going to offer a needle felting workshop, I was really excited. And really intimidated. I didn't even really know what it was, but one of the members shared a piece she had done, and it was beautiful. I had no idea how I was ever going to learn how to do something like that, but I was willing to try.
Needle felting is exactly what it sounds like – using needles to make designs in felt. (There is also 3D needle felting, but this is 2D.) Felting needles vary in sharpness, are flat-sided, and have barbs along the shaft. The barbs push the top layer of fiber through the felted piece. The scales of the wool hook together and lock themselves into place. This is the backside of the very first project I did, and you can see how much the fiber pushed through.
Needle felting fiber can be found online, and can be ordered in a variety of colors. If you buy rolls of roving, it will last a long time because it takes very little to complete a design.
I've never been able to draw. When I saw some of the others' designs, I figured I was out of the game. On a good day, I can copy, trace and even stay in the lines if I want to. Fortunately, that’s all I need to be able to do to needle felt.
It may sound silly, but I search for pictures using "coloring pages." This gives me a selection of simple illustrations that are easy to trace. Once I have the outline, I can add whatever colors and shading I want.
Print out your picture in the size you want, then trace it onto water soluble stabilizer. I was taught with Sulky, so that's the brand I use. The tracing will be used as your pattern, and once the design is done, the stabilizer simply rinses away. Be careful not to drip anything on your pattern or it will dissolve before you get a chance to use it. You also want to make sure whatever you are felting on is completely dry, for the same reason. Using a marker like a Sharpie makes the design easier to see through the fiber. These photographs are from a sunflower design I recently made.
When needle felting onto something flat, a thick piece of foam is placed under it to give the needle something soft to jab into – better foam than your lap.
Pin the pattern into place, using straight pins.
Using very thin pieces of fiber, start by pushing the needle through the fiber along the pattern line. Once it’s tacked down, you can fold the fiber back into the pattern and continue stabbing it within the pattern lines. Add small amounts of fiber at a time, until you have the thickness and color you want. Stab, stab, stab, until your shape is fairly smooth.
Once you have your main color down, you can add other colors for highlights, lowlights, outlines, or to add depth to your design. If you don’t like the way something is looking, you can use your needle to pry up the part you don’t like, and pull it out.
When your design is done, simply rinse the pattern away. I usually find that once the lines of the pattern are gone, I see areas where I want to fill in a little better. Sometimes I decide I want to add a darker color to outline the design to make it stand out better.
That's all there is to it! I've made several pieces (see below) since my first lesson, and I continue to learn and try new things. I haven't decided yet what my next project will be, but it will be fun.