I’m very much into fiber arts as anyone who knows me will tell you. I’ve been a seamstress since junior high when I first took a Home Economics class and I’m now an Old Granny! We called it Home Ek back then and we learned by making simple A line skirts and such things. After that I made my own clothes all the way through high school because the selection of clothing styles in the stores in our small town in Iowa weren’t to my liking. Since then I’ve branched out into crocheting, specifically rag rugs, and within the last year I’ve taken up spinning with a drop spindle. I’m now learning to weave on a Navajo backstrap loom.
Needle felting is a simple craft with a short learning curve that uses wool. It also doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment to begin. You can get going quickly and pretty soon you’ll be making gifts, toys, tree ornaments or anything you can think of.
You only need three tools to begin needle felting: a felting pad, felting needles, and wool. I, personally, think you also need finger thimbles to protect your fingers. I use a utility sponge easily procured from the hardware store and Merino or Corriedale wool roving. For the needles I use a size 36 with a star point.
I recommend finger thimbles because if you accidentally poke yourself it’s a most unpleasant experience! Felting needles have tiny little barbs on them that cause the wool to grab onto itself. They’re not ordinary smooth needles. I’m going to tell you how to make special finger thimbles. I’ve never gotten poked so far.
- Lightweight cardboard or heavy paper
- Duck tape
You might be familiar with the special band aids that fit over the tip of your finger. Using lightweight cardboard or heavy paper, cut 2 of these shapes for your thumb and index finger. Cut them so the material covers most of the length and width of your fingers as shown in the picture. Then fold it over your finger and cover it with duck tape. You might need help covering. You hold the cardboard in place while another person covers it with duck tape. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just effective.
Make your thimbles first so you’ll be ready to start felting.
Now let’s get a feel for how felting works before going on to a project. I’m going to start with a round ball that will become a pumpkin.
- thumb and index finger guards
- wool roving at least 5 ounces. More is better because it’s not fun to run out mid-project.* (if you want a realistic pumpkin buy half orange and half brown dyed roving.)
- Felting needles size star 36 ** (Buy a variety set. Needles break on occasion.)
- Felting pad (I use a utility sponge from the hardware store).
Pull off a short length of wool and roll it into a rough ball about 2 inches in diameter. After the wool gets poked it will shrink by about half as you work.
Position the rough ball on the pad and start poking. I poke from many directions with short quick jabs straight up and down. You can poke in & out at any angle as long as the tip of your felting needle stays straight. Don’t poke all the way through. Like I said, short quick jabs. Also don’t bend your delicate needle or pick at your wool with the needle. Needles are relatively easy to break.
Wherever it’s lumpy poke there until it smooths out. I do not recommend holding the ball with your bare hand for the reason I mentioned above. I don’t have my thimbles on in these pictures because I’m experienced and living dangerously!
Roll the ball in your hand like you’re making meatballs and add more wool as you need. Keep poking until the wool is firm to the touch and in the shape you want. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. You might even find that your “mistakes” can be used to make something later. Don’t throw them away.
Pull off a short amount of wool for the stem. Roll it in a small cylinder.
Felt it. This time I used thimbles. Too close for comfort!
Once you have it felted to your satisfaction spread the ends out a bit with your fingers.
Holding the stem poke the spread ends into the top of your pumpkin.
This quick project should give you a feel for what it’s like to felt and you can move on to other projects.
I made these hedgehogs with natural colored wool and toy eyes and noses purchased from a toy-making store. Colors used were natural off white, black, gray and light brown. No dyes were used. The bodies are simple hot dog shape. The faces are a small round ball slightly pointed. The backs are covered with a flat coat of felted wool. The ears are little balls with indentations. The mouth is drawn on. The same technique used to make the pumpkin is used to make a hedgehog.
Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.
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