Felting needles – what are they?
Felting needles were first used in the textile industry to manufacture non-woven fabrics. The needles are either triangular or four-sided with small barbs on each of the sides at the pointed end.
In industry the needles are closely set into a needle board and raised and lowered through a loose web of fibres. As the barbed needles penetrate the fibres they push fibres from the upper layers down through the lower layers and by repeating this action the fibres become entangled.
Feltmakers are now recognising the potential of these needles in creating detailed designs in felt and also for sculpting wool fibres into three dimensional shapes.
Using the needles safely
Felting needles are very sharp and should be used with care. When not in use they should be stored with the points protected by a cork, piece of foam rubber or even a ‘felt ball’ for safety. They are not suitable for use by young children.
Working with a single needle
Hold the smooth shank firmly between thumb and first finger and brace the second and third fingers lower down the needle to steady it and give extra control. Holders into which several needles can be inserted can be purchased but personally I like the control possible when working with a single needle. Start with a simple project first until you feel at home with the technique.
To make a felt ball
This is the simplest project of all and your first attempt could be used to safely protect the point of your needle when not in use. You will need: a foam sponge, felting needle and some wool fibres.
Tease out some fibres into a loose pile.
Pick up a bundle of fibres and place in the palm of your hand.
Roll the fibres lightly in a circular movement between the palms of your hands until the fibres form a ball approximately the size of a golf ball.
Place fibres on foam sponge.
Place sponge on a flat surface. If working on your knee place the sponge on a tray so that the needle will not stick into you.
Gently poke the point of the needle in and out of the fibres, turning the bundle from time to time until a regular ball shape is obtained.
If the ball is to be larger add another layer of fibres to the surface and needle lightly into shape.
Continue in this way until the required size is reached.
As the shape evolves increase the amount of needling. You will gradually feel the fibres tightening up and becoming firm.
Decoration can be added to the surface by needling contrating fibres to the surface.
To finish the ball and disguise the holes made by the needles and to give a smooth finish the surface of the ball can be wet felted.
Fill a small bowl with warm water and dip the ball into the water- the aim is to wet only the surface of the ball.
Rub the wet surface with soap and rub gently for a few minutes.
Rinse the soap off, remove as much water as possible, reshape and air dry.
Finally, you can further decorate the ball by adding stitches and beads. Uses – jewellery, fastenings on felt bags, toys and decorations depending on the size and colours. Uses are limited only by your imagination.
Sheila Smith(discuss this article)