Saturday, January 1, 2011

More Info on Needle Felting

First, Happy New Year to all!! (And Happy Birthday to my former Father-in-law, one of the greatest guys ever born.)

I've toyed with the idea of a "2010 recap" sort of post, but, so far, haven't been motivated. If you want to see one, let me know. If you are grateful I didn't do one, let me know. I'm curious. :)

Thanks so much for all your kind compliments on my most recent project, my jacket with the needle felted polka dots. I really appreciate the comments more than you know! At one point during this project I was hating it and thinking it was ugly chicken pox. :)

This is a very word heavy post, so here's a table of contents, to aid your navigation, though, of course, you will want to read every single word as if it's descended from heaven. ;)

The needle felting technique I used on this piece has garnered a some interest on Stitcher's Guild, so I thought I'd talk a bit more about the process. Note that at the end of this post, I've included some videos to introduce you to various techniques.

First, there was some confusion that what I did involved getting my hands wet. Nope. There are two forms of felting: wet felting and dry felting. And let me stop right here and say something that most true felters will appreciate. Felting is when you take wool in fiber form and "felt" it together. When you take wool yardage, or a wool sweater (or something knitted/crocheted) and toss it into the washer, or even in the sink, that is not felting. That is called fulling the fabric. Felters become a little annoyed when we call that process felting because, I think, it demeans their art form. I often call it felting too, but I try to be more sensitive, especially when true felters are in the vicinity, and I do know a couple. I'm just sayin'. :)

A word about vendors. I purchase my supplies from Living Felts, but there are many excellent suppliers – these days felting supplies are widely available. I found this particular vendor through Ravelry. There is a needle felting forum on Ravelry, so I went there to see where people like to buy their supplies and this vendor was prominently featured. I'm a true believer in short cuts when it comes to this sort of research. :) I am not affiliated with Living Felts in any way, other than I got excellent service when I called and asked questions and my order came nice and fast and their wool batts are *gorgeous* colors and I was very happy with their needles.

Wet Felting

First I will talk a bit about wet felting, which I have dabbled with. But if you aren't interested, go to the Dry Felting section.

Wet felting, as the name suggests, involves hot water. Added with a little soap and agitation, you can make the wool fibers stick together. Within the wet felting world, there are several techniques, such as Nuno felting (where you felt wool fibers onto a silk base), but there are other sorts of wet felting, such as felting over another object, or felting with other sorts of resist (such as bubble wrap, and using sushi mats) to create purses, hats, slippers, all manners of wonderfulness.

I used to do wet felting when my kids were little and attended a Waldorf school (where felting is very popular and routinely taught to the children). I would use a bowl of hot water, with a few drops of soap, and wool roving to create pieces, such as Easter eggs. These were formed over plastic eggs. Later, when the "eggs" were dry, I would cut them open in a zigzag shape to remove the egg. I would then tuck in a little chick sewn from fulled sweater knit, so that it was peeping out of the egg. Sadly, I have no pictures of my work, but this is a very popular Waldorf item for little kids. I even taught a one-off class on this at San Francisco State, where I was taking classes for a Master's Degree in Fashion. A program I was not able to complete, sadly, and has now been discontinued. But I digress. :)

After playing with wet felting for awhile, I gave it up for a couple reasons. One, I was not that good at it. I am not artistic in that way. This sort of felting is great for those folks who can sculpt things out of clay, for example, but that is not me. The second, more compelling reason is that it caused a flare up of my tendinitis. I developed severe tendinitis after the birth of my first child and my hand has never been as strong since then. Wet felting caused too much stress on my wrist and the tendinitis came back. So that was that.

Meanwhile, my friend Renee taught herself to Nuno felt, where you use a base of silk and add wool fibers to that. That is a very wet process and I've never tried it, but I have two of her beautiful scarves that she has gifted me. I can imagine that this makes a giant mess on one's kitchen table, so I appreciate the scarves even more for the love and care (and mess) that went into them.

You can see that this process requires an artistic eye and the more trained/developed that eye, the nicer the result. I don't have that kind of eye. :) I'm not complaining, mind you, there are different types of creativity, and I have some, but it's a different kind. I used to think I could develop my creativity, and I took painting classes, but the classes made me want to throw things, and not in a good way, and I decided I didn't need that kind of frustration. :)

But enough about wet felting. There are youtube videos which show more about various wet felting techniques and I've linked to a couple in the videos section.

Dry Felting

In dry felting, you don't have water to encourage the wool fibers to stick together, so you use a barbed needle. The barbs on a felting needle are very tiny and point down. When you press the needle into the wool, the hooks catch the fiber and cause it to felt together, but when you pull the needle back out, it comes out smoothly because the barbs aren't engaged. You can gently stroke a felting needles in both directions and you will find it's smooth going down, and a bit like sandpaper going up.

The end of a felting needle is very sharp, so water your fingers. I'm just sayin'. :)

There are three ways (that I am aware of) that you can deploy your needles. First, you can use a single needle, which is what I used on my coat project. This is the slowest approach, but gives you great control. Or, you can get a handled tool that will hold several needles. This tool makes your work go faster but gives you less ability for fine detail work.

I considered getting a handled tool for my project but I spoke to the folks at Living Felt and I explained my project and they pointed out that the handled tools have a diameter of at least 1/2", maybe more, depending. That would be difficult to maneuver in a 1" cookie cutter. I stuck with the single needle, but it occurred to me, as I needle felted 37 circles in one day, that I could have used the single needle inside the cookie cutter, but I could have switched to the handled tool once it was removed. This would have saved me a lot of time. Of course the fine folks at Living Felt didn't know I was planning to make so many circles, so I don't fault them for their advice. :)

If you get into needle felting, or need to do large areas of needle felting, you might want to consider buying a machine. These machines look like a sewing machine, but just hold several needles (from 5 to 12 needles, depending on the brand/model of machine). Where the bobbin would be is a hold that collects lint. These machines are cool and I admit I covet one, but I don't think I will really felt enough to warrant one and I have no place to put one anyway. But I spent some time watching them on youtube and they are impressive. You can also use them to texturize fabric. Drool... I have some youtube videos below for your elucidation.

Many people free form their needle felting, and that is perfect for folks who can do sculptural sort of work. Again, not me. For this sort of felting, you are holding the wool in one hand and stabbing at it with the other hand. (Though a foam pad is still used at some points.) I imagine these folks have poked their fingers many times. :) This is the technique that yields gorgeous, intricate animals, elves, mushrooms, and the like. Again, real pieces of art. Or maybe a few pumpkins. I have never tried this technique, but could probably manage a pumpkin or two. :)

Needle Felting onto Fabric

If you want to needle felt onto fabric, you need something to felt against. Something that won't felt with the wool, so that it can be removed. Most people use thick foam for this. If you've recently bought a large appliance, maybe it came with some foam. You can buy foam specifically for this purpose. Some people also use a stiff nylon brush, with the brush fibers sticking up. I haven't tried this.

You can needle felt onto all sorts of fabric. Wool is a natural choice, but denim or other heavy cotton works well too. Just do a sample first.


All that is left is a demo. Unfortunately, my technical skills don't extend to making/editing videos, so I can't make my own youtube video for you. I have found some on youtube, and while not perfect, they will give you a general idea of the technique. So, without further ado, here are a few links to get you started. There are lots more to be found!

Needle felting onto fabric:

Dry needle felting to make a pumpkin:

Wet felting over a bar of soap (I used to do this!):

An example of Nuno (wet) felting:

A machine felting video - this shows a Janome:

Here is Nancy, of Nancy Notions, demonstrating a machine:

Oooh, I'm wanting a machine again. Time to get off the computer. :) I hope you found this useful. I'm off to Stone Mountain to buy supplies for my next jacket. I'm stoked they are open on New Years Day! :D