You might think needle felting sounds like a difficult, technical craft, but when you read our guide, you’ll realize needle felting is a simple, satisfying craft that anyone can do with a little knowledge and some basic tools.
Needle felting is a crafting technique used to make felt balls, among other things. Needle felting projects are made by rolling felting wool into a ball, then pushing a needle in and out of the ball at a straight angle. The needle pushes the fibers towards the center, firming the felt ball.
Let’s talk a little bit about the history of needle felting before we look at what tools you’ll need and some easy needle felting projects for beginners.
Needle felting history and information
The history of felting begins with a technique we describe in our article on how to make felt balls. The New York Times also has a great article on needle felting history.
Felting was invented when early people dipped wool into water then applied pressure to shape it. The history of needle felting began when a married couple in the 1980s first started experimenting with the technique to make fabric samples. Others attribute it to the insulation industry in the 1800s.
Still, even for those who describe how factory machines pressed wool fibers, these sources inevitably mention the Stanwoods and their craftiness.
Needle felting today
The history of needle felting continues to evolve.
Today, artists all over the world make amazing things with needle felting. A Japanese sculptor has created a life-sized elephant and continues to turn out impressive, life-like felt animals as an alternative to taxidermy. Another sculptor creates popular cartoon characters with needle felting.
Needle felting can be used to make humble felt balls as well as sublime, life-like sculptures that seem to almost jump right off of your shelf or table. If you’re wondering how you can get started with needle felting, you’re in luck!
Tools for needle felting
There are only a few tools you’ll need to get started needle felting for beginners.
The basic tools required for needle felting are a needle, a felting mat, and some wool. More experienced crafters experiment with different tools to enhance their projects, but to make a simple felt ball, these few items are necessary.
- Felting needle
- Needle holder
- Felting wool
- Finger protectors
- Felting mat
Finger protectors are a great idea for beginners. Put them on the index and thumb of your non-dominant hand. They’ll keep you from stabbing yourself!
A needle holder can be great, too, if you struggle to hold the thin handle of the felting needle.
Felting needle sizes
Felting needles come in several different sizes and designs. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with them when you move to different, more complex projects.
The best felting needle size for beginners is a 38-gauge triangle needle. The gauge refers to the thickness of the needle, while triangle refers to the barb shape. Felting needles are barbed to grab fibers. Felting needles range from 32 to 40-gauge and shapes include, triangle, star, spiral, and reverse.
Basically, larger gauges mean thinner needles, and those are great for fine, detailed work. A thicker needle like a 32-gauge will be used for bulk shaping work.
Triangle, star, and spiral needles all have different uses that a beginner won’t need to recognize right away. It’s important to know, though, that the reverse needle will pull felting wool fibers back out of the ball, which is great for making a little fluff on your felt animal.
What is the best wool for needle felting?
When you go to the craft store, you’ll be faced with a wonderful selection of different felting wools. But how do you know which is the best wool for felting?
The best wool for needle felting is animal wool, like merino, which has been only minimally treated or altered. Synthetic fibers just won’t felt as well as the real thing. Crimped, wavy wool will felt better than silky, smooth wool. Anything that has been treated for anti-shrink will also be a problem.
Many experienced felters actually recommend finding a local farm to source from, but obviously, many crafters won’t be able to do that, especially beginners. MOMODA Wool Roving Fiber tops a lot of lists on crafting sites for being the best felt for needle felting.
What is core wool for needle felting?
There are a few terms you’ll see come up again and again when we talk about wool for felting. One of those is core wool.
Core wool for needle felting, which comes in batting and roving types, is a cheap wool that is used for the “core” of felting projects. Typically, it felts down more quickly, so felters will use this wool as the center of their designs and put their decorative, dyed wool on top of the core wool.
Batting and roving simply refer to the mechanical way the wool has been processed. You will notice that batting is much looser than roving because it is less processed. As you gain more skill and knowledge of needle felting, you will develop your own preferences for which is best.
Vegan needle felting
Some people are going to have an issue using animal wool for needle felting, while others just prefer to try something else. For vegan needle felting, we need to think about alternative materials.
Vegan needle felting is done with synthetic or plant fibers to avoid using an animal byproduct. Vegan needle felting is also great for those who have a wool sensitivity or allergy. There are many reasons why someone would need to look for an alternative to wool in the crafting aisle.
However, not all materials are created equally! Since wool has unique properties, it is difficult to replicate.
Acrylic for needle felting
Most synthetic materials will be tricky to felt with, but acrylic will give you the least trouble for your money.
Using acrylic for needle felting projects can be tricky at first, since acrylic will felt very quickly and can also be harder to push in with your felting needle. Also, acrylic felt can only be used for projects with round shapes. But acrylic is very soft, cheaper than wool, and vegan friendly.
Hemp for needle felting
You can also choose a natural fiber to replace wool for felting.
Using hemp for needle felting is tough but rewarding. Hemp felts very quickly, and the fibers can be rough enough that you’re almost guaranteed to break a needle. It’s not very good for detail work, either, but its fibers have a long, unique look, and your projects will feel solid and dense.
Cotton for needle felting
The last material we want to talk about is this household name: cotton.
Using cotton for needle felting is difficult, since the fibers will be tough and pack together tightly once you begin. Its fibers are short and very soft. Like hemp, you’ll be working to avoid breaking needles when your projects reach their completed forms. Cotton is great for simulating animal fur.
Watch Ruth’s video and let us know how vegan felting works for you in the comments
Is needle felting hard?
Needle felting may seem a little intimidating for beginners, but we promise you don’t need to be creating life-like sculptures to be great at needle felting.
Needle felting can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming, depending on your project. It can also be simple and easy. Which project you pick will determine your level of commitment. After all, painting isn’t hard if you’re just making simple shapes, but a still-life will take greater skill.
Pick a felt ball project to start so you get the hang of the techniques. They’re easy and fun to make, and you’ll find that they have so many uses.
What to do with felt balls?
We talk at length about what to do with felt balls in our article mentioned above using the water technique. Check it out for some great inspiration.
Felt balls are an easy needle felting project for beginners, and you can do so much with them. String them onto a garland, fill a decorative glass bowl, or incorporate them into your child’s toys. Large felt balls look great on a bookshelf, while tiny felt balls make whimsical jewelry.
Needle felting project ideas
Here are some easy needle felting project ideas for beginners.
1. Felted Christmas ornaments
Felted Christmas ornaments are the perfect project to introduce a great tool in your felting kit: cookie cutters.
To make felted Christmas ornaments, choose a great cookie cutter to make an outline. Place your wool into the cutter, and felt it into shape. You can add designs like buttons on a gingerbread man or a hat to a snowman. Cookie cutters make felting fun and festive. String them on your tree to finish.
2. Felted cake
A felted piece of cake is going to look so delicious, you might be tempted to take a bite!
To make a slice of cake with needle felting, pick out wool for the cake, icing, and any toppings. Roll your cake wool into a vague, triangle shape and felt until it looks like a slice. Add your icing to the top, a stripe of filling in the middle, and top with felted fruit designs like strawberries.
This video from Puffique is a great example of the techniques to make your own felted slice of strawberry cake. This maker does a lot of other adorable projects with felting, too. Let us know in the comments what you might try!
3. Felted hedgehog pincushion
A pincushion is a practical, easy needle felting project. It’s basically a felt ball, but you can add your own flair to make a great design.
To make a felted hedgehog pincushion, use core felt to create an oval shape, then add a snout, ears, and a pair of eyes. Felt some darker wool onto his back, but don’t worry about shaping any spines. You can use this cute hedgehog to store your felting needles, sewing needles, or pins.
4. Felted Waldorf fairy doll
While this project is definitely the hardest of the bunch, Waldorf fairies are a big deal in the felting world. Here’s how you can learn to make your own.
To make a felted fairy doll, gather wool for the skin, hair, and dress. Roll the head tightly, then felt it down. Lay out the felt in the general body shape with a thin cross of felt. Tie it off and attach the head and arms, leaving the bottom of her body wispy. Attach dress and finish.
Our directions for this intricate project are quite simple. We watched this great tutorial video from Living Handmade. Check it out to get some great, in-depth inspiration.
Needle felting FAQs
Can you felt with a regular needle?
No, you can’t. Regular needles don’t have hooks. Fibers need to catch onto something to be pushed in.
Can felting needles break?
Yes, and it’s actually very common for felting needles to break. This is why we try not to twist our needles when felting.
Can you needle felt with cotton?
The trouble with using non-animal fibers is they are harder to felt with. Vegans can certainly felt with cotton, hemp, or acrylic fibers, but they will all have different, tricky properties.
What is dry needle felting?
The process we’ve been describing in this article uses dry fibers to needle felt. Make sure to check out our article on making felt balls that uses the wet felting technique.
Can you needle felt with wet wool?
Typically, you wouldn’t needle felt with wet wool. The water does the work of the needle for you. Beginners may prefer wet felting because you don’t risk stabbing your fingers.
What is needle felting – final thoughts
Needle felting is another great way to enjoy felted crafts, and for beginners, it can be a lot of fun. With the right tools and a little practice, easy needle felting projects can be completed in a single sitting, and you’ll have tons of fun decorating with your designs.
Do you prefer needle felting or wet felting? Let us know in a comment what your favorite technique is, as well as some of the great projects you’d recommend.